cycle-to-work

Break your fitness battle: how to use your commute to get fit

Whether you power walk, run, scoot or cycle, there's nothing like starting your day off with a some exercise

Sophie Vokes-Dudgeon

Most of us would like to be fit. It’s easy to have good intentions; but if you’ve ever signed up to the gym, made a New Year’s resolution to run that 10k or promised friends you’ll see them regularly at a yoga class, you know that it’s often harder to carry out those intentions than it might at first appear. Studies say that it takes 3 months to form a habit, so if you can stick with a new fitness plan for that long, it’s far more likely to stick. And if fitness can become part of your daily routine then of course you’re much more likely to remember to do it.

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One way to make this happen is to incorporate exercise into your morning commute. I know – I used to do it, and for a good 2 years I ran, every day, come rain, snow or shine, and I never felt better. My morning commute was actually a school run – literally. Each morning, no matter what I felt like, I’d put my running gear on and jog my children (they rode bikes) the 2 kilometers to school.

Getting fit is easier if you do it on your way to work

Then, since I was already hot and sweaty and it was by far the fastest option, I’d run home again too. Not having to make a decision, not having to carve out time to exercise because it wasn’t an extra, but a necessity, meant it happened. Every day. And for the first time in life I was freed from that continual inner battle of guilt and effort. I loved it too. There really is no better release from the inner monologue of things that need to be done. And whether it’s the endorphins or just the change in life pace, it really feels good.

Once my kids left primary school though, my routine changed and I’ve spent much of the past three years trying (and failing) to get back into the swing of being fit. What I’ve discovered is that unless fitness forms an integral part of my day (such as getting the kids to school or making my own way into the office) then it quickly falls off my to do list. So the commute it is. The one thing I do each and every day and a good 3k trip.

If you're in London there's really no reason not to jump on a bike

Here’s some inspiration for how to convert your daily commute into a daily workout.

Run to work

If you’re not used to running then breaking into a jog can be a scary (and uncomfortable) thing to do. But it’s incredible how quickly it becomes easier, if you just give yourself some time. I built my running up from 0 to 5km by allowing myself to stop whenever I felt I really needed to. I’d walk until I felt my heart rate return to just about normal, then set off again. The short amount of time that it took to start seeing improvements – to go from 5 stops to just 3, then to 1 and then none, gave me impetus I needed to keep at it.

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If that’s not structured enough then a couch to 5k program could be good. But whatever you do, so long as you leave yourself enough time to get to work if you were walking, you know you’ll be there ahead of the game.

Useful tips

  • Get yourself some decent running shoes and find out if you need specialist support. Getting myself a pair of Brooks trainers made so much difference to the comfort of my run. Because my feet turn in when I jog (I found out thanks to a run on a specialist treadmill but telltale signs of overpronation include the outside of your heels always wearing out on your shoes), I was prone to blisters on my big toes and my instep. Getting a pair of support shoes means this never happens and I feel so much more springy.
  • Get yourself some good running gear. You’ll need to invest in some all-weather running gear – at the minimum some warm running tights, a top and a shell jacket. If there’s somewhere to let your clothes dry out at work that’s ideal, as sports clothes can become hard to get really clean if they’re left to fester in a plastic bag all day.
  • Get a great backpack. It’s really worth trying out a jog round the shop so the backpack you pick is suitable for the job. Size will depend on what you have to take to work – clean clothes, shoes, a laptop. Hip straps keep the bag snug when you're moving.
  • In the winter, invest in a down jacket. Running to work in the cold is fine, you quickly warm up. But fitting a winter coat to wear home into a backpack is not so easy. Down jackets can be rolled into tiny packets and will ensure the trip home isn’t too icy.

Kalenji Run Warm+ Jogging Tights, £17.99, Decathlon

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Cycle to work

If you live too far from the office to consider jogging, cycling can be a great option, and if your town or city has rental bikes then that’s a great way to test it out. If you’re new to cycling, take the time to work out a traffic-free or at least traffic-scarce route between home and the office, even if it does mean going out of your way a little bit, as coping with bus lanes and construction lorries can be overwhelming to a new road cyclist.

B'Twin Tilt 100 folding bike, £149.99, Decathlon

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Some bikes are better than others when it comes to positioning. I’m not a fan of leaning forward to far, and have discovered that foldable bikes are incredibly comfortable to ride, as well as very light and flexible. If plans change and I suddenly decide I’m going somewhere other than home after work, I can take my folded bike on the train or tube with me. Or if I prefer I can fold it up and leave it by my desk for the next day – way less stressful than leaving it out on the road overnight.

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Useful tips:

  • Always wear a helmet, and if you’re doing flexi-cycling (using hire bikes perhaps) it might be a good idea to invest in a foldable helmet that fits neatly inside your bag when you don’t need to use it. -
  • Even if your cycle isn’t very strenuous, you likely will get hot and sweaty on your top half, especially if you’re wearing a backpack, so bring a change of clothes to work.
  • If you like wearing skirts but are worried about having a Marilyn Monroe moment on your bike, this youtube video is fantastic – all you need is a coin and an elastic band (any hairband will do). Instant culottes!

Scoot to work

Even more flexible than cycling, scooting to work gives you the benefit of exercise with the bonus of real speed. Unlike bikes, you can get away with scooting most places, from pedestrian zones to pavements, so it’s good if you have some busy roads to navigate and don’t have the confidence to ride on them.

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Not all scooters are created equal – and it’s worth checking out the route before you decide on yours. I’m a fan of this large-wheeled design as you can go speedily and over paving stones without rattling your bones. Some have hand breaks, others suspension, so it really depends on what you need.

Osprey Aphelia backpack, £75, Amazon

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Useful tips:

  • Challenge your brain! Everyone will have a stronger leg and will automatically gravitate towards one side. What you quickly discover is scooting is hard on the legs – and it’s actually the one which stays still, but in a constant bent position, that burns the most. The only real solution to this is to dare to swap – and while it feels unsteady to start with, it must be a great workout for the little grey cells too!  
  • You’ll probably want to use trainers if this becomes a regular commute as unless you’re very disciplined about using the foot break, your soles will wear away with all that scuffing to a halt!