Coach Hughes: Cycling Mental Training pt. 1
John Hughes cycling training home
John Hughes cycling training coaching
Clients on John Hughes cycling coaching
Clients on John Hughes cycling coaching
John Hughes cycling resume
Book by John Hughes on endurance cycling training
Why hire a coach like John Hughes
Contact John Hughes about coaching for cycling training
  

  
Intelligent Cycling Training—Mental

Part 1: Calming the Emotions

“Whether on RAAM or a double-century ride, our mental state is often what determines whether we finish the ride successfully or pack it in early. ”—Bernie Comeau, RAAM Rider

by John Hughes
© John Hughes, All Rights Reserved

John Hughes is the author of Distance Cycling and many articles on training, nutrition, psychology and medical issues for RoadBikeRider.com. He is a veteran of Paris-Brest-Paris ’79, ’87, ’91, ’95, ’99, Boston-Montreal-Boston ’92 (course record), Rocky Mountain 1200 ’04, Furnace Creek 508 ’89 (course record) and ’93 (first place) and the Race Across America ’96.

Mental Training Techniques: Relax, Breathe, Do Nothing Extra
Part 1: Calming the Emotions
Part 2: Gathering Energy
Part 3: Managing Pain
Part 4: Creating a Positive Attitude
Part 5: Visualizing an Event

Just before and during a cycling event your mental state is may be a mishmash of thoughts and feelings that are chasing each other in circles:

Thought <-> Feeling
“don’t go too hard” <-> anxiety
“awesome scenery” <-> happiness
“I’m trashed” <-> depression

At first it may be amusing to feel the cycle of thoughts and emotions, but after a while riding the roller coaster gets old and starts interfering with your performance.

Our thoughts and feelings have a profound effect on how we ride. Fortunately, we can learn to manage the emotions and to focus on the ride. Andrea Clavadetscher, RAAM 2001 winner, knew that to win the race, he had to train his brain, for the brain controls the emotions. He spent at least an hour a day practicing various forms of meditation including deep breathing exercises, yoga and Tibetan exercises.

Many of us are approaching the limits of physical training, but can learn to ride much better with improved mental skills. In this series of columns I’ll teach mental skills based on a breathing technique that I’ve been using for years. Simply breathing can help:

  1. calm the emotions
  2. gather energy
  3. manage pain
  4. create a positive attitude
  5. visualize an event

The key is to simply breathe. Relax, breathe, and do nothing extra.

Let’s get started:

Find a time in your busy day when you can be quietly by yourself for about ten minutes. First thing in the morning is a good time to practice as is the end of the day. You could combine the breathing practice with stretching or riding, although you’ll get more benefit if initially you focus simply on breathing.

Lie quietly on your back with your hands resting between your pubic bone and belly button. Close your eyes. Close your mouth softly and breathe through your nose. Breathe from the abdomen—your hands should feel your belly rise and fall.

First, just be aware of your breath. Notice the rhythm of the breath. Feel the breath coming in and out. Notice how long it takes to inhale . . . and exhale. Spend a couple of minutes feeling yourself breathe. Notice if anything changes. Are your breaths getting longer? Or deeper?

Once you feel the rhythm, then focus on the in-breath. Feel the breath entering your nose. Feel it moving down your throat and into your lungs. Feel yourself taking in energy. It may help to imagine that you are inhaling a white mist. Feel how deeply into your lungs the breath comes. Is your breathing changing?

Finally, use the breathing to relax.

  1. Clench your hands into fists and bend your wrists inward so they are tight. Hold them for about five seconds as you inhale . . . and release the tension as you exhale . . . and inhale deeply into your relaxed body . . . and exhale.
  2. Scrunch your shoulders up toward your ears and tighten your neck muscles, pulling your head back slightly. Hold as you inhale . . . and release as you exhale. . . . and inhale . . . and exhale.
  3. Clench your jaw, press your lips together and frown. Hold as you inhale . . . and release as you exhale. . . . and inhale . . . and exhale.
  4. Finally, tense your sphincter. Hold as you inhale . . . and release as you exhale. . . . and inhale . . . and exhale.

As you do the above, you may notice that when you are tense, you don’t breathe as freely and deeply. However, by being aware of the tension and then focusing on relaxing as you exhale, you can relax.

Learning to be aware of the breath is a skill, a skill that teaches you how to focus, to let go of distractions. You can then focus your energy on riding down the road.

Try to practice this breathing skill at least four days a week:

  1. Noticing the rhythm
  2. Feeling the inhalation
  3. Feeling the exhalation
  4. Relaxing any tension

In the next column we’ll learn to use breathing to gather energy.

Relax, Breathe, Do Nothing Extra
Part 1: Calming the Emotions
Part 2: Gathering Energy
Part 3: Managing Pain
Part 4: Creating a Positive Attitude
Part 5: Visualizing an Event

For more information see:

Resources:

  • Lynch, Jerry. & A. H. Chungliang, Working Out, Working Within, Penguin Putnam, Inc., New York, 1998
  • Miller, Saul & P. M. Hill, Sport Psychology for Cyclists, VeloPress, Boulder, CO, 1999
  • Young, Shinzen, Meditation in the Zone (audiotape), Sounds True, Boulder, CO, 1996

Originally printed in UltraCycling