Some Thoughts on Positioning

If you’ve ever seen a bike race, been in a bike race, won or lost a bike race, then you know that positioning is a key part of racing effectively. Any good bike racer needs to efficiently save energy, hold their position at the right times, minimize useless accelerations, and be within striking distance at key moments throughout the race.

The decisive moments of any race could potentially happen at any time, so there’s a need to be alert and even at the ready, but they are unlikely to happen at any given time, so you have to avoid being too alert, too focused, too anxious about fighting for position at all times. You need to strike a balance. You need to have a good filter to block out the noise of the race, and have a good sense of what the signal is within that noise, so that you can sense things coming when the race really gets underway.

This is one of the key things that any bike racer learns throughout their time as a bike racer, and like many things in bike racing, there are many parallels between what happens in bike races to what happens elsewhere in life. Whether it’s work, relationships, or most anything that involves multiple actors and seemingly infinite variables, success often lies in the combination of good preparation and self awareness combined with a clear and focused mind, good judgment, and decisive action.

There are a lot of mistakes that people make in the way that they try to position themselves in races as well as the ways in which they think about positioning. Positioning is inextricably linked to any strategy or tactics you try to employ in any race scenario. You cannot look only at positioning, because it only matters and can only matter in the context of the unfolding of the race and how you plan or decide to act within that context. Position only matters in context.

I’ve heard a lot of advice shared, some of which is very good, some of which is sub-optimal, and some of it is just terrible. Yet, sometimes when spoken with confidence from someone with more experience than you or your buddy, it can sound like good advice. What really matters at the end of the day is results, right?! So, whenever you’re thinking about positioning, race strategy, training, nutrition, or anything else, you have to look at whether or not it will work, or work for you. Always keep this in mind. Many times what works for other people can be a great indicator of what may be perfect for you, but sometimes it will be completely counter productive for you to train, race, or ride the way someone else does. As with all things, try to be very self-aware and sensitive to your mind and your body so that you can get the most out of them both, whether in bike races or life generally.

Without further ado, here are some thoughts on bike race positioning:

“Fighting for Position”

When people talk about positioning, they often talk about “fighting for position.” They talk about things as though you’re always in a battle to be where you want to be. Not only that, but there are a lot of implicit, unstated assumptions made about what the “right” or “best” position is going to be. There are a few things wrong with this…

First, positioning shouldn’t be about fighting for positioning. Yes, sometimes it is a bit of a fight or battle of wills. Sometimes if you want a position, you have to be willing to put in the energy to get into position, or have the skills and risk tolerance to get there. You have to be self-interested and protect your position to keep other riders out of your way and out of your space. This doesn’t mean that you have to be mean, unsafe, or unsportsmanlike. The fact that people are uncivil or unsafe is really quite unfortunate, even contemptible. There’s no reason that you should knowingly and willfully put yourself or other people around you at risk because you want a position or want to move somewhere. Usually this is simply unpleasant, but it sometimes causes crashes, and it’s often done by people who have no business taking risks in the first place.

I’ve been in countless bike races where I’ve seen people take dumb risks for little or no real benefit to themselves. Many if not most times, those people are taking risks when they don’t have the legs to actually finish off the race with any result that would or could warrant the risks taken. It seems that this comes down to a lack of self awareness combined with a lack of understanding of racing. Usually, the strongest riders and best racers show the most class by not taking risks unless perhaps they’re assuming some minimal risk to themselves down a descent or through some turns on their own. The best racers ride with class and professionalism, and command respect, because everyone knows that they care about everyone’s safety and winning fairly or not at all. If they ever put anyone at risk, it was accidental or inadvertent because they couldn’t see the person behind or something like that. Racers at all levels benefit if you act professionally. Everyone has more fun, the racing is safer, and the camaraderie better when this happens.

Rather than always thinking of “fighting,” most of the time you should think of positioning differently. As with anything, the words we use and the ways in which we frame discussions or stories have a huge impact on how we behave and approach things. Think about positioning as surfing or maneuvering or going with the flow… The more riders there are in a field, the more it operates as a fluid with a flow and with turbulent eddies within it. Bike racing fields often move like a mobile wash of turbulence, on a large scale it flows quite smoothly, but with many small movements and adjustments within the field. If you think of it like this, then you can look at how to use the movements of the field and the riders in it to help you get yourself where you want to be at the right times with the least possible effort. Usually it does take some effort, but with some finesse, you can save yourself a lot of energy and leave yourself much more for the decisive moments of the race where you’ll want as much energy as possible, say, over the final climb or in the sprint.

