Ex­er­cise sci­en­tists and sports psy­chol­o­gists in­stil in elite cy­clists the mind tricks to help them fo­cus, over­come de­feat, bounce back from in­jury, cy­cle fur­ther and stay mo­ti­vated. Here are their tips to help over­come the com­mon psy­cho­log­i­cal hur­dles of

Cycling Plus - - CONTENTS -

The mind tricks used by ex­perts to help you over­come cy­cling’s com­mon psy­cho­log­i­cal hur­dles.

PROB­LEM: Per­for­mance Anx­i­ety “Whether it’s a Team GB elite rider or a club cy­clist, ev­ery­one suf­fers from nerves or anx­i­ety,” ex­plains Michael Caulfield, a sports psy­chol­o­gist with over 30 years’ ex­pe­ri­ence deal­ing with elite ath­letes, and ad­vi­sor to wig­ “I’ve learnt, through con­ver­sa­tions with some of the greats in cy­cling that ask­ing for help is a sign of gen­uine strength.”

SO­LU­TION: Team Talks “One of the first things to do with anx­i­ety about your per­for­mance is to open up about it – find some­one in your sup­port net­work, a fel­low rider, who you can dis­cuss it with. This way you can nor­malise the fear and ra­tio­nalise it, in the same way that you might dis­cuss a tech­ni­cal point or ask for a kit rec­om­men­da­tion. Talk­ing through when your anx­i­ety arises, how it man­i­fests it­self, what ef­fect you feel it is hav­ing are all key to deal­ing with it. Chances are other rid­ers will ex­pe­ri­ence a sim­i­lar at­tack of nerves or anx­i­ety about their abil­ity.”

PROB­LEM: Race Nerves “We can all suf­fer with a level of pre-race ner­vous­ness and when it’s con­trolled that feeds into your fo­cus,” says Dr Vic­tor Thomp­son, triath­lete and clin­i­cal sports psy­chol­o­gist ( sport­spsy­chol­o­ “Of­ten the anx­i­ety can stem from what’s be­yond our con­trol – the weather, a change in race con­di­tions, or a sud­den at­tack of self-doubt and ‘what if…’ sce­nar­ios.”

SO­LU­TION: Check­lists, Not Changes “Many ath­letes use a pre-race rou­tine – part prepa­ra­tion, part su­per­sti­tion – from tac­tile ac­tions that help fo­cus the mind; pack­ing their kit, check­ing their bike and shav­ing their legs to more men­tally fo­cused ac­tiv­i­ties such as vi­su­al­is­ing the race, the route and how it’s go­ing to go, to help over­come nerves,” ex­plains Thomp­son. “Check you’ve got all your nu­tri­tion, train­ing and bike setup di­alled-in – this can help re­as­sure you men­tally that you’ve done all you can in your power. Avoid mak­ing any changes to your race-day rou­tine and if needs be use im­agery of your­self over­com­ing any sce­nar­ios – me­chan­i­cals, a crash, or fall­ing be­hind.”

Thomp­son sug­gests the check­lists don’t stop be­fore the ride. “Af­ter an event, re­view what went well not just what didn’t. Elite ath­letes will take pos­i­tives from each ses­sion, re­as­sur­ing and reaf­firm­ing that their train­ing and progress is on track.”

PROB­LEM: Sta­tus In­se­cu­rity So­cial me­dia brings many ben­e­fits to the cy­cling world. From shar­ing the lat­est pro cy­cling news via Twit­ter to or­gan­is­ing a ride with your What­sapp group, it’s be­com­ing our favourite way of avoid­ing work. But there’s a se­ri­ous side to this cul­ture of shar­ing that Thomp­son is alarmed by. “From Strava to so­cial me­dia the peer pres­sure to rack up miles can over­whelm rid­ers and push them to burn out,” says Thomp­son. “I’ve seen sev­eral who’ve strug­gled to get bal­ance in their life, not al­low­ing the body to re­cover, and have just plateaued.”

