Well, it’s hard to believe, but summer is almost over here in the windy city.  It seems to have gone by in a flash!  Before you know it, there will once again be snow covering the ground, and those wonderful winds will be knocking us over as we walk down the street!  Ah yes, a wonderful winter lies ahead of us here in Chicago, which means one thing- We should get out there and enjoy what little summer we have left!

I have to say, we do live in a very beautiful city, no matter what the season is.  But there is definitely something special about Lake Michigan during the summer.   Not only is it beautiful, but it also offers people a great chance to improve their  fitness.  Chicago’s bike path along Lake Michigan is one of the most popular attractions during the summer months, and for good reason.  For many people, it provides a sense of fun while doing exercise.  After all, being outside, looking at the beautiful view, feeling the wind against our face, and seeing the masses of other people out there having a  great time on the beach, provides a certain sense of inspiration and freedom.

For many, biking along the lake has  become a regular routine during the summer months and a great source of cardiovascular exercise.  Whether you’re doing it as professional cyclist, or if you enjoy recreational biking, this form of aerobic training brings about many health benefits:

1.  Improved cardiovascular endurance

2.  Improved cholesterol

3.  Lowers high blood pressure and maintains healthy blood pressure

4.  Improved tryglyceride readings

5.  Burns more body fat

6.  Increases our total caloric expenditure

7.  Boosts metabolism

What’s not to like!  But it doesn’t stop there!

Another great advantage of outdoor  biking is the ability to develop muscular power.  Muscular power is different than muscular strength or endurance, because it deals with speed of movement.   It is the speed at which the body can overcome resistance.  Therefore, this is accomplished by training the body with faster but controlled movements, using a moderate resistance.  The brain recognizes fast and slow movements differently, which is why neural adaptations are produced that allow muscular power to be developed from this type of movement.

In other words, muscular power will not be developed by taking an easy afternoon stroll down the lake with your bike.  It’s going to be accomplished by using a heavier resistance and a conscious effort to overcome that resistance by using a fast but controlled speed.  But be careful!

Above all else, when biking, or doing any aerobic activity for that matter, you must listen to your body!  Many people get caught up in trying to push themselves as hard as they can, and as a result, this can lead to overtraining symptoms:  Loss of energy

Decreased metabolism

Decline in overall fitness

Mood swings

Depression

We all have a specific heart rate zone that we should be operating in at all times while doing cardiovascular exercise.  You can find your own zone by using the following formula:

220 – Age =Maximum Heart Rate(MHR)

MHR x 60% – 90% = Target Heart Rate Zone (THRZ)

This will give you two numbers, a lower one and a higher one.  Your heart rate should always fall between these two numbers!   Never higher!  However, if someone has a heart condition that calls for a lower heart rate that falls short of the range of this formula, he or she would want to get their doctor’s guidance about where their heart rate should fall.

Heart rate monitors are sold in most sporting goods stores and are a great tool for monitoring heart rate.  Remember, above all else, listen to your body!  It will tell you when your are pushing it too hard!

Biking is a wonderful form of aerobic exercise, and when done correctly, can have many benefits including muscular power.  However, care must always be taken when performing any kind of exercise.  So get outside while you still can and bike along the lake!  And once summer has come to an end, don’t let that stop you from continuing to exercise.   Indoor biking on a stationary bike can offer many of the same benefits, but as we all know, it can be very difficult to get motivated.  So I suggest really taking in that view of the lake, grabbing some nice relaxing or motivating music, and remember that view as you start pedaling away.  And before you know it, next summer will be here and you can do it all again!

There is a common misconception about resistance training that I would like to clear up.  Many people believe that the muscle building process occurs during the workout.  That’s not exactly true.  The true muscle building process takes place at night, while we are sleeping.

As the body is challenged through resistance using weights, we are actually breaking down muscle tissue- in a good way!  In order to rebuild that muscle tissue, we must first be eating the proper foods to repair it.  As I have talked about before, proper nutrition in a meal consists of three things:  a lean protein, a starchy carbohydrate, and a fibrous carbohydrate.

While the starchy and fibrous carbohydrates help to maintain blood sugar and refuel the muscles with glycogen, the lean protein is what actually repairs and rebuilds muscle tissue- while we are sleeping!  When we sleep, the body is at rest and levels of the stress hormone, called cortisol, are low.  This is important to know, because high cortisol levels are one of the factors that can inhibit progress in physical fitness due to the fact that it can actually eat away muscle tissue!

Therefore, when the body is at complete rest, it is free to go through a process called protein synthesis, where the protein repairs and rebuilds muscle tissue.  I strongly recommend finding some time every day, even if it is just for 20 minutes, to relax or meditate.  This will further decrease cortisol levels and enhance protein synthesis.

So if you’re lacking a good night’s sleep and are hindering in your fitness progress, now you know why.  Get some sleep!  Relax!  It goes a very long way!