Five of the biggest training mistakes you are making in 2018

Your New Year's resolution is something cycling or triathlon related – you want to cycle faster, or further, weigh less, climb a hill quicker, or smash it in a race. These are common objectives that many want to do, so you start to up your training in some way and hey presto, it doesn’t quite work. Below are five of the most common mistakes I see people making with their cycling and triathlon training, whatever their goals are. Have you made these mistakes?

Eating Too Much

One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen as a coach, is one that we’ve probably all made, including myself. Simply, it’s a case of eating too much. I’m not talking about what type of food to eat here, or some sort of new fad be it clean eating, Paleo, low-carb, high-carb, or protein – but just eating too much of whatever it is you do eat. We’ve all done it. Me included. You’ve been out on some sort of smash fest, maybe aiming for your first century, or perhaps trying to ride at a specific speed for multiple hours, or absolutely killing it in a race. You get back home/the café/the petrol station or wherever, and then proceed to eat everything in site, because you’re absolutely drained, or your power meter has said you’ve burnt a certain number of calories.

Or, maybe you’ve done a ride, you feel a bit tired, and in the café (or the house) you’re sure you’ve ‘earned’ a slice of cake. A really big slice of cake to go with your latte macchiato. In fact you’ve burnt so much energy, you probably deserve a large slice of cake, but to keep it healthy you’ll have a carrot cake (~600 Kcal at a famous coffee shop) and a salad (feta and tomato pasta salad ~475 Kcal), plus your latte (~130 Kcal) for a whopping ~1200 Kcal. It soon adds up. Been there, done that.

Now, I’m not saying you don’t need to eat anything post ride, because you most certainly do, but there are much better choices than this, such as beans on two toast (about 400 Kcal), plus a cappuccino/latte with skim milk (~60Kcal), which is less than half the other option and way better for you. Add a poached egg for extra protein (preferably to the beans and not the coffee) for an additional 70 Kcal.

During other times, it’s also important to not go on the rampage thinking you can eat what you like because you’re a cyclist or triathlete (of course you can if you wish to, I’m talking about if you’re thinking about weight management in any way).

If you’re trying to lose weight or manage your weight it’s unlikely you deserve a treat, unless you’ve really done something truly magnificent.

Thinking you're overtrained

You’ve trained Saturday with the group and tapped out 3 hours. You then train Sunday for 4 hours with your regular training partner, and Monday comes round, the sun is shining you tap out 90-mins by yourself. Tuesday you wake up and feel tired. So, of course, you’re now convinced you’re overtrained. Especially, as last Wednesday you did 2 hours hard and Thursday was the chain gang for 75-mins.

In most cases, you’re not overtrained. You’re probably just a little bit fatigued. Depending on how your training is scheduled and what days you can work out, you may need a day off, or you may not.

Overtraining is an issue for some; it’s a real enough issue. However, since it came to light and people started talking about it, everyone thinks they have it when they string a hard few days or weeks together.

Mostly, you’ll have some acute fatigue, or overreaching – both of which are generally good for your training progression. Overtraining is when you string long periods of time together, with long and/or intense workouts, which result in an unexplainable drop in performance, which doesn’t get better with resting. Of course, it is important to rest or ride easy on certain days, but being tired after a few days or more of cycling is fairly normal!

Single Leg Drills

When I first started racing, back in the dark ages (1984, to be exact) I remember those in the know (without them actually knowing much) telling me I had to learn to pedal with one leg at a time so that I could pull up and push down and produce an even stroke around the pedals. Hmmmm. In fact people have even built products to help with this. I still see people being told to do single leg drills now. However, data shows us that either the way you pedal makes little to no difference, or that pushing down more and pulling up less is the best way to ride. In short, there’s no evidence that single leg drills do anything positive for us* and evidence to show that it’s more likely to cause a decrease in performance. Avoid it like the plague and ride normally. *The only time you should do single leg drills is either because you only have one leg, or because you take part in single leg bicycle races (we used to have a competition when I first started racing to see how far we could get up a hill using only one leg. Yeah I know, sounds pointless now, but I was 14 at the time!).

Making Every Session a Strava Smash Fest

This is a relatively new phenomenon. With Strava offering ‘trophies’ for completing segments as fast as possible, some riders are now trying to smash every ride as hard as they can. At first this can be a reasonable option to do, as you attempt to get as high as possible up the leaderboard to get your PBs! However, after a few days of doing this, or indeed, doing this once or twice each week, you’ll either start getting overly fatigued (and frustrated, when you start failing), or you’ll be altering your training so that you’re constantly ‘freshening up’ for your smash it days. One of the aspects of training that’s important is to get a consistent training load in, which often requires you to be fatigued, but not too fatigued. It’s a fine line so that you don’t overdo it (for those who use a ‘PMC’ chart, this means running a slightly negative TSB for a longish period of time). If you go too hard, too often (as in smashing it up for Strava every day) then you’ll end up with a very negative TSB (which may not be great). There are plenty of rides I complete where I get no trophies on Strava (yes, I use Strava – check me out here

Riding, Not Training

Lastly, and perhaps, one of the biggest mistakes I hear about from athletes who aren’t being coached, is that of: riding, not training. Often, we’ve started competing after we’ve fallen in love with cycling or running. We ride around (or run), check out the scenery, feel the wind in our hair (or bald head!), and obtain immense enjoyment from it. During this initial phase our fitness develops at an extremely fast rate (often we’re going from sedentary to moderate fitness) and we tend to theorise that it’s the long rides that are building our fitness, and just continue in this vain. This isn’t to say that long rides aren’t important – they are. However, as our fitness increases you have to keep doing more (and more), to keep improving.  Most people are time limited and thus, adding in more intensity is the way that you can add more to your training and therefore fitness.

Having a plan on how you can improve and the areas you need to improve can help you define your training. All endurance athletes need to improve their lactate threshold, functional threshold power, maximal aerobic power (MAP). their sprint power and efficiency, etc. How much you need to work on each of those areas will relate to your goals, fitness, time available, etc.

I hope this has helped – if for no other reason than to avoid doing certain types of training that aren’t overly helpful, and thus a waste of your precious training time. Keep riding.