Training: Five ways to prepare for a hard workout

Whether you want to crush your next power test, nail some really hard intervals, or just keep up on your local group ride, here are some steps you should take before heading out the door.

Photo: Wil Matthews

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You know that feeling when you have a really hard workout or hard ride planned and you know that everything will have to fall perfectly into place to ensure success. Do you have a tried and true system that you follow, or do you cross your fingers and hope for the best? Whether you want to crush your next power test, nail some really hard intervals, or just keep up on your local group ride, here are some steps you should take before heading out the door.

1. Equipment preparation

There is nothing worse than being fully physically and mentally prepared only to have equipment fail you. You’re riding along, hitting all of your goal paces, when halfway through you get a flat or drop a chain. There are many immeasurable metrics in sport. Make sure to control the things that can be maintained such as mechanics. Here’s a list of everything that you should check the day before or the morning of your big workout:

  • Sealant top-off
  • Tire pressure
  • Chain lubed
  • Batteries charged (shifting and/or bike computer)
  • Bolts torqued
  • Clean bike

2. Blood Flow preparation

Spend a little time increasing blood flow before you get on the bike. Not only will increasing circulation prior to your workout help you warm up more quickly, but it can help to prevent injury and increase performance. Here are some simple ways to help increase blood flow before you even kit up.

Muscle activations: Muscle activations and dynamic stretching are both great ways to increase blood flow before your workout. Activating muscles that may typically be underutilized can be a helpful way to wake up those muscles or reinforce proper form or technique before even getting on the bike. Deadbugs, birddogs, and clamshells are some classic muscle activation exercises that can be utilized before workouts.

Be careful to stay away from static stretching. Static stretching prior to exercise has been shown to decrease power and endurance. If you decide to limber up before your workout it would be best to foam roll or only practice stretching that encompasses steady movements. For example, try leg swings instead of touching your toes.

Massage gun/compression boots: You might think of massage guns and compression boots as solely recovery devices, but this is not the case. Both of these modalities help to increase circulation and can take the place of or be used in addition to foam rolling for warming up.

3. Nutrition

The food you eat before your workout will be the fuel your body utilizes to propel yourself throughout your hard intervals. It is critical to give to yourself the necessary nutrients. While the exact nutritional requirements will be contingent on your own body and the workout ahead, it’s likely that for cycling you’ll want to eat something high in easily digestible carbohydrates. While your body can utilize fat at lower intensities, carbohydrates are utilized by your body at higher intensities when your heart rate and breathing rates are elevated. In fact, exercise that exceeds approximately 65 percent of an individual’s Vo2 Max will generally be fueled primarily by carbohydrates1. This is one reason that pancakes and waffles have been widely popularized by some of the world’s best cyclists. To make sure you feel your best, it’s usually recommended to eat your meal 3-4 hours before your big workout or race.

4. Mental preparation

Mental preparation doesn’t have to complicated. It can be as simple as setting aside 5 minutes to think about your workout. Here are some simple practices that you can use to up your mental game:

Visualize: Visualization may be one of the most popular mental strategies. Spend just a few minutes before your workout picturing yourself executing a skill optimally. Maybe you are sending an attack, closing a gap, descending with ease, or even maintaining a fast cadence. Whatever it is, start by doing it in your mind.

Practice gratitude:
Gratitude has the ability to open our minds and help us be in a better headspace to perform. Gratitude has the ability to release dopamine in the brain and the release of dopamine has been linked to increased motivation2. Before leaving for your ride, write down or think about a few things that you are genuinely grateful for.

Process goals: Before leaving for your ride, think about your process goals for the day. Different from a process goal, outcome goals are what we aim to ultimately achieve. Outcome goals might be winning a race or making the lead pack in your local group ride. A process goal, however, is something that helps you achieve that outcome goal. For example, a process goal might be to hydrate sufficiently throughout the ride. Process goals are goals that you generally have control over whether or not you complete them, whereas an outcome goal may have many confounding variables such as weather or actions of other competitors.

5. Warm Up

Finally, you need to actually warm up in order to have your best possible workout. Once out on the bike, allow for about 20-30 minutes of pedaling in order for your body to adequately warm up and feel prepared to take on intensity. After some aerobic pedaling, try to gradually increase the intensity to help ease your way into your workout.

High cadence drills: High cadence efforts are a great way to warm up because they get your heart rate up and blood pumping without overloading the legs by pushing heavy gears or high wattages.

Zone build: You can also try spending a few minutes in each one of your training zones. This gradual and controlled build-up to intensity will help to take the shock away from hard efforts when it’s time to really turn over the pedals.

Practice your system
If you have something new you want to try before your workout, give it a go. Everyone is a little different. I know some people who like to sing and dance before hard trainings and other people who like to go for quiet and reflective walks. Find a system that works for you. Don’t be afraid to experiment, but make sure you try new things on practice days and keep tried and true systems for game day.

1. Purdom T; Kravitz L; Dokladny K; Mermier. “Understanding the Factors That Effect Maximal Fat Oxidation.Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2018.
2. “Tyrosine Supplementation: Can This Amino Acid Boost Brain Dopamine and Improve Physical and Mental Performance?Gatorade Sports Science Institute.

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