Unicyclist fitness and strength vs cyclists and other athletes

Sure - but if it’s a question of what the benefit of unicycling is over bike riding, then it’s still not giving you a full body workout, whilst not providing the same aerobic benefits as going for a hard bike ride. Bike riders cover more km in the same time - and you can get just as intense a workout on a bike as the peak intensity when doing muni, whilst being able to sustain higher average intensity (try riding a time trial on a bike and then suggesting you can get a workout like that on a uni).

This is only partly true. A bike is clearly a much better aerobic workout because you get get your heart rate to a certain point and leave it there indefinitely. But MUni on hills can be a better anaerobic workout; pushing up a technical uphill is harder than anything I do on a road bike, though not as sustained.

I am an awful muni climber, I occasionally ride (once or twice a week but not very long rides), I love good food (I am french :p), I was born in 1948 …but when my MD saw my heart rate (45) and blood pressure she just told me she would like to have more of that amongst the “young” people.
So yes unicycling may be a fountain of youth :smiley:
I will ask one of my grandsons who is practising 100m dash to train me for the same distance and I will see if any comparison with other “athletes” of my age could tell something (was never fond of long distance running: it’s boring)

You know Joe, your ‘against the grain’ voice of reason has stricken again, and again I find myself agreeing with you to an extent, I think…

You’re obviously a lot fitter than most unicyclists, because most of us would literally keel over and die if we tried to ride 200 miles in a day. But that’s because aside from a select few who the rest of us put on a pedestal, we are for the most part a very casual sport. The vast majority of us on this board aren’t doing 200 mile epics and 80-mile gravel grinder events, we’re trundling along canal towpaths and maybe joining in a few 50-60 mile sportives in our local city for some charity. Most of us see a Schlumpf as a ridiculously expensive toy that we’d love to try but in reality would never really get our money’s worth out of it. So yeah, most of us are ‘wimps’ and are probably about as fit as anyone else who cycles casually.

If we imagine this in terms of 2-wheelers, there are millions of people who get out their crusty old hybrid on the weekend and go ride down the rail trails and canal towpaths at a nice steady pace. And then there are the spandex-clad road warriors who think nothing of a 100-miler of a weekend, and have a bike worth more than their car. Most of the road warriors do look fitter than your average bloke, but they certainly don’t have the body of an elite professional athlete.

The problem is, cycling also has pro-level racing, where we get blokes like Froome who can average 25mph over 200 miles uphill, or Forstemann who can sprint so hard he can literally power a toaster and who’s legs became a meme. I doubt even the fastest road riders in unicycling could even get close to either of these guy’s level of fitness, but they also don’t train 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, with their entire life revolving around perfecting their cycling form and performance, with an entire team of coaches, data analysts and dieticians monitoring every peanut they swallow. The pro cyclists also don’t just ride bikes all day, most of them will train in the gym (especially sprinters, who need to build muscle). Our ‘training regime’ is just ‘ride more’, which can only get you so far. It’ll get you far enough to win races and do century rides, but it wouldn’t get you far enough to start considering yourself as fit as an elite athlete, I don’t think!

To take a couple of specific examples, Chuck Edwall was for a time the fastest unicyclist in the world by far. He won the 23km time trial at Ride the Lobster by about a minute. He then got into road biking, and won a bunch of Cat-5 and Cat-4 races, but I don’t think he ever progressed beyond Cat-3.

Ryan Atkins was the unicycle high jump and trials champion, competing with Kris Holm for the best trials rider in the world at the time. Now he’s doing high-level obstacle course racing. He didn’t look like this when he was unicycling. His training regimen is insane.

Exactly, it depends what you measure in terms of ‘fitness’. Is is strength? Aerobic capacity? Endurance? Or some combination? Fitness in one sport doesn’t translate easily to one with a different mechanism of movement.

On the other hand, I admit it is interesting to compare the abilities of athletes in different sports. I did XC mountainbiking/running/orienteering at a national level in my teens/early 20s, which set me up well to race unicycles.