Always look to be efficient and save energy when you can for when you need it most. Look for ways to use other people’s efforts to get you to where you want to be. Be patient when waiting a few moments or minutes won’t hurt you. Look ahead on the course, pay attention to the terrain, the turns, and the wind, so that you know when you need to be at the front. Some courses don’t have any major features (wind, hills, tight turns), so there’s no specific need to be at the front at any particular moment, in which case it all comes down to tactics and how the field collectively decides to race the race.

In many cases, there are a few places on the course or throughout the race that you really need to be at or near the front in order to save energy and be ready for any key splits or attacks. Still, always look for the most efficient way to get to the front at the right time. Get to the front too late and you may miss the key moment… maybe you missed the break or the split over a climb or through the wind. Get to the front too early, and you have to keep fighting for position, sapping energy and leave you weak for the times in the race that your energy would be more useful. Timing is important; you need to be aware of the race and to have a good strategy. You may not have the best strategy, but usually any reasonable strategy is better than none.

Some people are good at protecting their position and staying there is much easier for them than moving up to that position in the first place. This is often easier with a strong team and you have teammates that can collectively take and hold a position near the front. You’ll see this in pro races when entire teams set up their climbers or sprinters for the decisive moments of the race. You’ll also see them doing this leading into sections of cobbles or crosswinds. Any time that there is a decisive moment, you want to be ready.

Have a Strategy, Think Ahead

Positioning is useless if you indiscriminately put energy into being at or near the front all of the time. Most of the time it doesn’t matter where you are in the field. Many people really miss this. Yes, you want to be at the front, but at the right times. If you’re pushing to be at the front all of the time, in most races this is a total waste of energy. If you have an idea of when the key moments are going to happen, then you can try to position yourself for those moments. If you’re smart then you’ll be ready when the real racing happens, and the rest of the time you will have been saving energy by floating easily in the field, leaving you more energy to go harder for longer when it really matters. So, as much as positioning matters, you need to put those efforts in the context of a broader race strategy that helps you to get the best results. This will mean that you are probably choosing to be “out of position” at strategic times so that you can save energy. But, then you can choose to be in position when you think it is probably going to matter the most. If you have chosen right, then you will be better prepared to do what you need to do to get the best result possible.

If you try to be “in a good position” near the front of the race all of the time, then you will likely guarantee that you’re in position when you need to be and you can see all of the major moves happening, but it also virtually guarantees that you won’t have enough energy to do enough about it. Or, you can be in position in all of the times that don’t especially matter that much, and if you are tired or aren’t paying attention, you can get swarmed right before the major moments in the race and miss out on opportunities simply because you didn’t have a good strategy going in.

If you knew how the race was going to go, then you could completely ignore the need to “be in position” and just choose the exact moments to move into the right spot. Instead of fighting all day to be near the front in case something might happen, you’d get to the front just as the race winning break or attack went off the front, or you’d hop onto the right wheel with a half-lap to go in the crit and be ready for a good sprint, rather than fighting it out for miles on end trying to be ready for when you or someone around you makes the big move.

Clearly you can’t know everything about how the race will go, but often just a little forethought you can have a very good idea of what might happen and when. You can do this by looking at the course, who’s in the race, and how the race has usually gone in the past. Usually there are only two or three likely ways in which a race will unfold, and maybe only one or two scenarios in which you are likely to do well. Consider this and invest your energy and strategically time your efforts with those things in mind. Sometimes you have to react and hope that things go your way; you can take advantage of the situations as they naturally arise. Sometimes you can exert some pressure on the way in which the race unfolds, and often a little bit of energy applied at the right times can alter the race so that your desired scenarios are more likely to come up.

Relax and Be Self Aware

Be aware of your mental state… Yes, racing can be stressful, and getting into the place you want to be in the field can be demanding, both mentally and physically. But, that doesn’t mean that you have to let that stress get to you too much. The more you can dissociate from those feelings and focus, or even relax and focus, the better you’ll usually be able to perform. Being anxious doesn’t help anyone, but being calm does, so focus on what you are trying to achieve but be a little stoic about it. Do what you can and don’t worry about things that you can’t control. Still, be aware of the race, your strategy, and be ready to recognize the important, decisive moments and try to do what you have to do.

