By Chris Carmichael,
Founder and Head Coach of CTS
Whether you are getting ready for your first season as a cyclist or your 40th, here’s your 10-point action plan to make it a success.
Make sure it’s fun
Sounds obvious, but I’ve seen lots of athletes who start out having fun and end up obsessing all the fun out of cycling. Even the information below, which could be read as contributing to that obsessiveness, should be considered in context. These tips can help you improve performance, but it’s important to balance the pursuit of performance with the joy and fulfillment you get from getting on your bike.
Ride for fitness, not health or fat loss
When you ride to improve fitness and performance, you also improve cardiovascular health and lose body fat. However, you’re more likely to fail if you start with the goal of improving health or losing weight. Training for fitness changes your body to handle greater physical stress and burn more energy more quickly. As a result you can ride long enough and hard enough to achieve health and weight loss goals.
Make incremental changes
Even if you decide it’s time to make sweeping changes in your training, lifestyle, and diet, don’t do it all at once. Some of those changes may be at odds with each other. One of the most common examples is increasing training workload while reducing energy intake. Without enough total energy – regardless of the food choices – your recovery and workout quality will both suffer. Incremental changes lead to more sustainable outcomes.
Eat more plants and fewer animals
You don’t need to follow a diet that has a name (Paleo, Keto, Atkins…) or completely eliminate entire food groups (unless you have an allergy). Every Registered Dietitian I have ever worked with has echoed the following recommendations: eat more whole than processed and more plant than animal. Eat enough calories to support your activity level, and variety is worth more than any “superfood”.
Be willing to do boring stuff
To get ready for the really cool stuff you have to be willing to endure some boring stuff. That was true in school and in your career, and it’s true in training. It’s important to enjoy the process of training, but there’s no denying that 15-minute lactate threshold intervals aren’t the most exciting way to spend your afternoon. The most effective workouts require sustained effort at a specific intensity, whether that’s long and low or short and very high. You will never regret those cornerstone workouts when you’re flying down the road in your goal events.
Have empathy for yourself
In my experience, cyclists are very good at being critical… of themselves. You’re not riding enough, you’re too fat, you can’t climb or sprint, and on and on. If you constantly look for what you’re doing wrong, that’s all you’ll find. No athlete does everything right all the time, nor should that be the expectation. Be nice to yourself. Trust me, you’re doing better than you think.
Willpower is not a long-term solution, but accountability is. It’s hard to pursue demanding goals and make significant changes to your diet or lifestyle. Relying solely on willpower just makes it harder. Accountability isn’t just someone to call you out when you fail; it’s also the support system that keeps you on track and encourages you to succeed. Join a cycling class, commit to group rides, get a coach, or post your goals on the fridge.
Don’t stick with what doesn’t work
There is no perfect training plan, nutrition strategy, bike fit, or even coach for that matter. What works for another athlete may not work for you. What worked for you last year might not work now. And most important – and the idea athletes resist the most – is that something that didn’t work last year might work this year. You shouldn’t flit from one thing to another at the first sign of trouble, but as the old saying goes, the first step to getting out of a hole is to stop digging.
Take care of yourself
There are 168 hours in a week, and on a good week you might spend 10% of that on the bike. In that context it’s easy to see how influential off-bike decisions are to your fitness and performance. Take care of small injuries and illnesses, drink more water, work on your relationships, take proactive steps to reduce lifestyle stress, cut out junk food, reduce alcohol intake, and get more sleep.
Don’t let tech run your training (or your life)
Technology has made training more precise and connected athletes from all corners of the globe. Successful athletes and coaches should embrace technology, but you can’t let tech run the show. As an athlete you are more than the aggregate of your data and you can accomplish more than what you see on a graph.
I hope to see you out on the road!