Cycling – The Power of the Mind

Getting fast on a bike is all about power, weight and endurance right? …Wrong. An integral part of getting faster or going further on your bike is the mind. How much pain can you endure? How much further can you push? How much longer can you suffer? One of the things I have done this year is concentrate on improving my mental conditioning with amazing results.

Cycling - its all in the mind

If you believe it will happen then it most likely will happen:

Without necessarily improving my fitness I have seen massive increases in my performance, especially over longer distances. I used to think I could go fairly well over anything sub 30 miles. Then as soon as I’d hit that 30 mile mark I’d almost hit a mental wall. As if I was waiting for the inevitable drop in my energy and subsequently speed as well. I was almost forcing my legs to slow down before I even gave myself a chance to show myself I can do it. There’s probably a fancy name for this where if you believe something will happen than it most like will, but if you think the same way as I once did then you are immediately putting yourself on the back foot.

Positive Thinking:

The power of positive thinking
Instead of “I can’t”, you need to think “I can”. How many times have you been out on your bike, running on empty thinking “I can’t do anymore”? What about you instead think “I can and I will go faster!” This is the approach I have been taken and it has allowed me to smash through that 30 mile wall and maintain the same performance across double the distance. Don’t get me wrong, I still have my bad days on the bike when I feel like I’ve got nothing in my legs, but instead of being negative about it, I consider how much of achievement it will be when I crush a ride with heavy legs.

Mind over Matter:

Another technique I employ is blocking out the pain. We’ve all been there, when it’s just you and your bike and your legs are screaming at you. Well there are many techniques you can employ to distract your mind from suffering. You could instead focus on breathing, or maybe do what I do (especially when I’m on the turbo with the music on loud) and sing! You could use markers on the road to get that little bit further or push that little bit harder, for example “I’m going to push harder until the next road sign or next village!” If you start thinking negatively then you need to block it out.

Visualisation Techniques:

The Sufferfest have a Mental Training program which recommends visualising putting up a stop sign to block out any negative thoughts and then to the right of that Stop Sign is an image of you achieving your goal. I employed this technique recently on a fast group ride. The pace was high and at one point around 45 miles in, it I felt I was going to get spat out the back of the group I was in. I instead blocked that thought with my imaginary stop sign and visualised myself not just hanging on, but instead sitting on the front, upping the pace and punishing the rest of the group. I have to say it worked, and not only did I hold on but I sat on the front for a good chunk and ended up splitting the pack up a short climb! Now I use that technique every time negative thoughts start to cloud my mind.

Setting Goals:

Setting Goals
As with anything you want to spend time doing, you need motivation. Motivation is what makes you push further and harder and to get motivation, you need a goal. I’ve started setting goals in every part of my cycling. I have big goals like winning a race or cycling Lands end to John O’Groats. But I also have weekly goals for example “I’m going to cycle 200 miles this week” or “I’m going to do 3 interval sessions this week”. I even set goals on individual rides like distance, Strava Segments or avg speed! Having goals gives you the motivation to get out and achieve them.

Ride in a group:

Riding in a group almost destroys every mental battle you can come up against. If you commit to a group ride it may get you out on your bike when you may not have had the motivation to do so. Only last week I had arranged to ride with some friends early in the morning. The alarm clock went off and every part of my mind and body was telling me to stay in bed. But I didn’t want to let my friends down! So I got up, donned the lycra and headed out on my bike. Another thing group riding helps with is the mind over matter scenario. Cycling in a group often means you can pass the time by just having a chat. Before you know it, you’ve got 30 miles under the belt before you’ve even realised! Finally the confidence you can get from cycling in a group is going to make you go faster. There is always a competitive component of group cycling and you can see how you’re doing in comparison to others. If you have good legs, this comparison will lift your confidence, encouraging increased performance.

Gain the advantage:

The mental side of cycling is often overlooked by most. If you choose to focus on ‘upgrading the mind’ then you’re going to have a massive advantage over the many. Most people in cycling focus soley on increasing there power, improving aero position, eating properly, loosing weight and as always buying better/lighter tech. Obviously, these are all important elements of cycling but if you choose to take time to improve the mind and mental techniques then your gaining a vital component to increasing your performance that is often disregarded.

Commuting to get Fit

I’m always trying to get faster on the bike and its fairly obvious that the best way to do that is by spending more time on the bike. But if you’re like me and you often find yourself working long hours, or you enjoy spending your time at home with your wife and kids, then its hard to find enough time to get some decent miles in the legs.

Commute Angry

I’m a strong believer in quality over quantity and if you can squeeze in just a few extra rides with some quality workouts then you will be well on your way to getting much more bike fit. One great way of squeezing in extra miles? Commuting to work by bike. The secret is to commute angry! Ride as hard as you can to work if the road and traffic allow of course. And if you can afford to, increase the distance somewhat on the return trip and chuck in some hard intervals. Like I said, Quality not Quantity and you if you ca make a 5-10 mile commute as hard as a 30-40 mile weekend ride then you are on the right path.