Be aware of any doubts that you may have; recognize and dismiss them… Many times I’ve experienced doubt in races about whether I have the ability to do what it takes to get over the climb in the front group or to stay in contact through a crosswind, but it doesn’t matter whether or not you think you can do it, if anything, doubt doesn’t help. More often than not, the uncertainty of the situation and not knowing how long and how hard you will have to ride makes it easier to doubt your ability to do things. So, rather than wonder whether you can make it, sometimes if it’s a key moment in a race where you know that you will not be able to make it back into the race if you get dropped, just do what you can to get it done until you can’t.

Be aware of your physical abilities, be confident about them, but also know your limits… There have been plenty of times when I thought that the race was lost because I was out of position or thought that I may have missed a split in the wind, but then later things came back together. Sometimes I’ve had to keep going alone or in a small group for miles but have made it back to the field and back into contention for a good result. You never know what will happen. In contrast, I’ve heard of newer racers getting themselves into a breakaway only to sit up and go back to the field because they were unsure as to whether or not they’d be able to sustain the intensity that they had sustained to get the break going. I’ve talked with people who held back in a time trial or hill climb because they they were unsure that they’d be able to hold the pace to the end. You never know what you’re capable of until you try, and even then, studies have shown that if you try again, you almost always have just a little bit more in you than you had previously thought. Embrace the difficulty and submit yourself to the effort that you think you need to do if the race situation demands it.

Be aware of your bike handling skills and confidence… Whether people are talking about descending or positioning in the field, I’ve talked with many people about technical riding skills and often they convey that they sometimes try to push their limits by trying to rail a descent as hard as they can or they force themselves to push through small spaces in the field in order to get better. Yes, practice does help us to get better, but assuming unnecessary and uncomfortable risks does not necessarily make us better. It does increase our risk of harm and also our risk of sustaining real damage to our confidence if we slide out in a turn or lock handlebars with someone because we made a poor choice. Rather than forcing yourself into uncomfortable situations, it’s better to know what you’re capable of, and try to execute better and better in order to build up a better feel for how to corner, how to smoothly move through a field, or how to stay comfortable and stable if and when you do bump into someone or tap bars. Slowly working on getting better by expanding your comfort zone and increasing your feel for the bike and movement within the field will help you to confidently handle your bike better. Don’t force yourself into stressful and demanding situations because you have the idea in your head that you should be fighting to be in a certain spot or that someone told you that you should be in a certain spot. Find the spot that you can get to and defend safely and with confidence. This may mean that you’re in the middle of the field, two wheels back from the front, getting a huge draft. It may mean that you’re hovering along the side of the field, near the front, with an open avenue to get to the front whenever you want, even if it costs you a little bit of energy, because you’re only getting 2/3 of a draft. But, if you’re relatively fit, and not very comfortable pushing your way up into the middle of the front of the field, this may be way less stressful, way more comfortable, and much easier for you to maintain. It comes down to self awareness and a realistic assessment of where it is safe for you to be, where you’ll be comfortable and confident, and what your fitness will allow you to do. Again, you want to give yourself the best opportunity to get the best result possible given your current fitness, skills, and mental state. Doing what other people do or what other people say that you should do may well work, but it can also be a terrible strategy if it isn’t where you’re at in your current stage of development as an athlete.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Like any skill or physical ability, training is key to long term progress and success. No matter where you’re at now, you can get better, and it’s not a matter of making decisions or assuming more risk by taking someone else’s advice and sticking your bike where it shouldn’t be. Rather, it’s a matter of being honest with yourself and knowing where you’re at, looking for what you can practice and where you can improve, and then doing it.

Go out on group rides and get better at smoothly rotating in a small group. Get more comfortable riding close to people that you trust. Improve your ability to read other people’s movements. Get better at reading lines through turns, while also reading how other riders are going to move through the turn. [Not everyone reads the same lines through turns.] Do some race rides where you can practice moving up and holding position where the stakes are very low and there’s no downside to wasted energy or poor positioning. Pay attention in races to what you’re doing, how you’re thinking, how hard it is for you to get where you want to be, and try to learn how you can do the job more efficiently. Watch other riders that move efficiently and see what they do. Pay close attention to how the races unfold so that you get a better and better sense of what to expect. Watch professional races online to see how things move. Look at who won the race and see what they did over the course of the race to allow that to happen. If you can anticipate the race, then you can save a lot of mental and physical energy.  Whether you’re very strong or just holding on, good positioning, efficient movements in the field, good strategy and good tactics are all the same.

