First time here. Difficulty cycling

Hi. This community was recommended to me by my wife, who swears by the HU Thyroid group.

I'm 48, not terribly fit and was diagnosed with asthma when I was about 11, although it's never really been a big deal for me. In the last few years, though, I've found that any colds I get go to my chest, which had never happened before, and it takes me longer to shift them. I have a blue salbutamol reliever inhaler to use when needed.

A year or so ago, I decided to take up road cycling to try and get a bit healthier. I've joined my local club and have entered a couple of sportives, the most recent being a 70 miler. I find that when I'm out on rides, I can keep up with most people on the flat and can keep going and going, but as soon as there are hills, not even really steep ones, I run out of puff almost immediately, slow right down and find it almost impossible to talk to those cycling with me. I also find myself almost constantly having to clear my throat, which feel congested. I don't feel as though I'm having an attack, as such, I just don't seem to be able to get enough air into my lungs and I feel sapped of energy. I can normally keep going, albeit much slower than everyone else, and once at the top I typically will recover after a minute or so and can carry on at normal pace again. I always take a couple of puffs before setting off on a ride and, depending on how I'm feeling, may take another puff or two while I'm out. What worries me too is that when I analyse my heart rate readings after rides, my average heart rate will be approx 185-190, max-ing out at about 200. This just doesn't feel right and I can often be left with an ache, tight chest for a few days after a long ride. My peak flow is normally between 400 and 450, regardless of how I'm feeling.

I spoke to my GP about this recently and was given an appointment with the asthma nurse at the surgery. After my first visit to the nurse, I was put on a fostair steroid inhaler (2 puffs morning and night) and that did improve the throat clearing when out riding, but hasn't made much of a change to any other symptoms. When I asked the nurse for advice and help on how best to control my breathing and how to breathe properly when exercising, the best she could do was suggest I do a quick google! I have no asthma plan and neither the GP nor the nurse seem too concerned about what I think is an alarmingly high heart rate, especially as it's normally sustained over a period of 4 or 5 hours, both just putting it down to my decreased lung capacity. I have to say that I feel quite let down by my local surgery.

I realise that it may be that I'll never climb hills on the bike like the rest of the guys in the club, but I'd hoped to see some kind of improvement in my ability over time, but things are really no better than they were over a year ago, despite going out 2 or 3 times a week. I want to improve, am prepared to exercise in whatever ways I need to to get better, but I'm struggling to know how to make that difference. I know that many of the top professional cyclists are asthmatic, so my GP and nurse simply telling me that I'll always be at the back and to accept I'm slower doesn't;t feel like very useful advice.

Apologies for the long first post, but I wanted to get this off my chest, no pun intended, and to find out how others have dealt with similar situations.



20 Replies

  • Hi welcome have you tried having 2 puffs of your blue inhaler before exercise I think it does help good luck 👌

  • Hi. Thanks. Yes, 2 puffs before and sometimes 1 or 2 during the ride too.

  • Awww it's not very nice are condition I only got diagnosed in November when I ended up in icu in a coma with life threatening asthma also had pneumonia and septis and am still not back to myself

  • Doug,hi

    I also cycle and like you have trouble keeping up with the fasters, so I don't bother. Those that I cycle with know my problem and know what to do and where my inhaler is, they also wait for me on major inclines. Yesterday I did an audax without incident other a quickly walk up a hill at a place called Burton Dasset, anyway I completed the 105km (@12.4mph). I am afraid you have to live with certain limitations, real people do not get packets in the post with performance enhancing drugs enclosed.

    I don't monitor my heart rate because that might make me over anxious and bring onna panic asthma attack.

    My asthma plan is when my peak flow drops below 150 take prednisolnes(?) which after a couple days things get better and I carry on with my life.

    My normal peak flows are within the 240-280 range, and I survive on that.

    I always have my blue inhaler in my pocket, when I don't have it I am border line anxious and overly cautious.

    I hope this has reassured you and anyone else there is life with asthma.

  • Thanks

    I normally average about 12-13mph too, but it's been quite dispiriting to not see any performance improvement at all. I suppose as much as anything, I want to learn how better to breathe, as I'm certain that I'm snatching at breaths and not making the best of each lungful. I'm also keen to try anything else off the bike that may improve my lung capacity when on it.

  • Hi have you tried learning any breathing exercise? There are lot for asthma online. This should help you when you are sob. Also do not try and exercise past the point of not being able to sing but to be able to talk. This is your optimum level of exercise and any less and you are not getting the full benefit, any more and you will put yourself off exercising and you won't get any extra benefit out of it.

    I agree there are some limitations with any lung disease and it's best not to try and keep up with others if it causes you distress.

  • Hi. I haven't looked up any breathing exercises yet - I was hoping to get some from my asthma nurse. Will check for some tomorrow.

    Are you saying that I must still be able to sing / talk when exercising? I find myself short of breath just walking up a short flight of stairs.

