Saturday 19 October 2019

10 ways to workout on your commute

Long commutes negatively impact your health -eating up time you might use for exercise. So why not turn your commute into a workout with these tips

Get on your bike and cycle to work, it's a great way to start your day
Get on your bike and cycle to work, it's a great way to start your day

Julia Molony

Commuting to work is a fact of life most of us have to contend with. It's estimated that we spend anything from 30 minutes to three hours per day getting to work, which in turn makes it difficult to find time for your recommended exercise. However, the good news is you can make those dead hours lost to travelling to and from the office every week work for you by building exercise into your journey.

1 Step it up

Power up your walk to work by climbing as many steps on your route as possible, suggests Cathy Soraghan, who is a trainer-to-the-stars and founder of Women on the Run ( If you commute on the Dart, why not factor in an extra minute of time before your train "to go up and over the footbridge at least twice before boarding?" she says. "And then that can be increased as you get fitter."

No steps on your usual route? No problem. Use a kerb to tone your glutes instead. "Step up onto the kerb, adding in a hip extension by pulling your knee up towards your chest and then extending it back down to the street," Soraghan suggests, alternating legs and doing as many reps as you have time for. Or why not do "100 step-ups on the side of the footpath while you are waiting for the bus." Just be mindful of traffic.

2 Make the world your gym

Opportunities for a quick blast of exercise are everywhere on a typical city street. "Public benches can be used for tricep dips," explains Soraghan. "Push your bottom off the edge of the bench and go gently up and down while you are waiting for public transport to come. Or, "while waiting for the bus, squat against a wall as if you are sitting on a chair and see how long you can hold that static seated position. If you have a laptop bag, use it as weight and squat with it. As you squat down, pull the bag up to your chin."

3 Get the right gear

Cycling is an excellent low-impact cardiovascular workout, but don't let niggles and avoidable discomforts derail your fitness goals, advises Aidan Hammond, who is a level three Cycling Ireland Coach and founder of

Be prepared for all weather conditions and don't be put off by the idea of wearing lycra - you don't have to. "There's some nice lightweight commuter clothing out there," he says.

Most importantly, he advises getting "the best bike you can afford. You don't need to be spending thousands on a bike, but get something that is comfortable and not too heavy, that you can enjoy riding.

"For commuters, the Cycle to Work scheme allows you to spend up to €1,000 on a bike and get up to €500 off the cost through the tax incentive, so you can get a slightly better bike than you would normally.

"For commuting, the bike needs to be robust, so I would say go for a good hybrid bike. Or a racing bike with wider tyres than normal," he says.

"I'd certainly get the shop to have a look at the customer on the bike to makes sure they have a good position on the bike."

One of the things he commonly sees with beginners is a saddle that is too low. "When you are doing slightly longer cycling, it can give you knee problems or back problems to have the saddle too low."

4 Bike smart

A tiny bit of forward planning makes a big difference when it comes to staying committed, challenged and maintaining motivation to cycling to work. Hammond recommends varying your routes "just to make it a bit different so that you're not doing the same thing day in, day out."

Once you've got comfortable with the direct journey to and from work, you can add in some extra challenges, says Hammond. Choose a couple of days a week to add in an extra hill somewhere, or, for example, a couple of loops of Howth Head or the Phoenix Park. It may only be an extra 30 minutes or so onto the commute, but it makes a big difference over a year if you are doing that kind of stuff.

"Or on a flatter route you might add in some sprints," suggests Hammond. "Do five minutes fast, alternated with five minutes easy. Just to push the fitness out a little bit. Over about eight to 10 weeks you see big, big differences in your fitness levels."

5 Stay dynamic when stuck in traffic

Even gridlock is no excuse to rest on your laurels. "Many modern cars have an automatic switch off where the engine stops when you are at a standstill to save fuel. Use the time by pulling your knees up while keeping your hands on the steering wheel and pedalling them, just like you are pedalling a bike," suggest Cathy. Or if you're definitely not moving for a while, you could put your seat back and do some back extensions, going forwards with the muscle engaged, and then leaning back. Always make sure it is safe to do so.

6 Carry a load

Skip the internet shop or the weekly stock-up at the supermarket, suggests Cathy Soraghan. Instead, make popping into the grocery shop a ritual at the end of the work day and carry your bags home to add a bit of weight-bearing exercise to the walk. "You can do bicep curls with your shopping bags on the way up the road."

7 Tone your tum on the bus

Exercise discreetly on the Luas or the bus by working your core. Engage the abdominal muscle by breathing in, says Cathy. Keep your shoulders down - don't allow them to rise up as you inhale, so that you are breathing from the bottom of your stomach. Pull in your belly button towards your back and then exhale out." The secret, she adds, "is that you don't let the belly button out when you exhale, so you don't let the muscle flop. Start by doing it for a count of four or five breaths and then repeat, building up the reps over time."

8 Get there on twinkle toes

Make like a ballet dancer and trip along to work on your tip toes to increase calf strength. "You're literally just going up onto your toes when you are walking and then back down again" says Cathy, who warns that sensible shoes are a must for this exercise. "You're not going to continue it for too long, because you'll tire the calves quite quickly, but you can do it intermittently with your normal stride."

9 Remember to rest

Don't be afraid to take days off. Rest is important, emphasises Aidan Hammond. When you are new to cycling, people feel tired sometimes, and they are nearly afraid to take a day off. He suggests starting out by taking the bike "every second day at first, and gradually building it up to every day".

10 Stay motivated

Tracking your progress is a key way to maintaining motivation. Use the step counter on your phone if you're walking to work to keep track of what you've achieved. Or, suggests Hammond, turn the commute into a race against yourself. "Pick a hill and time yourself from the bottom to the top over four weeks. You might see an improvement in your time over the month. Obviously depending on the weather conditions, you might do it with a tailwind one day and a headwind the next. But it's just a rough guide."

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