Commute to get fit

 

Extra weight and less aero

Often when commuting you are carrying a lot of extra weight, a change of clothes, your lunch, maybe your even riding on your heavy commuter bike? Also you probably won’t be wearing your most aero clothing.  I’m usually not in kit that Team Sky would endorse, often commuting in a t-shirt and football shorts . All the extra weight and increased air resistance will make you feel like your flying though when you get back on a race light machine with your performance lycra!

A little is better than nothing at all

I don’t do it every day, but I find that by cycling to work and back maybe 2 or 3 times a week has vastly increased my performance on my club and weekend rides. I’m honestly fitter than I’ve ever been because of it. Not only that, I’ve saved an absolute mint in fuel costs! Yes, you could just get out on your bike every evening instead, but then you miss out on the family time. So while the weather is nice and the days are still long, why not give it a try to make up for those hours you don’t get to spend on your bike?

Get Bike Fit – 6 1/2 Steps for an Absolute Beginner

Cycling is a great way to get fit and for me Road Biking is the best way to do it. Your road bike is all about going far and going fast so here is 6 1/2 steps for an absolute beginner who wants to get fitter, faster and further on their road bike.  

Step 1: Get a bike

Fairly obvious really. Being an absolute beginner means you may not even have a bike. But buying a bike may not be as simple one may think. Many things may need to be taken into consideration. Budget for starters, but questions need to be asked like what type of riding will you be doing? What type of riding do you want to be doing in the future? What type of riding do your friends do? You don’t want to limit yourself, but at the same time you want to make the most of your situation and passion.

For example maybe you want to do endurance or adventure riding? Perhaps your an urban commuter but want to get into local club riding or criterium’s? Chances are you may have no idea what riding you want to do and you just want to go out and ride. The beauty of road cycling is its versatility and whatever you decide there is a bike out there for you!

Absolute Beginner? Get a bike
mmmmmmmmm…. new bike

Step 2: Go out and ride

Even more obvious than step 1! But its true. You don’t need to worry about getting fitter yet. Forget training plans and FTP tests and concentrate on enjoying your bike and growing in confidence. Learn the basics like bike handling skills and road smarts. Learn to ride with clipless pedals and to take on fuel while on the move.

Absolute Beginner? Ride
Get out and ride… and take pictures of your bike

Step 3: Set a goal

Okay, now we are beginning to move away from the absolute beginner status. You own a bike and you’ve been putting in the miles. Your confidence has grown and you’ve probably started to notice your fitness increase already, just by getting out and about on your bike. Now you want to start pushing it to the next level? You need a goal.

It might be something as simple as loosing 10kg or maybe completing a 100km or 100 mile ride. Maybe you’ve set a goal as a group like cycle coast to coast? Whatever it is, by setting a goal you will be provided you with the motivation you need to get on your bike even when you don’t want to.

Step 4: Live well off the bike

Cycling is all about power to weight. The stronger you are the faster you go, the lighter you are the faster you go… its simple really. I’m for anything in moderation but if you want to see the benefits of getting faster and being able to go further, then your’e going to have to make a commitment off the bike as well. By eating healthy you are going to improve your performance on a bike. Make sure you fuel well pre and post ride and sleep well to allow for your body to recover.

Absolute Beginner? Lay off the fatty food
Lay off the fatty food!

Step 5: Go out and ride more

If you want to get fitter you’ve got to do the work, so set aside time to get out on your bike. Many of us can’t spend every day on our bike so cheat a bit. Try and commute to work a few times a week to get those extra miles in or use a turbo trainer for when the weather is poor or the nights are longer. Ride with friends or even join a local club so that you are committed to riding more with likeminded people.

 

Step 6: Train on specifics

Start working on the specifics. Im not talking about getting a coach or anything (unless you want to). Just put together a basic plan which suits your goal or objective. Throw in some longer distance rides if you want to improve your endurance. Chuck in some intervals on that commute to work by sprinting to sign posts or going in hard up every hill. Have a day when you just go all out as hard as you can for as long as you can. Even have a rest day where you just spin the legs for that recovery.

Absolute Beginner? Work on Specifics
Get that sweat on!

Step 6 1/2: Analyse, review and build

What are you doing well at? What needs improving? Maybe you’re really fast for 15 miles but then rapidly tail off as you go further? Build on your strengths and target those weaknesses by tweaking your riding. You will find quickly that you move from absolute beginner to absolute machine!

Absolute Beginner? Become a machine
Become a MACHINE

 

Zwift vs Sufferfest – Which is better for delivering results?

Zwift vs Sufferfest, which one came out on top for me? Which platform kept me motivated longer and delivered results faster?

The days when toiling away on a turbo trainer was comparable to medieval torture are long gone. In the new age of smart trainers like the Wahoo Kickr or the Tacx Vortex, riding your bike indoors can actually be quite fun (other Turbo Trainers are avaliable). Riding on a turbo won’t be improving your bike handling skills and I don’t think it could ever truly replace the feeling of being outside in the elements on your bicycle, however using platforms like Zwift and The Sufferfest mean that you don’t have to stick on the Corrie Omnibus to grind away those hours spent training indoors.