I have the following observations, based on my n=1 experience:

  • unicyclists tend to ride with lower resistance (fewer gears, higher cadence) than bicyclists. I generally feel I’ve had a harder workout after riding my bike- there is a greater endorphin high for the same amount of time riding.
  • being fit on my bike makes me rubbish on my unicycle- I can’t spin as fast! The muscles feel sluggish.
  • running helps unicycling a lot, both in terms of spinning ability and aerobic fitness.
  • Having fitness in one sport doesn’t mean you’ll do well in another. I have a friend who would easily beat me running (marathon PB 30min faster than mine); but despite unicycling more than I do, it’s the other way around on one wheel.
  • just like bicycling, there are situational specific fitness requirements. A top climber isn’t necessarily good at riding a time trial on the flat.

I would be interested to see the V02 max of top unicyclists in different disciplines.

It’s an impossible comparison to make, but to get to the (probably) intended point of this discussion:

No, unicycling doesn’t require anything special in terms of fitness.

Agreed! It’s not about being fit, it’s about perseverance!

Thanks, but I know all about keeping my weight on the seat. It is not just my legs, I feel my whole body sore all over afterwards, including my neck, sides, core, shoulders. My body tenses up all over as my nervous system struggles firing muscles I don’t usually use to help me keep my balance. This is one reason that I wanted to figure out if there was a way to make the unicycle respond slower, ie train in water, or get a unicycle with the widest oversized fat tire I could find.

When I asked about that, as you say, people shot it down, with 1970’s that is the way it was always done thinking, instead of forward thinking.

When I started unicycling, first I had to get the hardware and tire sorted out to something strong enough to hold my weight. Then I went out enthusiastically and gave it all I had. Then I was sore as hell for a week. I could not do my regular exercises, ate everything in sight, and after that week I was down 5 lb.

Before I went with unicycling, I was regularly weight training, doing long hikes, calisthenics and bodyweight exercises, training with war clubs, kettlebells, stretches, balance boards, punching and kicking heavy bag, very high reps with light dumbbells, and resistance bands. I also trained my grip directly. I would be doing 2 - 3 of these groups of exercises every day rotating them on different days.

On top of that, I started every morning with the Tibetan 5 rites, Chinese staff exercises, and the Charles Atlas dynamic tension routine.

When I tried to train with unicycling daily all of the rest of the above ground to a halt. I also found that going at it daily, I seemed to get worse instead of better. All information I was given from all sources told me to go out and just practice more.

Then one person told me that they could not train daily, and just went at it with a once per week lesson, and then suddenly like a switch, they could do it after 6 months. Then it was far less exhausting and increased practice to several times per week.

Sometimes life and other things get in the way, like winter and heavy rain. I am still looking for a place to practice for when the weather sucks.

So, now my unicycle practice sessions have increased from once per week to at least 2 or more times per week. I alternate with a whole body weight training routine, recover enough, then go out and practice unicycling. The only other thing I do is stretching and occaisionally hike. The time spent training has increased to around an hour on a good day. I am more stable now, and on a good day get up to 3 rotations without touching a wall or rail. Before May I should be up to 3 or more practice sessions per week, as long as nothing gets in the way of it.

I miss a lot of the other training I used to do. If I am going to unicycle, at this point I have to temporarily sacrifice those activities to be able to put in the practice to learn it. I found that when I just did straight unicycling, I lost flexibility and strength and agility as I could not do my other exercises. There is no way I will practice unicycling daily until my body is used to it, by then I should have the balance to ride around without needing a wall at all, and be a lot leaner.

I do not agree that daily practice is necessarily the best for everyone. When I used to bodybuild, before I got into heavy weightlifting, I experimented with a lot of routines and theories. At one point I was training daily with a long split routine. I was constantly sore and it took up all my time. In Olympic lifting I was doing heavy squats almost constantly for hours almost daily. That took a lot to get used to, but you sure could jump high after that. Before that, I also built up to a one hour horse stance I did daily.

