8 training tips to take your cycling to the next level
The tips aren't complicated, but you need to commit with consistency to see results.
Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
I have been coaching for two decades now, guiding amateurs and professionals alike with their training. And I’m a lifelong cyclist myself. But four years ago I realized that the stresses of life and a lack of focus on my own riding had left me slower than I was happy with. So I refocused and codified some of the lessons I had taught for years into an action plan for myself.
Fast forward to today, and I have been living these lessons since, and I’m fitter and healthier than ever. Cycling is a lifestyle, and here are the eight training tips I use that will take your cycling to the next level.
#1 Have a plan and be consistent
I made getting on my bike a daily priority, whereas before I let work, kids and weather be excuses. One hour a day, on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, outside or inside. Have a plan, and stick to it. At FasCat Coaching we have the phrase “FtFP,” which means Follow the F&*#’ing Plan. Every single one of our athletes reports back that having a plan to follow helps them get on the bike and accomplish their workout each day.
#2 Use Zwift
Before my moment of reckoning in 2016, I hadn’t trained indoors in years. Maybe it was that four-hour roller session I did as a youngster that scarred me? Enter Zwift. Try it! It’s fun and you’ll no longer use weather and daylight as an excuse. Zwift enables you to FtFP. If it was dark or cold or sloppy outside, I would move on to plan B and get on the Kickr and Zwift.
Fun and productive, I would ride hard for an hour. Group rides and races and workouts are all easy to access and are very motivating.
In January of 2016 I established consistency and in February Zwift enhanced that consistency. By March, I stepped it up with group rides. And you know what? This is where my training and goals became F-U-N.
#3 Do group rides
By March I had two previous months of fitness to propel me on the group rides. I also had the cyclocross season in my back pocket where the fitness carries over. This gave me the ability to not just hang on, but to take pulls and ride harder without having to worry about getting dropped. You know what’s not fun? Hanging on for dear life on a group ride. You know what’s ‘funner’? Going faster. Improving is fun.
During these group rides, I was able to raise my Chronic Training Load (CTL) higher and higher all the while having F-U-N. Hard as heck, shattered afterwards but Fun with a capital F. I kept going and the training snowballed from consistency, Zwift and the group rides.
Granted this one is trickier now with COVID-19, but Zwift group rides are very much an option if in-person group rides are not right for you now.
#4 Raise your CTL
Chronic Training Load is the cumulative effect of your daily training – your Acute Training Load. Training software like TrainingPeaks and Today’s Plan track this so you can both forecast training stress and measure your results. Riding consistently is the easiest way to raise your CTL, and I am a big proponent of doing Sweet Spot training for the biggest bang for your buck, time wise.
#5 Win in the kitchen
This is another lesson I had to relearn for myself after preaching it to others. I used to race at about 150lb but over the 10 years since my ‘retirement’ the weight had crept up. So I resolved to eat better on January 1st, 2016. I ate more veggies and started cooking more. I also cut sugar completely out of my diet and cut back on beer. The sugar was easy; the beer was tough. But there’s 200-500 empty calories in every beer and going down to a few a week instead of one or two every night made weight loss relatively easy. I started planning out my meals and cooking more, thus paving the way for what would be a major theme within our coaching philosophy: win in the kitchen.
I encourage every one of you to get more in tune with your nutrition by going to the grocery store yourself and cooking your own meals. It will be such a phenomenal shift in the way you eat, that you can’t help but get faster.
The dietary changes I made took me from 168 to 150 by August. I had to buy a new belt! I felt great, setting Strava PRs because my power-to-weight ratio was way up. I lost about two pounds per month not by dieting per se, just by cleaning things up. Better food choices and eliminating empty calories. Basically practicing what I’ve always preached as a coach.
#6 Do yoga
I had taken yoga classes in years past and remembered how good I felt after the classes and how it helped with proprioception for better bike handling. So I started again and sure enough, it was helping with my recovery like stretching, and I started handling the bike better in corners. I started with YogaGlo on the iPad at home and then upgraded to studio classes. At first once a week then up to two to three times per week, primarily on my off days when I had a recovery day on the bike.
Along the way I found my ‘breath’ and when I was doing intervals, I could literally slow down my breathing and ‘relax’ during an interval and in a race. Yoga is like moving meditation for me (just like riding) and the benefits spilled over to mental toughness during the races.
#7 Do strength and conditioning
I enlisted the help of a personal trainer to put me through the paces in September and October. I saw amazing gains in my explosive power, which I put to use with the accelerations I needed for racing. It was all about getting the glutes engaged and utilizing this muscle group for power production.
The next year I added to the glute work with squats, hip thrusts, and plyometrics.
#8 Get good sleep
Sleep is the best recovery tool in the business. Everything else is secondary. In 2015, I got a Fitbit with my daughter for Christmas and what I found most helpful was tracking my sleep hours. Eight hours a night and I’m good; nine and I’m gold. Seven and I feel it; six or less and I’m absolute garbage the next day.
Since that Fitbit in 2015, I’ve upgraded to using the Whoop which is a 24/7/365 wearable device that records my daily strain, my HRV and sleep to measure my recovery. Big data type of stuff but the Whoop distills it all down to a daily recovery score: red, yellow, or green that helps you adjust your lifestyle and training load in order to keep recovery up, and to keep getting faster.