For many of us, cycling isn't just about getting out on our bikes for a quick pootle around town. It's about having fun, freedom and fitness as well.
Whatever your preferred discipline of riding, knowing you're progressing is one of the best feelings ever. If you cut your commute down by 2 mins, or you finally mastered that gruelling climb, or even got the courage to take on that bridge drop, achieving something new on the bike is great, and a little addictive.
Improving your cycling skills takes more than just getting out on the bike though. Intervals, endurance efforts, technique, stretching, yoga, gym workouts and even meditation can all help you to progress.
But what happens when you're training harder than ever, but feel like you're not really going forward? A plateau can be frustrating - here's a look at some of the things that might be stopping you from improving...
An oft overlooked element of training is recovery. You need to rest your body and allow time to repair damaged muscle fibres, and fatigue.
After every cycle session or workout, you should stretch out your muscles with a warm-down exercise. Foam rollers are brilliant ways of getting deep into the tissue and kneading those worked muscles.
Recovery doesn't just mean sitting on the couch and putting your feet up either, you need to eat appropriately to provide your body with the essentials vitamins and minerals it needs to repair. Protein and carbs are a brilliant post-workout combo for transporting essential amino acids and vitamins to your muscles for recovery. Fuel food will also restock your energy levels for the next session.
Failing to recovery properly can lead to injury where your muscles aren't able to cope with continual stress and strain. Not getting enough of the right foods in your body will cause low energy which will lead to ineffective cycling.
To improve you need to feed your body with everything it needs to function well, both mentally and physically. A few naughty treats here and there can't hurt though, and we do like a cheeky biscuit or four after a ride.
A balanced diet consists of all the important food groups: protein, carbohydrates, healthy fats, fibre and more. We need these food groups to recover, repair, refuel, help reduce inflammation and keep everything ticking over well in the body.
Having a poor diet can lead to a wide variety of ailments, and especially fatigue when it comes to cycling. Water and hydration also play a role in your performance, and drinking enough throughout the day will help prevent over-heating, headaches and cramp.
Illness and Injury
We're all guilty of doing it, but we know we shouldn't. When we're feeling a little run down, suffering with a cold or any other illness, we often think: "It's fine, I'll sweat it out on the bike".
This isn't really the best remedy though. Being ill weakens your body, so pushing yourself up those climbs won't be as effective. It's more than likely you'll just make your symptoms worse, when what you really need is some rest.
The same can be said for injuries also. There's nothing worse than being told to stay off the bike for a couple weeks, but when you feel fit and healthy, it's easier to ignore that and jump back on the saddle.
Joint, muscle or otherwise, cycling when ill or injured is never a good idea because it's more than likely you'll make yourself worse, and you won't see the results that you're hoping for.
It's hard to notice if your technique is a little off, and it can be even harder to correct it.
Having poor technique can seriously impede your progress. You could have the best diet, attitude and fitness, but if you're not shifting gears efficiently, or you have a poor bike set-up, then you will be limiting your potential.
If you know of an area you're struggling with, seek help from a professional coach, and learn from others. It may even be useful to film yourself dropping in, or cornering a feature to see what your body position is, and where you can improve.
You're only as good as your bike at the end of the day, and the two of you need to be working together.
Spending lots of money on a beautiful carbon kitted bike with the latest group-sets and components may be amazing, but is it fit for purpose? Will it have the gear range and geometry for your style of riding?
Similarly, does your bike need a service and some serious TLC?
There is also the chance that you're bike doesn't even fit you properly. It's a good idea to get a bike fit to be sure that your steed is set up correctly for you.
These questions should be considered if you feel you're no longer reaching the level of progression you were before. You're fitness may be out cycling your bike and it's time to upgrade.
Even with the best fitness, diet, health and bike, you can still hinder your progress mentally.
Being motivated to push yourself those extra miles can be difficult and quite exhausting. Some days you just can't find that kick you need to suit up and jump on the wheels.
This is especially problematic if you suffer with stress and anxiety, or even if you're just going through a rough patch in life. Mental health is important to take care of in order to achieve your best performance in cycling, and gain a better quality of life.
If you feel like you're not doing as well as you'd like on the bike, it may be owing to one of these reasons. So ask yourself: Am I eating healthy? Am I recovering enough? How's my bike?
It's always good to learn your strengths and weaknesses so you can establish which areas need improving so you can get back on top of your game.
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