Train for racing by including a variety of different training intensities. If you do group rides or race rides, that can be a good way to train for the physical demands of racing. Obviously you need the aerobic conditioning to maintain a sufficiently high average power in order to keep pace with any race field, but you also need good muscle recruitment and speed to accelerate and anaerobic fitness to deal with hundreds of small changes in pace that require anaerobic efforts to cope with the small accelerations. Some of the best things that you can do in training to get better at pack riding are the following:

  • race rides or fast group rides, especially those that include more than 20-30m of fast riding at one time
  • long steady, high-aerobic efforts to increase your sustainable aerobic power, e.g. 3x10m threshold intervals or a 95% effort time-trial up a long climb, especially if it’s a little pitchy with steeper and shallower portions
  • repeated sprints or anaerobic accelerations, like 12x15s sprint, 45s recovery or 30x10s seated accelerations with 20s steady recovery or extended periods of 30s over threshold, 30s just under threshold (e.g. 3x10m over-unders)
  • seated big-gear work and seated accelerations, because riding in a pack you generally have to have good strength and power in the saddle, because you often can’t or shouldn’t get out of the saddle
  • go to the gym: strength work (like squats, lunges, and dead-lifts) that builds power is very helpful for most athletes, especially for developing in-the-saddle power and stamina
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Are you ready to race?

 

In California, the first opportunities to start the new racing season are available starting in February and March. Or, if you live in an environment with a harsh winter, then it’s getting time to progressively ramp up the intensity of your indoor workouts as you get ready for spring racing in a few months’ time. Either way, bike racers are thinking about starting a new racing season, or new racers are trying to decide when to jump in.

This can be a very exciting time, but it can also inspire some uncertainty or even low level anxiety as you anticipate racing. If you’re new to it, then there’s probably dozens of questions about what will happen in the new environment. Or if you’re a returning racer, there’s a whole set of thoughts that can run through your head about how fit you are, how fit your friends or competitors are, how good your team is, whether you’ll work well together, etc. etc…

Don’t worry, you aren’t the only one. Everyone has their own mix of excitement, doubts, questions, and optimism at the start of each new season. It’s quite like a lot of things in life when you’re starting a new chapter. Change or experiencing new things can be both exciting and sometimes a little stressful.

In any case, I just wanted to offer a few thoughts on the primary question that you may face as you think about starting a new racing season or starting racing altogether…

Am I ready to race?

Well, practically speaking the only real concern here is whether or not you have the technical skill and basic understanding of pack-riding that will enable you to race safely. Not everyone who rides only on their own or with one riding partner at a time will have this skillset. But, if you’ve spent a decent amount of experience riding in pacelines, in bigger groups, or doing faster race-rides, then you should be okay. But please, for your sake and for the sake of other riders, be very self-aware and recognize if you need more practice before you hop in a race that may have 10 or 20 or 40 different riders with different levels of fitness and experience. If you need more experience, there are probably good race rides near you that you could connect with, which could also help you connect with the local cycling community, racing or not. Likewise, there are often early season race clinics for new racers or novice racers to learn and brush up on their pack riding skills before getting into the regular racing season… Crashing or the stress of possibly crashing is no fun at all, so be sure that you’re contributing to the collective success of the group by knowing how to ride safely and by making good choices.

Assuming that you’ve reached a level of proficiency with pack riding that it’s safe for you to race, many people question their fitness to race. It’s common to have doubts about being physically prepared for racing. For new racers this can be especially challenging because you don’t really have any first hand experience to indicate whether you are going to finish at the front of the field or off the back. If you have a power meter, or if you compare your climbing times on Strava, then you can have a decent idea of how fit you are. Or, if you’ve done some good race rides, that can be a good benchmark, too.

