The UK is embarking on a slow return to normality after well over a year away from the office for most of us. And while vaccines and lateral flow tests are giving us confidence, many of us, including myself, remain eager to avoid public transport where possible. If you live close enough to work, the perfect solution is to turn your commute into a workout - and there are many different ways to do this. And as I've discovered recently, even if you live some way from your office, the recent boom in e-bikes and e-scooters means long-distance commutes can also be done without stepping foot on a train, bus or tube.
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Getting fit is easier if you do it on your way to work
The biggest benefit of buliding your workout into your commute is that you get fit (and look great) effortlessly. This is one thing I can't wait for when the office return happens. When I am active on the way to work, it removes so much pressure to try and build a gym session or an at-home-yoga half hour into my busy day. If you run to work, your fitness just happens. And while of course it's great for your physical health, it's also incredibly good for your mental health too. I much prefer arriving to work after a jog or a cycle, than after squeezing myself onto a busy train feeling grumpy and frustrated.
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 - and don't worry. Even if you live miles from work there are options for you too!
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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Brooks trainers, from £79.98, Amazon
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.
- 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, £12.99, Decathlon
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.
ECOSMO folding bike, £289.99, Amazon
Some bikes are better than others when it comes to positioning. I’m not a fan of leaning forward too 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 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.
Riding an E-Bike to work
I recently discovered that there's a fantastic option for people who live more than a comfortable cycle away from the office - or for those with a hilly commute who know that they just wouldn't be able to manage it on a normal bike. Meet the E-Trends City E-Bike - an electric bike which allows you to cycle to work, get fit and get a little boost as you go. I'll admit I was pretty nervous about trying this bike out - I'm not an expert on two wheels and the thought of hurtling towards oncoming traffic at 25KM per hour sounded terrifying. But the reality was totally different and I'm a true convert now I've tried it!
City E-Bike, £899, E-Trends
You can set the assist speed to three levels - the first is a gentle 6KM per hour, and a good way to get your confidence. With the battery in place, it's a heavy bike, but it's still fine to set off on the flat with traditional pedal power. When you get to about rotation four of your wheels, you feel the power start to kick in. On the first setting, it's a very gentle push (but if you're riding with others on normal bikes you notice it - and it's really fun!). Within a few minutes I was already feeling brave enough to move up to the middle setting - and it really gives you some power.
What gave me confidence quickly was the realisation that you have total control of the boost; if you stop pedalling or put the breaks on, it cuts out right away. Start pedalling again and off you go. But the best bit is you still have to use your legs, so while it's easier, you're still getting fit. It just doesn't feel so painful. Everyone in the family - from my proper cycling-nut husband to my lazy teenage boys enjoyed the week we spent test driving this e-bike.
Riding a cargo bike to work - and dropping the kids at school on the way
How about combining your work commute with your school run - and still getting fit? Dropping or collecting kids to and from school can put a spanner in the works for any well-intentioned fitness drive. With bags and pe kit and little legs, it can seem that a car or bus are the only options for getting kids where they need to be with a smile on their little faces. But it's exciting to see that we're taking a leaf out of Amsterdam's books here with family-friendly cargo bikes becoming more and more availalbe and widespread in the UK.
Raleigh have just launched their new range of cargo bikes for families and I had the chance to test drive one on a track the other day. I admit I was a bit nervous as I took off - this is a big, long and heavy bike. But after a few tips on how to ride one (focus on where you're going and glide your stearing rather than move the handlebars quickly) it was surprisingly easy and fun. The bikes have an electric motor assist so if you've got a hilly commute or have to go a long way you can take the pressure off your muscles. But the ease of switching from each level of assist means you can also make sure you get a good work out too.
Kids will love piling int0 the cargo hold, travelling to or from school with a book or a snack, and the bike feels sufficiently bulky and 'present' that other road users will be forced to give you the space you needed on the road.
Raleigh Stride 2 Bike - stock coming soon
Closca Folding Helmet, from £49.62, Amazon
Useful cycling commute 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.
Razor A6 Kick Scooter, from £227.98, Amazon
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.
One downide of scooting is leg ache! If you've ever tried going a long distance on a scooter you will probably have discovered you have a 'favourite side' meaning one leg gets very sore while you build up muscles. The perfect solution is the new range of e-scooters which have grown in popularity since lockdown 1.0 began a year ago. I've not tried any myself, but Amazon has a great range - many of which have 4 or 5 star ratings, so have a browse.
Osprey Aphelia backpack, £61.02, Amazon
- 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!
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