How to Be Your Own Cycling Coach
If you're planning or dreaming about cycling in Italy, my job is to make it happen for you.
Here's a three-part semi-serious, mostly anecdotal guide on how to be your own best cycling coach.
After a decade and a half of fine-tuning athletic prowess (mine and others), introspection and a genuine curiosity for wellbeing, I've devised the HPP, or the High-Performance Program.
First things first. By HPP, I mean maximizing your QOL. Athletic performance is human performance. And human performance, in a nutshell, is being alive. We all want to live a good life. This isn’t about exercise science. It’s about what we all share in common: a passion for cycling.
Secondly, with these suggestions, take what’s helpful. Use what speaks to you. Then discard the rest.
It ain’t rocket science, but as your own cycling coach, it’s essential. Find out what you’re good at and capitalized the bejesus out of it. Everybody’s made up with a unique set of traits; no better, no worse than others. It’s about knowing them and playing them to your advantage.
Cycling has a lot to do with body type and genetics. We have our parents to thank whether we're climbers or sprinters. Or neither. Yet I’ve found the mind and our willpower to be the most powerful tools we have. Ultimately your body channels what you want and tell it to do.
We're all managing and improving upon a certain set of limitations that become irrelevant when you understand what motivates you. What is it that makes your heart skip a beat? Be familiar with what gets you out of bed in the morning.
Three ways I find people are intrinsically motivated:
- Social - finding other people like you or other people who you like! The bike lets you sit there for hours and talk. Or, not talk. No doubt, cycling funnels in some interesting people, lifelong friendships in my experience.
- Performance Targets - ticking off boxes, striving for something you wonder is even possible for yourself.
- Personal Space - accrue kilometers that quell the noise in our heads to instead generate ideas.
The way you’re wired or motivated becomes the way you incorporate cycling into your lifestyle. I find myself jumping around between these three categories. The common thread is there’s something to channel, an energy to burn, and someplace to go.
Be sensible about recovery
The food you eat literally turns your pedals round, or it doesn't turn them at all. Energy consumption comes hand-in-hand with cycling. Develop a self-awareness in how to best feed your body.
Running on low tank is about the worse thing you can do physically. It’s going to throw your mental wellbeing into the pooper as well. If you find you’re hungry while riding, just keep throwing them jam sandwiches back!
It's less about nutrition and more about common sense. Although, I’m biased toward real (natural) food. The single biggest mistake I see most people make is not eating after riding. If you’ve ridden hard, and you’re running on empty, there’s a 30-40 minute window where you can boost recovery.
When your body doesn’t have any energy to ingest, it starts feeding off itself. And it’s not fat that it’s eating, it's chomping away at your sunny outlook on life. The body functions as intelligently as the mind inside it.
HPP rule of thumb: drink plenty of water and exalt the salt. Especially in the summer months when your internal sodium factory is on peak output. My favourite (as a complete mineral profile) is the grey sea salt from Guérand, France. Table salt doesn’t hold a candle next to this grey salty substance raked in the plains of Bretagne.
Here’s a brief list of poor, good, and best choices post ride:
- Poor: Mars bars, peanuts, chips, pretzels, smarties, carrots & celery
- Good: sandwich, rice bowl, banana with yogurt & granola
- Best: Spaghetti alla carbonara, Gnocchi, Tortello di carne al Ragù di “Chianina”, Margherita Pizza, Crostata di Marmellata
You get the gist.
While we're on the topic of recovery, it's good custom to roughly know your TSS, or Training Stress Score. In layman's terms, TSS is a combination of duration and intensity. So taking into consideration your total ride time and how hard you rode. Not all rides are equal. It's easy to underestimate just how hard you rode especially when that non-sweating twit dropped you like a sack of nails.
You don't need a power meter to know you've spent the entire climb (or ride) a tutta - in the hurt box. It's stress your body's going to have to recover from. Tough rides can throw you off equilibrium. Knowing this, you'll be able to cope better.
Descend & corner gracefully
Going downhill well builds with experience. The more you do it, the more you get a feel for it. Look to expand your limits, yet know them intimately.
The 80-20 rule works well here. 80% of your comfort zone is where you’ll gain momentum and speed. The last 20% is where the risk and diminishing returns lie. Like staying at the discoteca past 2 am.
Speaking of the dicoteca, descending is like dancing. The bike leads, but you have a big say in where it goes.
Here are a few skills most capable descenders use:
Control your bike rather than your bike controlling you
Corner using your body weight to maneuver the bike. Think about putting the majority of your weight on your outside leg and imagine that weight transferring equally through your front and back tires into the pavement. Doing this, you’re going to shift where your body makes contact with your seat if it makes contact at all. You and the bike should be moving to the same beat. If you're battling your bike, you’re off beat.
Scan the corner...
... like you would the discoteca at midnight and evaluate how much you need to slow down (or speedup!). All the braking should be done before the corner. Not in the corner and after will surely be too late! It’s a highly learnable skill. The important part is learning it.
Notice road surfaces
If you encounter gravel (the key is to avoid it) and you’re headed straight for it like an Italian man approaches a woman, let your bike simply roll over it the straightest, most direct possible line. Breaking or cornering in gravel for most of us yields unpredictable results. Don’t panic, straighten your line, then course correct once you’re through it.
Know where to put your hands
The lower you put them, the more control you have. By that, I mean in the drops. The hoods are perfect for cruising, but when you start to pick up speed, there’s always a chance you hit a bump and your hands slip and slide right off them.
Give the centre line plenty of space, especially in blind corners
You never want to put yourself in a vulnerable position to clowns that willingly cross the centre line. Keep to your side of the road as much as reasonably possible.
Whenever I want to improve at something, like descending, I follow people who are better than me. If any of this becomes a chore refer back to what makes your heart sing. Go and do that.
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This is by no means an exhaustive HPP or cycling coach protocol. Ideally, it incorporates some upper body and core work. Maybe also a stretching regime. Probably a travel to Italy program. These are just the basics. If you have any Q’s, I’ll be raking salt somewhere in France.