Zwift vs Sufferfest
Zwift vs Sufferfest

Turbo training increases your fitness… fact. A major advantage of the turbo is the consistency it provides. I don’t know of many roads where you can pedal constantly for an hour, just focussing on the effort without worrying about vehicles, traffic lights and junctions. In terms of the work you can do in a given time it beats the road hands down. According to some, 60 minutes on the turbo can equate to about a 90 minute outdoor ride, plus its quick and easy. With no need to put on any cycling specific apparel, you could just jump on the bike in your pants if it takes your fancy. How you ride your bike in the pain cave is your business though!

The Sufferfest

So how about the platforms that I’ve had the pleasure of using? The Sufferfest and Zwift have their highlights and both offer very different experiences.  The Sufferfest is slightly less impressive and unlike Zwift where you are put into a virtual world where you can ride with other people, you are instead following a video and expected to match certain cadence and power values based on your FTP. It sounds super straightforward and simple compared to Zwift and it is, but thats not say its bad. The videos are designed to be highly motivating and in most cases I find that the Sufferfest videos hold my interest much more than the comparable Workout Mode in Zwift. Time seems to pass quicker and at no point did I find myself desperately waiting for it to be over. As you toil away, The Sufferfest will place you in a famous race or in some cases a solo ride up an epic climb. Motivating and often humorous messages will flash up across the screen to help break up the monotony of turbo training and overall the package helps provide an immersive and entertaining experience.

Also The Sufferfest now taps into the mental and recovery aspects of improving your fitness and performance with cycling specific Yoga and Mind training videos as part of the software’s catalogue. I certainly consider both of these invaluable factors in improving your cycling fitness and conditioning. Especially the mental training which I wrote about recently on my blog.

The Sufferfest - Revolver

Zwift

Like The Sufferfest, Zwift has more than just workouts. In fact Workouts are really only a subsidiary of Zwift and a recent addition to the platform. Thats not to say that the Workout mode is inferior in any way. If fact quite the opposite, with an extensive catalogue of different Workouts and also the ability to import your own that you or possibly your coach has created and tailored specifically for you, Zwift pretty has everything you need. No, it doesn’t have the motivational on screen text or music that comes with The Sufferfest, but what it does have is other real life cyclists riding with you. Cyclist you may want to ride with or maybe even beat to the top of Box Hill?  As I ventured out around the fictional island of Watopia or Richmond and London, I often found myself joining group rides for recovery sessions or even just jumping on for an hour with my friends, competing against each other in sprints, trying to hit the summits first etc. But where Zwift really came into its own for me though was the community led racing events. I was addicted to it. Not only that, the racing on Zwift is pretty much full gas out of the blocks and stays at that level right up to the finish, meaning you get an extremely good workout.

Zwift is effectively a video game that keeps you fit. You earn XP for riding, finishing workouts, completing sprints and KOM’s. The more XP you earn the more gear you unlock or different bikes you can ride. This sort of stuff makes you get back in the saddle. You start to want those better wheels so you can be faster on those virtual races, and the only way to get them is to ride more.

So which is better?

Firstly, whatever training platform you choose to use, if you put the time in, you will get fitter on the bike and you will enjoy your time on the Turbo Trainer ten fold compared to slogging away looking at your garage wall. I found that both platforms delivered results, improving my FTP, increasing my performance an ultimately providing me with the motivation to get on the bike. In the end the only thing that matters is that you get a good training session instead of becoming a couchlandrian!

If I’m honest, I find Zwift slightly more up my street as its not as one dimensional as The Sufferfest is. I think what The Sufferfest does, it does brilliantly. Workouts are enjoyable (as enjoyable as absolutely killing yourself can be anyway) and they are effective. Another thing worth mentioning is that I have never had a problem with The Sufferfest software. It has never crashed, disconnected or lagged out in any way, where as I’ve had very few, but still some connection issues with Zwift. Having said that, Zwift as a package I think is unparalleled in what it can offer right now. Workouts, social rides, racing, even just bumming around London on your own! The world is incredibly immersive and although not quite as good as getting out in the real world, its definitely as close as it gets right now.

If you only want to use the Turbo trainer for workouts and improving your FTP for the Summer season then subscribe to The Sufferfest. You will get plenty of good hard quality sessions to keep you occupied throughout the winter and in prime condition for the summer season. However if like me, you want more that just workouts, then Zwift is for you. Join a social ride, sit in a group, race in a Crit. Do all the things you want to do in real life but in relative discomfort of your home! And when the sun comes out and you get back on actual tarmac, you will be stronger and faster than ever!

 

Just to note, I’m yet to use TrainerRoad hence the reason I’ve not mentioned it. However I am lead to believe that it really stands out if you want a structured training plan. Perhaps I will try it for a future blog post!