SO­LU­TION: Re­al­ity Checks “We need to step back and re­mem­ber that few rid­ers post about the easy ses­sions,” says Thomp­son. “They don’t brag about re­cov­ery rides, wind down ef­forts, sleep and the mun­dane but im­por­tant el­e­ments that pro­tect your body from in­fec­tion and en­sure you’re able to ride reg­u­larly.”

PROB­LEM: Ad­dic­tion To Cy­cling “When cy­cling be­comes the be all and end all, that should be a warn­ing that some­thing’s wrong – but when it gets to that point you may not be able to see it that way,” says Caulfield, speak­ing about how ath­letes be­come ob­sessed with per­for­mance. “I’ve seen it in those who haven’t de­vel­oped an in­ter­est be­yond their sport and so, when not per­form­ing, they’re wor­ried about the next train­ing ses­sion, body fats, weight – they lose per­spec­tive and bal­ance in life.”

PROB­LEM: Rid­den Off The Road The phys­i­cal in­juries may have healed but the men­tal scars of a ma­jor crash can cloud your judge­ment and dis­tort your fo­cus when you get back on the bike if not ad­dressed prop­erly. “Fear can trig­ger bi­o­log­i­cal re­ac­tions – di­vert­ing blood­flow, un­set­tling di­ges­tion – which will af­fect per­for­mance,” warns Thomp­son.

SO­LU­TION: Re­cov­ery Rides “Don’t pick up where you got hit – I mean in terms of speed, dis­tance or im­por­tance of ride,” says Caulfield. “If it’s an ac­ci­dent so bad that you’ve been off the road for any length of time you need to re-start small and slowly as soon as pos­si­ble.” A pri­vate road or safe space away from traf­fic is ideal to get up to speed again. “Phys­i­cally you need to feel com­fort­able and men­tally you need to re­store your con­fi­dence, get fa­mil­iar with han­dling the bike and en­sure that when you re­turn to a busy road or pushy pelo­ton you’re pre­pared.”

”The phys­i­cal in­juries may have healed but the men­tal scars of a ma­jor crash can cloud your judge­ment and dis­tort your fo­cus when you get back on the bike”

SO­LU­TION: Au­dit Time In more se­vere cases of those ad­dicted to ex­er­cise to a point where it dom­i­nates your think­ing, changes your be­hav­iour, af­fects your mood and even causes re­sent­ment or con­flict within other as­pects of one’s life, cog­ni­tive be­havioural ther­apy is used to help deal with the ad­dic­tion. If the symp­toms are there, you can start to ev­i­dence it – record the time you’re de­vot­ing to your rides com­pared with other de­mands in your day or week. How do you feel when you miss a ses­sion? What hap­pens to your be­hav­iour?

“Re­flect upon your train­ing habits and the im­pact they’re hav­ing,” sug­gests Caulfield. “It’s the start­ing point to man­ag­ing your bal­ance bet­ter. Cy­cling can be an amaz­ing re­lease from the daily grind, but you don’t want it to cre­ate a whole new set of cir­cum­stances that cause you to feel pres­sured, stressed and in con­flict.”

PROB­LEM: Pelo­ton Plateau Non-func­tional over­train­ing – when that bal­ance be­tween train­ing load and re­cov­ery is skewed and your per­for­mance just gets worse – isn’t solely a phys­i­o­log­i­cal con­di­tion. Although many symp­toms are phys­i­cal – greater sus­cep­ti­bil­ity to ill­ness, in­som­nia, get­ting dropped on easy rides – there are men­tal cues and cures too.

SO­LU­TION: Talk Back Ir­ri­tabil­ity and mood swings are not un­com­mon among rid­ers show­ing signs of non-func­tional over­reach­ing – fa­tigue to some, or just knack­ered to oth­ers. But as Pro­fes­sor Sa­muele Mar­cora’s, di­rec­tor of re­search at the Uni­ver­sity of Kent’s School of Sport & Ex­er­cise Sciences, stud­ies have shown, cy­clists can push through and last longer in the sad­dle thanks to the power of pos­i­tive self-talk.

“Adopt­ing an ‘I can’t go on’ ap­proach can be­come a self-ful­fill­ing prophecy in the sad­dle,” says Mar­cora. “You need to con­vince your­self that ex­er­cise feels eas­ier than you per­ceive it to be.”

