10 things to improve your cycling - Gemma Bitaraf

Above: Gemma contemplating how to get better...

 

1. Don't compare yourself to others

In our often-competitive world, it’s very easy to become disheartened when you see others cycling faster, further, training harder. Take a step back to concentrate on you.

Look at where you started, how far you've come and be proud.

Most days for just getting on your bike, you are well ahead of the rest of the population.

 

2. Know your strengths (and weaknesses)

Ask yourself what you’re really good at and what you feel you want to improve. Don't just think about the obvious; your strengths could include riding consistently, motivating others in a group ride, being willing to ride in different conditions or staying motivated when it gets tough.

What about your weaknesses? Think about the things which will improve the type of riding you currently do, not what you think you need to work on because you've seen others doing it.

We're not always motivated to address our weaknesses because it's tough! If you don’t have a reason, then it's even tougher.

 

3. Set a goal

Without a goal, it's much harder to stay continually motivated. Most people chose a specific event to train for; this is excellent but doesn't always need to be your goal.

What about taking some time to address those weaknesses you identified? Be specific - by Christmas I am going to feel more confident descending on my bike.

Then think about how you might achieve that; learn from others, take time to practice by yourself, start off with shorter, flatter descents and build up. How will you know you have achieved your goal?

Don't forget to set mini-goals. Every time you get on your bike, be clear about what you'd like to achieve by the time you get off. It doesn't always need to be a performance goal. You may be focusing on smooth riding and staying relaxed or testing out different kit/nutrition to see if it will work on a longer ride.

By setting these goals you will feel like you’ve achieved something each time you get off your bike.

 

Above: Gemma, mid-goal!

4. Celebrate the small things

Things don't always go to plan and it's inevitable that we won’t feel amazing on every ride.

Start a diary and note down the areas you want to focus on. This enables you to look back and see these improvements that you may have otherwise forgotten.

Don't play down your achievements, even to yourself. It's very easy to get into the habit of saying I felt really strong up that hill at the start of the ride but I still struggle when I get tired.

Stop, congratulate yourself on what you did do well and build from there.

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5. Mix it up

Don't try to cram too much into an already busy lifestyle.

Decide what you can realistically do and be prepared to change your plan. Not every ride needs to be a repeat of your previous one, only faster and longer.

Pushed for time? Go out for 30 minutes and concentrate on just cornering on a small loop.

Want to improve your climbing? Go and tackle that hill you struggled with on your last ride.

Less than desirable weather? Take your mountain bike off-road and grow your confidence in tricky conditions.

Don't feel like you have to get a particular number of rides into a 7-day schedule. What if your cycling schedule was 10 or even 14 days? Breathe ... how much less pressure do you feel now?

 

6. Take recovery seriously

Most people think of recovery as a period of time when you are losing fitness. This couldn't be further from the truth.

During recovery our bodies are adapting to all of the stress we have put them under. As they re-build they become stronger and more able to cope the next time you get on your bike.

If you overtrain you risk becoming de-motivated, not adapting and potentially picking up an injury because your body is unable to cope.

Celebrate your recovery days; if you're someone who likes to plan then plan your recovery time as if it is part of your training.

 

7. Nail your nutrition

This doesn't just include on the bike. Are you eating well before and after your ride? Everyone is different so establish what works for you.

That ride where you felt amazing; what did you eat beforehand? That day when you felt sluggish before you'd even got on your bike; what did you eat after your last ride, maybe it wasn't enough or the right food to help your body recover?

If you're unsure what works for you; start writing it down. You'll soon start to see patterns in foods that work and don't work for you.

Don't just look out for serious reactions; note when you're feeling tired, unusually hungry or craving something. This usually means your body isn't in full agreement with your food choices. Maybe nailing your nutrition could be one of your goals?

 

8. Get to know your bike

Local bike shops are vital for keeping our bikes running smoothly and helping us to avoid any potential safety hazards of a non-maintained bike but it doesn't mean you can't learn the basics.

Take the time to keep your bike clean and maintained as far as you can. Do the gears run smoothly? Do the brakes work as they should? How do my tyres look?

Do you have all of the puncture repair kit but you're not entirely sure if you could fix a puncture out on the move? Practicing at home (something to do on your recovery day) will ensure you feel a lot more confident when faced with the situation away from home.

 

Above: Gemma in full flight

9. Share your experiences

Don't be shy in sharing both your good and bad experiences with others.

We all started somewhere and sometimes it's nice to share your story with someone else; it may be the story that they can relate to and gives them a boost when they are comparing themselves to others.

When sharing positive stories, OWN them! Your achievement may not be relevant to someone else but if you show your passion and personal journey you will really engage others and encourage them on their personal journey.

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10. Take some time off

This is different to recovery. Take the time to have a non-bike day/s.

Cycling can take up a lot of your time which can impact on friends and family. Ensure you spend some of your time where cycling completely disappears from your thoughts.

When you return to your bike you’ll feel a lot more refreshed and ready to tackle your next challenge.

 

Gemma is a qualified running and cycling coach - see more about her here.