Ythan CC - Training for Mental Performance
Tips from Bob Hill - Club Coach

This includes methods for setting goals and planning your training, and for optimising your effort by improving your concentration during training and competition. The following aspects of training are detailed further down this page.

 

GOAL SETTING/PLANNING

Setting goals and then planning how you will achieve these is the first objective in developing a positive attitude. If you don’t know where you want to go, or how you plan to get there, then you will never arrive.

The methods which I have used on setting goals and on planning how to achieve them are outlined in the attached webpage. If you really wish to achieve success in any sporting activity you must plan and set goals, so you are well advised to consider the attached.

When you finish the race you immediately start to evaluate your result against what you expected to get. It may not have been as good as you were hoping for and the temptation is to unfairly criticise yourself for not achieving a personal best time.

Always put your performance into perspective. Evaluate whether you completed what you wanted to, relative to your fitness level and the course and weather conditions. Learn from your experience, be constructive in your analysis and try to take something positive out of it. Seek to identify an area that you can work at improving.

OPTIMISING YOUR EFFORT

Time trialling is, in part, a mental exercise. Although racing at full stretch is physically very hard, it also requires great mental concentration to keep yourself going at your OPTIMUM effort. Too little effort and you are not going as fast as you could, but too much effort and you will soon be forced to slow down. Yet, how often have you found your mind wandering while you were racing?

The reason the mind wanders when the going gets hard is that it is trying to escape. It tries to reduce the pain you are suffering by distracting you into thinking about something else. To maintain your effort you must attempt to fully concentrate throughout the race; not an easy matter, but not impossible.

How do you concentrate? What do you concentrate on? When you concentrate it can create tension, but you must be able to produce a relaxed effort.

Is it possible to relax and concentrate at the same time? The answer to all of this is YES, but with some difficulty and a lot of practice.

The KEY to attaining this skill is to build in a number of different routines. Some of these are used prior to the race to assist relaxation and build confidence. They are also intended to minimise some of the possible sources of distraction which may disturb your concentration during the event. Another set of routines will enhance your abilities to concentrate during the race and possess a heightened sense of body awareness of exactly what you are doing throughout the ride.

Many such routines have been written and some of them are quite elaborate. The ones which I use are fairly simple. Possibly you may find that others work better for you, but the main thing is that you do have some routines that assist you in the race and the period prior to it. Without these it is too easy to get distracted and lose the place, so diminishing your performance.

KEY PERSONAL ROUTINES

To perform well in any event you need to be extremely well motivated, but excessive motivation may tend to create anxiety, which can adversely effect your preparations and race performance. This anxiety can upset you prior to the race, disturb your sleep pattern and allow many negative thoughts to infiltrate your mind. Whilst you must posses a high motivation level, you do not wish it to turn into excessive anxiety and ruin the race for you.

My personal experience is that for the majority of riders, motivation is not a problem. Motivation comes from within and cannot really be taught or learned. Normally, the control of anxiety is of more concern for most of us, so this is the area of focus.

It is essential that you are not tensed up, as then your muscles will not function smoothly or powerfully. You will also expend energy in nervous tension and any negative thoughts will disturb your concentration. An optimum balance of relaxation and focus would greatly assist in the production of the desired relaxed effort.

How do you achieve this?

Relaxation Techniques

Several techniques are available to improve your ability to relax, at ay given time. If practised correctly and repeatedly they may convert you into a more relaxed person. Personally, I have attempted these techniques and found them not to work for me, but that is probably because I have not worked hard enough at gaining these skills.

They are often very time consuming and could be cited as boring and tedious, but really it a matter of having a positive attitude towards the exercises and having a real go at them. Many top riders use these techniques and I do believe they can be of great benefit, if you succeed in mastering them.

However, I do have my own very simple relaxation technique, which basically consists of regular controlled breathing, where you count each “out” breath. I know that it works for me and I feel that it is very suitable for time trialling, where a regular, controlled, relaxed effort is necessary. This is detailed below;

Breathing Routine

This routine should be practised during cycle training, initially when pedalling on the “turbo” and then on the road, when you have the hang of it. The method can also be used off the bike, during the morning of the race and the day prior, if you are very uptight.

It involves breathing steadily: and counting each 'out' breath, up to a count of 10; and then starting again at 1 up to 10, etc. To assist concentration on the round pedalling technique, I add in the word 'round' with each alternate out breath, counting as follows:-

One-round, two-round, three-round, four-round, five-round, six-round, etc up to ten,

I then start again at one-round, two-round, three-round, four-round, etc.

