As the infamous “base” season transitions into a demanding Spring, it is easy to be “chamois time is training time” oriented. Fellow athletes on STRAVA are rolling out the miles and boasting huge days in the saddle. Preseason anxiety builds and I find myself worrying about hours on the bike-or rather if I have got enough of those hours under my belt. Long, monotonous days on the bike certainly do their part, but there are a few key aspects of training and everything-else-off-the-bike that are crucial in preparing for the coming season. It goes without saying that sleep, nutrition, and hours on the bike are important to “gains”, but I want to point out some aspects of training that are as important as anything else. These focus points have been huge for me and I want to share them-
whether they serve as reminders, encouragement, or just a time-killing read.
What I like to do, and has been advised by my coach, is include some of those traditional workouts (regular squats, leg press, deadlift…) with others that are targeting stabilization muscles and/or isolating a body part-like including a balance pad or board. I usually make circuits that include an upper, lower, and core exercise. Tossing in a couple side planks or swiss ball core exercises in between leg sets is super easy to do and helps add that little bit of attention to the core and back. As far as upper body, it is often neglected by cyclists because they feel they “don’t need the weight”. XCO racing demands a lot from your upper body…and if you can’t answer that demand then riding becomes sloppy and it can ruin your recovery throughout the race, or leave you trailside picking yourself up. (not to mention overall injury prevention!)
*For a bit more on strength in the gym and the science behind it, I highly suggest this podcast by Mark Sisson and Jacques Devore.
Of course it is important to be flexible! Cyclists aren’t gymnasts, but being able to move with and around your bike is crucial in racing. When you are a bit more flexible, this allows your body to work more efficiently and effectively on the bike, especially in techy sections. I always try to get in a light stretch right after training rides, but I can vouch for the fact that it’s not always what I want to do as soon as I get off the bike. However, it is super easy to get in a good 10 min of basic stretches right before bed and this is usually my go-to.
One of the single-handedly most important parts of XC racing is being able to handle the bike. Rough, steep, technical terrain is prevalent in every single race. Whether it be a Southeastern NICA race or a World Cup, basics like cornering and technical skills are vital. The more comfortable you are, the faster you are, and the less energy you spend.
Adding a session of skills to the weekly regimen has been super important for me as the race season builds. On recovery days, I’ll often take the mtb out and session a section of trail just focusing on basic technical skills. It is easy for people to get glued to the road bike saddle while trying to put in more hours, but I like to incorporate workouts on the trail or on my mtb just to keep that feel and flow.
Train Hard, Rest Harder
Training makes you slow. Recovery makes you fast. What? Yeah that’s right, training does nothing but break your body down-so why do people neglect the recovery? As training accumulates, it becomes more and more important to pay attention to how you feel and how you are recovering. The adaptation of your work is where all the gains are made. When you have to go hard-go hard, but when you have to go easy-GO EASY.
Controlling the Controllable(s)
Last but not least, DO YOUR THING. This one is what I have to remind myself weekly. It is so easy to get caught up in what everyone else is doing. I personally catch myself getting anxious as the season approaches and social media can be the root of that. I love to stay tuned in to what is going on around the world with different friends and athletes. It is a fun thing to get excited about, but when you see people racing in SoCal, training in South Africa, traveling because they aren’t in school…it is easy to get caught up. If you’re on the trainer most winter nights: sweet, get it. If you are snowed in a lot and cross training with skiing or something else: sweet, get it. I have learned (largely in part to clinical sports psychologist Kristin Keim) that no matter what, control the controllable(s). That being: focus only on what you can do and put your mental and physical energy into that. Above all, enjoy your process.