What’s Holding you Back?

The New Year is a good time to take stock of the year just past. Did you make the progress you wanted to in 2018? Even if you had not set yourself specific goals, I bet you had some secret aims of improving some element of your cycling. Was it improving your performance on a local sportive, making the podium a few times in some road races, improving your 10 mile time trial personal best? Humans like to make progress, so if you are sitting here in January wondering why you stood still, now is a great time to look at what has been holding you back.

Progress on a bike can come from three main areas:

  1. Physiological – did I make the improvements to my fitness?
  2. Physical – was I on point with my diet and lifestyle, maintaining good health all season?
  3. Psychological – was I motivated and committed enough to make the desired improvements?

If you can answer yes to all three of these then you should have had an excellent year. If you can answer yes to two then you have probably had a pretty good year. If you can only answer yes to one, or worse none, then it’s time to understand what’s holding you back.

Physiological

To improve your fitness you need to firstly have a good understanding of the areas where you are strong and the areas that currently limit your performance. If your sprint is weak, and you are often in bunch sprints, then clearly you need to address this. The best way to quantitatively assess strengths and weaknesses is to conduct a full power profile test. This will cover all of the 4 energy systems and provide information on what you need to work on. Even of you don’t have the ability to do a power test, I am sure that you know instinctively the things you find hard. They tend to be the things you avoid doing!

To make progress with your fitness year on year is possible even for older and experienced riders. However, you can’t keep doing the same things and expect different results. For many of you, significantly increasing your training volume is not an option due to work and family commitments. It would be great to up your riding time to 10-15 hours a week, but I know that for the majority of people 6-8 hours a week is what is practical. The key is to make some changes to how you structure your time to make it more effective.

Increasing training density is an effective change you can make that will stress the body in a more intensive way and bring about better fitness adaptions.

Typical weekly schedule: Monday- Rest day: Tuesday- 60 min turbo: Wednesday- Rest day: Thursday-60 min Turbo: Friday- Rest Day: Saturday -3hr ride: Sunday- 1hr ride. total 6 hours

Suggested weekly schedule: Monday- Rest day: Tuesday- 40 min turbo: Wednesday- Rest day: Thursday-40 min Turbo: Friday- 40min turbo : Saturday -3hr ride: Sunday- 1hr ride. total 6 hours

The suggested schedule is more dense because you now have a solid 3 day training block with a recovery ride on the Sunday. Clearly what you do is very important and the shorter turbo sessions need to be intense enough to make the best use of the 40 minutes, but the overall organisation is likely to produce better training adaptions for the same weekly training time.

Mixing intensities is also a highly effective way of increasing the training response from a set number of training hours. Historically, most riders built their training year based on a classical linear periodisation, starting the year with lots of long rides and building intensity as the season progressed. The fundamental purpose of training is to increase power. This is achieved predominantly by increasing mitochondria enzymes in our muscles.

The table below summarises the expected training adaptions from training in the various power zones. As you can see you can increase mitochondria in all of the training zones. In zone 1&2, which is the typical long slow distance intensity, it takes a lot of time to have effect, but as you move into the tempo/sweet spot zone the effectiveness of your training time, in terms of improving mitochondria, increases significantly.

A good use of your 40 minute turbo sessions would be to do some focused tempo/sweet spot work twice per week, leaving you with one additional session where you can work on an area that currently limits your performance. If you are weak at sprints do some zone 6/7 work, if you hate those punchy 2-8 minute climbs do some zone 5 work.

Intensity is perfectly safe throughout the training year as long as you manage the dose of the high intensity workouts (and you have no medical condition that makes high intensity training dangerous)

The last but arguably most important element to your physiological development is recovery. Recovery is highly individual. Older people need more, youths and juniors less. What you do for your day job matters. Are you at your desk or are you a scaffolder? It makes a big difference. I am not going to prescribe how many days off or easy days you might need because everyone is different.

But the one secret weapon that you can all deploy. The one thing that mostly all of us have in our control and is the same from one person to the next. The one thing that will guarantee a better training day tomorrow if you get it right.

GET MORE SLEEP! If you are getting less than 8hrs sleep then find a way to get some more…….

Physical

To get the most benefit from your training you need to be in physically good shape. Quite simply there is little point to working hard in training if you are still binging on cakes and beer every day!

In terms of weight, many people I see obsess too much about the detail. They are constantly trying to find an optimal balance of carbs, protein and fat to maximise the chance of weight loss. Taking one piece of advice from a magazine one month, and another directly opposite piece of advice the next, is a recipe for confusion and weight GAIN!

