Improving Performance: Cycling Techniques and Tips
Most of us learn to ride a bike at an early age, and once the basic technique of riding has been mastered, the only factors limiting personal achievement are physical and mental commitment. Although physiology and genetics undoubtedly play a role, in theory almost anyone can become a world-class cyclist. You only need to look at US cyclist Lance Armstrong, who won the Tour de France after recovering from testicular cancer, to realise that many cycling successes owe more to determination than anything else.
To improve and maintain performance, cyclists must focus on:
- Mental Strength
This is a key area, which can be broadly split into fitness and skills. Fitness training uses aerobic exercise to increase the athlete's heart rate and anaerobic exercises to build muscle strength. It is important to develop a training programme which suits both the cyclist and the discipline in question - for example, a track cyclist will be much more concerned with building power and speed than a Freestyle BMX rider.
Training programmes vary greatly depending on the individual cyclist, the level at which they are competing and the discipline. The duration, frequency and intensity of training will be affected by the particular needs of the athlete and by timing - training is likely to be less intense in the off-season than in the run-up to a race or event. Interval training, which alternates periods of high and low intensity, is especially favoured by MTB riders, as bursts of energy will be required to negotiate obstacles off-road. For more information and to devise your own training plan, visit the Sports Coach website.
If you've ever run out of energy on a bike, you'll understand what is meant by the bonk, a term which equates to the wall experienced by runners. Legs turn to jelly and a feeling of extreme exhaustion and dizziness overcomes the rider. To avoid this sudden physical crash, it's essential for cyclists to eat the right foods at the right time.
Carbohydrates are an obvious choice for cyclists, and huge plates of pasta may just account for the prowess of generations of Italian road racers! Pasta is an example of a food with a low glycemic index, and a source of carbohydrate which is slowly metabolised. As such, it provides sustained energy. Highly glycemic carbohydrates are essential to keep the cyclist going during longer-distance races. Easily-absorbed, they boost blood sugar and keep energy levels topped up. For more information on cycling nutrition, visit Bicycle Source.
Hydration is also key for cyclists, with at least 750ml per hour needed to replace the fluids lost through exertion.
Cycling is hugely varied - what could be more different than an aggressive 60m sprint in a Cycle-Speedway competition compared to a three-week marathon in the Tour de France? However, motivation and stress management are equally important in all disciplines. It's no coincidence that the greatest cyclists are those who are focused, and totally involved in their pursuit of victory, as well as being in top physical condition.
Top ten training aids for cyclists
Whether you are a beginner or a pro, the following will help to focus your training and improve your performance:
- 1. Buy a cycle computer for easy monitoring of your speed, cadence and personal best.
- 2. Spend time perfecting your training schedule.
- 3. Aero bars ensure your hands and arms are tucked in to maximise the athelete's aerodynamism.
- 4. Find a personal coach. Be it a pro or your big sister, a coach will push you to get the best out of yourself.
- 5. Keep a training diary to help you monitor progress, identify weaknesses and avoid slacking.
- 6. Do your research by riding the course in advance of a competition.
- 7. Allow time for recovery or you will burn out, and run the risk of injury.
- 8. Mix indoor training with rides in the open air to ensure variety in your training regime, and to prevent wet weather impacting on your fitness.
- 9. Head for the hills - there's nothing like grinding up a steep gradient for improving mental stamina.
- 10. Add weights to your bike once you're achieving your target times. Not so fast now, eh?