What's Cool In Road Cycling

Toolbox: When Play Becomes Work

Work, commuting, life, family – the stresses of everyday life really add up. Cycling can serve as both a physical and mental relief valve from these pressures. But what happens when the pressures of competition and training turn play times into another source of stress? Learning to keep training in perspective is key for both long term motivation and peak performance.

Contributed by Kristen Dieffenbach, Ph.D., CC AASP

When Play Stops Being Fun
The sport of cycling has a lot to offer. Engineering types love the equipment, outdoors folks are drawn to the open road. Introverts and extroverts alike find their niche within a sport that offers both solitude and group experiences. Opportunities for challenges against the open road, time, personal effort and others abound. What starts off as a hobby often evolves into a lifestyle where training and competing overshadow all else.

All work and no play, make Jack a dull cyclist
Competitive cyclists are not casual riders or even mere weekend warriors. The mileage, intensity and nature of the sport requires both depth and breadth of fitness. Race calendars are long, the racing community is tightknit, and a wide variety of high tech devices allow for the constant quantifying of progress and output. This intense comparison based culture can lead to some of the most positive benefits of cycling getting lost in the ‘work’ of training and pressure of performing, robbing athletes of both enjoyment and opportunities for peak performance. Many athletes don’t even recognize what they have lost, focusing instead on a vague sense of frustration and a growing dissatisfaction with their performance. The harder they push, the less they gain, the more they push, creating a cycle (no pun intended) that is neither productive nor enjoyable.

Marcel Kittel famously didn’t have too much fun at Tirreno Adriatco this past week – time to rebuild the love?

Rebuilding the Love
Rekindling the passion and regaining the positive benefit of cycling is not a difficult task, though taking it easy to go harder is a challenging concept for result driven athletes. But it is over emphasis of a constant work approach to ‘playtime’ that leads many athletes down the wrong path in the first place. Cycling as stress relief and cycling as a high performance sport outlet do not need to be mutually exclusive activities. Developing a healthy balance between the two benefits takes time and creativity but the benefits to be gained far outweigh the costs.

Consider the following ideas:

A) Get in touch with what initially drew you to the sport. Whether you were a child or an adult when you first got your bike and then the bug, think about what attracted you. Was it the freedom? The sights? Plan occasional rides that focus on these elements. Explore a new route, just for the sake of exploring. Take time to ride without a specific agenda or plan. Ride a different kind of bike or on a different kind of terrain. Free yourself up to just ride without the temptation to ‘train’.

B) Share a ride with someone who loves the sport or is just discovering it. Recovery days and easy rides are great opportunities to re-connect to the enthusiasm of the sport by seeing it through someone else’s eyes.

C) Examine your training and riding motivations carefully. Extrinsic motivators, like winning races and earning primes, will only take you so far. Consider and cultivate the things that motivate you from the inside, like a sense of personal accomplishment and the satisfaction in doing something well. These intrinsic motivators are more fulfilling and enriching on a day to day basis. Acknowledge them and seek out opportunities to fulfill them.

D) Leave the electronics at home sometimes. Data is nice, but not everything needs to be quantified. Identify the training days where data matters and identify the days where ride quality matters. Get re-acquainted with what it feels like to evaluate the quality of a ride through your own senses without relying on external feedback.

E) Don’t train in a vacuum. The reality for most people is that busy training schedules co-exist with work and life. Seek to write training plans that complement rather than compete with the other areas of your life. Strive to create a balance. When work is calm, training stress can be higher. But when work pressures are on, be sure to balance the ‘workload’ of training appropriately so that it provides you with an outlet rather than becoming an additional source of ‘I must’ pressure.

F) Create blended purpose rides. A warm up should be more than just a chance to get joints and muscles ready to go hard. A quality warm up can also serve to help you relax away the stresses of the day before getting into harder efforts. Develop a warm up routine that is long enough for you to gain both physically and mentally benefit before shifting into training efforts.

Ultimately the balance between cycling as work and as play is personal. Finding the right mix is the key to a long and satisfying cycling journey.

About Kristen
Kristen is an associate professor of Athletic Coaching Education at West Virginia University and an Association of Applied Sport Psychology certified consultant. In addition to providing peak performance education and support for coaches, athletes and teams through her company Mountains, Marathons and More, Kristen is a professional coach with Peaks Coaching Group, specializing in working with developmental and Espoir cyclists. She is the co-author of Bike Racing for Juniors and has written over 20 chapters on sport psychology topics for peak performance. She can be reached at [email protected]

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