Back in the Swing by Aidan Hammond

photo Hannah Carr Unsplash

Back into the swing of things:

Need I say the well worn cliché “It’s been a tough year!” We are all sick of it, but in fairness it really has been a tough year and more so for some people than others.

We have been lucky in that we have had our bikes to keep us from going totally insane in lockdown and restrictions. However with the 5km and country restrictions in the last long lockdown its was hard to be motivated to get out on the bike going round and round the same route! Not the most interesting. Some people were great and managed to stay sane but for a lot of riders, myself included, it was tough. You can be forgiven for just giving up and not getting out on the bike.

A lot of us lost a lot of motivation for the bike and a lot of fitness during this last lockdown.

Thankfully, things are opening up again and going in the right direction plus the summer is on the way we can now start to enjoy our bike again and get back out onto some great roads and routes. But we need to take into account that we may not be in the same shape we were last summer. Also have we anything to aim for? Lots of events we would normally have participated in over the summer are either cancelled or postponed.

With the weather improving and the evenings getting brighter and restrictions lifting its great to be back doing some proper cycling again on varied routes and back with our clubs, friends or groups. This alone should be enough to keep a lot of us motivated however it could be short term, so its good to look at a few things to keep that motivation going to the end of the year.

But before we look at this its important to keep a few things in mind as you are getting back out on the bike.

  • Remember you are probably at a lower level of fitness now than you were before lockdown.
  • Pick a group or friends to go cycling with who are at the same level as yourself, it is not good to go out with a group that are at a higher level than yourself, it is not enjoyable and not good to be in the red too much, you will just lose motivation.
  • Build back up gradually. Start with short distances a few times per week and add a little extra distance to one of your spins each week, typically 10-15%
  • Build slowly, don’t go hard on your spins, keep it easy and steady for the first few weeks. Then after 4-5 weeks you can introduce a short spin midweek with some efforts but keep your weekend spin nice and steady and long.
  • Look at a plan to be up to a good level of fitness after 10 weeks.
  • In 10 weeks there will be some events, at the end of August and early Sept there are some good sportives planned, so this gives you the ideal amount of time to get fit if starting back now.
  • Look at about 4 weeks of building up your distance steadily and some strength then an easy week followed by 3-4 weeks of some hard efforts mid week with your long steady spin at the weekend and then an easy week before your event.
Photo Luca Unsplash

Keeping motivated;

It’s all very well to think to yourself I’m going to get out and I’m going to get fit again. Some people are by nature very strong willed and this alone will keep them motivated and going, however for most of us this will last a couple of weeks and then we fall off the wagon again!

It’s good to put some things in place that will help with your motivation;

  • Enter an event for September, this alone will give you a reason to get out.
  • If you can’t enter an event then invent one with your friends. This could be just a 100km challenge in the mountains or a route of a Sportive you might have done in the past or were planning on doing this year. There are lots of different things to do. Some clubs have organised distance challenges on Strava e.g. you cover a certain amount of KM’s per month or a climbing challenge e.g. climb so many meters in a month or a day etc, but come up with something and put a date on it. Also make sure it’s a challenge that your capable of doing but enough of a challenge that is not too easy either!
  • Tell your friends and family what you are going to do, this means you have to do it!
  • Write it down! Stick it on the fridge door or your mirror in the bathroom!
  • Arrange to meet your cycling friends for your training spins every week. This will stop you rolling over in the bed as you have to go meet them as planned.
  • Record everything, just a simple diary is all you need. Write down your weekly spins and what you have done. This will keep you motivated looking at what you have done or what you haven’t done!
  • By recording everything it’s a great tool to look back on in the future to see what you did before to get you into good shape, also maybe what you did wrong that got you into a bad place!

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There a few basic principles of training to keep in mind when starting into a programme;

  • Individual differences: Everyone is different! I know this sounds obvious, but it’s true. Just because somebody is doing a certain amount or type of training does not mean it will suit you. We are all at different stages of fitness. Some people have kept in great shape and can start at a different level to those who took a complete break from training.

Some people have lots of time to train others are restricted with work, family and other commitments. So just because somebody is doing 14 hours per week does not mean you can manage it. Most people are lucky if they can squeeze in 6-8 hours per week.

  • Adapting: When you start into any kind of a training plan that you have never done before the body will be sore and tired initially but over time you will adapt to training loads once things are planned properly and you will get used to it and recover better.
  • Specific: I always say, “ If you want to be a better cyclist, then you need to ride your bike more”

If you are tight on time, like most of us are, then use the time you have spare to ride your bike more. Its great if you have a lot of spare time to do other things like strength and conditioning work, Pilates, Yoga etc which are all great but when you’re stuck for time its hard to fit it all in and will only take away from the time you can spend improving your bike. I’m a big fan of the off the bike work but it’s probably best doing this work during the winter period when you naturally cut back on your time on the bike.

  • Variety: Mix up your type of Cycling training and also your routes. Make things more interesting. Doing the same routes all the time and same type of cycling becomes a bit boring and monotonous so mix it up, look up maps and change your routes weekly and mid week put a few little efforts into your spins to make it much more interesting. Also as mentioned above during the winter when you will do less on the bike do some other work off the bike when you will have more time like Strength and conditioning and pilates, swimming maybe a little jogging
  • Reversibility: This is what it says it is. So if you stop training for whatever reason your fitness goes backwards. This is different for everyone. The fitter you are the further your fitness goes backwards. If your like me and your not in great shape at the moment and you have  stopped for a couple of weeks then you won’t be much worse off than before! The key thing to remember here though, if you get sick or have to take a few weeks off the bike due to work or family commitments you will not be in the same shape as you were before you stopped, so you cannot start of doing the same training you did before you stopped. Its important to take a couple of weeks building up slowly again so you don’t end up wrecked or sick. As we said earlier in this article, if you have missed a lot because of lockdown then just start at a low level and build gradually every week for about 4-5 weeks.
  • Overload: To improve on the bike you need to overload the body, this is one of the basic principles of training. By overloading the body in a controlled manner you will adapt and get stronger/fitter. But this leads to the next principle of training here called recovery!
  • Recovery: For the overload to work you need to have recovery built into your training. This is the most important principle in training that is most overlooked by riders. Your body will adapt and build itself much stronger when you build in recovery to your plan. So each week make sure you have a couple of days of no training and every 3-4 weeks have a nice easy week too. This way you will improve your fitness and strength greatly and feel fresh.
  • Progression: You need to look at some progression in your training and your cycling goals, this way the body and mind will not become stale and stagnant and you can move forward with your fitness all the time. So every 4-5 weeks change the type of training your doing. Also every year look to progress your cycling goals too. For example this year you might aiming to do a 100km Sportive or challenge, so next year maybe aim for a 200km challenge, the year after you might look at a big Sportive in Europe. So always move the goalposts. This is a great way of improving and keeping motivated.
  • Long Term planning: This ties in well with progression. So put a little long term plan in for yourself. It doesn’t have to be very specific but look at some plan that is 1-2 years ahead and have a rough idea of where and what you want to be doing on the bike by then. Then work back and put some specific short term plans in place to build to there.

It’ss great to be back on the bike and fingers crossed we will see some events again later in the year. So get planning put some things above in place and most importantly “ENJOY YOUR BIKE”

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Photo Chris Kendall Unsplash

© Aidan Hammond 2021