By Chris Carmichael,
Founder and Head Coach of CTS
Most people who read my blog posts are year-round athletes, meaning the New Year probably is less of a cold start and more of a recommitment to training after a few months of intermittent exercise, indulgent eating, and a bit too much wine (or whiskey). To reset your habits and kickstart performance for 2020, I need you to be strict and focused for 14 days.
Fitness has momentum, and when you’re training haphazardly, eating mindlessly, and sleeping erratically, your fitness is just sputtering along and losing momentum. During this time, a good training session isn’t enough to get you going because too much time lapses before the next one. A day or two of mindful eating gets offset by a boozy, sugar-laden dinner party. And all the travel, parties, and alcohol obliterate your sleep routine. To get back on course and pick up steam, you need consistency in as many aspects of training, nutrition, and recovery as possible.
When making long-lasting lifestyle changes, the normal recommendation is to make small, incremental changes over time. Making a lot of changes in 14 days would seem to contradict that guidance, except that most of these changes are simply getting back to your normal behaviors that were recently disrupted.
The 14-day kickstart is meant to get back up to speed and centered on solid and sustainable habits. Be strict and focused, and then evaluate what’s working and what need to be adjusted. If you follow through and do these things for 14 days, in two weeks you’ll feel energized, a bit stronger, a bit lighter, and ready to tackle the rest of the year.
Ride Every Day
I would almost never recommend an athlete train 14 consecutive days without a complete rest day, but in this case I’m just talking about getting on your bike for 14 consecutive days. It can be a mixture of endurance rides, moderate-intensity intervals, easy spins, and rides to the coffee shop. The routine in the point, not the training schedule. Aim for 8-10 hours per week, or 16-20 hours over the 14 days. Some of the rides should be longer, like 2-3 hours, and some can be simple 20-30 minute spins. Just get on the bike and make cycling a part of your day.
If you absolutely can’t ride for 14 straight days, aim for at least 5 rides per week. You may only be able to sustain 3-4 rides per week throughout the year, but for this short period of time, make the effort to get on the bike daily, or nearly every day.
Commit to Cooking
Preparing your meals creates a meaningful connection with the food you’re putting in your body. You notice the balance of whole food versus processed and ultra-processed ingredients when you’re the one adding them to the pot. People who cook tend to purchase higher-quality whole foods, more vegetables, fruit, and lean proteins. And if you’re preparing your own meals you will almost never add the amounts of salt, sugar, or trans fat found in meals that come out of a package or a restaurant kitchen.
Yes, cooking takes more time, but that’s part of benefit. Ideally it is a break from the phone and emails, and perhaps a chance to talk about your day with your partner and/or children. On nights that I’m by myself, I use my cooking time as an opportunity to catch up on podcasts and audio books.
Set Your Sleep Routine
If you participated in the D35 Challenge in December, you hopefully recorded 200 hours of sleep last month and ushered in the New Year well rested. Sleep is potentially the most important factor for overall health and training success, and a tremendous number of Americans are chronically sleep-deprived. For 14 nights, commit to a specific bed time that enables you to sleep for at least 8 hours before a scheduled wake up time.
To improve the quality of your sleep, make sure the room is cool, dark, and uncluttered. Prepare for sleep by turning off backlit screens at least an hour before bedtime and leaving your phone outside the bedroom. If you have to get up during the night to use the bathroom, turn on as few lights as possible (light is your body’s signal it’s time to wake up).
Focus on Fluids
There are two reasons why fluids should be a part of your 14-day kickstart. First, chronic dehydration is remarkably common among athletes. In many cases, you might be consuming enough fluid during a ride, but not enough throughout the rest of the day. As a result, the scale might say you’re not losing much water weight during exercise, but your pre-workout weight might be lower than it should be because you’re already dehydrated.
An easy way to assess your day-to-day hydration is the WUT test. When you wake up, assess your level of thirst (greater thirst indicates low hydration status). Then observe the color of your urine (dark urine indicates low hydration status). After you have urinated, weigh yourself without clothing (your weight should stay within 1% day to day). The WUT concept, described in greater detail here, was devised by researchers Cheuvront and Sawka and states that when only one of three indices is positive (indicates low hydration status) your hydration status is likely good. When two of the three indices are positive, you are likely dehydrated. And when all three indices are positive you are very likely to be dehydrated.
Adjusting your daily fluid intake over a 14-day period will improve all other aspects of your training and recovery. You’ll feel better on the bike, more alert during work, and you’ll sleep better. Just don’t guzzle large quantities of water right before bed, particularly if you already struggle to make it through the night without waking up to use the bathroom.
Strength Train Every Day
As with riding every day for 14 days, the idea here is to re-establish the habit and routine of strength training. If you haven’t been strength training at all, this two-week period serves as a movement primer before you start adding more resistance. The movements should be basic and use bodyweight, bands, or a gravity trainer (think TRX) for resistance. Try the exercises in these articles to get started: 5 Great No-Equipment Strength Exercises for Cyclists, Triathletes, and Runners, Build a Back for Cycling, Cycling + Strength: My 90-Minute Full Body Workout, and Best Gear and Workout for Home or Travel.
Connect With Your Community
Whether it’s riding with one buddy, jumping into an indoor cycling class, going to the group ride, or connecting virtually during a Zwift group ride or e-race, connecting with your community should be part of your 14-day kickstart. The benefits of social connections to your training should not be underestimated. Your friends, family, and training partners are your support system and those relationships have to be nurtured so those people will be there when you’re struggling. Similarly, one of the most rewarding parts of being active in the athletic community is being able to help someone else when they are struggling.
Pro Tip: The goal is to come out of your 14-day kickstart energized, both mentally and physically. That means the workouts (cycling and strength training) have to be easy to moderate in intensity. You’re not trying to work extra hard for 14 days to ramp up your fitness more quickly. Doing that will leave you exhausted after two weeks, and then you’ll quit. That’s not what we want. What we want is to re-establish the routines, habits, and processes that will build your momentum and get you rolling into a strong and successful 2020.