I thought I was an athelete

Today, onefiftyfour and I were training for a race.
The race goes up a steep stretch of hill and ends in under a mile.
To train, we have been riding up the hill as well as another steeper hill for a total of 5 miles of climbing and descending. The latter hill is so steep that the pavement has been grooved to provide more traction and still cars sometimes slip off of the road.

Anyway, I noticed an odd noise and feel from my unicycle today. Some strange creaking, and the seat seemed angled up. At the bottom of the steep hill, I discovered that the GB4 seatpost had cracked right below the weld.

In fear of a very painful accident, I chose to jog up the steep hill. It was then that I found out that I am not in “good shape.” On the way up the hill, I had to stop for a moment, I slowed almost to a stop a second time as well.

Last week, I rode 10 miles backwards and sprinted back 10 miles. Two days ago, I rode 16 miles on sore legs (due to the first climbing practice) at 6.7 mph average - and yet when I tried to jog up a hill for a half mile, I was woefully “out of shape.” I seemed to be using the same muscles (thighs and lungs).

The questions had crossed my mind before:

  1. Why are there relatively few calories burned unicycling?
  2. Why do those who look like they would get picked last for team sports excel at unicycling?

My new theory: Unicycling is not nearly as physically demanding as I thought it was. I am thinking that I will need to cross-train (jog) to build conditioning for the race more quickly - and to get in better shape.

Has anyone else had this experience?
I guess with all of the emphasis on “building skill” and becoming more efficient, I have lost a good work out.

It depends on how you ride.

Once you get to riding comfortable at a normal speed, you don’t burn many caloried because you aren’t working that hard.

You need to mix up your own rides, and make every ride a workout. Watch how much faster you burn calories. Ride in the grass beside the sidewalk, see how many reps you can do of riding as fast as you can, or bunnyhopping over everything in your path. Those are some very easy ways to get you into fantastic shape.

Hill training is great as well. Get to the top of a very steep, or long hill, enough so you are dead at the top.

Ride back down and do it again.

Repeat 10 times, then continue on with your ride

(picking new lines up and down each time makes it more interesting, and you soon memorize every detail of that hill, for future rides)

Being “in shape” is different than being thin.

Calorie consumption is a complicated issue. You burn different types of calories at different heart rates. In general, while riding a unicycle your heart rate is lower and you are indeed burning calories but you are not taxing your aerobic conditioning. In fact you are burning more fat calories at the relatively lower heart rates. When you jump into the upper-range of your maximum heart rate you are not burning fat calories but other calories. It is a complicated process. In short, you have such a sophisticated machine (your body) that is so smart that it uses the types of fuel that it needs at the stress level or heart rate level. Old school hybrid vehicle!

I do my “cross-training” by mixing the kind of riding. Trials riding, including long flights of stairs, can work all parts of your metabolism and your muscles. If you mix it up you really can get a full-body workout from unicycling.


Brian’s advice is very good. The only reason I’m in such good shape (relatively speaking) is that 9 out of 10 times when I come back from a ride, the last mile is all uphill, with no flats or downhills. A month of that, especially if you push yourself will make a big difference. But you also have to remember that jogging uses different muscles, as does walking. Do to icy sidewalks, I haven’t ridden to or from school this semester (I carry a laptop, and can’t risk the falls on ice) and only 2 days of walking down the hill 1.25 miles and back up at the end of the day 1.25 miles KILLED my shins, different stresses, different muscles…

Running, bicycling and unicycling certainly seem to use utterly different sets of muscles. I consider myself a pretty good cyclist, but I can’t run very far (even a mile at jogging speed kills me). I suppose it’s just that I have never been into running and have never developed the relevant muscles.

Similarly, riding a unicycle seems to use far more energy than biking. My 10 mile ride to work is nothing to me on a bike, but if I use the unicycle (26x3, smoothish gravel trails most of the way) I arrive sweaty and knackered, even though I’m only averaging 7mph. Part of it is probably down to technique (I’m a much better bicyclist than unicyclist) but I reckon unicycling takes more energy in general than biking to cover the same route.


