By: Chris Carmichael
It’s 2016, so let’s talk about the 16 things you can do this year to be faster, stronger, and more fit than you have ever been! And don’t tell me that you’re a year older and therefore you’ll have to accept being slower and less fit. CTS Athlete Frederic Schmid just won another US National Cyclocross Championship in the Men 80-84 category last weekend. Your behaviors and habits as an athlete can improve your performance even as you get older.
So here are 16 things (in no particular order) you can do to improve upon last year. If you are doing some of them already, you’ve got a head start on those who aren’t!
1. Get more sleep
One of the best things you can do for your performance is to focus on recovery by getting more sleep. Aim for at least 8 hours, or commit to adding one hour of sleep to your current routine. If you have trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep, take it seriously and talk to your physician. Emerging research suggests that turning off backlit screens (phones and tablets) about two hours before bedtime may be beneficial, too. Read a book instead!
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2. Commit to consistency
Training 4 times a week (ie. twice during the workweek and twice on weekends) is good. Five training days a week is great. Six may actually be too much for some athletes, and 7 is generally not a good idea. Consistency is often more important for time-crunched athletes than the actual workout you’re doing, so make a schedule you can stick to.
3. Get used to being hungry
Almost without exception, we can all afford to lose some weight. To do it, you’re doing to have to suck it up and go hungry. Stop gorging after long rides and workouts, eat smaller portions, skip desserts, etc. If you’re consistent, your body and brain will adapt to eating less.
4. Eat more slowly
The athletes we work with generally make good food choices, but many still overeat. Eating too fast is part of the problem because you can consume food faster than your brain can register feeling full and satisfied. Slow down, stop multitasking during meals, and focus on enjoying your food. You will likely find that you feel satisfied while there’s still food on your plate, which will then help you reduce your portion sizes.
5. Eat less while you ride
On the bike you only need to replenish 20-30% of the calories you expend each hour. So, if you’re riding at 600 kilojoules per hour (roughly equal to 600 calories), you only need 120-200 calories per hour. And for sessions under 75 minutes, you don’t need during-workout calories, just fluids and maybe electrolytes. For our ultra-running crowd, this percentage goes up to 30-40% replenishment of hourly caloric expenditure.
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6. Sign up for a big challenge
There’s nothing wrong with returning to events you know and enjoy, but it’s difficult to sustain passion and inspiration from those events. Go out on a limb and sign up for something exciting, scary, intimidating, or exotic! If you’re not excited and nervous about it, how are you going to commit 100% to preparing for it? Need some suggestions?
7. Get a power meter (or learn how to use it)
Really, at this point power meters have come down in price and there are great options that measure power at the pedal, crank/chainring, and hub. You don’t need to be a racer, either. Power can be a valuable tool for athletes at all levels of sport, but if you get one, learn how to use it! Download your data. Track your progress. Ask questions about it.
8. Drink more when you train
Most of us ride the same set of routes, and drink the same amounts on those routes. The “Hannover Loop” in Colorado Springs is a 3-bottle ride, for instance. This year try consuming an additional bottle on your 2-4 hour loops. Look at your power meter data and record your perceived exertion. You’ll feel better and your power will drop off less in the final hour of your ride.
9. Schedule a training camp
Sleep. Ride. Repeat. Carve out some time and make training, recovery, and nutrition your top priority for 1-2 weeks. Come to one of my camps or build your own by taking two long weekends with a few half-days at work in between.
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10. Cut Back on caffeine
Caffeine enhances athletic performance, but to get the biggest race-day impact from caffeine you don’t want a huge tolerance for the stuff. When you consume less caffeine on a daily basis, less caffeine is required to achieve an ergogenic benefit, so the relatively small amounts in gels and chewables will help you more.
11. Get on Strava
There are a lot of tools out there you can use to analyze training data, but the biggest hurdle we see is actually getting athletes to upload data in the first place! Strava is one of the easiest tools for athletes at any level to upload and organize data and get a quick snapshot of how you’re progressing.
12. Learn to descend
Descents are like free money, yet everywhere I go I see cyclists and triathletes riding the brakes on descents. You don’t have to take huge risks or be a daredevil, but working on your descending skills can save you a ton of time without requiring any additional energy expenditure. You work hard to build the fitness to be faster on the climbs; don’t give it all away by riding the brakes on the descents.
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13. Fall in love with this workout
3×10 SteadyState Intervals (3×20 for advanced riders), with recovery between intervals 5 and 10minutes, respectively. It’s not sexy or complicated, but sustained time-at-intensity increases sustainable power at lactate threshold. This the performance marker that leads to higher climbing speed, less taxing rides in the pack, and faster bike splits in triathlons. Intensity: 90-95% of CTS Field Test power, 92-94% of CTS Field Test Heart Rate, or an 8 on a 1-10 exertion scale.
14. Lose your power meter
I know I told you to get one, but it’s also important to lose it every once in a while. You have to learn to gauge your efforts by listening to your body, not just by the numbers on your handlebars. I’ve seen too many athletes sit up and drop themselves from a group, not because they couldn’t hack it, but because their power output seemed too high.
15. Jump into a faster group
You’ll never work as hard as you will when you’re fighting to maintain contact with the back of a group of athletes faster and stronger than you. You’ll improve your drafting and positioning skills, too.
16. Work with a CTS Coach
Self-serving? You bet. But come on, you spend too much time and energy on your sport to make minimal improvements year after year. Work with one of my coaches and make substantial, measurable, and noticeable gains in 2016!