“I hated every moment of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’”
There is nothing more I hate than sitting indoors on a trainer – seriously. For me it’s like having bamboo rods shoved up under my fingernails. Sometimes I still do it by choice and I’m not sure why I hate it so much. It may be due to the stagnant and fake indoor air, lack of scenery, the fact I hate watching the television while working out, or maybe – just maybe – it’s from my lack of control over my “chimp brain.”
A teammate of mine said the time he spends on the trainer in the winter strengthens so much more than just his body. For him those countless hours staring at a screen, on what is essentially a human hamster wheel, strengthens his mind as well. He feels if he can learn to calm his mind, and push through periods of pain with no rewards such as views, comradery, or ripping descents, he can get through any race or ride during the peak season.
One of Bradley Wiggins’ coaches, Dr. Steve Peters (who helped get Bradley countless tour and Olympic victories), talks in length about taming the chimp brain. This part of our brain, the Limbic area, also known as the more primitive part, is in charge of interpreting information strictly with feelings and impressions vs. logic. It can tell us we are “going to die” if we stay on the trainer for 10 more minutes; it can tell us “we’re in pain,” when really we’re just mildly uncomfortable; and it can raise both our heart and breathing rate if we don’t learn to control it. For me, the chimp brain is what makes me so uncomfortable just a few minutes after climbing up onto my trainer.
How do we overcome this and make the most out of our five months of winter If we’re not into braving Mother Nature’s fury, medically can’t exercise in below freezing temps or just want a more calculated workout? I’ll break this down into two sections. First, learning how to treat the chimp brain, and then I’ll offer a few specific workouts/training plans if you don’t have one already.
Managing the chimp brain
• Allow it to have its say, in a safe environment away from the action, for as long as it takes (typically about 10 minutes), without interruption. It’s a ramble but go with the flow, and let it out, however irrational. Once done you feel better and can begin to have a more rational human conversation.
• You now have the opportunity to deal with it in a measured way – human style –using facts, truth and logic, to continue calming it and addressing its fears and concerns. Remember they can be real.
• Not very powerful but sometimes you can distract or reward your chimp. Think ‘Count to 10 before you speak;’ that’s a distraction. A reward is like “I’ll give myself a treat only when I’ve done … [supply what you don’t want to do here].”
Over a few weeks, you should notice your mind is gaining strength along with your body – something always beneficial if you want to complete challenging rides or races!
Now, let’s get to the heart, lungs and legs! In addition to the three workouts below (which are intended to be used by recreational or avid cyclists, not racers), I highly suggest cross-training a few days a week by walking, running and skiing. I’d also recommend doing core exercises and weights to undo the damage cycling does to our bodies.
Workout #1: Focus on leg turnover, smooth cadence and speed…
Start with a 10 to 15 minute warm-up. During your warm-ups and cool-downs, keep your heart rate around 65 percent of your max heart rate and no higher. Try to aim for an 85-95 rpm/cadence. Spend the next couple of minutes increasing your resistance to one step above a flat road, but keep your rpm high.
Next, try to transfer most of your pedal power to one foot while keeping the same cadence for a minute and then transfer to the other side. Make a mental note if one side is smoother than the other and focus on eliminating this discrepancy over time.
Begin by performing 1 to 2 minute “pick-ups” by adding a little resistance and keeping your cadence the same. See how long it takes you to bring your heart rate back down to 65-70 percent and then repeat the interval. Over time, you should be able to increase your resistance while keeping the same rpm, as well as shorten your recovery time.
Perform 10-15 of these intervals before taking a 10-minute cool down.
Workout #2: Focus on climbing as well as glute/leg strength…
Start once again with a 10 to 15 minute warm-up. After the initial warm-up, gradually add resistance so it feels like you are on an easy climb. Hold this for 5 to 10 minutes and try to keep your rpm above 80.
Recover for 2 to 3 minutes before starting the next climb – which will be one step higher and held for 3 to 5 minutes. Keep your rpm at or above 75.
Recover for 3 to 5 minutes before starting the first of three steep climbs. Each climb will be at a resistance that feels like a great challenge and will last 3 minutes. Your cadence should be no lower than 70. Recover for 3 to 5 minutes between each. If your heart rate is still above 75 percent max, take a few more minutes to allow it to come down before starting the next climb.
As you gain strength, you can either add hill repeats or add time to each climb. Remember to take a 10-minute cool-down at the end prior to hopping off the bike.
Workout #3: Long, slow, distance (taming the chimp brain)…
Begin with a 10 to 15 minute warm-up. After this period, find a pace and resistance that brings you to 70-75 percent of your max heart rate. Make sure your rpm are no lower than 85. Once you have settled into this, try your best to keep these numbers even for an entire hour in the saddle. If you find your heart rate jumps, try using breathing techniques and visualization to calm it down. If your mind wanders continuously, try to focus on why you are on the bike training, and what positive things you hope to achieve in the upcoming season. Even though you are not training “hard” for this workout, make sure you take an ample cool-down at the end while focusing on deep and even breaths.
Hopefully these tips and beginner workouts give you a basic guide during the colder months and help you look at your trainer in a different light. See you out on the road come spring!
Notes: there are several methods to determine your max heart rate. If you are looking for accuracy, I would highly recommend getting tested by a physiologist. If you don’t have the time or funds for this, you could always use the old 220 (226 for women) minus your age formula, but this isn’t very reliable. If you are already fit, it’s even less reliable. A better formula – one designed by Sally Edwards – is 210 minus 50 percent of your age, minus 5 percent of your body weight (pounds), plus 4 if a male and zero if female. This should at least get you started on the right track.