Whether you’re preparing to race or just trying to make the most of your time on the bike, you’ll want to avoid these common training traps which plague so many cyclists. I’ve made them all in my cycling career and can tell you firsthand they’re a great way to suck the fun out of riding. Don’t make these same mistakes!
1. Not eating enough on rides.
For a long time, I’d ration food on rides, only allowing myself to eat certain amounts at specific times because I thought it would make me leaner. Even if I was borderline bonking, I’d nibble at a bar and put off eating the contents of my pockets while longingly eyeballing roadside trash. I’d limp through the last 30 minutes of each ride, dismount the bike weakly, and stagger into the kitchen desperate for calories. It was ugly, uncomfortable, and pointless - I never performed to my potential, felt badly, and wasn’t as lean as I wanted.
Then my coach started mandating that I eat 200-250 calories per hour on rides. She’d write it into my TrainingPeaks workouts, removing all decision-making on my end. I was anxious and skeptical at first - I’m nearly taking in more than I’m burning! - but was convinced soon after. Not only did I perform better on rides, but I could keep pedaling comfortably for much longer, never bonked, and didn’t fall face-first into the refrigerator after workouts. I started to look the leanest I had in years, but in a healthy, strong way.
Everybody’s fuel needs are variable, but chances are good that you are not the one human on the planet that needs no food at all. Take food on your rides. Take more than you think you’ll need, just in case the ride runs long, you’re hungrier than expected, or your pal needs a snack. Eat regularly. That can take practice – you have to learn what foods your body can tolerate under different exertions and learn to make eating a habit – but it’s worth it. Don’t subject your body to the misery and damage of bonking. Don’t waste a ride by not having enough fuel to perform.
I don’t know much about fasted riding, except that it sounds terrible. You wouldn’t try to drive your car to work without having gas in the tank, would you? If you’re into this and it works for you, that’s great, but the vast majority of endurance athletes need food to perform.
2. Not recovering properly after rides.
The first thing my coach instructs me to do after any ride that exceeds a coffee shop spin level of intensity is have a recovery drink. Coaches and nutritionists vary on whether the window for replenishment is 30 minutes, 1 hour, or something else, but why risk it? Get off the bike and get your recovery drink. Nothing wastes the hard efforts of a great workout like not refueling properly.
Why a drink versus food post-ride? If a ride was at all physically challenging, I want my body focused on recovery, not trying to break down and digest a meal. There’s plenty of time later for salads, steaks, and whatever else you want to chew. Start with a recovery drink and then get a meal after you’ve showered, stretched, and put your legs up.
3. Not warming up and cooling down on rides.
I used to go hard from door to door on my rides, thinking I’d make every second of the ride count and burn every calorie possible. This was a mistake: it’s important to give your body time to warm up before starting hard efforts. Even10 minutes of spinning is enough to wake things up. Then when the workout is done, go back to spinning for long enough to let your body calm down and the metabolic waste in your muscles to clear. See today’s cool down period as an important part of tomorrow’s training and don’t skimp on it. If nothing else, use the 10-20 minutes of easy spinning to contemplate how awesome it is to be done.
4. Going “medium” too often.
Just like I’d skip going easy at the beginning and end of rides because I thought going harder was better, I’d also always push the pace. During rests between intervals, on endurance rides, and even while riding with groups, I’d always work to keep my average watts up. The result was that my actual hard efforts were dulled from chronic fatigue and all I was doing was building the ability to ride at a medium pace forever. Nobody wins races by going medium all day. Now I go hard when it’s time to go hard and easy when it’s time to go easy. Recovery days mean pedaling at a glacial pace and not breaking a sweat.Next time you feel compelled to keep more power to the pedals, ask yourself why. If it’s time to go hard, then go! But otherwise, take it easy, enjoy the ride, and stop half-wheeling yourself.
5. Not sticking to your training plan.
I am always mystified when people pay a coach to tell them what to do and then ignore it. When life/work/illness/injury intervene, then adapt accordingly, but check in with your coach so your training can be properly modified. Don’t jump into a hard ride on an easy day because you feellike it, don’t skip a workout because it seems unpleasant, and don’t get sucked into chasing people on Zwift. Your coach has a plan that is based on your fitness and goals, and since you trusted them enough to pay them in the first place, stick to the plan.
6. Riding an improperly fitted bike.
The most important investment you’ll make in cycling isn’t aero wheels, a fancy kit, or a USA Cycling license - it’s getting a bike fit with a reputable provider. Getting set up on the right saddle in the right position is the easiest way to make rides more comfortable for longer, allow you to access all the watts your body is capable of putting out, and prevent injury. I’ve seen my fitter a dozen times in the last three years as I’ve navigated setting up a new time trial bike, riding through a pregnancy, and returning to racing after childbirth. My body has changed and so my bike fits have changed. But all along, I’ve stayed comfortable and injury-free thanks to expert guidance on how to set up my bike. It’s worth the cost. Don’t spend a lot of money on a bike and then just guess at how to sit on it.
7. Not drinking enough water.
Hydration is critical, on and off the bike. If your non-cycling hours are fueled entirely by coffee, soda, and/or beer, you are probably dehydrated. If your pee is dark yellow, you are definitely dehydrated. Your body will perform better if it’s hydrated, so drink water and make sure you’re taking in electrolytes. This is a constant process, not an “oh, I’m racing in tomorrow so I should chug a gallon today” kind of thing. I like to fill a gallon of water in the morning and see if I can get through all of it by the end of the day. Yes, you will have to pee more, especially at first. It’s a worthy price to pay for better athletic performance.
8. Not getting enough rest.
I specialize in this mistake: I nail my workouts but then spend the rest of the day running around, juggling work, chasing a toddler, and stressing about everything. Then I put off bedtime and wake up the next day exhausted. Funny how I end up feeling less than refreshed when it’s time to get on the bike again.
While the demands of life, family, and work are unavoidable, do what you can to get rest when you can. Why stand when you can sit? Why sit when you can lay? Why lay when you can sleep? You get the point. Post-training is not the time to take your dog for a hike, walk laps around the mall, or skip the elevator in favor of the stairs. Your workout is on the bike; everything else is just impeding recovery. Now excuse me while I use this rest day to vigorously rearrange my garage…
9. Spending money on the wrong things.
There are a lot of fancy, shiny things you can drop thousands of dollars on in the cycling industry, but before you fork over several paychecks, make sure you’ve invested in the important things first. A safe, breathable helmet, the right saddle for your body, and properly fitting shoes are critical to a good ride experience. And sure, this is a blog published by a cycling gear company so mention of a kit seems cliché but the right apparel matters – you need a supportive chamois, bibs or shorts that fit you properly, a comfortable jersey with accessible pockets to stash training essentials, and layers that let you stay comfortable in all climates. Riding the most expensive, high-tech bike in the world will still be miserable if you’re chafing, pinching, freezing, or drowning in sweat.
10. Not setting specific, attainable, challenging goals.
If you love to ride simply for the sake of the wind in your hair (even if it’s from your trainer fan), then awesome! I envy you, because while I love riding, I need goals and finish lines and the thrill of setting a new record in TrainingPeaks. Goals provide structure for training and a way to measure progress and success. Whether you’re aiming to set personal bests, claim the KOM on your local hammerfest, or win a key race, it’s always good to have something to set your sights towards to keep you focused and motivated. Your goals should be hard enough that they challenge you, but attainable enough that chasing them doesn’t feel insurmountable. Once you’ve decided what you’re chasing, then you can focus on how to get there. And along the way, make sure you don’t give up potential achievements by making these training mistakes.