6 secrets to be faster and fitter

To really improve on the bike, change your habits, for the better

November 29th, 2018 by | Posted in Training Guide | Tags: , ,

faster and fitter
Illustration: Guy Parsons

You’ve done the goal-setting, resolution thing before. How did you do last year? I propose that this year you focus on a smaller goal and even smaller steps you can take each day consistently. These daily habits are the little things that add up to consistent rides, a great diet, early bedtimes and, while you’re at it, flossing regularly, for real this time.

Point A and Point B

One of my favourite strength coaches and writers is Dan John. He uses Point A and Point B to describe our need to know where we are and where we want to go. We can figure out Point A by doing some form of testing. For cycling, we all love (to hate) the 20-minute time trial or functional threshold power test. There are many ways to test yourself and get a sense of where you are and, more important, to track your progress throughout the season. If you have done your goal race or challenge before, or even a similar race, then you have an idea of what you can do and how much you need to improve. If your goal is to do the Leadville 100 mile MTB race next year and you have done a 100-km mountain bike race this past year, then you have an idea of how much more you need to do. A coach can help with establishing your Point A based on his or her experience and some testing as well.

faster and fitter
Illustration: Guy Parsons

Mental skills consultant Danelle Kabush likens this goal-setting process to baking, “If you set the goal of baking banana bread, you need to follow the recipe. The first step may be getting a plan or taking cooking lessons,” she says.

This baking analogy really resonates with me as I tend to skip steps and ingredients and have poor results in my baking. How many of us aspire to grand goals – exotic, award-winning, banana bread, for example – but end up with disappointing results? If we know what we want, that top-five result or 5-lb. weight loss, then why are we not reaching these goals? What’s missing from the plans?

How hard?

Your plans might fall apart if your goal is simply too ambitious. You want to avoid setting goals that are too hard, but also ones that aren’t too easy and don’t motivate you to practice. Kabush says, “You can end up discouraged if you pick a goal that is too challenging, too soon. What is optimally challenging and what is the next logical step for you to aspire to?”

RELATED: 6 hacks for better eating in the off-season

For example, if I set the goal to win the Crankworx Slopestyle event this year, I can train all winter, but I will be disappointed come August, as will the fans who expect backflips, not cyclocross dismounts and screams of terror. Planning to enter a local jump contest or to enter a pump track contest would be a more logical and, much safer, next step for me given my experience with jumping and tricks.

Ask yourself, ‘why?’

If your goal is to win a certain race, is there a reason why you want to do it? Kabush says, “New Year’s resolutions can often be chosen for external reasons: society thinks I should set this goal. But if you choose goals for more internal reasons, you are more likely to achieve them.” For me, I really like riding bikes of all types, so racing is a way for me to do that. I have friends in racing who I don’t get to see except at events. Getting to travel to races is pretty neat, too. Perhaps most of all, I like that feeling on the finish line when I’ve done everything I could. I hope for a good result but the feeling of satisfaction isn’t tied to where I finished.

You need to be invested in the process of improving. If the goal isn’t something you really want or the process isn’t something you enjoy, then it is very hard to be motivated for a rainy-day ride when you are tired and your day job is looming in the back of your mind.

So what is that one thing you really want this year? What will get you excited? What seems doable but will push you, even scare you a bit? Rather than lose 20 lb. this year, could 0.5 lb. a month, 6 lb. this year be a better goal? Seems almost easy, but how many weight-loss goals go backward? If you have weight to lose, I dare you to try that. Remove the pop, crackers and cookies (or whatever your vices) from the house, get to bed earlier, walk to accomplish your errands and lift some weights – and see what happens.

Focus on the habits

My favourite book in the self-improvement genre is Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People published in 1989. The habits include “sharpen the saw” (work on long-term improvement) and “begin with the end in mind.” These are nice concepts that I believe in for both sport and personal development. Keep the long-term goal in mind but also keep making little improvements over time, and take pride in these little wins.

faster and fitter
Illustration: Guy Parsons

Changing your behaviour is tough. Your daily life and your environments can undermine your best intentions and resolutions. The kids need to go to soccer. You can’t ignore your spouse to ride your bike. That smartphone is buzzing constantly to get your attention. Oh, and there’s that nine-to-five work-commitment thing.

Setting up your habits takes some work throughout many days, if not weeks. The environment you’re in will influence how successful you are. Often you can tweak your environment to help improve your daily progress.

Think about the one or two things you need to do regularly and how you can set up your daily environment to make them happen more frequently.

Know and navigate the obstacles

If you know why you want to get on the podium or increase your power-to-weight ratio, then why don’t you ride each day, do your strength training and one or two focused interval sessions a week? Likely, you need to plan your goals in tandem with your spouse and family. If your spouse is also setting a goal to run a marathon and you are planning to win the masters mountain bike world championships, then you’re going to have competing training schedules. Talk with your family about the choice you’ve made, about what the process to reach it looks like and about how long it will take to reach. Look at a calendar and find the places there will be conflict. This can be uncomfortable process but is important for success.

RELATED: Healthy habits for the off-season

faster and fitter
Illustration: Guy Parsons

You can win the provincial championships, but perhaps not the same month (or even year) as your son gets married, or as you land that big account at work or as you plan to win the masters mountain biking world champs. You are amazing, but few of us have the ability to focus on, let alone be awesome at, many things at once. I’ve wanted to back squat one and a half times my bodyweight for five repetitions for years. The fatigue and time required for mountain bike training, however, has kept me from doing it. I took a break from riding this fall and put all my energy into the gym and was able to reach this goal. Now my aim to maintain it as cycling training resumes.

Work your early motivation

If you have a goal fresh in your mind right now, then take action, right now. Many habits are actually a result of a big bold action you’ve taken. So, right now, yes right now, go do something that will make 2018 better than 2017.

These early big actions will often make “bad” habits harder to lapse into. Also, if you involve others with your plans (a riding partner) or commit to be somewhere (a spin class, a session with a personal trainer), you find yourself on the hook, in a good way.

If you have paid for something and if people are counting on you, you are more likely to follow through. I have always preregistered and shared my goals and results with my team so I am held to my objectives. Many athletes who don’t follow their training plans also don’t pre-register well in advance (and tell their families). As a result, they don’t show up at many start lines or they show up at random start lines without any preparation. Their results are never good.

Will you take a step forward in your goals this year? Will it be a good year? It definitely can be. You don’t have to do everything today. But do something now, and again tomorrow. It’s a good habit.