cycling fitness goals

Top 5 Reasons Cyclists Fail to Reach Fitness Goals


By Jim Rutberg,
CTS Pro Coach, co-author of “The Time-Crunched Cyclist”, “Training Essentials for Ultrarunning”, and “Ride Inside

We’ve arrived at the time of the year when athletes are wrapping up their summer seasons and looking forward to the next steps in their training and competition calendars. For most coached athletes, these are great conversations about victories, personal bests, and great personal achievements. But there are also some tough conversations about DNFs, mid-pack finishes, and goals unreached. When we talk with self-coached athletes there are a lot more of the latter than the former. So, if you had less-than-stellar results for the summer, here are some likely reasons and some proven solutions.

Training Was Too Scattered

You did an endurance workout on the weekend, a sprint workout on Tuesday, a climbing workout on Wednesday, and a group ride on Thursday. But sometimes you jumped into the Tuesday group ride and just skipped the climbing workout altogether.

The basic premise of periodization says you must focus on something, ANYTHING, to overload the system and stimulate an adaptation. When you were a beginner, just riding or running did the trick. Now, you must focus your efforts on accumulating sufficient time-at-intensity to create a meaningful training stimulus. Once you have moderate to advanced fitness, block training featuring focused and repeated efforts is the best way to achieve the overload necessary.

Training Was Too Inconsistent

The trouble with summer is that there’s SO MUCH FUN TO BE HAD! You can ride, run, hike, swim, drink beer on the back porch, go to the baseball game, go to the beach, etc. Inconsistency is a common thread with athletes who fail to reach their goals. You might execute workouts perfectly, when you do them, but you’re not sticking to a schedule that’s conducive to training progress.

Missing training means you’re diminishing your total cumulative workload – both in terms of time-at-intensity as well as caloric expenditure – for the training period. The quality of individual workouts can’t fill that void. Either modify your schedule so you can be more consistent or modify your expectations so they’re more realistic.

You Didn’t Do Enough

I know it’s hard to hear, but many times it’s true. There are some genuine cases of athletes who overdo it with training, but undertraining is more common than overtraining. This is particularly true with Time-Crunched Cyclists. It is difficult to be overtrained when you’re riding 3-4 days for a total of 8 hours or fewer per week. It’s not impossible, however, because overtraining is also affected by lack of sleep, high lifestyle stress, poor nutrition habits, etc.

If you progress stalled despite training consistently, not missing workouts, fueling yourself properly, and following a plan, it’s time to look at how much work is included in the plan. You may have outgrown it. It may not be strenuous enough or have the time-at-intensity necessary to induce a training stimulus.

Remember, it’s okay to be exhausted. It’s okay to do intervals until you’re weak as a kitten on the way home. You must give yourself time to recover, but you must also do something hard enough to recover from!

You only focused on the bike

What you do off the bike plays a big role in how you perform on it. With Time-Crunched Cyclists, mobility and flexibility can be limiting factors for performance. This is often exacerbated by sedentary jobs, lots of time sitting in front of laptops, and not enough walking. For greater performance and comfort on the bike, consider these glute exercises, this 10-minute core strength routine, and these post-ride stretches. These hip mobility exercises are also good for cyclists and runners.

You didn’t eat for training success

Under-fueling and poor nutrient timing are two problems CTS Coaches often see with athletes who are underperforming. Cycling has a long and unfortunate history of encouraging undereating out of a desire for minimizing bodyweight. For most amateur cyclists, however, under-fueling hinders training progress more than weight loss would improve it. In other words, big gains come from first focusing on the power side of the power-to-weight equation. And to do that, you need calories!

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Poor nutrient timing hinders performance by misallocating energy availability. There are times for low-carbohydrate availability training protocols, but not before hard interval workouts. Higher-intensity interval workouts are more effective when you start with full carbohydrate stores.

Similarly, post-workout nutrient timing matters. The 30- to 60-minute post-workout “glycogen window” may not be as critical as once thought, but it’s still an opportunity to improve recovery. The other nutrition opportunity many cyclists miss involves protein. For better recovery and improved muscle protein synthesis, aim to consume 1.4-2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day. However, consume it in 20- to 40-gram portions of protein throughout the day rather in one or two big servings.

What To Do About It:

Get Over It

What’s done is done. It sucks to fail and it’s good to let that feeling sink in for a moment. You don’t want to be here again. You also don’t want to drag that feeling with you any longer than you need to. So let it go. People who achieve great wins sometimes let that success lull them into a false sense that they don’t have to work as hard now. And people who fall short sometimes let past failures create boundaries for what they can achieve in the future. Both are dangerous scenarios. Learn from the past, but don’t let it define your future.

Get Organized

Organization – in your training, career, and lifestyle – is one of the key hallmarks of a successful athlete. Order is helpful because it reduces lifestyle stress and increases training consistency, and that leads to improved training quality. One thing we notice with new CTS Athletes is that often their training is already reasonably well organized. The bigger challenge – and opportunity – is helping them organize their resources and reduce lifestyle stress by making changes at work and at home.

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Get Working

Even if you fell short of some goals, you’re most likely more fit now than you were at the beginning of the year. Your current fitness is your ticket to greater success in the next 12 months. What you do in the next three months will play a huge role in determining whether you exceed your expectations or have another so-so season. So now is not the time to throw up your hands in frustration, grab a beer, and plop down on the couch for football season. There’s work to be done!


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