Most advice for diet and weight is targeted at the general population, a third of whom are morbidly obese and funnily enough don’t train regularly.

There are only two things worth remembering:

  1. IGNORE MOST DIETING ADVICE
  2. THE ONLY THING THAT MATTERS FOR LONG TERM FAT LOSS IS CALORIES

I have deliberately marked these two statements in capitals because they are the MAIN, MAIN thing that everybody has to get into their heads when thinking about how to become lean. Sure, quality of diet matters, it matters a lot, but if your calories are too high you will put on body fat, if they are too low you will lose body fat. It is a simple as that.

As a reductio ad absurdum consider this…..would you gain or lose weight if you ate only 5 Mars Bars a day?  At 230 calories per bar you would be sure to lose weight. Now I am not proposing this as a diet but hopefully it illustrates the point.

Did you see this couple on social media who lost half their body fat in 18 months.?

Now I don’t know if these two rides bikes but Danny lost 136kg! On a steady 6% hill you need to generate an additional 5watts of power for every extra KG you weigh. So Danny would now have to generate 680w less to climb a 6% hill! Again an absurd illustration but it serves us well to illustrate that weight in cycling really matters if you want to take the next step to improve your performance.

Psychological 

There are those athletes who love training, those that love racing and those fortunate enough to love both. A lot of people struggle with motivation in training. After all to become truly world class requires years of dedicated and purposeful practice. For the average amateur athlete, training is part of a list of responsibilities and probably not the top of the list either.

There are two main types of psychological issue we see all the time:

  1. A struggle to find the motivation to be consistent in training
  2. Self doubt and under confidence

Poor training motivation can be caused by a number of external factors. Maybe you are working too hard and are tired, maybe you are trying to train at the wrong time of day to suit your lifestyle and physiology. There is now plenty of evidence to suggest that different people train more effectively at different times of day. Many of us, me included, are morning people, whilst others are more effective later in the day. If you are a morning person and are trying to train late in the day, after work, then that could easily translate into low motivation.

Maybe you have chosen the wrong sport? That might sound flippant but I have seen plenty of people who are just beating themselves up trying to find the motivation and commitment to train properly, when all they really want to do is something else, anything else.

If you are generally motivated but find that for a time you struggle, then it may be because of fatigue arising from  not enough physical recovery and hence not enough neural recovery.

Other times it’s just a case of getting the first 10 minutes of a workout done to find the motivation to see it through. I have plenty of times when I am not ‘up for it’ but I live by the rule of always doing the warm up and then making a decision. I reckon I stop after the warm up maybe 1 workout in 100, it is that rare. However it would have been very easy to just not start and then feel bad about myself.

We all have self doubt and under confidence at times. We don’t all show it, but you can bet your bottom pound that even the most outwardly confident person you know has periods of doubt and anxiety about their performance. We see many extremely talented riders who self sabotage their performance before they have even rolled onto the track, or lined up at the start line. They constantly make comparisons to other riders that they think are better than them, they worry about what others think about them, they have negative thoughts or imagery before the race has started, even predicting the result. They often set unrealistic goals and are overly critical of their performance.

Self-confidence is how strongly you believe in your ability to execute a skill or task. Racing/event confidence is crucial to every rider’s success. Without a high level of confidence, you simply cannot perform at your best with any consistency.  If you struggle with under confidence what can you do to help yourself become a more confident rider?

If you struggle with lack of confidence then ask yourself the following questions

  1. Are you confident in your training routine and plan?
  2. Do you think you work hard and show dedication?
  3. Do you think you are in good physical condition?
  4. Do you possess the skills and experience necessary to compete?
  5. Are you present, in the moment?

Many of you will be able to answer yes to most of these questions and yet still have self doubt. The last point about being in the moment, or in the zone as some call it, is mightily important. Remember on the start line there is nothing more you can do, you have to be totally focused on the race ahead and adopt a ‘care less’ attitude to the result. Try and throw the shackles of expectation away and race for the love of it, race for the thrill of it, but dont race for the result. Think about and focus on what you are in control of, yourself. Have confidence in your process and enjoy yourself.

There can be many aspects of your life that are affecting your current performance. Maybe you think that you have reached your potential? In our experience there are very few people who have reached anywhere near their potential. There is always room to grow and get better with the right attitude. The great thing about attitude is that you can choose it every morning you wake up. am I going to have a positive day, and I going to have a negative day. Spend 20 seconds at the start of each day, immediately after you wake and choose POSITIVE. It’s a very simple, but highly effective tactic to live a happier life.

”  Listen there’s a hell of a good universe next door; let’s go.” EE Cummings

Train hard and ride with a smile

Rob Wakefield