Train­ing Tips

Rid­ing well in high tem­per­a­tures is not only a phys­i­cal feat, but a men­tal one, too

Canadian Cycling Magazine - - CONTENTS - By Stephen Che­ung

Use your brain to beat the heat

Sum­mer days are long, of­fer­ing cy­clists the chance to work on their renowned tan lines. But even in a north­ern na­tion like Canada, there can be too much of a good thing with high heat and hu­mid­ity set­tling over many parts of the coun­try for weeks, even months.

Even moderately warm out­door tem­per­a­tures can slow you down. The op­ti­mal tem­per­a­tures for peak ex­er­cise per­for­mance is in the range of 10–15 C. When the air is warmer, the body’s need to ther­moreg­u­late means blood gets drawn away from the mus­cles to the skin and body fluids to the sweat glands to get rid of heat.

Two well-ac­cepted strate­gies to counter the heat is to en­sure ad­e­quate hy­dra­tion and to adapt grad­u­ally through­out one to two weeks. Both op­ti­mize your phys­i­ol­ogy to be able to han­dle the ad­di­tional stress.

New re­search, how­ever, is show­ing that how we men­tally ap­proach the dis­com­fort from high tem­per­a­tures can ac­tu­ally help us to ride longer and harder. In 2008, Martin Bar­wood, then at the Uni­ver­sity of Portsmouth, tested trained run­ners per­form­ing a 90-minute tread­mill time trial in 30 C. One group then did four one-hour ses­sions, train­ing on a wide range of sport psy­chol­ogy tools, in­clud­ing goal-set­ting, arousal reg­u­la­tion, men­tal im­agery and pos­i­tive self-talk. The psy­cho­log­i­cal train­ing was specif­i­cally fo­cused on “in­creas­ing dis­tance cov­ered in the fi­nal run.”

The power of this psy­cho­log­i­cal train­ing was quite re­mark­able. Mem­bers of this group, with only brief train­ing, in­creased their 90-minute run­ning dis­tance by a highly sig­nif­i­cant 1.15 km, whereas those in the con­trol group who con­tin­ued their nor­mal phys­i­cal train­ing had a non-sig­nif­i­cant in­crease of 0.12 km. Due to the broad na­ture of the sport psy­chol­ogy in­ter­ven­tion, the re­searchers could not pin­point which of the tech­niques was most ben­e­fi­cial.

This past win­ter, my lab in the depart­ment of ki­ne­si­ol­ogy at Brock Uni­ver­sity pub­lished a study de­lib­er­ately tar­get­ing men­tal train­ing to im­prove our per­cep­tion of, and tol­er­ance for, the dis­com­forts of ex­er­cis­ing in the heat. We fo­cused on mo­ti­va­tional skills train­ing, which tries to re­fo­cus neg­a­tive state­ments and thoughts about the heat (for ex­am­ple: “‘this sucks” or “it’s so hot”) and re­place them with per­son­ally mean­ing­ful mo­ti­va­tional state­ments, such as “keep push­ing,” “you’re do­ing well” and “I’m fo­cused.”

Af­ter two weeks prac­tis­ing this tech­nique, the trained cy­clists re­peated a very hard ride at 80 per cent peak power out­put to ex­haus­tion in 35 C. The rid­ers in the mo­ti­va­tional skills group im­proved their tol­er­ance time by 29 per cent and also in­creased their fi­nal core tem­per­a­ture with no ad­di­tional dis­com­fort, whereas those in the con­trol group de­creased their times slightly by 4 per cent. In­ter­est­ingly, the men­tally trained group’s high per­for­mance seems to come from its abil­ity to tol­er­ate a very high level of dis­com­fort for much longer than con­trol group.

This sum­mer, con­sider adding men­tal skills to your cy­cling tool­box when tack­ling long hard rides. Keep tabs on your thoughts, es­pe­cially any neg­a­tive feel­ings, and re­place them with a set of prac­ticed and per­son­ally mean­ing­ful pos­i­tive state­ments.

“My lab pub­lished a study de­lib­er­ately tar­get­ing men­tal train­ing to im­prove our per­cep­tion of, and tol­er­ance for, the dis­com­forts of ex­er­cis­ing in the heat.”

Ryan Roth cools down dur­ing a hot BC Su­per­week

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