Cycling is not “weight-bearing” exercise, and doesn’t prepare you for weight-bearing exercise (like running). As people age and begin to have bone-density issues, weight-bearing exercise becomes important. The more weight-bearing exercise you do in your life, the less bone-density problems you’re likely to have later on.

Running and sports incorporating running (e.g. soccer, basketball, and my favorite, Ultimate) have their own problems, such as being hard on the joints. Cycling gives great aerobic benefits and muscular development while being easy on the joints, but it doesn’t help keep your bones “in shape”.

A combo is best.

Unicycling for a distance will have little transfer into jogging for a distance. Some of the aerobic adaptations gained through the unicycling will transfer to help with the jogging; however, they utilize a completely different motor program!

According to the specificity hypothesis, practice that is specific to the criterion task will have the most benefit. To have the most transfer into your goal of racing up a hill on a unicycle, practice at the same speed, resistance, and intensity that the competition will have. Unicycling is completely different from jogging.

Keep your practice specific to the competition.

As Steveyo said, probably the main difference is the fact that jogging is weight-bearing, while the unicycle isn’t. Even though you are using the same major muscles for both activities, you’re using different parts of those muscles, plus you’re using a different range of motion on your joints. And not all the same muscles.

For example somebody mentioned sore shins. Walking up and down hills turns your feet at different angles in relation to your shinbones. This doesn’t happen on a unicycle, where you either do ankling motions when you pedal or you don’t, but it’s always the same regardless of slope.

When running, your body goes up and down. You supply all the energy for that. When you ride a unicycle you not only move in a horizontal line, but most of your weight is on the seat (and handle, if you have a good one).

Riding on hills also makes a big difference. If all of your training was on flat roads, hills would still kill you. Sounds like your training regimen will work well for the event you have coming up.

Time yourselves, if you’re not. That’s a great way to gage progress. Not only does it give you a better idea of what to expect, it makes it easier to tell if you’re improving.

Enjoy the race! If it’s mostly uphill and around a mile like you said, you have a good chance to beat a bunch of bikes!

Re: I thought I was an athelete

“steveyo” <steveyo@NoEmail.Message.Poster.at.Unicyclist.com> writes:

> Cycling is not “weight-bearing” exercise, and doesn’t prepare you for
> weight-bearing exercise (like running).

Hmm… Tell that to my stress-fractured toe and my knee, sore from
jarring landings while working on freestyle skills. And did I mention
the amount of weight my arms bear during thouse out of balance UPDs?


My 2 cents: Unicycling uses a wheel. that’s mechanical advantage right there. If it was biologically possible to have a wheel on an animal, it would happen, becuase wheels are a LOT more efficient than legs or anything else. Unis are easier than running, and bikes (because of the gearing and less energy spent on balance, and the ability to coast at any time, etc.) are easier to use than unis. a fairinged bike is somewhere near teh most efficient means of human-power transportation there is.

(I forgot the mechanical advantage calculations from physical science. anyone remember them?)

Even without fairing, the bike is THE most efficient form of transportation on earth. No animals, unicycles, people, planes, birds, or cars are better. The only thing that even stands a chance of competing is the bc wheel, but that’s not very reasonable for obvious reasons.

I don’t think there’s anything to hill climbing other than doing it a LOT. I climb hills every day, and it seems to make a difference whenever I’m at a muni weekend. I always seem competitive on the long climbs, and the only way I can explain that is that I climb hills all the time.

Sofa, the hill climbing excercise you described sounds like torture. I do that, but only because that’s the only way to get around in SF.

Re: I thought I was an athelete

A couple thoughts:

Question 1. A lot of unicycling is done at the equivalent of “granny gear” on the bike. Until you add distance, hills, or physically challenging skill development such as seat out & seat on side you often don’t reach the point of seriously fatiguing your muscles.

Question 2. Because they aren’t busy participating in team sports? Perseverence?