A fulltime job and childcare – where do I fit in training?

Finding the time to train and maintain fitness with a fulltime job and childcare commitments is a challenge for most parents, and even more so during a pandemic. However, Wellspect's Alan Cook found the transformation to online solutions had some unexpected benefits for this keen handcyclist.

Alan cook elated after completing a race_Seeing folk compete and enjoy sport in a wheelchair_ it was a relief and an inspiration-2

I used to train and compete at a high level before my wife’s pregnancy and the arrival of our son. I would ride specific routes, which demanded a lot of time – packing the handcycle in the car, driving to the route, training for a couple of hours and changing and showering when I returned home. Preparing for competition requires a commitment of five sessions a week. That’s just not been possible as a parent, but I’ve been able to fit in around three sessions a week.

I get grumpy if I don’t train

With the pandemic, lockdown removed the option of getting out on the road

Changing and showering takes me that much longer as I use a wheelchair, and my previous training program before children is just not an option. We’ve all had to find work arounds for maintaining fitness and motivation, and while there’s no substitute for the outdoors, virtual training indoors has been an effective method for me. And of course, there are the associated benefits with exercise, such as improved mood and energy – I get grumpy if I don’t train.

How I got into handcycling

Six months after sustaining a spinal cord injury, I was introduced to a range of sports and activities through the UK charity Back Up. I had been concerned about maintaining fitness – I had always been sporty and played in football and rugby teams – but I had found it hard to visualize what exercise would look like after an SCI (Spinal Cord Injury).

What does exercise look like after an SCI?

I needn’t have worried. Seeing people who were further down the road in terms of their rehab, compete and enjoy a range of disability sports; it was a relief and an inspiration – I had an example in front of me of what was possible. I was able to embrace communities involved in sport. I quickly homed in on handcycling – it’s a fantastic sport, great exercise and I love the competition.

Alan attending to his handcycle before competition
Fine tuning ahead of a competition

Getting creative

The pandemic has shifted a lot of healthcare staff and resources to the front lines, putting real pressure on other services such as rehab. Lockdowns and restrictions have also limited the amount of people who can access sports groups and facilities, and this had made it very challenging for people to find ways to keep fit and active.

Digital tools and communities have been a lifeline for many people who need to access these services.

Digital tools and communities have been a lifeline for many people to access services. You get so much from peer support groups online and the positive feedback and support can really help you maintain motivation.

So, I set up a room at home with my bike on a resistance trainer connected to an online training app which allows me to train and compete with others. Through these virtual training apps, I’ve been able to engage with an online community, keep competitive and ride (virtually) with other handcyclists and cyclists across the UK and the rest of the world.

Maintaining motivation by setting a goal

I been involved in the London to Paris charity rides, and next year is the tenth anniversary, so I’m aiming to be at a decent level of fitness for that – 170 km/a day! And hopefully I can take part in a few other long-distance events in 2022. It’s a goal to aim for.

Alan leading the London to Paris charity rideAlan leads the London to Paris charity cycle

How to get involved with disability sport

British Wheelchair Basketball begins the world's first professional women's league in 2022, and we spoke with Wellspect ambassador Sophie Carrigill earlier this year to talk about the issues surrounding disability and her advocacy for women in sport. Read more>>

Sophie Carrigill 16_9

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Topics: Spinal Cord Injury (SCI), #RoadToParis, parasports