In his own tri­als rid­ers spent half an hour writ­ing down self-talk state­ments and choos­ing favourite mo­ti­va­tional state­ments; two for the early stages of the ride (such as, ‘I feel good’) and two for the later stages (such as, ‘push through!’). Over sev­eral weeks the cy­clists honed the state­ments that worked best for them and fought off ex­haus­tion for longer than a con­trol group who didn’t self-talk.

” Ir­ri­tabil­ity and mood swings are not un­com­mon among rid­ers show­ing signs of non-func­tional over­reach­ing – fa­tigue to some, or just knack­ered to oth­ers“

PROB­LEM: Lost Fo­cus “Re­search shows that fa­tigue can have a neg­a­tive im­pact on per­for­mance, not just phys­i­cally but psy­cho­log­i­cally too,” says Mar­cora. In his own tri­als he dis­cov­ered that en­durance time de­creased by 12 per cent af­ter par­tic­i­pants had been men­tally fa­tigued, while a re­view of 11 stud­ies pub­lished in the jour­nal Sports Medicine con­firmed that when men­tally fa­tigued, over­all per­for­mance in en­durance and high-per­for­mance ses­sions is neg­a­tively im­pacted.

SO­LU­TION: Sharp­en­ing Tools “Mul­ti­task­ing, task-switch­ing is men­tally de­mand­ing, and prior to a ride it can over­stress the mind,” says Mar­cora. “Just as you shouldn’t ar­rive at a race phys­i­cally ex­hausted, you shouldn’t be men­tally fa­tigued ei­ther.”

Sim­plify your build up to a race, get time off work if you can, avoid tax­ing tasks and have friends or fam­ily help with travel and lo­gis­tics. “Prac­tis­ing good sleep hy­giene – turn­ing off gad­gets and get­ting plenty of sleep – has been shown to help ath­letes’ prepa­ra­tion,” adds Mar­cora. “Tak­ing men­tal breaks dur­ing the work­ing day and even rins­ing your mouth with a caf­feine-con­tain­ing sports drink be­fore a train­ing ses­sion has been shown to counter cog­ni­tive fa­tigue.”

PROB­LEM: Road Rage So­cial me­dia can add a level of healthy com­pet­i­tive­ness to your rou­tine. “It’s use­ful for set­ting goals, hold­ing your­self so­cia­bly ac­count­able, which is pos­i­tive, un­less you don’t achieve them,” says Mar­cora. “It can also be an emo­tion­ally charged, an­gry place.”

What­ever re­sponse it pro­vokes, Mar­cora’s ad­vice is not to bot­tle up any emo­tions, as re­search shows that can ruin a ride. He cites a Uni­ver­sity of Portsmouth study ( pubmed/25226609) in which par­tic­i­pants watched an up­set­ting video be­fore rid­ing a 10km time trial. When par­tic­i­pants sup­pressed their emo­tions they were slower, gen­er­ated lower mean power, and reached a lower max­i­mum heart rate than when they were given no in­struc­tion to sup­press their feel­ings or when they didn’t view the videos.

SO­LU­TION: Chan­nel Your In­ner Ital­ian “It’s easy for me to say, as an Ital­ian, but re­tain­ing that English stiff up­per lip is not good – it’s bet­ter to be more Ital­ian,” says Mar­cora. “Se­ri­ously though, your men­tal fo­cus, your emo­tional state, your anger lev­els or lev­els of mind­ful­ness all con­tribute to your per­for­mance in the sad­dle. If you have reser­va­tions, con­cerns or some­thing trou­bling you it’s bet­ter to let it be known and ad­dress it face on. When you see the pros get­ting so emo­tional that’s why.”

“It’s easy for me to say, as an Ital­ian, but re­tain­ing that English stiff up­per lip is not good – it’s bet­ter to be more Ital­ian…When you see the pros get­ting so emo­tional that’s why”

Pro­fes­sor Sa­muele Mar­cora was in­volved in the ASICS Black­out Track – the first run­ning track to train both the mind and the body

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