With the first out breath you say “one” (into yourself), on the second breath you say “round”, on the third breath say “two”, on the fourth breath say “round” etc. up to ten and then start over again at one.

You will find that you actually need to concentrate to do this and that your breathing settles down into a steady regular pattern. The breathing becomes deeper. It also puts the “round” thought constantly into your mind.

You will probably lose concentration sometimes and although you are still counting, you have gone passed the number 10 to 11, 12, 13, 14, etc. If you then become aware that you have done this, don’t immediately stop and start over again at one. Just continue counting up to a count of 20 and then start again at one.

This makes you think again about the counting (and the breathing). The routine should only be semi-automatic, needing a certain level of concentration, so that it keeps you aware of what you are doing. You will find that your mind still wanders and the best you can achieve is to make the counting routine semi- automatic. You will not be able to fully concentrate on the counting all of the time, so the routine will not become totally automatic.

When to use this Routine

The above routine can be used “off the bike”, prior to the race. Simply sit down somewhere quiet, close your eyes and start the Breathing Routine, counting as indicated. Visualise yourself on the bike, starting the race and getting into a smooth relaxed effort. Make the emphasis on “relaxed”; do not get tense in any way. This is intended to relax you, not to get you “psyched up”. Continue just for a few minutes, to put you at ease.

Practise this routine on the day before the ride, if you are feeling particularly uptight, or in the morning prior to the event and immediately before starting your warm up, whilst you are sitting in your car.

Visualisation

This can be used quite simply, as indicated above, or it can be taken a stage further into a more elaborate routine and used prior to and during the ride.

The visualisation routines mentioned in the section on THE PEDALLING MAN is what I consider to be sufficient for my needs and that of most riders. If you can accomplish this proficiently you will be doing well.

Awareness

During the race is when you really put it all together and do your best ever time trial.

You must maintain an Awareness throughout the race.

This awareness is one of the TOTALLY ESSENTIAL CRITERIA for riding a good time trial. You must be aware of yourself and what your body and mind are doing all of the time, or at least 95% of the time. My routine, or similar, will pull you back into this awareness if your mind wanders.

Again the important thing is that you do have a routine. Practise it often in training and definitely use it in the race. After the first 20 seconds to get you away from the start, get down on the Tri Bars and start counting breaths.

Like all the best things, it is simple but it works!

POSITIVE ATTITUDE

It is important to develop a very positive attitude to your cycling in general and race day in particular. This attitude is very difficult to maintain over a period of time, as we will all go through “highs and lows”, resulting from successes and failures.

The following techniques should assist, in developing this positive attitude, towards achievement of your expectations.

Goal Setting/Planning

Setting goals and then planning how you will achieve these is the first objective in developing a positive attitude. If you don’t know where you want to go, or how you plan to get there, then you will never arrive.

The methods which I have used on setting goals and on planning how to achieve them are outlined in the attached.

Dealing With Pain

We are all aware that when we try our very hardest in a cycle race we will experience pain and suffering. You must accept that this extreme suffering is a necessary part of doing your best and be ready to endure it during the race. Realise that it will not go away until you have finished the event, so you must be committed to the pain.

If you don’t achieve this pain in the race you are not achieving your best result. It is very difficult for your mind to keep accepting this prior to every event, which is one reason why you should not over-race, and should plan the races that you wish to peak for.

Adopt the attitude that pain is absolutely necessary to do well. That it will be experienced throughout the race. Confirm to yourself that you will not try to ignore it, but you will fully concentrate on the positive aspects of what you are in control of during the race.

By this, I mean the round pedalling, breathing routine, level of effort, position on the bike and the visualisation thoughts.

Dealing With the Weather

The same principles apply to dealing with the weather and course conditions. They are the same for everyone in the event and you cannot control them. Some people get it into their head that they cannot perform well in the wind.

Generally speaking it is true to day that the slower riders find it more difficult to perform relatively well in windy conditions. But many riders allow themselves to get psyched out by adverse weather and end up with a slower time than they are capable of. They are beaten before they start and talk themselves into this.

If you can maintain a good, low, aerodynamic position throughout the ride and adopt a positive attitude then you will achieve a better result than the others that you compare yourself to. You will beat other riders of similar ability because they don’t possess this positive attitude. Don’t let the weather defeat you.

It is the same with a hilly or rolling course. Just get your head down and concentrate on what you are doing. Deal with what you are in control of, not the weather or the hills. Make every effort to exercise control over what you are doing.

More information on Goal Setting and Planning for Cyclists

 

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