If you’re a returning racer, then you probably know from past experience roughly where you stand, or you may have a very precise idea if you train with power and use your workouts to benchmark your fitness on an ongoing basis. Personally I’ve always found that to be invaluable for assessing my training and knowing how well prepared I am for racing. And, knowing your fitness can help you to know how you should be racing based on your fitness level going into it. But, still, there’s the question of how fit you are and how satisfying racing will be for you. Or if you’re coming off of a hard winter or a busy time at work and your training hasn’t been quite what you’d want it to be, then you may not be fit enough to race at the level you would like. That can be fine, but it might not. I think that this is mostly a matter of perspective, what your expectations are, and whether or not you’ll be able to find racing satisfying. If not, it may be better to simply delay racing until you have a few more good workouts in your legs.

If you aren’t fit enough to be in contention for a win or a top 10 or whatever your benchmark for a good race is, then you may have to evaluate whether or not you are ready to race mentally. If you can race safely, then practically speaking, there’s nothing wrong with racing and finishing mid-pack or at the back. Races can be great workouts, they can be fun socially, and sometimes it’s easier to get in a lot of intense miles when you’re in that environment. But, if you aren’t fit enough to do well, then you will need to go into the race with the right perspective so that a perceived sub-standard race result will be seen as just another step towards your future goals of getting the kind of results that you hope to get in the future. Again, it’s good to be very self aware. If you know that you can’t let go and think that you’ll be very frustrated if you perform at a level below what you know you’re capable of, then I’d encourage you to postpone racing until you have a little more quality training in your system, but also be sure that you’re committed to doing the training that you know is required to get the fitness that you know that you want.

I think that this psychological feature of racing is one of the harder ones for many bike racers. Many competitive individuals seem to have a hard time when they want to do well, but they can’t or it just doesn’t work out that way because of how the race unfolds. I think that there’s a lot of value in racing even if you aren’t as fit as you would want to be in order to do well, but you have to acknowledge that building your fitness is a process that takes time, and you have to avoid frustration by setting reasonable expectations. But, if you can do that, racing when your fitness isn’t quite what you’d want it to be can be an excellent learning experience.

Even if you are very fit, but you train through some races, that experience can show you a lot. If you’re one of the less prepared athletes in a race or your legs are flat from hard training, then it forces you to race more defensively and to look for ways to be more efficient. If you don’t have the power to do anything you want, then you have to be more selective about when you use it. Racing above your current level helps you to create better mental filters, so that you’re more selective about the actions that you take in races. And, when you do act you’re more decisive about it, because you know that you don’t have unlimited resources with which to repeatedly make moves, attack, counter-attack, etc. Even if you are very fit relative to your racing field, these are skills that you need to learn in order to race effectively. For many racers, it takes a long time to learn these skills. Racing above your current level is a great way to facilitate that development, as long as you have reasonable expectations and will still have a positive experience racing, even if you get a placing that is less than you might ideally want.

7 Most Common Training Mistakes

Making and implementing a good training plan is great, and making sure that you have well balanced, specific training for you and your goals is key to getting the most out of your body. Improving your training plan and trying to implement those changes is good, but sometimes fixing problems in your routine will allow for more progress than slight improvements in what you already do well. If you are doing something that is hurting your training or not doing something that you really need to be doing, then if you fix those errors, that can make more of a positive impact on your results than tweaking your favorite workout.

Here are 7 of the most common training mistakes that I have made over the years or have seen other athletes make. If you are doing any of these in some form or another, I would definitely recommend looking at what you’re doing, and look for ways to adjust as you move forward. I am sure that your results will get better if you fix any of these common mistakes. If you can make your training just 2% better, compounded over time this can result in big gains over time.

