Make the most of your lockdown fitness gains

They may have scuppered our racing and holiday plans but lockdowns have proved to be an unprecedented boon for our fitness – as Ian Green finds out

One year ago, as it became clear that the arrival of Covid-19 meant an imminent national lockdown, most of us were more concerned about our health than our fitness. Being cyclists, though, we intuited that our pedalling habit would help keep us well – and thankfully the government agreed, making provision for daily exercise.

Nonetheless, it was impossible to foresee how long the lockdown would last or what impact it would have on our fitness, particularly for those of us with performance-related targets. Now, one year on, the picture is taking shape, it’s throwing up some big surprises – for many of us, lockdown-related changes have, far from impeding our progress, actually brought about major fitness gains.

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Dr Mark Elliott, associate professor in digital healthcare at the University of Warwick, has studied the effects on a sample of the UK population and found that different groups were affected in very different ways. For example, people living in rural locations were more likely to report an increase in exercise levels during lockdown than those in urban centres, while already-inactive people tended to do less than ever. 

“The lockdown affected many people’s exercise routines,” says Elliott. “For example, the closure of gyms. However, many were quick to adapt to a new form of exercise, with a high proportion stating they plan to stick with this new routine.”

Among cyclists, we know that the lockdown spurred many of us to get out and ride more. Strava has reported that, across the world, 1.8 times more outdoor bike rides were uploaded from April to June 2020 than in the same period in 2019. Women led the way: UK and Irish female cyclists recorded more than twice the increase of their male counterparts over the course of 2020, racking up 100 per cent more rides than in 2019.

Men and women alike didn’t merely ride more frequently but faster too: one-third more KOM/QOM crowns changed hands. And we didn’t limit our extra activity to outdoor riding; we uploaded nine per cent more walks, six per cent more runs and five per cent more indoor rides than usual. Overall “moving time” jumped by nearly 15 per cent.

You can read the full version of this feature in the March 11 issue of Cycling Weekly magazine. If you'd like expert advice to help your fitness improve through the year, subscribe to CW magazine for just £28.99 for the first 12 issues. You can also order single issues of the magazine online and have it delivered to your door.