• Define specific achievable goals – This is an obvious issue, yet still overlooked by most athletes and teams. Don’t make the mistake of creating vague goals like, “I want to be stronger” or “I want to win a bike race.” Make your goals specific and achievable; “I want to increase my threshold watts per kilo to 4.0 by this date” or “I want to win one of these three road races this year with the help of my team.” Use your successes and mistakes (not failures there are no failures, only mistakes) to develop new goals.
• Flexible versus rigid – As you define your goals and make a realistic plan to achieve them, realize the training plan must be flexible. Even for the best riders in the world, their plans change because of injury, sickness, team orders or for a variety other reasons. Keep an open mind, be patient, and be prepared to make adjustments.
• Have an open mind – Talk to your teammates and riding partners about how they view your bike racing style, both strengths and weaknesses. Use their constructive criticism to improve your overall performance as a bike racer. Talk to your coach about exploring new training techniques that perhaps you have not tried previously. Perhaps you feel you need a new way of addresses strength on the bike or you want to dedicate a good part of your early season to fixed gear riding. As we have written about multiple times, good athletes try new techniques and are open to specific changes in their programs.
• Benchmarking – The off-season is an optimal time to benchmark your fitness level using performance or field-testing. It will give you a point of reference to measure improvement or compare to last year at the same time. Even if your fitness level has dropped off, it’s good to know where you stand. Remember, we “test to train” and not “train to test”!
• Slow, steady and consistent – Give yourself a good amount of time to develop your fitness. Do not be in a rush or impatient. Improvement in an endurance sport like cycling takes time. How much? Well, that depends on a variety of factors. Every athlete is different and every athlete responds differently to training stimuli. Keep in mind that the longer it takes to get fit, the more solid the package and the longer you can stay fit. This can eliminate those seasonal ups and downs that usually are a characteristic of athletes that tried to cram in too much, too soon.
• Get a health check – Before you begin serious training and apply major stress to your body, go see your primary care doctor, get a blood test and a general check-up, and check that you are healthy and ready to train. As you go into the season, this allows you to know that a) you are healthy and b) that your body is ready to handle more stress.
• The other side of the equation – Most of our focus during the year is on the physical side of the training program. Spend some time on the mental and tactical sides as well. Remember, the strongest and most gifted rider doesn’t always win the race, it often the smartest and most confident rider.
• Do something different – The off-season is a great time to go exploring on your bike. Go to a different location than where your usual training occurs, and discover the local terrain. Allow yourself some time to ride as a non-racer, which helps you to minimize the mental pressure of training. Reconnect with the part of cycling that hooked all of us….how much fun it can be to just get out and ride.
• Separation – It’s very important to look at the beginning of your training as a “separation” from the off-season. Be prepared to commit both physically and mentally to your training program. It’s better to wait longer before committing than to begin the process too early and burn-out prematurely or go at it with only 75% motivation. Be honest with yourself and understand that it’s a long, long season with many opportunities to succeed. Make that commitment count!
• Go easy on yourself – We are usually our own greatest critics and can be very hard on ourselves. If we don’t get the result we want, we look to instantly change our training in some way. Before doing that, view the positive aspects of the event(s) in question, step back from the situation for a while and review your program from a constructive perspective. Then, make a decision as to whether you are doing the right things that will eventually lead to success or some minor tweaks need to be applied.
• Remember, it’s about the journey – The winning and the success is all icing on the cake. It’s the journey of training and competing, as well as the health benefits of a consistent exercise program that are the primary objective. Too many athletes get caught up in their results or lack thereof. The best part of being an athlete on a structured training program is the preparation and attention to details. For most riders, cycling is also part of their social life, so it’s important to realize that the journey is important and not always the end results.
There are many different aspects of training and seasonal planning that create a successful program. To us at AthletiCamps, the most important is to have goals that are realistic and attainable. They are developed with an understanding of what your strengths and weaknesses are as an athlete. Discuss these with your coach, teammates and family, and when the time is right, get started!
Ride safe! Ride strong!
Bruce Hendler created AthletiCamps to provide cycling specific coaching and training to athletes and cyclists of all levels. Find out more at www.athleticamps.com and check out the AthletiCamps Blog.