  • Training too hard, too often. One of the most common problems with athlete’s training is that they train too hard too often, and try to make every training session a workout. Another common problem is that people do their intervals too hard. In both cases, it seems to be driven by a mentality that more is better… People try to shoot for the highest power they can manage for their endurance rides or the highest power that they can do during their intervals. Higher numbers aren’t always better. Usually what you want is more of the specific stress that you’re trying to create, which may mean power power at times, but sometimes it means more time at the desired intensity and not doing the most power possible.  And, you want to keep your overall training stress in balance, keeping your training within the bounds of what your body can reasonably and effectively adapt to in a reasonable time period.
    • Training hard every day because you feel halfway decent will only ensure that you’re always kind-of-training, and always kind-of-recovering, and never doing either one very well. You will never be working out as hard as you can or recovering as fully as you can. If you just took all of the harder efforts you’re doing and just dump them all into just 2 or 3 workouts, and then do easy sessions on the other days, then your training will automatically get better. You’ll have more substantial and specific training stress and more effective recovery. Even better, dump all of one type of intensity into just 1 or 2 days, and keep each day focused on just 1 or 2 things. A common mistake that people make is that they do a few random efforts on every ride or almost every ride. They’ll do a few town-line sprints, hammer over a couple of short hills at their VO2 max, and do one or two longer climbing efforts at a low threshold pace that finishes with an above threshold kick at the end. Every day they’re doing enough that they’re getting tired, but they are never creating a large, specific stress that will significantly boost one or two of the body’s systems that will make them better.
    • More power isn’t always better, and often isn’t. Rather, it’s usually good to efficiently get in the desired intensity. If you have the capacity to do more and to recover from it, then you can and often should do more volume at the desired intensity, but not increase the intensity. Sometimes you do want to go out and do the workout as hard as you can, usually as you are trying to build for peak fitness in the middle of the season, but not every week throughout the year.
    • People often do more than they should by running on the assumption that more is better. More is often better, as long as it’s within certain bounds. More riding is better, as long as you can do it and still get stronger and feel fresh week after week. More hard workouts are good for building peak fitness, but only if you can recover well. Almost always it’s a matter of making sure that your training is effective and that your recovery is at least equal to your training stress.
  • Training too easy. There are two common ways that I see this happen. On the one hand, people don’t do their hard workouts either hard enough or they don’t do enough hard work within those workouts (e.g. they do 3 intervals instead of 4 or 5).
    • How hard and long you should go will always be subjective and specific to you, your goals, and your training history. And not all of your workouts should put you on the verge of tears. Most of them shouldn’t, but you definitely want to make sure that if you’re doing a hard workout that you have an idea in mind of what you’re trying to accomplish and that you try to create a substantial stress that will move your fitness in the desired direction once you recover from that workout. Pick one or two things to focus on and try to make those things very challenging for your workouts, then recover.
    • When you’re ready to do a hard workout, you should go out and do a hard workout. Often this problem of not going hard enough in workouts is because there isn’t enough recovery between workouts, so this ties in again with the first mistake of going too hard often. Ironically, many athletes can’t train hard enough, because they’re trying too hard, training hard every other session, and never recovering well enough to do properly hard workouts.
    • On the other hand, training too easily is a common feature of many athletes’ winter training. After all, you’re supposed to go easy during the winter, right? Any smart periodized training program will start with a lot of long slow distance in the winter and then ramp up later with higher and higher intensities in the spring and summer months, right? No, this is definitely not the case, and for many athletes, doing a lot of “LSD” (long slow distance) will be a waste of time and will allow their fitness to slide backwards during the winter if that’s most or all that they do.
  • Wasting time in training. All of the time, when I look at people’s rides on Strava or Training Peaks or I go riding with people, I see that many people miss out on huge amounts of training benefit by not making the most of their training time by not staying on task. This usually comes in two forms: excessive stopping and excessive noodling.
    • I see a lot of rides where people are out riding for 2 hours or 3 hours or 5 hours, but then I look at their total time out and it’s something like 3 hours, 4.5 hours, or 7 hours, and you can see that a full 1/4 of their total training time is lost. Where did all that time go? Some things are unavoidable… stopping for water, bathroom breaks, and of course, stopping at lights will always take up some of our training time, but when people stop for 10 minutes to get water, 20 minutes to get coffee, and often when people don’t know how to effectively ride as a group, they get spread out and have to wait up on climbs and descents. It’s really fun to go riding with a group of friends and it can help pass the time much more quickly when you’re training, but you also want to make sure that you don’t allow the fact that you’re riding with a group to add 30 or 40% more time to your ride.
