TOOLBOX: Over the last 15 years, I’ve seen, and made, a lot of mistakes that have muted on-bike performances. And after all of these mess-ups and learning (a lot!) here are the top 5 mistakes that keep most of us from having the stellar seasons we know we are capable of, but which just seems to keep eluding us.
*** Warning: None of these are “mind blowing”, which is perhaps why they are so often overlooked, or ignored. ***
Mistake #1 Riding too hard when you’re due to ride easy
“We’re doing an easy ride this weekend” almost never winds up being easy. And yet, much of our riding we do on our own, is also not done at an easy enough pace (You know, times such as recovery between intervals on a training ride).
I get it, nobody likes to be passed by those whom we normally zip by during our interval days, and it can feel really silly to zoom past others on the bike trail during an interval, only to have them keep passing us during our recovery periods …But if you really want to be fast, you’ll need to become a master of riding slow.
How to do it: Use your breathing as a guide! When it’s endurance or recovery time, you should be able to easily breathe in and out through your nose only.
Not able to breathe through your nose due to a stuffy nose or sinus issues? You can either use the “talking test”- you should be able to talk in full, fluid sentences- or use your power meter to “check in” and ensure you’re in the right ballpark. (Yes, your power really does need to be THAT low!).
Don’t skip strength training
Mistake #2 Skipping Strength Training
Yup. I get it. This one is easy to do, as we ALL just want to ride. But strength training must be done consistently, otherwise you lose the very qualities you’re aiming for: increased strength & power on the bike, increased bone density, less pain on the bike, better posture, etc.
Strength training should not leave you sore, tired, or drained to the point that your riding quality suffers. Aim for 1-2 days a week of strength training, with a focus on quality, and keep the length to 60 min or less. If you want to know the details, pick up my book “Strength Training for Cycling Performance”, which will give you the exact recipe you’ll want to follow to get and stay fast and strong, in-season and out. But a good rule of thumb is one warm-up set at an RPE of 5, and one to two working sets at an RPE of 7, with great technique of course!
Oh, and one more thing: If your “maintenance” period lasts longer than 2 weeks, you’re losing fitness & strength. Don’t fall for the hypo. Keep up your strength training, but avoid making mistakes #3 and #5.
What is your body saying?
Mistake #3 Listen to your body
This one is a lot harder than we give credit, and I should know! Many moons ago I pushed myself into proper overtraining because “I just had to push on”.
Endurance athletes tend to be some of the worst when it comes to listening to our bodies, as we think that more is more is more. But this, as current science is providing, is far from true.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
On ride days and strength days, you need to be listening to what your body is telling you. Yes, we all come into some of our trainings feeling tired, but more often than naught, if you’ve been consistently on top of your stress management, sleep, and nutrition, a proper warm-up will have you fired up and ready to get in a quality training session.
But if during the warm-up you are feeling worse or have no change in status? Have the fortitude to call it a day, and go home and REST. It’s a long season. There is nothing good going to come out from pushing yourself to perform sub-par training in March, April, and May.
This leads us to Mistake #4.
Not set in stone
Mistake #4 Taking your training plan as written in stone
While the Sumerians may have written in stone (ok, not everything), your training plan (thankfully) is not. You must have the self-awareness to be able to know what days you can push in the harder training sessions, and when you’ll need to make it an easier ride. If you’re working with a coach, it’s a matter of clearly communicating, and making mostly small, subtle adjustments. And other times, just as with one of the riders in my Big Gear Blueprint program this past week, it’s taking a good, hard look at whether the current track is serving you or slowing you down. Oftentimes, it’s as easy as swapping training workouts within a given week, and other times, it’s understanding what the true minimums you need from each ride are.
With strength training, it’s simply about getting the important stuff in, consistently, with high quality, not about “going heavy”.
Aero isn’t everything
Mistake #5 Thinking “Cycling Specific” and “AERO IS BETTER!” all the time
What a complete load of bollocks, and exactly what the vast majority of us DO NOT need!
Many of us are already spending well over 7 hours out on our bikes + loads more hours seated in a head-forward position staring at a screen. The LAST thing we need is to drive those negative body positions even further along.
As for “aero is everything”- Yes! Absolutely! If you’re racing for a national championship or a world championship. Otherwise, “Aero, in small doses that you can manage, with a focus on improving your body’s ability to deal with the negative effects of that extreme positioning” is a far better mantra. (And a bit of a mouthful)
Instead, think GENERAL fitness.
What does my body need to counteract all that crouched forward position so that I can be GENERALLY in good shape? Then, don’t get lost in all the fads and crazy exercises. Keep it simple, easy to execute, and be consistent.
Should there be a heavy focus on allowing you to perform better on the bike? You bet your britches! But that comes through focus on YOU and YOUR BODY working as it’s designed to, and then putting in smaller doses of time on the bike (alongside a dialed in bike fit), to help you put that strength + fitness to use.
Absolutely none of the above is “sexy” or deemed as “high performance” by social media influencers and magazines, and sadly, also not by many coaches!
We get lost and confused by all the technology and flashy new fads that come out, which leads us to jumping from one new “it thing” to the next, and finishing the season disappointed; feeling there is still more we COULD do, but just never were able to tap into.
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