By Thomas Chapple
Each year I sit down with my cyclists and review their previous cycling season and talk about goals for the upcoming year. I help them outline goals that follow a simple format. They should be measurable and time limited, challenging yet realistic, and within your control. When you have clear goals outlined your training can be more specific and motivating.
Measurable and Time Limited
Saying “I want to climb better” is a good goal, but how will you know when you’ve accomplished that and if you don’t set a deadline you’re more likely to procrastinate. You’ll also want to be able to measure progress along the way. Saying “I want to climb Old La Honda road in under 25 minutes by May 15th” creates a measurable goal that is time limited.
Challenging yet Realistic
Set goals for the year that are realistic enough to reach this year, but not so easy they don’t challenge you. Each year you can build on the previous year’s goals and continue to make advances in your cycling fitness. For example, if you can already climb Old La Honda road in 25:15 then 25:00 is certainly realistic, but may not be challenging enough for the year. On the other hand if you’ve been training correctly for years and still can’t get up OLH in under 30 minutes then expecting to break 25 minutes this year may be setting yourself up for disappointment.
Within your Control
It’s also better to set specific performance goals rather than outcome goals. Don’t make your goal “I want to beat so and so up Old La Honda” since you can only control your own training, recovery, and nutrition and not what anyone else is doing. A better approach is to know what you need to do to improve your personal fitness so you can beat your training buddies up the hill and set your goals based on what’s holding you back. If you can currently average 250 watts for 25 minutes, but will need to hold 275 watts in order to reach the top of OLH in under 25 minutes, then make “average 275 watts for 25 minutes” your goal. This gives you a specific performance marker to aim for, regardless of what your training buddies are doing.
Assess and Set
It’s okay to have long term goals and dreams, but you should also think in terms of upcoming months and a single year. Dreams are accomplishments that will take more than a year to achieve. If you can realistically obtain it this year then it can become one of your goals for this season.
You’ll need to assess what is holding you back from being able to accomplish your goals. Is it aerobic endurance, strength, efficiency, body composition, motivation, inadequate recovery, some combination of all of those or something else altogether? Once you break down what is holding you back, or needs improving, you’ll need to set up supporting goals that will help you reach your season goals.
If losing weight is something you’ve struggled with, and you have a few pounds that you could afford to lose, then form an outline of how you’ll accomplish that. Assess your daily caloric intake and compare it to daily expenditure. Look for 300-500 unnecessary calories that you could cut out of your daily routine. If you’re drinking two extra large mochas a day consider switching to smalls. Eat smaller portions and don’t be afraid to leave something on your plate. Focus on nutritious choices like fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins as your daily base. Add more carbs from bread, pasta, or rice on days when you need the additional calories. One of the biggest mistakes I see athletes make is eating too much on their easy, or rest days, and then not eating enough on days they train hard or long. Try and make sure you balance your caloric intake with your daily expenditure, but don’t be so strict that you won’t be able to stick with your plan. Let yourself indulge from time to time, just not every day. Remember to assess body composition rather than just weight since losing fat and maintaining or increasing lean muscle mass is the goal.
If motivation is holding you back make commitments with friends and training partners to workout together. This is one of the best ways to assure a higher probability that you’ll get your workouts done. Just make sure that you pick workout partners, or groups with similar abilities and goals.
Many of you may be stuck in areas where the weather doesn’t accommodate training outdoors year round. If this makes getting your workouts completed more challenging try and find ways to make indoor training more desirable. Training on a stationary trainer, or rollers can be very productive if done consistently and reasonably. Don’t try and do much more than two to three hours indoors. You may also find that your indoor power output will be lower than what you could do for the same heart rate and RPE (rate of perceived exertion) outdoors. I see indoor power zones range from 5-15% lower than what a cyclist can achieve outdoors.
Random training is much easier to ignore than a written training schedule so you should schedule your workouts and have recovery days, and weeks, built into your plan. Fitness happens during rest. You certainly need to apply a training load to get fitter, but you also need enough recovery to allow your body to make adaptations that lead to greater fitness. I often come across highly motivated athletes that are held back by inadequate recovery rather than lack of training.
If illness and injuries cause setbacks for you every year focus on moderate progression of workout volume and intensity. Spend more time developing core strength and base fitness and work with a good bike fit professional. Nutrition and recovery also effect health so be sure you’re making good choices there too. Find ways to improve your training consistency. This is one of the biggest factors in how much you’ll improve. I’d rather see a steady consistent training load progression that is less than the maximum an athlete can handle than seeing them try to do too much, too quickly and then loose the fitness they do gain because they get sick, injured, or burnt out.
Keep in mind things like how much time you’ll have available to train this year. Don’t set expectations that will create a high level of stress within your life. Seeking a good balance between your cycling life and “other life” is important, yet often overlooked when setting goals for the year. When we set clear, practical, yet challenging goals we are more likely to reach them.
If you’d like some help reaching your cycling goals this year let us know. We offer a variety of coaching programs and cycling camps.