On the other end of the training spectrum, when I was out at a work camp in the boonies, there was a weight bench and barbell set. We all had a bench press contest once per week with it, and no other weight training. By the end of that summer, many that could only bench press less that 150 were close to 250. Some of them were doing whole body routines in gyms 3x per week for months before with only small gains to show for it.

I took note of this later when I became too busy with things to put in a long daily weight training session. So, I just did a lower body workout usually on Monday, and an upper body workout usually on Thursday. I found that I was making better gains than my big long routine. This left me lots of time for cardio and other activities.

When I train for pure strength, powerlifting, not bodybuilding for mass, I usually only do 2 exercises, but work them into the ground with mutliple sets of very heavy low reps. I will go every day to hit everything 2x per week. Takes less than 2 hours on the longest workout, every day to do this and yields spectacular results. Olympic lifting is a much longer workout by comparison.

Doing certain things daily does not necessarily yield the best, or even good results. It depends on many factors. Sometimes going at it more than once every day is best. Over doing something and it starts to work against you. Under doing it, and you get sub par results. In the case of physical activity, it could injure you. You have to figure out when to push harder, when to back off, what adjustments to make in order to get the maximum effectiveness from our efforts in everything we do.

Right on!

What tire is he using, at what PSI?

In the youtube comments he says he went through a few craigslist unicycles, bought good inner tubes for them and overinflated the tires to where he wouldn’t bottom out.

Except that as I pointed out, there is no uni workout you can’t do on a bike - if you want to get that sort of workout on a bike you just have to push harder. Go and do a hill climb race on a bike - you’ll be raising your HR just as high as on a muni uphill. The only difference is that it may be easier psychologically to push harder on the uni, as you’re in a situation where you push that hard or fail so there’s no backing off.

That’s a pretty big difference. Pushing beyond your limits on a bike is painful and not fun, while riding at your limits can be fun. I am always impressed anew, when I go out for a bike training ride, how well the bicycle translates power into forward motion. But I’m not at all interested in doing painful things on bikes.

Aha! Those 3 rotations are worth more than months of clinging to a wall because now you are getting experience actually riding a unicycle.

Try to get 3 rides of 3 revolutions each and then quit for the day, using the wall only to get on the unicycle. Getting those three rides done may take you an hour and a half, or it may take you only ten minutes. If you use this approach, you should be able to practice every day with no problem, and the 3 rotations will become 5 and then 10 and so on.

Sometimes long practice sessions on the unicycle are less productive than shorter ones. Fatigue can make you more risk-averse, which can be a problem when you are learning any new unicycling skill. When I was learning to wheel walk, I found 20- or 30-minute sessions to be optimal. They allowed enough time to warm up, but not enough to lose focus or get tired, which would make me too cautious to lean back enough, and then my wheel walks would grow shorter and shorter. Better to call it a day before you get to that point!

You know way more than I do about weight lifting and strength training, but doing squats almost daily sounds crazy to me. As a teenager, I was a mediocre competitor in a couple of powerlifting meets, and found that heavy squats and deadlifts could not really be done more than twice a week.

Like you, I do calisthenics. I am learning to do handstand push-ups, and can now lower my nose to the floor (or below the floor if I am perched on a ledge) without falling out of the handstand, but I can’t go back up more than a few inches. I can do four or five of these mini-push-ups before my handstand dies and I have to start over again. A unicycle is a good thing to have on hand when you do stuff like this, - both for transportation to the outdoor workout area and for R&R between sets. Anyway, if you have any suggestions for how I can finish getting the handstand push-up, please let me know. It is mostly a triceps press with a very large range of motion, but I don’t have access to weights or a gym.

I went through all that too.

I get started on the rail. Then I see how far I can go without touching it or falling down. So far up to 3 rotations on a good run. I am also now praticing idling more often. I can also get almost the entire length of the lacrosse and bike polo fields almost every time without collapsing into a pile of goo before I get there.

