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New Year’s resolutions you will keep

Michael Donlevy
24 Dec 2019

Here are the top resolution ideas to make your best ever on the bike in the new year

We’ve all said it this last week or two. Come January 1st, I will give up booze. By summer I will have lost three stone. I will win L’Etape du Tour, Haute Route Pyrenees and the Fred Whitton Challenge riding a unicycle, dressed as a chicken called Nairo.

New Year’s resolutions are as tricky to keep as they are ludicrous in the first place, but here’s a Cyclist twist – some promises you can make to yourself while tucking into cold turkey this yuletide that are easy to keep when the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Day.

1. Assess your progress

‘Think about the things you’ve done well this year and set goals for next year,’ says coach Ric Stern. ‘Enter a race or sportive you know is going to push you to your limits, but give yourself enough time to train for it.

‘Assessing your progress is crucial to knowing if you’re improving or not. Power data is great because you can measure your fitness in specific ways, but you can also assess yourself in a race or sportive.

‘You should prepare for your event by assessing what key metrics will help you improve, which in general are FTP, or your average power over about an hour, and your MAP, the size of your “engine”.

‘Endurance is also key, so now’s the time to draw up a training plan that will get you in shape on time.’

2. Get off-road

‘Why do we start riding a bike?’ asks coach Will Newton. ‘It may have been to get fitter or to lose weight, but we quickly get sucked into the competitive side and forget why we got into it in the first place.

‘That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ride fast – I love riding fast – but we’ve been taken over by a desperate search for performance.

'On the road, once you have the basic technical skills going fast becomes a question of how hard you can thrash yourself.

‘When you go off-road you’re forced to learn new things, because mountain biking is more technical. Gravel riding or mountain biking can help you rediscover the pure joy of riding a bike.’

3. Book a cycling holiday

‘The British winter is, long, cold and boring,’ says Stern. ‘If you have a holiday or training camp booked for early spring, you’ll be wasting your money if you’re not in shape when you get there.

‘Having some short-term goals can really help focus the mind. Even if all you’re doing is two rides a week, it’s better than nothing. And any training you do will help ensure you’re on track with weight management, too.’

4. Get to the gym

‘We’re talking weight training not weight lifting,’ says coach and PT Paul Butler. ‘Cycling involves pushing down with one leg at a time about 90 times a minute through a very small range of movement for many hours – so being able to perform 10 squats with a 100kg barbell isn’t going to help!

‘But learning to squat by recruiting the glutes, the adductors and deep core muscles will help strengthen cycling muscles that are often neglected, as many cyclists rely too much on their quadriceps. 

‘The benefits of strength training apply to your whole body because, performed correctly, it improves flexibility, posture, balance and stability, strengthens bones and joints, reduces injuries and keeps your non-cycling muscles strong.

‘Just be sure to seek advice so you’re not lifting too much or recruiting the wrong muscles, which will simply make any imbalances even worse.’

5. No cycling kit for Christmas? Treat yourself

‘If you own kit that will keep you warm and dry you’re much less likely to shy away from a ride when the weather turns iffy,’ says Butler. ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather – only bad clothing choice.

‘Consider colours that make you more visible to other road users and if you ride at night buy reflective clothing.

‘Style-conscious cyclists know that hi-viz cyclewear has come a long way in the last few years so you don’t need to look like a lollipop lady to be visible at night.’

6. Book a bike fit

‘This will help to refine your position on the bike, and also analyse any weaknesses or imbalances in your riding style and pedal stroke,’ says Stern.

‘A lot of people ride with their knees stuck out, their bodies upright and their necks sore. Working on these issues in winter will make you a far better cyclist by the summer.

‘When it comes to pedalling, what was once thought correct – trying to apply an even force around the whole pedal stroke – we now know is wrong.

‘Evidence shows us that better cyclists tend to stomp down more and pull up less, when you actually measure the forces using force-sensing pedals. Less efficient cyclists tend to pull up more.’ 

7. Do your own bike repairs

An easy one to keep. Once you’ve learned how to fix your bike, even affluent cyclists will find themselves wincing at even the most diminutive of workshop bills.

As always, the internet is a great source of information, some good, some bad. An old-fashioned alternative is to buy a manual; Lennard Zinn’s is particularly good. Just start out with small jobs like replacing brake pads or taping bars before graduating to trickier and more safety-critical tasks.

Although you’d be amazed at how much of your bike you can destroy or disassemble with just a multi-tool, larger items like cutters and cassette tools will soon pay for themselves.

Finally, if you’re worried about damaging your bike, plenty of workshops now do hands-on training; providing you with both tools to borrow, and a responsible adult to check your work. Paying for a course also means you’ll actually do it.

8. Take up yoga

‘Cycling is horrible for posture and yoga or pilates can stretch out the muscles, cure aches and pains, and teach you how to move properly again,’ says Newton.

‘I’d actually say develop a movement practice, which could include yoga and/or pilates. It’s worth seeing a specialist who can assess what you need, teach you relevant moves and devise a programme that suits you, rather than going to a class where everyone does the same thing.

‘The key is to develop and maintain mobility, motor control and stability – all of which are great for the nervous system as well as posture.’

9. Buy a diary

‘It’s old school, but a training log combined with modern tech can help you track improvements, which is great for motivation,’ says Butler.

‘Your bike computer or phone can record data but, other than seeing where you came on Strava, do you really learn much from it? 

‘Logging details in a good old-fashioned diary can give you time to reflect on things after your session.

‘What went well, what went badly and why? What were your strengths and weaknesses that day and therefore what will become your areas for development next session? 

‘You can learn to coach yourself instead of doing what most people do, which is train their strengths and not their weaknesses.’

10. Don’t diet!

‘Even if you’ve put on weight, eat what’s normal for you and lose weight gradually,’ says Newton. ‘Fuel your rides and don’t starve yourself or you’ll end up shattered and avoiding time on the bike.

‘Do sort out your nutrition and take control of what you eat. Most people have no clue and are shocked when they actually record what they eat.

‘Ten years ago counting calories was hard work, but now it’s a lot easier. A lot of people suffer with creeping weight gain, but middle-aged spread is not normal. Being skinny-fat is not normal.

‘People accept it – even cyclists and other active people – but there’s no reason why we should get bigger as we get older.

‘You need to embed habits that will support you for the next 25 years. So “dieting” should be planning what your nutrition should look like, and not putting on weight in the first place.’

11. Book a big event and get a plan

Nothing focuses the mind like a bit of financial outlay. Find an event or race and make it your season’s goal. Some mild trash-talking about how well you intend to do can also crystalise your motivation into action; so let people in on your plans. Maybe you’ll even recruit some riders to come along too.

Chosen early enough, a big aim for the year will help give structure to your riding; not only in terms of training but also planning and learning new skills.

An excuse to analyse yourself, a spreadsheet of your weaknesses can become the starting point for periods spent working on different areas.

Plan your strategy for the big day, and experiment with kit and bike fit. Depending on your event, playing with aerodynamics and learning about nutrition, can also become more fun when applied to a concrete situation.

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