11 Most Common Early-Season Training Mistakes Cyclists Make

We asked CTS Coaches to share some of the common mistakes they see athletes make when enthusiasm is high and athletes are motivated for the season ahead 

CTS coaches came up with 11 mistakes they see pop up year after year that disrupt athletes’ training, and they offered these easy solutions to keep you on track. Avoid these early season missteps and follow our coaches’ advice and you’ll lay down a foundation for a successful season.

11 Most Common Early-Season Training Mistakes Cyclists Make

1. Starving Themselves Just as They Ramp up Their Training

Getting back in shape is often coupled with a desire to lose weight, so some athletes both increase their exercise energy expenditure and dramatically reduce their caloric intake at the same time.

Solution: You have to eat to support your activity level, so at the very least continue eating as you have been when you start to ramp up your training. If you add calories to your day, start by adding a small pre-ride snack and consuming calories only during rides that are longer than 60-75 minutes.

2. Going Big Right From the Start!

Enthusiasm is great, but sometimes it gets the better of an athlete, especially one getting back in shape. The memory of what you used to do sometimes blinds you to the need to build up more gradually this time around. A dramatic increase in workload is one of the leading causes of overuse injuries.

Solution: Getting back in shape is all about consistency and establishing the habits that will keep you going. It would be better to ride 4 days a week for 1-2 hours than to ride once or twice a week for 4 hours.

3. Immediately Changing Your Cycling Position

For experienced cyclists trying to get back into shape, you may not feel totally comfortable on your bike for the first few rides on the comeback trail. The saddle might feel high and the reach way too long, for instance, because you don’t have the conditioning, range of motion, and flexibility you had when you were riding more.

Solution: Before you totally revamp your position be patient. Keep your rides relatively short (60 minutes or so) and the intensity easy to moderate for 3-5 rides. Avoid the temptation to test yourself, just ride at a relatively high cadence (90+ RPM) and give your body time to readapt to the position. If after these rides you’re still uncomfortable, go see a bike fit professional.

4. Getting Hung up on Previous Best Power Outputs/Heart Rates/Course Times

Oftentimes athletes are too focused on what “was”, as opposed to “what needs to be.”  A lot of time is spent lamenting the fact that power output is not what it once was, or time over a given course is significantly longer than previous.

Solution:  Be realistic with your current fitness level as you are starting again, and know that it will take some time to regain that fitness.  The upside is that if it did, in fact, happen previously- there’s a pretty good chance it will happen again with time and consistency of training.  Soon those power numbers will be right back where they used to be, and then some!

5. Setting an Unrealistic Training Routine

All too often, athletes set unrealistic training schedules for themselves. After an extended hiatus from regular training, it is easy to set yourself up for failure by trying to squeeze in more training time than your schedule can sustainably allow. Career duties are typically off the table during time management negotiations, this leaves family and personal time (i.e. sleep) on the chopping block.

Solution: Discuss goals with your partner and family before developing your training plan. A good coach can help you to pragmatically decide how much time is truly necessary and how to make the most of the time you do have. A balanced training plan will be much more effective than one that spreads you thin and leaves you stressed out.

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6. Worrying About What Your Training Partners/ or Friends Are Doing With Their Training

Listening to what other athletes are doing with their training (which often is different than what you should be doing) can easily rattle the nerves and place doubt on the start of your training and event preparation.

Solution: This is where a coach can be very helpful. Discuss these concerns with your coach and get ready for an open two-way conversation. A coach can help you see the bigger picture and explain where you are within your short-term training goals, and what you need to continue to do in order to achieve your long-term goals.

7. Waiting Too Long to Add Intensity

Perhaps as common as doing too much too soon is waiting too long to add intensity to a training program. Many athletes believe they need to do many weeks of low-intensity riding to build a base before they can do high-intensity training. While building aerobic endurance is an important component of your season, this can be done with a well-planned combination of intensities.

Solution: After a few weeks of moderate training to get accustomed to the training routine (see above), start adding small doses of short, high-intensity intervals to your training. These will build your fitness faster, and getting some progress under your belt is good for morale. For a complete guide to incorporating intervals into your training, read this. To learn about mistakes athletes make with high-intensity training, read this.

8. “Making Up” Workouts

Making up missed workouts by cramming them all into a couple of days often results in excessive fatigue and poor training outcomes.

Solution: Don’t cram. Most times the best solution is to just go to the next workout if you only miss a day.  If you have to miss a workout, evaluate the importance of the session (depending on your goals and level of conditioning, intervals may be a higher priority than moderate-intensity aerobic endurance rides, or vice versa).  Discuss with your coach, if you’re working with one, to figure out which structure fits best with your schedule. If you miss several workouts in a row, then ideally you are well rested but you may want to tweak the upcoming workouts to adjust the workload up or down as needed.

9. Too Many Group Rides

Some athletes make the mistake of doing too many group rides and not enough solo work that focuses on specific energy systems and make progressively lasting changes to fitness. During the pandemic, which has limited opportunities for IRL group rides in many locations, it is important to recognize that this includes virtual group rides and e-races. There are benefits to group activities, particularly for socializing, having accountability buddies, and gaining/practicing the skills for unpredictable changes in pace and effort. But there are also benefits to the specificity that comes from solo training.

Solution: Group rides are great, so we’re not saying you should always train solo. Pick and choose your group rides and have a purpose for each one. Make the majority of your riding specific to your fitness and goals with a progressive training program.

10. Overpacked Your Race Schedule

Some athletes set an overzealous racing schedule with races and events, without taking into account the physical and mental stresses of racing, traveling, and impact on family and other commitments. This may be particularly true in 2021, when many athletes are eager to get back to events after all the cancellations in 2020.

Solution: Set your racing schedule around your most important races then fill in with a conservative schedule of supporting races, keeping in mind your other commitments. Include your family in the process and get feedback from a coach or someone who has more experience in racing to give you objective feedback. Be committed to your event schedule but be willing to adjust when something is not working.

11. Unprepared For Changing Weather Conditions

Motivated athletes want to get out there in all kinds of weather, which is a good thing. But you have to be prepared. Doing a long climb but not having a wind jacket for the descent, or going out in cold and rain without appropriate booties and gloves, turns a great ride into a miserable experience. Overdressing can also be an issue.

Solution: Your favorite weather app should be your new best friend. Check the conditions before going out, or just stick your head outside to check temperature and conditions. Dress appropriately, and if possible, take a rain jacket/wind vest if you’re unsure. You should be slightly cool starting out as you will warm up as you get moving. If you live in rainy or cold weather conditions, always be prepared with cold weather gear. And remember, a short ride is better than no ride, and you can also move your workouts indoors.

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