8 Habits to Focus On This Season to Become a Better Cyclist

The yellow jersey rider of the Tour de France rides on a yellow BMC Road Bike, while pushing the pedals hard as a fast cyclist.

As humans we love numbers. Numbers are an easy way to have better direction in our lives because it’s so easy to measure. Therefore, when one year comes to an end and a new one begins we feel like Fawkes risen from the ashes in Harry Potter.

While change is just a result of action, rising from your ashes in the new year is a good thing to get a fresh new start. 

To give you a small kick up, here’s a note on 8 habits you should stick with this year to become a stronger and faster cyclist. 

1. Get Consistent

Did you ever ask yourself what the secret sauce of the best endurance athletes in the world is? Well, the answer might be quite dull and surprising. They are the most consistent workers. Take Eliud Kipchoge for example. Kipchoge is the best marathon runner who ever set foot on the earth. Today at 39 years of age Kipchoge did what many think impossible: He stayed injury-free for almost two decades in an impact sport like running. 

Now, when you consider research on detraining, your VO2max will decline more than 7% in just 21 days of no training. Accordingly, with inconsistent training, you will never step up your performance. 

But how exactly did Kipchoge stay injury-free? The answer is lots of slow low-impact running sessions. In this way, Kipchoge is fresh for the hard days and saves up on the easy days. 

Keep in mind that small things compound into great things over time. You don’t need to make huge gains each season as long as you make small consistent progress.

So, this year get consistent and ride your bike more often. Doesn’t need to be more volume just 5 days instead of 4 days per week for a whole cycling season. 

Next, let’s talk about hard days. 

2. Go Hard

While riding easily should be the main part of your training plan, it won’t make the difference for the goal race. To make significant progress you need hard days. Most cyclists lack the time or circumstances to go long and easy all year long. Consequently, interval training can increase the training load on certain training days and induce specific adaptations that low-intensity training fails to accomplish. 

I would go as far as to argue that intensity is the primary metric to go for experienced cyclists, with some exceptions. But there’s an inherent issue in the discussion of volume vs. intensity: As humans, we tend to see only black and white instead of lots of grey. As humans, we are prone to extremes as they’re more exciting and impressive.

While I favor intensity I know we can’t smash ourselves in every session –  recovery is a necessity. It just means to use intensity with the right dose. No matter which studies you look at all emphasize intensity to maintain endurance performance.

But there’s no need for complexity. Just focus on two hard sessions every week and fill the rest of the week with easy training. Simply put, do one session at threshold and one session around VO2max. Repeat for at least three months and tell me how you progressed. 

3. Go Long

Going out for a long ride rewards those who master it with better fat burning, and increases in aerobic capacity in your slow-twitch muscle fibers so they fatigue less rapidly. As a result, you can ride faster for longer. Think of your slow-twitch muscle fibers as your Diesel engine that is efficient and long-lasting. In contrast, your fast-twitch fibers are your turbo responsible for acceleration but with the side effect of high lactate production. Ultimately, slow-twitch fibers clear and metabolize lactate efficiently. So, the better your slow-twitch muscle fibers are trained the better your lactate clearance capacity.

In addition, the long ride offers the mental resilience to be out on your bike and ride on even when fatigue punches you right in the face. Combine that with a group ride and you share the pain with others while having a good time on the bike.

This is something hard to mimic with shorter rides or interval sessions. 

So, up to here remember to ride as consistently as possible and stick to two interval sessions and one long ride per week. Fill the rest with easy rides and you have a decent foundation for long-term progress that was fundamental 50 years ago and will be fundamental 50 years from now. 

4. Practice Pacing

Once you successfully stick to the training fundamentals mentioned before it’s time to talk about pacing for your goal race. Building a pacing habit is as crucial for your race performance as it is for your training sessions. Of course, the first step is to get yourself a power meter.

If you pace right you don’t run in danger of blowing up during interval sessions. As a result, you will finish your key sessions at a higher quality translating to bigger gains. When it comes to bike racing think about a Marathon. There are a dozen stories of Marathon runners getting smoked spectacularly in the second half of the marathon and reaching the finish crawling. In other words, we are all terrible at anticipating how hard we can mess up completely if we start too fast. Keep in mind that races are long and with little energy even 30 minutes can turn into hours. 

Think about the last time you went all-out – how did you feel after? Here’s an easy fix for better pacing: Find yourself a climb or lap with little traffic. Now, ride it one time at full throttle and the other time at a controlled threshold pace. Notice the difference. 