    • Then, aside from stopping, it’s very common for people to lose a ton of training benefit from their riding by not keeping their power/effort up on descents and flats. People naturally push the climbs, often more than they realize and more than they should. Most people ease up on the flats, and barely pedal the downhills. If you live someplace hilly like the Bay Area, probably 30-40% of your riding time is spent climbing, maybe only half or less is done on flats and false-flats, and then maybe 15-20% is spent on descents. If you’re going down a fast, twisty descent, then you need to safely maneuver your way down the hill. Every descent is an opportunity to practice getting a better feel for your bike handling, even if you aren’t trying to rail the descent, you can still pay attention to reading the lines, to how you feel when you’re cornering, and how your bike is the most stable and responsive so that when you do want to rail a descent you are better prepared to do it, because you’ve been practicing. But aside from that, whenever you’re on a shallow descent that doesn’t have any sharp turns, or you’re on mostly flat ground, there’s no reason that you can’t keep the same power up that you did on the climbs. But, so often I see people pushing 30-50% more power on the climbs than they do on the flats and 30-50% less power on descents than they do on the flats.
  • Not training consistently enough… In the long run, no matter how much you train in a given week, if do your training on a consistent schedule of 4 or 5 days per week, then I’m sure that over time your fitness will be much better than if your training is very irregular with weeks where you train 6 days, others where you train 3 days, and others where you don’t train at all. If all you did to make your schedule more regular was to ride the trainer for 30 minutes on some of those days that you might otherwise take totally off, then I think that your long term development will be better by a significant margin. This is something that I’ve seen a number of times when my schedule has been very demanding and it’s hard to find time to train. Sometimes I wish I had the time to do a “real ride” on the road, but all I can do is get 30 or 40 minutes in on the trainer. In some cases, all I can do is 20 minutes before I shower and work, but doing that versus doing nothing at all makes a big difference. If you can signal to your body every day or nearly every day that it needs to be able to deliver and process oxygen to propel your body forward, then your body will develop that ability much better. Your body will always be looking to make itself more efficient and more fit for running or cycling or whatever it is.
  • Not recovering well, especially when it comes to recovery meals. A lot of people miss out on some of the benefits that their training can give them by not eating well right after training. Many people don’t eat as well as they could throughout the day to maximize recovery and minimize big swings in hormone and energy levels. Many people also don’t prioritize sleep enough by getting enough or by making sure that they have good sleep quality. At the end of the day, our bodies get fitter and stronger when they’re exposed to substantial stress and then they get a chance to recover. I have another article specifically on recovery that you could check out here.
  • Training randomly, without focus, or repetitively doing the same routine over and over without change. Good training will have a variety of intensities, but they will generally be balanced and progressive throughout the season or over the course of a few months as you build up a specific type of fitness. Doing random workouts that aren’t balanced or aren’t specific to your goals aren’t going to get you the results that you could if your training was a little more deliberate. Likewise, if your training is always exactly the same, then you will not progress much. You need to keep evolving, and in order to do that, your workouts need to evolve.
  • Not training specifically enough, or at all. Many people don’t train with enough specificity. It’s important to include a variety of training intensities in your training plan and focusing on just one thing is rarely a good idea.
    • Depending on what kind of events you’re doing or what your fitness goals are, most athletes will do well to have their training focused on a specific mix of workout types. Usually you want to have an idea of what the demands will be for your goal event(s) and then build your body up to meet those demands. I’ll often categorize events by how much endurance, threshold fitness, aerobic capacity/VO2 max, and anaerobic fitness they’ll require to do well.
    • Likewise, if you have certain attributes as an athlete, it’s good to take those into account and make your training specific to your body and training history as much as you can. Before jumping to any conclusions about your abilities and how you should train, it is good not to specialize early on in your development as an athlete. Many people start their athletic careers in a given sport and see their fitness developing in a certain way, and then extrapolate from that some sort of conclusion like “I’m a good sprinter but I can’t climb” or “I have great endurance, but I don’t have any high-end.” But in so many cases, the way that you train when you start training or the activities you’ve participated in before getting into a new sport have a big impact on how your fitness will be early on. If you’re just riding for the fun of it, or you are training for endurance events like bike tours or something where complete fitness won’t matter to you personally, then it’s fine to just focus on endurance and aerobic fitness, for example. But, if you’re a bike racer, runner, or triathlete then you really want to develop as a complete athlete as much as possible for at least the first few years before you specialize in any specific area.
    • And, along with this, most athletes will see that their fitness change over time, as well as the training required to get better. Even though you may continue to do similar training from year to year, it’s good to look for ways to make small adjustments to your training to get more out of it year after year. Early on, doing 4×3 minutes might be a great workout, but later you may do 4×5 minutes or 7×3 minutes. But, you always have to make sure the workouts are geared towards your training goals, and not just do them because other people do them or because it was relevant to your old training goals in past years.