Coach Hughes: Cycling Mental Training pt. 2
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Intelligent Cycling Training—Mental

Part 2: Gathering Energy

It’s close to midnight . I hear the stream flowing down Butts Canyon. I feel a waterfall . . . my legs are spinning like a water wheel. With each breath I draw in more power and spin effortlessly. I’m 100 miles into a 400-mile ride and I feel great!

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

How can we learn to ride in that moment where we feel energized? In the first column we learned to simply breathe, to focus on breathing to calm the emotions that often conflict with riding efficiently. In this column we’ll learn to use breathing to gather energy. If we are tense or upset, we breathe in less energy, and we waste energy in unproductive emotions.

Find a time in your busy day when you can be quietly by yourself for about ten minutes. Begin the practice by lying quietly on your back on the floor with your hands resting on your lower abdomen. . . . your mouth is closed softly . . . breathe through your nose . . . deep into your abdomen . . . feel your hands rise and fall.

Start by spending a few minutes practicing the same breathing exercises as last month:

  • Notice the rhythm of your breathes
  • Feel the inspirations
  • And then let go of any tension on the exhalations

Then focus on the inspirations. Inhale and feel energy flowing into your lungs. Imagine a white mist flowing in and filling your lungs. . . . swirling through your chest. Breathe deeply and slowly . . . the white mist completely fills your lungs. As you exhale, notice that the mist is slightly tainted.

When you can feel the white energy flowing into your lungs and the used energy flowing out, then extend the image. Visualize the white mist flowing past your abdomen. See the mist flowing into your pelvis and hips . . . and down your legs. Feel the energy radiating down with each inhalation and flowing back up and out with each exhalation.

As you inhale, you draw in oxygen, and you exhale carbon dioxide. You literally draw in life and exhale fatigue. As you inhale, imagine the white mist rising up into your spine . . . and neck . . . and swirling through your head . . . and as you exhale your mind is cleansed.

Spend a month working with this exercise, learning to breathe in energy . . . to direct the energy to different parts of the body . . . and to flush exhausted energy from the mind and muscles out through the lungs.

After a month of learning to feel the energy flow in and out, start practicing on the bike. First, as you inhale, feel energy flowing into your legs. The image is the same as when you inhale while lying still. Then extend the image: feel the energy flowing in a smooth circle as you spin. Focus on the feeling of energy flowing and spinning. See if you can imagine the energy flowing directly to the wheels.

As you ride, experiment with different images of flowing energy. Try to find an image that works for you. A powerful image for me is a waterfall. If I am relaxed, focusing on breathing and gathering energy with each breathe, my legs spin as easily as a waterwheel.

Of course, there are days when my waterwheel creaks and groans! Learning to let energy flow through my body takes practice. Any effective training takes time and discipline. We spend hours in the gym in the winter, in the belief that spin classes and weight lifting will make us stronger and faster on the bike. Mental training takes the same discipline. Keep practicing 10 minutes a day, five or six days a week.

In the next column we’ll learn to manage pain.

Relax, Breath, 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:

Originally printed in UltraCycling