I was going to go out and practice today without taking a break in spite of being sore all over. As fate would have it, it was suppsed to just be cloudy, but it ended up raining hard when I got there. I am probably too busy with other stuff for the rest of the day to head out later, even if the weather clears. Maybe that was for the better, as I probably need another day just to recuperate before charging at it again.

I might have to do a long road trip the next couple of days. I sure hope not, as that would definitely mess up my training routine. Life and weather getting in the way of things again!

For now, I am only weight training, unicycling, and stretching. I had to drop the rest of the activities as unicycling takes too much out of me at this point. I forgot to list other things I used to do, like Iron Boot training off the top of my head. Was talking to some skilled unicyclists yesterday at the practice area. They told me that they had to drastically cut back or even cut out altogether on their other physical activites when they started for at least 2 years until they became used to unicycling.

In Olympic weight lifting, the trainers had us just keep grinding at it daily until we could barely squat with and do the movement with just a piece of bamboo, or not at all. This made going to the washroom quite a challenge when you could not sit down or get up and get brutal charley horse muscle cramps. Buckets for vomit received a lot of use. This level of intensity probably cannot be applied to unicycling, as balance cannot be maintained with that level of faitigue, or can it?

Those that persisted, which took incredible willpower. Could eventually handle the high volume of training with massive weights, and jump incredibly high, and sprint really really fast. An incredible level of conditioning resulted. Olympic lifters claim to have among the lowest heart rates, most explosiveness, and flexibility of any athlete. To do those lifts technically correctly takes a lot of training, unlike bodybuilding and powerlifting.

Driving that heavy barbell explosively up into the air, bouncing it off the thighs to get it there, and then diving deeply under it definitly makes you very good at jumping high.

This is the right attitude for unicyle training:

Hmm. So if I’ve understood correctly, you go the length of the lacrosse field holding onto the fence? If you spent that time and effort just trying to ride unassisted, you would make much faster progress, and you probably wouldn’t get so tired. Whatever physical conditioning you may get from pedaling along a wall, it sounds like you probably don’t need it, and anyway, it is not going to help you very much, especially now that you are actually able to ride a bit. I usually advise people not to use the wall at all, not even in the very beginning, except maybe for mounting, because it builds bad habits, defensiveness and fear.

Exactly! Pushing yourself to the point of failure can be helpful for things like deadlifting, but other activities need to be practiced for correct technique. Unicycling is one of the latter, at least for you at this stage. Eventually, once you learn to bunnyhop up the stairs, you could probably do that to the point of failure, if you were so inclined! But for right now, finding ways to wear yourself out on a unicycle will mostly be counterproductive, in my opinion. Once you learn to ride 100 meters or so, you can start to design all sorts of crazy unicycle workouts for yourself- climbing steeper and steeper hills, navigating potholes, riding off curbs, etc.

No. I do not hold on to it. I lightly touch it as necessary. As I go along sometimes I get 3 full rotations on the cranks before I re touch it or fall off. Over time I gradually touch it less and go further without touching it. My body has adapted enough to be able to do that distance on a unicycle if I tap my hand along the way I do not fall off. I now touch it a lot less going further with less contact of the wall.

When I started doing this I could not get close to pedaling that length before something in my body gave out so I could not continue. I would run out of breath long before before I reached half that length. My back, legs, core or some essential stabilizing muscle in the chain would give out before I got part way along the fence.

If I would go and practice the next day without muscles having recovered, I would just fall off even more, and the distance I could go was even shorter. If I went 3 days in a row be almost unable to balance on it at all, muscles in a lot of pain. I get far better results after I let my body recover and go at it fresh instead of fried.

My body and nervous system is adapting to this and eventually I will practice daily. I will not do daily practice before my body is ready for it. I want to go forward and make gains from my efforts, not go backwards. I started this with drastically lower endurance and cardio than most people have.

I have made significant cardio and balance gains and lost a lot of weight from starting this journey carefully, sparingly, and systematically.

Yup. That’s holding the fence.