  • Hi I have been to PR (pulmonary rehabilitation) as I have copd as well as asthma. They used the Borg scale which shows numbers from 1-10. They said the optimum level of exercise is your borg 4 which will obviously be different for everyone.

    This is the point where when exercising you are too breathless to be able to sing but not breathless enough to be able to talk. Any less than that you are not getting the full benefit. Any more and it won't help you any more and can put you off exercise. It won't harm you though.

    Becoming breathless when climbing stairs and hills etc. is very common among us lungies.

  • Well this one is right up my ally - asthma since 5 and and off for 40 years, done triahtlons marathons and I used to do 70 mile rides to the coast including 4000 vertical feet on weekends. I've slowed down due to injuries and time commit but I still run a bit and do various cross training.

    It's actually good you are taking it on but coming to it later in life it will always be gradual. So patience is key, enjoy the journey. There are lots of resources available.

    The two things that will help your climb are more base training and losing weight. It's counter intuitive that a long 3 hour flat ride at conversational pace will help but it does. 4-8 weeks of base volume. As for the asthma I would say 1 puff Ventolin 5-10 minutes before you leave. Definitely bring it with you but I would not take it while I'm on the bike -- it stimulates your heart and it's a bit too much overload IMHO. That's for getting off the bike if you have an attack, then taking what you need and rest up for half an hour or get in the sweeper car.

    Let me know if you have any questions.

  • Thanks for this info - it really helps. Can you please clarify what you mean by base training and base volume?

  • You can google "base training" there is plenty of information on line. It is done at a moderate conversational place. It is about volume not speed or intensity. Ergo your hill is not considered "base". For running it is done once every week or two depending on the amount. Cycling maybe the same. Just remember: during base you can easily go too fast, but you can't go too slow. Track the total amount by time and distance. You gradually increase it over 3-5 months.

  • Hi,

    Just trying to get a handle on your asthma since you were 11. When you say it was never a big deal for me, does that mean you hardly ever used your inhaler? Had you been taking preventers? How often did you wheeze or feel breathless? Did you get colds and never got asthma or did you hardly ever get any colds/flu? How long has their been a change in the frequency and/or difficulties with the symptoms? What changed - other than age?

  • Hi. Diagnosed at 11 but have not been a regular inhaler user at all until much more recently and wasn't on any preventers etc. To be honest, I never really felt like an asthma sufferer at all. Used to get normal amount of colds with normal symptoms - runny nose, sore head, feeling rubbish etc, but it never used to go to my chest. Now, I'd say I still get the normal amount of colds, but they take longer to shift and always sit on my chest.

    In terms of what's changed - I couldn't really put my finger on anything in particular, to be honest.

  • Hi soon to be whizzing cyclist.... This gadget has helped improve my breathing capacity during exercise.

  • Hi, you are doing to hard. Sorry to state but that is not your pace. Getting fitter definitely will make you stronger to cycle uphill and should fix your concerns.

    I am in doubt about the accuracy of your H.R. device too. You should keep your average H.R. at 140 - 155, aerobic, anaerobic intensity of yours. Some web pages can count it for you.

    Good to sip protein, carb & oil mix shake while cycling too. I recommend to follow guidelines divided by two.

    Good luck achieving your goals.

  • Hi

    I acknowledge that I'm going faster than I'm currently able to.

    H.R is definitely accurate, as it's being tracked by both my apple watch and a Bluetooth chest strap and both stack up.

    I use gels and electrolyte drinks etc whilst out on the bike.


  • That is definitely very, very high! You should not do that again.

    Focusing on other sports like running, particularly skipping a rope, sprinting and mixing trough the week/month will improve your cycling capabilities and endurance level.

  • I'm a cyclist too, I love 40-50m rides, the hillier the better. I have never been able to keep up with the club types, so I go out riding with friends who will wait at the tops of hills for me! Much more fun.

    The NHS asthma stuff is all to keep you out of trouble rather than optimise your performance. The pro cyclists have different levels of care than us mere mortals. I'd suggest you get a good asthma review with a specialist nurse, they know way more about what you should be taking in terms of preventers etc. Also see a personal trainer on breathing or try yoga to help you relax and do deep breathing.

  • Hi,

    The best Yogic breathing for Asthma I discovered recently under this link:

    Have a fun testing it!

  • Hi, I also took up cycling about a year ago, been asthmatic since a child and never thought it a biggy, just "normal" and also had problems getting up hills which is a problem in the Yorkshire Dales😂 . So in about February decided to work on it and planned some routes with long shallow gradients mixed with shorter steepish bits and found my lung capacity improved which helped the legs as well. Routes that used to beat me are now do-able and getting easier each time. I read the other day something by Victoria Pendleton who said it can take about a year to start feeling like you're getting anywhere cycling so for asthmatics that might take longer. By the way I'm 60 in a couple of weeks and now cut right back on the meds, not felt this healthy for years.

    Sorry for the long reply, Gareth

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