Pacing only requires practicing patience. But the rewards if you do so make a huge difference. 

5. Do Less

In a world of information and gadget overload it’s easy to get lost in complexity. I see it all the time. Athletes fail an interval session because a sports science Guru suggests preloading intervals with even harder intervals to activate intern shuttle systems. What happens, however, is that the athlete can’t complete the intervals of the day because he’s too fatigued. 

Rocket science is tempting because we are quickly impressed by complexity, it’s intellectually stimulating even if it’s less effective. 

The problem is that complexity feels like a great mental effort while simplicity feels like an easy walk. Complexity explains why we create a cult around people who seem to understand things we don’t. Complexity gives us a sort of control as simplicity feels like cluelessness. 

In most fields, like cycling training,  a handful of simple variables drive the majority of outcomes. If you work on the few things that matter for performance, you’re all set. Everything that’s added afterward is unnecessary fillers but can backfire dramatically. A truth many athletes need to hear is that there are no points awarded for difficulty. 

Instead, focus on less. Less data. Less sessions. Less information. Less complexity. Master the basics repeatedly and reap the benefits, both physically and mentally. Less is more.

6. Eat Better 

Eating healthier is an easy habit with a huge impact on your recovery and training quality. The problem with easy things on the surface is that they are boring and unsexy underneath. And also pretty hard to do for a long time. As alluded to above we are wired toward lifehacks, magic pills, and overly complex workouts. 

I try not to advise people I don’t know. Instead, here’s a list of questions that might help you get a better idea of how you can eat healthier

  • What are my personal preferences?
  • What kind of foods are the most palatable for me?
  • How can I create easy yet nutritional-dense meals?
  • What kind of meal makes me sleep best?
  • What kind of breakfast makes me perform best both at work and in training?
  • How can I fuel better during training sessions?
  • Which meals keep me full the longest?

7. Sleep More

According to statistics more than 70 million people in the US have chronic or ongoing sleep disorders. That’s every fifth American. So, I can say with confidence that you might read this article while being sleep-deprived.  

Yet sleep has a bunch of positive effects on your performance like improved repair of cells and muscles, improved mood, improved focus, improved weight management the list goes on and on. The major issue with being sleep-deprived is that we as humans are pretty bad at knowing how much sleep is enough for us. Studies have shown repeatedly that people overestimate how well-rested they are. 

Therefore, no matter what you read or hear there’s agreement between scientists that no matter if you’re a master athlete or a younger adult you need at least 8 hours of sleep. 

Here’s my evening routine to enter the world of dreams earlier:

  1. Eat a good dinner, no alcohol, limit caffeine to morning hours
  2. Switch on the night shift on your devices at 7 PM
  3. Watch a movie or read a book
  4. Get into bed by 10 PM
  5. Wake up early feeling great

8. Train With a Plan

Sticking to a training plan might be the best thing you can do for your long-term improvement. And yes you can make training with a plan a habit. A training plan will bring structure, progression, and balance into your life. On the other hand, without a plan, you might improve but plateau sooner or later due to a lack of training load on certain days while missing out on easy rides. Therefore, you also increase your risk of overdoing it or worst case getting injured. As the saying goes “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”

Otherwise, with a training plan, you can focus on key sessions and track your progress which will have a massive impact on your confidence over time. A well-balanced training plan will have you accumulate the required time at certain intensities while going easy when you need it the most to induce critical training adaptations. This in turn will improve key endurance determinants like VO2max, FTP, fat burning, and economy. 

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Resources

  1. The Training Characteristics of World-Class Distance Runners: An Integration of Scientific Literature and Results-Proven Practice
  2. Training-overtraining: performance, and hormone levels, after a defined increase in training volume versus intensity in experienced middle- and long-distance runners.
  3. Continuous Improvement: How It Works and How to Master It – James Clear
  4. Sleep, Athletic Performance, and Recovery – Sleep Foundation
  5. What Are Sleep Deprivation and Deficiency? – NIH
  6. The Importance of the Long Ride – Fast Talk
  7. Influence of Interval Training Frequency on Time-Trial Performance in Elite Endurance Athletes
  8. Training Periodization, Methods, Intensity Distribution, and Volume in Highly Trained and Elite Distance Runners: A Systematic Review
  9. Trying Too Hard – Morgan Housel x Collab Fund
  10. Impact of Starting Strategy on Cycling Performance

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