Cycling Training EssentialsBy Hunter Allen -
Legs of the Training Stool
Over the years of racing and coaching, I
have concluded that the best athletes have mastered three essential areas in
their life and in their training, allowing them to see the opportunities for
These three areas are just like legs on a
stool at your kitchen bar -- they have three legs and are stable only because
all the legs of the stool are of equal length and angle.
Do the work
The first leg of the athletes' stool that
you must master in order to be successful is the purely physical training. You
must do the work. You have to get out there on a day-to-day basis and put in
There is no substitute for this; you HAVE to
put in your time on the bike. We are, as they call us in Europe, members of the
"road chain gang." This is the first step of achieving success in cycling,
because if you do not master this leg, than you needn't worry about the other
Each leg has many facets to it, and the
physical leg is no exception. You need to develop a solid yearlong training
plan, and you need to work your plan. Once you identify your goals, you need to
identify your weaknesses and strengths and then get to work!
We always love to train our strengths and
hate working on the things that challenge us. Have you noticed how your
sprinter friends always want to go out and do sprints? Have you noticed how
your "skinny as toothpick mountain goat" friends are always inviting you on a
trip to the mountains, so they can do "fun" repeats on the 10-mile climb that
they so love? What about those power riders that only want to go as hard as
they can on the flats?
It is easy to train your strengths because
you already excel in them. This allows you to "feel good" about your workout
when you focus on an area that you are already good in. In reality though, if
you really want to excel as a cyclist, you need to be able to do all the
different areas that compose cycling well.
You will need to practice your sprints,
hills, power efforts, jumps, speed change, etc. Most importantly, you will need
to really work on the things that you do not enjoy or do not really excel
So, it is very easy to define your
weaknesses, but it is tougher to get out there and do the work to improve
Once, I was coaching an athlete that had
very specific strengths and had some very large holes in his abilities. After
the initial testing of his abilities and coaching him for one month, I could
tell that unless he really put forth an effort in improving his weaknesses,
there were really only two races the entire season that he even had a shot at
It was disturbing to see a talented athlete
that could have easily been able to win lots of races for a long time waste so
much valuable energy and efforts in his previous years of racing.
It was only through a specific and
determined training plan and a lot of sacrifice and hard work on his part that
I got him to fill in the gaps of his weaknesses, allowing him to be a potential
winner in more than just two races a year.
The lesson here is that if you do not
identify and be honest with yourself about your weaknesses and strengths, than
you will not be able to achieve your ultimate potential.
The second leg of the stool is the mental
training. You have to do the mental training that will make you believe that
you are a success.
One of my teammates was always getting
second in races. He would make the break, be a force in the break, and make the
splits in the end only to always take second at the finish line. After blocking
for him and the team working our tails off so he would stay away, we would
always ask him what happened, why didn't you win? He would always say the same
thing, "I didn't deserve to."
Here he was, a pro bike racer, one of the
best in the country at the time. He would be the one that started the break, he
would probably be one of the motors in the break AND he would probably have
been out there for 80 miles and then he would say he didn't "deserve" it.
Now, go back and read the second sentence in
this section again. It has two important points in it: the words "make [you]
believe", and "believe you are a success." First off, one of the most important
points in mental training is that you visualize yourself having already
succeeded in your goal.
You "see" yourself reading your name at the
top of the results sheet, you "see" yourself picking up your prize for 1st
place, you feel the feelings of congratulations that your peers, family,
friends are giving you for a job well done, you feel the elation of completing
So you are doing something that we all used
to do when we were kids. We are playing "Make Believe." There is power in that.
Your brain does not know the difference between a vividly imagined event and a
real event. The key is that you have to "feel" the sensations as they would
"feel" when the real event occurs and you have to "see" the after-effects of
What happens after you complete the event is
just as important as seeing yourself throw your arms in the air crossing the
Second point -- and this is what my teammate
did not do -- he did not believe he was a success. I am willing to bet that
somewhere in his childhood, he was told that he did not deserve to be a
success; therefore it was against his "programming" to succeed. Can you imagine
not deserving to be successful? Hmmm ... Can you imagine not "deserving" to
have a dessert, because you did not clean your plate at dinner? Hmmmm. Hit
You have to "believe" that you are success,
and once you cultivate that belief -- once you "pretend," "make believe" that
you are a success -- then the confidence will come. Only when you have the
belief that you can successfully complete a century ride or win a local
criterium race, will you actually be able to do it. The belief comes first; the
success follows that brings about more confidence and a stronger belief which
builds more success. It's an upward spiral of success.
The third leg of your training stool is the
nutritional side. This is also super-important and makes a difference. You have
to build your body from solid, good, clean, strong building blocks.
If you build a body from Twinkies and diet
soft drinks, than you are handicapping yourself from the starting line. I know
some people who only drink diet soft drinks, and never pure, clean water. Their
fundamental building block of their entire body is from a toxin! They are
building a polluted body from the very foundation.
It's no wonder that people get "mysterious"
diseases and ailments .. maybe a diet drink every once in a while won't hurt
you, but if that's all you drink, you are eventually going to feel the effects
of a weak leg in your training stool. What you eat today will impact you six
months from now.
That nose that you have on your face, right
now, was not there six months ago. What, you say? Yes, it's true: the cells
that comprise your nose are new cells and you have completely rebuilt your nose
since the nose you had six months ago.
Your body is in a constant state of
rebuilding -- you are building new muscle cells, new bone cells, new brain
cells, etc. So, if you eat smart for six months and feed your body good foods,
pure water, high-quality vitamins, then and only then will you have a pure,
strong and clean body.
Sure, you say, what about all those guys
that eat junk and still kick my butt on the Saturday ride? Well, eventually it
will catch up with them, maybe not in the next few rides or even seasons, but
eventually garbage in equals garbage out.
So, there you have it, the three legs of the
athlete's stool. Each is important in its own way and there are many facets to
each one. If you take a look at each leg, and really start to work on improving
a few things in each one, then you will see a difference quickly.
Make sure that you are training correctly
for you. This means taking all of the aspects that make up you as a person and
as an athlete and working on the items that will improve your overall
I highly recommend that you start by
learning as much as you can about each through reading books, talking with
others, and learning from your mistakes. A good coach is helpful too, as this
person has been down the road already and knows how to develop all areas of
your training in order to help you achieve a peak performance.
Ultimately, though, it is you who has to do
the work. One of my favorite quotes was by the famous Tour de France winner
Fausto Coppi. When asked what the three most important tips he could give to
someone wanting to improve in cycling, his reply was, "Ride the bike, ride the
bike, ride the bike!"
Make it a great training
Hunter is a former professional cyclist
and winner of over 40 races at the highest levels of cycling. He has been
coaching all types of endurance athletes, specializing in cycling since 1995
and owns The Peaks Coaching Group in Bedford, Va. He is also
the co-developer of Cycling Peaks Software, the most comprehensive power meter
software available. He is a sought after speaker on topics related to cycling
and training with power, and is a regular presenter for the USA Cycling Coaches
Education Program. Along with coaching endurance athletes, he also teaches yoga
and enjoys rock climbing and his family in his spare time. He can be reached
via his Web site or at firstname.lastname@example.org.