Why do I get so tired?

I’ve had my unicycle for about three months. I’m still not convinced that I’ll ever really be able to ride it, but I am slowly learning. I can go a couple hundred yards in a fairly straight line, make very ungraceful turns, and I even freemounted for the first time yesterday.

I’ve thought about posting to this forum several times but there have always been other topics with my same questions. The basic advice seems to be keep practicing.

Something I haven’t seen addressed is how tiring it is to ride a unicycle. I usually ride down my driveway and then try to turn around in the cul-de-sac. If I do this just once or twice I am really out of breath. It seems like I must be doing something wrong. My guess is that I am not putting enough weight on my seat. It does seem less tiring when I concentrate and put weight on the seat but when I do that I usually lose my balance and then jump off.

Is this something that will get easier with practice or could I be doing something else wrong?

Don’t worry. Its just cause at this point you are constantly battling to stay on your uni. Soon it will just click and it will seem just as natural as walking. So…

…just keep practising, haha. It truely is the answer to every question.


It can also make a difference whether you are used to biking or not.

I personally have never found the weight-on-seat image to be very useful. It may or may not be true, but I think that it is an intermediate consequence, not a fundamental concept. In practice, a rider’s weight-on-seat changes continually based on what the rider is doing at any moment. In addition, it shifts your attention to your saddle, which is unproductive in terms of maintaining balance. There’s no need to think about your saddle. Your shoulders, hips, and feet are what keep you in balance.

Basically there are two reasons why you get tired so fast.

First, you are probably very tense. So your muscles all over your body are fighting one another and are very tight, and blood is not flowing well. Blood provides oxygen for aerobic work, so your body is using anaerobic methods to do the work you are asking for.

How to reduce your tension? Well, a few things: 1. Set small goals. Don’t try to go a mile, just go to the mailbox and get off the uni. That way your body has a better idea of what to expect. 2. Consciously try to relax. Start before you mount and continue through your dismount. 3. Make a concerted effort to breathe naturally while you ride. After all, you’re not climbing the Matterhorn and you are in a very low gear. So you should be breathing easily. Telling your body this will help it understand that what you are asking it to do is easy work. 4. Shake out your arms and shoulders while you ride. I did this a lot for ice skating. This tells your body that what is important is going on elsewhere in your body and helps it allocate resources better. 5. Talk to someone while you ride.

Second, your legs are working against each other. When one leg is pressing down to go forward, the other leg is pressing against the other pedal to stop the forward motion. The result is a kindof isometric exercise.

There are a couple of mental images that help with this. The first is to think of pressing lightly on the pedals. You don’t have to push hard. Think of both feet, pressing easily and lightly. Another, different, image is to actually think of pulling up on the pedals while you ride. I know they aren’t attached, but at this point you have so much pressure on the pedals that no matter how hard you try to pull up you won’t be able to detach them. It’s a kind of cool feeling to ride along pulling up on the pedals and still staying in contact. This will also reduce your isometric riding. Later on, this image will morph into better hill climbing as you think of your feet as a team working together, one pressing, one pulling.

This is my take on it, anyway!

Good luck and keep us posted.

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You are correct, though. It is because you are not sitting on the seat with all of your weight. When i was learning, i used to almost stand while riding, and i was always exhausted. Now i only put pressure on the pedals to crank, and it’s fine. Of course, i still get tired after a while, because we always have to fight to keep the unicycle under us, and because we can’t coast like the lazy bikers. You’ll get used to it.

Oh, and, BTW, no matter which level of unicycling you are on, you are never sure if you will ever get to the next level. I’m around Level 4, and i still get so frustrated with some skills that i feel like giving up; like i’ll never get the skill. Trust me, with practice, you’ll be able to master any skill you put the effort into.

It’ll get easier- at the moment, most of your effort is in keeping your balance, rather than in going forwards. With practice, almost none of your effort will be in trying to balance the unicycle.

I remember feeling like I’d run a marathon after riding 50m down the road- I’d be achey for about 2 days afterward. Nowadays my favourite ride is a 37km round trip.

Keep practicing, you’ll get there in no time at all!


All good advice. I just like to add that stretching helps the muscles to relax and lets blood and energy flow freely. It is a good idea to strech while taking a break, you will then imidiately learn/feel which muscles that are getting tensed.

Re: Why do I get so tired?

Yes, rest your weight on the seat, not on the pedals. Keep riding. The more you ride the more comfortable you will become and the more you can relax. Then it’s just a matter of sitting on the seat and turning the wheel (almost).

This whole description on what is going on is brilliant. I have realized a few of these points, but not all of them. This will help in getting me acclimated to my new Coker. Thanks U-Turn.

I am another relative noobie and have the same problem. It is getting better, but my 7 year old can still outdistance me. I expend a lot more energy than he does trying to balance.

This is the first time I have seen this explanation. It makes a ton of sense. I am going to work on this tonight.

this is probably because

a. you learn things better when your younger
b. hes younger so therefore not older

hmm that didnt come out right
lets just say that is easier to say run a mile when your 15 then when you are 40 simply because as you get older you slow down

you haft to exercise, very important and good for you’re health. Strong legs is very good for unicycling and condition too.



