As a full-time cycle coach working with literally thousands of athletes for over ten years, I’m fortunate to be in a unique position that has provided me with some great insight into what things get the best results for cyclists and want doesn’t. In this article, I hope to debunk some of the commonly held beliefs about cycle training as well as addressing the five most common problems I see with my client’s training before they start working with me and how to fix them.
(1) Your powerful reason why, goal setting and planning.
If you are having issues with motivation, then take a moment to reconnect to your powerful reason why.
The one thing that sets apart the highest achieving athletes I have coached from all others is not their natural talent, or that they train harder or longer, or even, that they train with a power meter or have the best equipment. It’s simply that they have a clearly defined powerful reason why, with clearly defined goals, and a clearly defined action plan which they act on.
Without defining your powerful reason why and your goals you will be more likely to lose motivation and without developing a plan and acting on it, you are only dreaming. But when you have all this in place, you are more able to be focused and motivated, and it will dramatically improve your success at achieving your cycling goals, and you haven’t even touched the bike yet. This is so important that I spend quite a bit of time with my clients getting this right then reviewing it regularly.
Your powerful reason why which is established on an emotional level. It’s not a goal that comes later. Everyone’s powerful reason is unique to them, so it’s important that you find yours.
If you start to tear up thinking about your powerful reason why, then you have nailed it. So, take a moment and think about what your powerful reason why. What is your core reason that drives you to get out and ride your bike?
Once you get your powerful reason why then the next step is to create a bucket list of the events that you want to do, then mapping them out onto a seasonal planner which is just a calendar of the next year. Then from there, you break your main goals down into training goals, then training phases and finally weekly goals and daily workouts.
By doing this simple exercise, it helps remove doubt and creates a great deal of focused motivation. As you progress through your training program, review it against your weekly and monthly targets to ensure that you are on track. This process of feedback and modification is critical to your success.
(2) Creating the time to train
It’s not that cyclists don’t have enough time to train, it’s that they have issues with their priorities.
We have an amazing ability to waste our time. When a client or prospective client tells me that they don’t have enough time to training, what they are saying is that they have other priorities in their life that are more important. I’ve coached many busy professionals working 50-60 hours a week but still find the time to fit their training around their other commitments.
We all have exactly 168 hours a week. That is a lot of time. More than enough to fit in most things into a busy life if you are organised. If the average person I coach works 40 hours a week or 24% and sleeps 7 hours a day which is 49 hours or 30% of the week that leaves 89 remaining hours or 52% of the week available for family and other activities. Over half the week!
Even if you are working 60 hours a week which is 65% when you include sleeping you are still left with 45% of your time in the week which is around 75 hours. You can still fit in 8-14 hours of training in your week and have time for family and other leisure activities.
By having your powerful reason why, your goals and your motivation combined with an efficient training program, you set yourself up for much greater success with your training than aimlessly going with the flow of life filled with unstructured bunch rides.
Once you have your training program and powerful reason why you can start negotiating with your stakeholders from a high level of power. When talking with your stakeholders about your powerful reason why and you use it in conjunction with the training plan you can work through the time conflicts and resolve them well in advance. This is much better than trying to negotiate your training ride in the garage on a weekend morning while you’re pumping up your tyres. Negotiating from this low point of power will often result in having to make concessions with your training later down the track.
Doing training early in the morning or late at night to work around your other commitments, is one of the best ways of resolving the issue of not having enough time to train. We have spent over ten years developing highly efficient and balance training programs that are available in our online training centre.
(3) Not aligning training with the desired outcome
You may be training hard but not getting the results, if this is the case then there is a high chance that the training you are doing is not matching the outcome that you want. You will be effectively wasting your time until you choose to change the training you do.
If you aren’t getting the results, you want to have a look at the training you are doing to see if it’s aligned with the outcome that you want.
An example of this is that one of my clients was doing high-intensity short intervals speed work during winter. While this training was ideally suited for a criterium rider preparing for a peak in their racing mid-season, my client was using this training for their preparation for a large mountainous recreational event scheduled in March. While my client was training hard, they were not doing the right type of training at the right time to properly prepare them for their main event of the year. I was quickly able to identify this and change their training, and as a result they had the best ride. If they had been left to train on their own, they would end up getting to the event burnt out and not have the aerobic capacity or the climbing strength required for the event. The results on the day would have been quite disastrous.
