Spotlight: Cycling training camps

Dabbled with the idea of booking yourself on to a cycling training camp? Put off because you think they’re reserved only for seasoned cyclists, worried you won’t be able to keep up, or even worse – hold the group up. Stop.

Pack your bags and get ready to improve your cycling. Image by ttcopley via Flickr.

Training camps are one of the best ways to develop your fitness and skills on the bike in a structured fashion. It’s pretty much guaranteed you’ll come back, tanned, with a boatload of tips to improve your cycling technique and a whole host of new friends you met on your two-wheeled adventure.

Who better to help dispel training camp myths and give us the lowdown on what to expect, than former British Cycling Talent Coach and Scottish Cycling Performance Manager, Gary Willis, who set-up .001, a coaching and training company offering (among other things) women’s only camps in the French Alps.

It’s not just miles in the legs

The main mistake people make is to assume a camp is about volume, that it’s about “getting the miles in” and generally beating yourself up to within an inch of your life. Nice for the first few days but after that, not pretty.

My advice when looking for a training camp is to focus on quality, not quantity. An old lecturer of mine used to repeatedly quote;

Practice doesn’t make perfect, practice makes permanent.

How true! Think about how many miles you have done on your bike, have they been perfect miles or just miles. Is your bike position right? Can you ride efficiently in a group to save energy? How are those descending and climbing skills?

There are a lot of things that go into making your cycling an effortless and efficient means of going forward. That’s why camps should focus on learning new skills and honing those already learned. If you can gain a broad base of skills in a focussed environment then this will allow you to go away and put them into practice for the rest of your cycling days.

Maximising time with the coach and practicing technique under their supervision in a focussed environment is the best use of your time. You can “get the miles in” at any time and go and climb as many of the famous mountain passes as you want. However, simply by investing a small amount of time on getting the basics right, your future cycling will be so much more enjoyable.

What to expect from a training camp

The main principle is to allocate an amount of time dedicated to nothing but riding your bike. We all lead hectic lives and time is precious. Booking onto a camp will allow you to really focus on your cycling with like-minded people. It takes a lot of quality time to practice skills and technique to make them permanent skills that you don’t have to think about, and the best way to do this is on a camp, where you can focus.

Out there in the real world, our cycling time is restricted, so we go out and ride as far as that time will permit. People never really think to do skill and technique sessions on their bikes, as it doesn’t feel like a great use of time, especially if the weather is good! I’m a huge believer that getting the basics right deserves the most time and is of utmost importance.

To use our training camps as an example, the mornings are based around skills and technique work, followed by group training rides in the afternoon with different sessions in the evenings, such as mechanical advice, nutrition, what to wear and take with you to events, right through to on the day planning for a big event or challenge.

You’ll be amazed at how many hours you can invest in your cycling on a camp, purely by being in an environment without distraction. There are a lot of training camp/holiday providers out there so ask about their programme for the camp. What distances will you be doing and what is the provision for coaching expertise and advice?

Not just for the seasoned pro

A common misconception is that camps are just for pros and seasoned cyclists. The reason I started .001 was to try and beat the myth that it takes years and years to improve your cycling. Just by training and practicing with real focus can help you improve to levels you thought were the reserve of highly experienced cyclists. A lot of riders that are cycling at a high level have invested thousands of hours and probably made a thousand mistakes along the way too. By identifying and then navigating those mistakes, experienced coaches in a training camp can help you focus on what really matters and then you can take those skills home to practice further.

Training camp nerves

The main worries I hear when people are considering a training camp is that they won’t be fit/experienced enough. Sure, this would be an issue if you were just going out and smashing up the mountains each day. But by realigning the focus of the camp onto skills and technique the focus changes to individual ability and personal improvement rather than if you were first or last up the mountain.

To support this learning environment further we have found that having a women’s only camp, and for that matter men’s only camps too, it allows for better interaction and cohesion within the group. The coaches are able to work at a level and style that matches the majority of the group. An environment where people feel they are near the “common” level of the group will have a positive effect on individuals and the group as a whole.

The social side

While all this sounds like hard work it is important to remember the great social side to cycling with a group of like-minded individuals. Training camps allow you to get to know the other people on the camp and learn from them. Check out what others are riding/wearing, how they get on with it and of course drink some good coffee at the café stop.

Most people leave training camps feeling they have learnt a great deal and have the confidence to go and push their recently acquired skills with new found cycling buddies.

Is a training camp for you?

If you look for a camp where they provide coaching expertise as well as taking in the local roads you will unquestionably come back a better rider.

What are you waiting for? Book your summer training camp now!

Upcoming .001 Women’s Exclusive Camps

Focussing on skill development and technique .001 camps are designed to help you improve your cycling and get the most out of your time with us. Training camps include accommodation, meals and all coaching and training support.

Camps include coaching on the following areas:

  • Bike position
  • Cornering
  • Braking
  • Group riding skills
  • Climbing and descending
  • Evening discussion groups

The next camp is scheduled on 09-12 August 2013, and takes place in Haute Savoie, the “Venice of the Alps”.

For more information on training camps contact Gary Willis or visit the .001 website.

NEXT WEEK: Emily Conrad-Pickles shares her experience of a training camp in the Alps.


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