My work as a coach involves teaching my athletes to do many things. While much of that is based on each individual’s goals and history, sometimes the things they need to learn (or unlearn) are the same things most other cyclists should learn. I’d like to share a list of seven common mistakes I see a lot of athletes making.
1. Rest More. Most athletes don’t rest properly or enough, and cyclists are no exception. Many cyclists just don’t give themselves enough rest, and when they do rest, they aren’t really resting. Find a good book and read it. Stretch lightly, eat healthy foods, and take naps. If you can take a nap each day, do it. You’ll be a better cyclist and get fitter faster. When you train hard, recovery is just as important as training. It’s in the rest period that you actually improve! Yes, it’s true; when you train, you break down muscles and get tired and sore, and when you rest, your body rebuilds, repairs, and gets stronger. If you don’t rest, you won’t ever get stronger.
2. Train Harder. Many cyclists don’t train hard enough when they need to. So many athletes I start coaching think they already were training hard when they really had no clue! Most cyclists don’t train hard enough to create the proper training stress needed for training adaptation. One hard training ride a week is not going to make you the best you can be. Try three hard days a week, recovering for two days. How about trying four days in a row? Push yourself and push it hard, then rest. It’s amazing how much you can push yourself, and if don’t push those limits, you’ll never know how far you can go.
3. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate! The number one reason why cycling races are lost is because of improper hydration. Second place is almost always not as hydrated as first place. So hydrate plenty. Hydrate before your event, during your event, and after your event. If you don’t have to get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, you aren’t hydrated enough! Bring a two-liter container of water to work each day and finish it off before you go home. Have a cup of water beside your bed and drink some when you wake up in the middle of the night. You should drink a full water bottle for every 20-30 miles you ride.
4. Wait Until You’re Healthy. Most cyclists don’t wait long enough after a sickness before training again. When you get sick, have a fever, or get a cough, you need to wait until you can honestly say you are 98% healthy again before going out and training. So many athletes go out and train while they’re 80% healthy, which only drags out the illness for another two weeks. If they’d waited just two more days before riding again, they’d have become 98-100% healthy and be back in full training. Here’s the rule: When you think you’re healthy enough to ride again, wait one more day, two if you think you’ll be even better on the third day. It’s always better than training for the next two weeks while kind of sick.
5. Stretch. We’re a funny lot, we cyclists. Nowhere else do we hunch over, bring our legs up to our chest, never straighten out our legs, and keep our arms stretched out in front of us. Take a yoga class once a week. Stretch out those hamstrings, touch your toes easily, and open up that chest. You don’t want to live hunched over when you reach your sixties, do you? It’s essential that you stretch each day, even just fifteen to twenty minutes. Your back, shoulders, legs, and hips will thank you.
6. Mimic Your Elders. If you ride with an experienced rider, do exactly what he does. When he drinks, you drink. When he rests, you rest. When he attacks, you attack. Experienced and successful riders have gotten there because they’ve learned all the little things that make cycling easier. Some of the best cyclists I’ve coached have learned by mimicking exactly what the best have done before them. Kids learn by watching their parents and doing what they do; don’t forget that important lesson when you’re on the bike.
7. Take Time to Change. Give yourself transition time when changing bikes, shoes, cleats, pedals, etc. When you change something on your bike that changes your position in some way, even something as small as new shoes, take it easy. Transition slowly over a couple of weeks. Ride some easier rides for a while, and if you feel any pain, stop immediately. Even if you’re on a ride, have someone come pick you up. I can’t tell you how many cyclists’ entire seasons have been ruined because they bought a new seat and then went out and rode twenty hours that week, only to end up getting some kind of overuse injury the following week. It takes time for your body to adapt to a new movement pattern, especially for cyclists, as we repeat our patterns over and over hundreds of thousands of time each ride.
And of course my best advice is to hire a coach. We’d love to help you get to the next level!
Hunter Allen is a USA Cycling Level 1 coach and former professional cyclist. He is the coauthor of the book Training and Racing with a Power Meter, co-developer of TrainingPeaks’ WKO software, and CEO and founder of Peaks Coaching Group. He and his coaches create custom training plans for all levels of athletes. Hunter can be contacted directly through www.PeaksCoachingGroup.com.