If you are riding criterium races then short sustained power, the ability to manage lactic buffering and a good sprint is the best training. If you are riding a time trial then producing your best power at threshold for the duration of the event is important and if you are riding a mountainous recreation event, then sustained power at lower cadences, good aerobic fitness and good metabolic efficiently are important things to develop and include in your training.
There are plenty of people that will give you advice on what they think you should be doing with your training and plenty of information on the internet. It’s important to ensure that you don’t get caught up in seeking the holy grail interval session or hill repeats but rather approach your training with a holistic approach that incorporates a training phase that addresses the development of specific physiological and psychological attributes required for your event.
(4) Not working on technique and efficiency
Cycling is like swimming where efficient pedalling technique is critical to performance.
Junior cyclists are on restricted gears that force them over the years to develop good pedalling technique at high cadences. Many cyclists enter the sport in their later years and miss out on this important development phase in their cycling and therefore have a very inefficient pedalling technique.
But it’s not all about riding high cadences; you also must develop good power at lower cadences when climbing hills as well. Make sure that you incorporate both high and low cadence drills into your training programs. High cadences help to smooth out your pedalling technique by having you focus on what is happening at the bottom of the stroke.
If your technique is poor, then you’ll start bouncing on the saddle as you spin up your cadence. But focusing on the bottom of the stroke you can switch on and off your leg muscles at the right time so that you avoid the bounce. Drills, where you spin up into high cadences up to 170 rpm, will help you with this, or where you take your cadence up to the point where to start losing control then back it off and repeat. You then progress to lower cadence drills where you drop your cadence, stabilise your hips with your core and drive through the top and the bottom of the pedal stroke effectively developing more power more efficiently for a great part of the pedal stroke. This simple exercise, when executed well with dramatically improve your hill climb power and consequently also your speed and your ability to maintaining good power over longer climbs. All our indoor training video sessions in our online training centre place a large emphasis on developing technique while building fitness.
(5) The abuse of speed work
If your training has plateaued or you have issues with consistency in your performance, then it may be because you have too much speed work in your program.
Starting in the 2000’s there has been a resurgence of High Intensity Interval Training or HIIT for short. It’s backed up by a lot of research that has been done in this area. The concept is that if you do speed work over 6 or 12-week blocks of training, you’ll get a greater improvement in performance than other training methods. Seems like a great idea with a lot of scientific proof to back it up and with cyclists seemingly having less and less time to train it’s become quite popular as a training method.
The only issue with this, is that many of the studies are only over 6 to 12 weeks in duration, therefore they don’t consider the long-term effects of doing HIIT training. Now don’t get me wrong here. I’m a big fan of speed work and I’m not discrediting any of the research that has been done in this area. We use it to give our athletes a lift towards the end of their training cycles just before their events. But doing speed work for longer than 12 weeks will have the athlete peak, plateau and then their performance will start to decline. If they continue, they will burn out, and it may take months to recover from.
I see a lot of cyclists fall into this trap and it’s compounded by a training culture that promotes the whole go hard or go home fight club mentality when people just end up either become disillusioned with their training or a victim to it, thinking that every session needs to be done at maximum.
Having worked with many cyclists over the years we have modified the way we approach speed work and have found the following produces the best results.
We break down the four-week training cycles which are made up of a three-week build followed by a one-week recovery. All our training programs available in our online training centre follow this methodology and use a balance of recovery, E3 and Vo2Max efforts to alleviate the plateauing effect and enable you to train all through the year without burnout. The first four weeks have an emphasis on base building, then the second four weeks have an emphasis on strength. Then, the last four weeks have an emphasis on speed. Within each week we still have components of base, strength and speed. The blend depends on where the athlete is in their training cycle and ensures that their training continues to be aligned with their overall training goals. We found that we got a far better overall build and performance outcome using this method.
This is because the athlete could perform at higher levels as we create space in their program to freshen up and take advantage of the speed work. This enables us to have the athlete peak for several events during the year as well as allowing their training to be sustainable year on year.
I hope that provides you with some insight into some of the areas that you can work on to help improve your cycling.