Whether it’s training, racing or nutrition, we all make mistakes. There isn’t a cyclist in Britain who doesn’t get it wrong from time to time. However, provided you learn from
these little gaffs, they can
be valuable experiences.
Still, finding pitfalls in our training regime isn’t that easy. If we all knew intuitively where we were going wrong, cycling would be far simpler. That’s the beauty of it – trying to find ways to improve and building on areas of weakness.
If you’re struggling to make gains in your winter training, take a look at all the common training mistakes over the next three pages. You might find out what’s been stopping you from reaching your full potential.
Identify those annoying weak points now, and 2014 could be your best year ever!
Goals help provide structure and motivation. No matter how big or small, having a goal allows you to plan how to achieve it. Be clear about what it is you want to achieve; measurable goals such as specific times, distances, etc, are much easier to follow.
You will also be able to see what you have and what you haven’t achieved. It’s also good to have a timeframe or a date by which you want to achieve it, as this will help with keeping your motivation up.
It takes around 21 days for the effects of training to ‘soak in’ before you see any fitness gains. The world has become impatient, and everyone wants to see results straight away – before being disheartened and disappointed when they don’t. Be patient.
Keep following your plan and only retest your fitness every six to eight weeks. If you still aren’t seeing improvements, you’re doing something wrong.
Get your priorities right
You might have heard an old-school rider say that ‘money can’t buy speed’. But it’s not quite true; a lighter bike, aero wheels and some decent kit will make a difference – albeit a limited one.
Investing your money more wisely in better nutrition, a physiotherapist to help fix niggling injuries, a heart-rate monitor or going for a fitness test may help you considerably to continue improving over time.
Train for yourself
Training plans should be specific to the goals of the individual. If your cycling buddy is training to do well in an epic, 120-mile hilly sportive, but you want to improve your 10-mile time trial, copying his training won’t get you the results you want.
It’s extremely easy to get sucked into doing the same training as your riding pals; while you may get fitter, if you want to do well, make and follow your own plans.
Training when you’re ill
Most cyclists don’t wait long enough after a sickness before getting back on the bike. This winter, you’re probably going to get sick, be it with a cold, fever or even a cough. But you need to wait until you can honestly say that you’re 98 per cent healthy again before resuming training.
Many athletes will resume training when they are still only 80 per cent healthy, which may prolong the illness. Had they waited just two more days, they would have become 98-100 per cent healthy again and would have been capable of full training.
Here’s the rule: when you think you’re healthy enough, wait one more day. Give yourself an extra day or two if you think you’ll be even better on the third day. It’s always better than training for the next fortnight while still vaguely unwell.
Nobody likes doing something they don’t enjoy, especially if it takes them out of their comfort zone. If you aren’t a very good climber and don’t enjoy hills, the chances are you don’t ride many hilly routes.
If you feel nervous in a bunch, you may avoid large group rides or road racing. Avoiding your weaknesses isn’t going to help. Identify the areas you don’t like and deliberately target them. Over time, your weakness may become your strength.
Don’t forget about skill this winter!
Bike riding isn’t just about fitness; it’s also about skill. If you spend a lot of time on the turbo on your own, you may miss out on vital opportunities to improve your road craft.
When out on the road, use descents to actively try to go faster and corner smoothly – not just for recovery. Ride in a group as often as possible so you are more confident following wheels.
Think about your positioning in the road while in the bunch. Are you wasting too much energy?
Check your pedalling technique and develop a fast, smooth cadence. All these things will help you go faster and save energy, making you a better rider.
Listen to others
Learn from the best and never be afraid to ask questions. Successful riders became that way by learning all the little tricks that make cycling easier. Mimic them and copy what they do. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for you.
Knowing when you should push it…
Many cyclists don’t train hard enough when they’re supposed to, so they’re unable to create the stress needed to provoke training adaptations. One hard training ride a week is not going to make you the best you can be.
Try three hard days/week, recovering for two days in-between.
It can be hard to get out for three days in the winter, so it may be worth investing in a turbo-trainer. It’s amazing how much you can push yourself. If you don’t push to your limits, you’ll never know how far you can go.
