How to improve your motivation when training

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How to improve your motivation when training

Nine tips to boost your motivation on the bike

Whether you’re training, racing, or simply riding for enjoyment, keeping your motivation high is key to achieving your goals.

Those goals can be a race win, a personal record on a Strava segment, a challenging sportive, or simply maintaining fitness.

How can you boost your motivation for training? (pic: Sirotti)

It’s a given that staying motivated and focused in your riding will not only boost the likelihood of meeting your goals, but how can you ensure you keep yourself moving forward towards them when life and other factors can get in the way, interrupting your flow and progress?

We asked two sports psychology experts for their top tips.

Make your goal a dream

Motivation can stem from a variety of sources, but the type of goal needs to be something that stands out, says Dave Readle, performance psychologist and former cyclist with the Great Britain Cycling Team.

Ensure your goal is one which would mean a lot to you when achieved (pic: Sirotti)

“Set your sights on a goal that makes you say, ‘wow’,” he explains. “It can be a race win, a long sportive challenge or simply achieving a local climb.

“The important thing is it needs to be important to you and give you a sense of achievement when you cross the finish line.”

Make sure your goal meets two key points

James Lambdon, performance psychologist at the Physio and Sports Science Centre at the University of Bath, claims there are two key tenets to effective goal-setting that’ll help you maintain your focus and enthusiasm for the challenge.

“Firstly, you need to have a degree of autonomy when choosing your targets,” he says. “That means having an element of choice, because if a training plan is completely prescribed with no input from you, that can be de-motivating in itself.

Make sure you have had input into your training plan and targets (Pic: Simon Wilkinson/SWPix.com)

“If you have a coach, discuss how you’re going to do your training so you’re involved in the process.

“Secondly, once the big goal has been identified, set small, achievable targets for the duration of your training plan – what psychologists refer to as ‘process goals’ – which will give a sense of improvement as you build up.

“Keep those process goals relevant to the ultimate goal, too. You can do that by working backwards from your target event to ascertain what’s needed in the middle.”

Keep it clear and present

Goals can be easily pushed aside and forgotten about in the business of everyday life. However, Readle recommends displaying a symbolic image of your goal in plain sight so that you’re reminded regularly of what it is you’re striving towards.

Keep striking images of your ultimate goal in places you’re likely to see it often – this helps you align your focus (pic: Garmin)

“Having a picture of your ultimate goal somewhere often-visited, like your kitchen cupboard or bedroom will ensure that you can’t hide from it. It’ll help align your focus on what it is you’re trying to achieve.”

Also, just as variety and renewal of training methods helps keep your body guessing and adapting, consider renewing the image when a particularly powerful one crops up to keep your mind focused.

Track and display your progress

“Make graphs and charts that display your progress in some form, so that you can easily visualise how you’re getting on,” says Readle. “This works particularly well for goals based on numbers, like a time target for a 10-mile time trial.

Keep a close eye on your progress, using charts or graphs (Pic: Simon Wilkinson/SWPix.com)

“Likewise, rewarding yourself with a school-style smiley face sticker chart when you tick of a marker might also work if your goal is less black and white.

– How to create and use an effective training diary –

“Either way, you can see yourself making gains and notice trends while charting your progress, helping you to keep faith on your training schedule, or recognise when it’s time to shake things up if progress stagnates.”

Vary your training

If the very heart of a motivating training plan is seeing progress as you improve, variability helps as you stimulate your body in different ways. Mixing things up, however, can also have profound psychological benefits, too.

“Varying your training keeps you challenged – which will help motivate you to get out on your bike, keeping things fresh,” says Lambdon. That could mean going further, or riding at higher speed or power output, or simply reversing the route you normally ride.

Vary your training routes, or push yourself a little harder on certain rides to keep things fresh (pic: Garmin)

“Additionally, this links to confidence. If you change how and where you train, you’ll build a wider foundation of experience and ability, and therefore confidence that you can ride at different intensities and changing circumstances.

– Six training loops to build form and boost motivation – 

“Having that belief can be motivating, encouraging you to improve, while if conditions are slightly different to how you anticipated them in your target event, you know you can adapt because you have the experience to do so.”

Keep it social

Training on your own can be challenging, not least because there’s nothing to take your mind off the task you’ve set yourself. Even Olympic athletes train in groups, so why not you?

The pro riders keep it social when they’re training, so why shouldn’t you? (pic: Sirotti)

“The social aspect of training works because it means you can all support each other through your journey, having empathy, someone to talk to on same level who can understand what you’re going through,” claims Readle, who sees this kind of environment regularly with British Cycling.

“The other side of that is accountability – if you arrange to meet up for a ride, you’re less likely to miss it or not bother. Also, you’ll push each other with each other’s strengths and weaknesses – chasing your climber friends on the hills, or working hard to rotate through on the flat.”

Look outwards, not inwards

While associating physical exertion with progress is important to keeping you motivated to put yourself into difficulty, that awareness needs to be tempered with a certain level of dissociation from internal feelings.

Take your mind off the task in hand by taking in the roads and backdrops around you (pic: Spice Roads)

As Lambdon explains: “Keeping your mind occupied away from the difficulty of the current training session will help you get through it. That could mean looking at the scenery, or chatting with training partners, or thinking about something else off the bike.”

Certain training weeks and sessions can be hard, so being able to take your mind off the difficulty, pain and – dare we say it – potential boredom of practicing a skill you don’t like normally doing is a key tool for any athlete, cyclists included.

Develop a ‘challenge state’

As Lambdon explains, a ‘challenge state’ is a state of mind where an athlete is ready and able to rise to a challenging situation. The trick, however, is developing this approach in training.

Focus on the variables you can control to develop a ‘challenge state’ (pic: Anton Mittinen)

“Your goal should be to feel as though any situation that might reasonably present itself is within your grasp to meet. If you don’t develop this feeling, it can result in demotivation. A good example is when a rider crashes, and struggles to get motivated to get back on the bike,” he says.

“It’s best, therefore, to focus on the variables that you can control, rather than the things you can’t. This will help you develop the confidence borne of self-control as you aim towards your goal.”

Reset your goals

Once you’ve achieved your goal(s), it can be hard to then find motivation in continuing without a new goal in mind.

Once you have achieved your goals, a well-earned break can be taken – but give thought straight away to your next goals, even if that may be something away from cycling

Readle explains: “It’s important to make sure you reset your goals so you have something new to strive for and achieve. For example, many Olympic athletes actually suffer some kind of depression when the goal they’ve aimed for in one moment has been completed. They then ask ‘what do I do next with my life?’.

“Having something else to aim for – maybe with thought given to it in a well-earned break after your achievement or event – will help you regain drive and focus.

“Also, it’s fine to diversify for a while too; it can be in cycling, or elsewhere for a while, while you refresh.”

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