Now that you’re ready to get pedaling, it’s important to set some goals for your cycling workouts.

Whether you’re using a stationary bike or headed outdoors on a traditional model, the first major goal is to try to work up to 30 minutes of cycling every day. Yes, national exercise guidelines call for a minimum of five days of physical activity a week, but every day is better.

Here’s why: Cycling (or doing any exercise) only three days a week doesn’t expose your body to sufficient cycles of the stress and recovery process—physical exertion followed by a resting period—needed to strengthen your muscles.

To make any muscle stronger, including your heart, your workout needs to be intense one day, followed by the next day when you feel a little sore and go at a very slow pace for your recovery. If your muscles do not feel fresh and the soreness does not go away after five to 10 minutes of warming up by exercising very slowly, take the day off. Then come back the next day and apply the same rule.

This means that the most intelligent training programs involve a hard workout one day, usually followed by one to four easy days before you try your next intense workout. Usually, you will have only two intense workouts each week, defined not by mileage but by hard pedaling.

Good rule of thumb: If you do not feel pressure or some burning in your muscles some of the time on an intense day, you are doing a recovery workout.

Try some interval training: On the intense days, consider high-intensity interval training—short bouts of pedaling at increased intensity followed by slow pedaling until you are fully recovered.

What to do: First, warm up by riding slowly for at least 10 minutes. Then start your intervals. Pedal faster until your leg muscles start to feel the burn, then slow down and do easy pedaling until your muscles feel fresh and you no longer feel short of breath. Important: If you’re not a competitive cyclist, you never need to do intense intervals lasting longer than 30 seconds. If the muscle burning or tightness does not go away within a minute or two thereafter, you are finished with your workout and should ride very slowly to cool down before you stop for the day.

Get a group together

You can enjoy riding even more with friends or your spouse. Encourage your friends to join you on bike rides or join your local bicycle club. To learn about local biking communities throughout the US, consult The League of American Bicyclists at BikeLeague.org and click on “Bicycle Friendly America.”

*Always consult your doctor before starting this or any new exercise program.

Source: Gabe Mirkin, MD, wellness expert, retired sports-medicine physician and author of 16 books, including The Healthy Heart Miracle: Your Roadmap to Lifelong Health. www.DrMirkin.com