How to improve your cycling

What can you do to improve your cycling experience when you are not an elite rider with a barrage of trainers and others supporting you, but more of a parent/partner/worker who simply loves cycling and wants to improve their riding experiences?

Clarify your Reasons for Cycling

When you have a clear idea of the purpose of your cycling you might become more realistic in your expectations of your own abilities, what you want to achieve and whether you are achieving your goals.

What do you want to get from your cycling – health, fitness (they are different), enjoyment, social?

For instance if you are interested in health, then you don’t need the fitness levels of a Grade A rider.  You could measure your progress in terms as simple as whether cycling makes you feel better or worse.  Remember that the fittest athletes are often not very healthy because they push themselves to extremes which can do extraordinary damage to their bodies longer term.

Fitness should be relative to what you do regularly.  If you are a weekend rider you really don’t need the fitness levels of a Simon Gerrans.  If you are interested in improving fitness through cycling you need to set a progressive cycling program with some measurable and attainable goals to see if your fitness levels are improving.

If your aims are purely social and enjoyment, then you just need to be able to cycle the distance you want without feeling the need for an ambulance following you.

Be honest about your reasons for riding – you don’t always have to be competitive and you don’t need to have the fitness levels or goals of an elite athlete.

Be realistic about what you can achieve – if family and work are your priority, and regular cycling or training is difficult to maintain, then changing your expectations and goals may not necessarily improve your cycling but may improve your enjoyment.

Training

Bodies respond to habituation.  This is the foundation of the SAID Principle – Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand – which says that “your body will adapt specifically to whatever you train it to do”.

So essentially if you want to improve your cycling – then cycle.  Don’t get sidetracked by running, gym programs, yoga for cycling or anything else that takes your time away from cycling itself in the (often mistaken) belief that it will improve your riding.

For example, although cycling involves the same leg muscles as running the muscles are used quite differently, which is why the transfer of fitness benefits don’t quite align.

This doesn’t mean you should never train in other ways, especially if you really enjoy other activities, but remember that the more specific your training, the better your results will be.

So, if you want to be a better hill climber then climb hills.  If you want to be a better sprinter then practice sprinting.  If you want more endurance, then do regular long rides.  If you want to do everything you may need to think about retiring from your day job and becoming a full time rider.

Nutrition

There are so many different nutrition theories and trying to sort through them all is nearly impossible.

Going back to basic knowledge is a good place to start and the basics state that the body essentially gets its energy from carbohydrates, uses protein to build and repair tissue and uses saturated fats for hormone production (yes saturated!  You did read that correctly – it is not a typo).  This is a very simplified understanding but one which is often overlooked in preference for some complicated magic which ignores basic human physiology.

Using this as a foundation you should never contemplate a diet which removes any of these macronutrients, although you may like to play around with ratios and sources until you find a diet which suits your individual body, rather than being swayed by ‘one size fits all’ ideologies.

The key to nutrition is not reading the latest and greatest and adopting it without question, but really paying attention to how you feel – what messages are your body giving you in relation to what you eat and drink?

Another important consideration is that you are never going to find a magical nutrition formula because bodies are organic and therefore in a constant state of change in relation to current circumstances.  Whatever you ate and made you ride fantastically well last weekend may not work the same this weekend.  This doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong, it’s just that your needs this weekend may be different.

Rest and Recovery

Never underestimate the importance of rest and recovery.  Listen to your body.  If you’re tired and lethargic and secretly wishing you could stay in bed, then pulling on the lycra and hauling your butt onto your bike is not going to make you feel better long term.  You may feel better temporarily as the body self medicates with pain killers and uppers, but if you feel terrible a couple of hours after the ride when these chemicals have worn off, then you have probably done more harm than good.

This article first appeared here Issue 04 – The Daily Tour at the Tour Down Under