Through years of racing and coaching, I’ve concluded that the best athletes have mastered three areas in their lives and fitness: physical training, mental training, and nutrition. These three areas are like a bar stool; it has three legs and is stable only because all the legs are of equal length and angle.
Click through to read more about the three components of good training…
The first leg of our stool is physical training. There’s no substitute for this. You HAVE to put in your time on the bike. It’s the first step of achieving success in cycling, because if you don’t master this stool leg, you needn’t worry about the other two.
Each leg has many facets to it, and the physical leg is no exception. Develop a solid year-long plan for your training and then work your plan. Once you identify your goals, you need to identify your weaknesses and strengths, then get to work!
We love to train our strengths and hate working on the things that challenge us. Have you noticed how your sprinter friends always want to go out and do sprints? How your skinny mountain-goat friends always invite you on trips to the mountains so they can do “fun” repeats on ten-mile climbs? What about those power riders who only want to go as hard as they can on the flats? If you want to excel as a cyclist, you need to be able to do all the different areas in cycling. Most importantly, you need to work on the things you don’t enjoy or don’t excel in. It’s easy to identify our weaknesses; it’s tougher to get out there and improve them.
I once coached an athlete who had specific strengths and some very large holes in his abilities. After coaching him for a month, I could tell that unless he really put an effort into improving his weaknesses, there were only two races in the entire season that he had even a shot at winning. It was disturbing to see a talented athlete who could easily have been able to win lots of races having wasted so much valuable energy in his years of racing. It was only through a specific and determined training plan, along with a lot of sacrifice and hard work on his part, that he was able to fill in the gaps of his weaknesses, enabling him to be a potential winner in more than just two races a year. The lesson here is that if you don’t identify and be honest with yourself about your weaknesses and strengths, you won’t achieve your ultimate potential.
The second leg of the stool is the mental training that will make you believe you are a success. One of my former teammates always came in second in races. He’d make the break, be a force in the break, and make the splits in the end, only to take second at the finish line. After blocking for him and working our tails off so he would stay away, we always asked him what happened. Why didn’t he win? His answer was always the same: “I didn’t deserve to.” He was a pro bike racer (one of the best in the country at the time), the one who started the break, probably one of the motors in the break, and out there for eighty miles, and he thought he didn’t deserve to win.
One of the most important parts of mental training is visualizing yourself having already achieved your goal. See yourself reading your name at the top of the results sheet. See yourself picking up your prize for first place. Feel the elation of completing your goal. It’s something we used to do when we were kids—play make-believe. There’s power in that. Your brain doesn’t know the difference between a vividly imagined event and a real event. My teammate did not believe he was a success. If you “pretend” and “make believe” that you are a success, the belief will come. Only when you believe you can successfully complete a century ride will you be able to do it. Only when you believe you can successfully win the local criterium will you be able to do it. The belief comes first and the success follows, which brings more confidence and a stronger belief, which build more success. It’s an upward spiral of victory.
The third leg of our training stool is nutrition. You have to build your body from solid, good, clean, strong building blocks. If you build a body from Twinkies and soft drinks, you’re handicapping yourself. I know folks who drink only diet soft drinks, never water; the building blocks of their entire bodies are built from a toxin! They’re building a polluted body from the very foundation. Maybe a soft drink every once in a while won’t hurt you, but if that’s all you drink, you’ll eventually feel the effects of a weak leg in your training stool. What you eat today will impact you six months from now. Don’t rebuild your body in the same form as it was before. Your body is in a constant state of rebuilding—new muscle cells, new bone cells, new brain cells, etc. If you eat smart for six months and feed your body good foods, pure water, and high quality vitamins, then and only then will you have a pure, strong, clean body.
So there you have the three legs of the athlete’s stool. Each one is important in its own way. If you look at each leg and improve a few things in each, you’ll see a difference quickly. But always make sure you’re training correctly for you. This means evaluating all aspects that make up you as a person and an athlete and working on the items that will improve your overall efforts. Start by learning as much as you can about each leg of the stool; read books, talk with others, and learn from your mistakes. A good coach is helpful, too, since a coach has been down the road already and knows how to develop all areas of your training to help you achieve peak performance.
Ultimately, though, it’s you who has to do the work. One of my favorite quotes is from Tour de France winner Fausto Coppi. When asked for the three most important tips he could give to someone wanting to improve in cycling, his reply was, “Ride the bike, ride the bike, ride the bike!”
Hunter Allen is a USA Cycling Level 1 coach and former professional cyclist. He is the coauthor of Training and Racing with a Power Meter, a co-developer of TrainingPeaks’ WKO software, the CEO and founder of Peaks Coaching Group, and a PCG master coach. Hunter can be contacted directly through PeaksCoachingGroup.com.