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Motivation: A Pep Talk for Cyclists

By Sheila Ascroft

spin class motivationJanuary is a great time for cycling – in your daydreams. Seriously. You can think about all kinds of cycling feats you ‘d like to aspire to: cycling across Canada or doing the RAGBRAI, training for ten days based out of Italy or Majorca, doing all your local bicycle club’s Sunday rides, or setting a goal of 5,000 km (3,000 miles) for the season.  In January, it’s all possible. And that’s good because you need a dream to pursue when the going gets tough – like in winter, especially a true Canadian or northern Michigan winter!

To actually accomplish any of these or other goals though, you have to stay motivated now. Right now. Not tomorrow. Now.


Motivation is easy when you’re cycling in the warm sunshine, inhaling freshly cut hay or, ahem, cow manure. Motivation, discipline, consistency aren’t so easy to come by though when it’s dark before and after work, or when it’s below zero or minus a gazillion degrees, or there is a strong north wind.

If you live, like me, in a northern climate, it is hard to stay motivated. Sure, you can cycle all through winter if you have the proper gear and determination (see Winter Biking, 2009), but will you? If you’re not prepared for a few cold dark months of outside riding, what can you do to keep your sprits and fitness up?

How to do it

First, and this is meant only for those who can afford it, flee winter and cycle somewhere warm. If that’s possible, good for you. You sure shouldn’t have any motivation problems cycling in Florida or Arizona while the rest of us are chained to indoor trainers!

The other option is to ride inside. So, set that big-dreaming goal and some smaller achievable ones, put a training plan together and then stick to it all through the bloody cold winter and your dream may just come true!

I know indoor trainers are essentially boring, un-stimulating; it’s hard to train consistently. However, if you’ve got that goal in your back pocket, then when all else fails, the goal will keep you going. Remember, it is important to set a specific plan. There are plenty of resources to help you do this yourself or you can hire a coach just to set up a 12-week or 16-week plan tailored to your needs. The idea is to progress not end up hating your bike!

To avoid total brain burnout on the home trainer, you can listen to music or watch TV or, better yet, watch some old Tour de France tapes. Still better, is to get a set of Spinervals DVDs Spinervals. They are rated according to difficulty, so I’d suggest starting with the Fitness series and progress from there, otherwise you might get discouraged with the “Suffer-o-Rama” approach and quit. If you are competitive, there are plenty of advanced training DVDs to assist in your improvement. Some computer trainers also offer videos of real cycling routes and tour stages whilst measuring your power wattage. Only your budget and drive will determine how serious you want to get.

The advantage to a training tape over the next episode of HOUSE is that it offers specific things for you to concentrate on like ladders, sprint sets, and hill climbing. Since there is no coasting on the downhills, it will give you an honest workout! Don’t kill yourself though. Start with only 20 minutes and work your way through the whole DVD.

Apparently another great way to past the time on a trainer is to play video games on Playstation. Not being the techno-type, I’ve not tried this. By using aerobars, you can keep your thumbs on the controller and still put in a ride. I’m told that the time will fly by.

Not all indoor cycling is the same though. If you join a spinning class, you will get some delightful socializing along with the exercise. You cannot underestimate the motivational value of having friends cycling beside you.

Of course, you could always put your bike away and cross-train with cross-country skiing or skating or snowshoeing, all of which provide a good leg workout, and a great mental change of pace. Or you could simply try something new over the winter. It might be the perfect time to give yoga or Pilates or aqua fitness a try and, who knows, the flexibility and core strength may make a big difference in your cycling come spring.

Finally, don’t make your winter worse by stressing out over your training or lack thereof. Even if you only do one-third of your normal training, you will still keep your fitness.


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