Variety is the key
Many riders, especially those who’ve been training for a long time, keep doing the same thing week in and week out, year after year. Despite decent volume, they see little progress, which is extremely disheartening.
The body thrives on variety, and to keep fitness progress coming, you need to keep shocking it into further adaptations. There are three things you can manipulate in training to keep it varied: frequency, intensity and time. You need only change one at a time.
Rest and recovery
Most athletes don’t rest properly or enough. Many cyclists just don’t give themselves enough rest either, and when they think they’re resting, they aren’t.
After a heavy bout of exercise, lie down and read a book. Stretch lightly, eat healthy foods and take naps. If you can take a nap each day, then do so. You’ll be a better cyclist and get fit faster.
You must remember that, during periods of hard training, recovery is just as important as the training sessions. It’s in the rest period that you actually begin to improve.
Training breaks down the muscles, but during rest is when it rebuilds, repairs and gets stronger. If you don’t rest, you’ll never get any stronger.
Give yourself transition time when changing bikes, shoes, cleats, pedals, etc. When you change something on your bike, it may change your position in some small way, so take it easy. Allow the transition to take place slowly over a couple of weeks.
Do some easier rides for a while, and if you feel any pain, stop and get someone to come and pick you up. Many cyclists ruin whole seasons by buying a new saddle and riding 20 hours that week, only to end up getting an overuse injury. Winter is the best time to change your gear, as you can break it in before doing bigger miles in the springtime.
Drink enough fluids
Never forget to carry a drink, whether it’s the height of summer or the depths of winter. Dehydration is best avoided at all costs. The golden rule is to drink to thirst (not proactively).
“Keep it varied!”
Peter Hawkins (Madison-Genesis)
Hawkins has developed into one of the UK’s most established domestic pros.
He was ninth in the National Championship in 2012, and this year wore the yellow jersey at the An Post Ras.
As far as training mistakes go, the biggest one isn’t resting enough, but something I wish I’d known when I first started training seriously is that power meters are definitely worth the investment.
The most common mistake beginners commit in training is just doing the same thing all the time. Training works best when sessions are used to work on different aspects of a rider’s fitness.
Consistency and adequate rest are both vital; lots of people train too hard, get sick, and end up back at square one. This isn’t much good. You should put on enough stress to become stronger, but not so much that your training schedule breaks down.
Joe Perrett (Raleigh)
European TT champion as a junior, Perrett has raced for Great Britain in many competitions, including this year’s World Championships in Florence.
My biggest training mistake over the years has been to consistently only ever bring one tyre lever on rides, but something I wish I had known when I first began riding is not to go too hard too soon. During longer time trials, a sustainable effort is a lot more effective than going full gas on the way out, then struggling home.
As for beginners, something I’ve seen a lot of is people not wearing enough clothes. Staying warm, or being appropriately dressed, is vital to training well and staying healthy, especially at this time of year. So I suppose my piece of advice would be, always bring a rain cape!
Conor Dunne (An Post-Chain Reaction)
Irish U23 TT champion last year, winner of the first stage of the 2013 UCI 2.2 An Post Ras
Over the years, the biggest mistake I’ve ever made out training was doing a six-hour ride in 30-degree heat with no sun cream.
Something I wish I knew how to do when I first started training properly was how to ride at the correct tempo on an endurance ride.
One of the most common mistakes people tend to make is just smashing themselves to pieces while out training, with no specific goals in mind with which they could use their time more effectively. Nonetheless, my top tip for sensible training advice is simply to enjoy it!
“Quality not quantity”
Dan McLay (Lotto-Belisol U23)
Former junior national road champion who has notched up three UCI race podium finishes this year.
The biggest mistake I’ve made over the years is just sticking the hours in, with no attention to quality. Nowadays, I think people focus too much on the fitness side of training, and forget to pay attention to learning how to ride a bike.
If I could give one bit of advice it would be to learn how to ride your bike more skilfully; ride smoothly, learn to descend and corner. Learn the moments to go hard and the moments to hold back; that’s what makes the difference.
This article was first published in the November 28 issue of Cycling Weekly. Read Cycling Weekly magazine on the day of release where ever you are in the world International digital edition, UK digital edition. And if you like us, rate us!