You really have a knack fro kinesthetic analysis. Why is that? You’ve given me helpful advice, like putting more weight on the pedals when small road changes would UPD me.

Although it’s not relevant to this thread, could you say a bit more about how: Your shoulders, hips, and feet are what keep you in balance.


I agree with U-Turn, you need to consider his visualizations. I find that I’m battling myself sometimes to keep going. If you imagine a smooth give in take while pedaling, you will begin to develop a rhythm. I rode significantly as a kid - some 25 years ago and recently began riding again. I was initially exhaused but was riding well after a couple of weeks.

The prize for learning the unicyle is the ultimate - The Coker 36! Once on this, you will be forever changed!

I try to think in terms of primary and secondary actuators (sounds kinda geeky, I know). This was true of ice skating too. The only thing moving your body is the wheel interacting with the ground. Simplistically, the feet move the wheel, so they are primary. The legs drive the feet, so they are secondary. The hips drive the saddle, which affects the wheel directly, so they are primary. The shoulders provide counter-torque for the hips and feet about two axes (vertical and parallel to the axle), so they are kinda primary-secondary. The arms simply help activate the shoulders, and so are secondary-tertiary.

So when you remove everything but the primary elements of riding, you have the shoulders, feet, and hips. Everything else serves those elements. A clear, effective illustration of this is to idle with your hands behind your back. Another is to do a rocky downhill with your fingers touching each other like a musing philosopher the entire time. You will find that your trunk/torso can do most of the work, and indeed should. The torso is composed of upper and lower parallelograms, and this “constellation” is defined by the six stars of shoulders, hips, and feet. The constellation warps and moves according to the needs of the moment.

So it makes sense to lessen the mental load by concentrating on the primary elements and let the others take care of themselves.

On a meta-level, you have the standard downhill ski racer’s credo: learn to go fast. Everything else is secondary. Style serves objective.

I got some good advice upon a time to ice skate with my hands behind my back. It took a long time before I could handle most/all situations with that restriction. The process, though, moved my body motions towards primary and away from secondary/tertiary, and seriously improved my skating. After all, you don’t use your arms to push on the ice. The process completely changed my body position to one that best positioned my legs for skating motions.

Another thing I did a lot was shake out my arms while doing various moves, to show my body that, since the arms were doing things that couldn’t possibly be related to the skating move at the time, they must not be important in this situation. This allowed my body to make more effective “subroutines”, or physical motion building blocks.

After a while, I noticed that my “consciousness” was moving out to my feet, and that I had a strong sense of “working the ice” with my edges. I find the same thing is happening with unicycling and the pedals and pedal cycle. Before I hurt my knee, I was finding the same was starting to happen with wheel-walking - that my feet were starting to get very sensitive to manipulations of the tire.

Last comment: Some might say “what about hopping and holding onto the saddle?” Well, it bears more thought, but it seems to me the best way to think about that is not as an exception to the above discussion, but instead think of it as adding a strong elastic band to the hip-saddle connection. Still the primary elements are hips, shoulders, feet. But now the metastable connection to the unicycle at the saddle is significantly changed, reducing the likelihood that a perturbation induced by ground irregularity will drive the connection into instability. The 6 primary points are still there and serve the exact same purpose.

The research on Dave Mariner’s site shows how much more pressure a learner puts on the pedals compared to an experienced rider. Its no suprise you get tired. I remember when I was learning and I was so tired out after just riding 100m…

anyway, http://www.unicycle.co.uk/directory.htm is where you want to look, and then click on ‘research’.

be quick! It might not be there for very long…

Try 14 hours of straight trials…now that’s tiring :smiley:

and i’m off to bed, after a decent 6 hour ride :stuck_out_tongue:

methinks its the concentration that makes ya tired.

Tired in what way? Sucking wind tired? Sore thighs tired?

You mentioned being out of breath. Some people hold their breath when doing intricate things. Are you holding your breath? That could certainly cause fatigue quickly. You will notice this if you suddenly gasp for air while you’re learning. Try to remember to breath. I have difficulty with this while doing trials moves.

Do your thighs get really sore really quickly? Maybe your seat height isn’t set correctly and you are not getting the full benefit of complete leg extension for each pedal stroke.

Having your weight on the seat IS important to conserve energy and make riding less tiring. The rider stands on the pedals or puts more pressure on the pedals more frequently to make corrections while learning to ride. Much more energy goes into maintaining balance. Remembering to relax back down into the saddle AFTER making a correction. This helps conserve energy and lightens the forces being applied to the pedals by your feet.

Thanks for all the comments. I think I’m slowly getting better. Since I learned to freemount last week I decided to take the unicycle to my son’s soccer (football) practice. There are multiple fields (pitches) on two levels in an L-shape layout. There is a path around the whole facility that is 1/2 mile long. I managed to ride it in each direction. The first time around I fell off / dismounted about 10 times. The second time I managed it in only 6 re-mounts (although it sometimes takes me several tries to do a freemount). Up to this point it has always been my lungs that got tired but this ride was lungs and legs. In fact, I can still feel it in my legs today.

By the way, I ride a mountain bike a couple of times a week. My goal is to ride one of the easier bike trails on my unicycle.