As much as we'd all like to just 'be faster and fitter', a vague goal like that is never going to be achievable without specific action. We asked seven cycling fitness experts to offer their advice and to suggest some fun and practical ways to make small but effective changes in your routine that will result in you becoming faster and fitter.
1. Find a group ride – or create one
"There are a variety of studies showing that any sort of resolution — especially those around fitness — are much more successful when at least one other person is involved," said John Verheul of JBV Coaching. "There's just a higher degree of accountability. You're not just letting yourself down when you don't ride, you're letting down your partners as well.
"So maybe you live somewhere where group rides don't exist, or there are very few riders at your ability level. That's okay; start out with one or two other people, so there's a shared commitment. Another benefit is that you will improve at group riding."
Camaraderie and a good draft are two of many reasons to ride with a group
2. Treat yourself to a new piece of gear
If you've bought you a new bike recently, good for you! You'll certainly be itching to ride it. If not, investing in something like a good pair of bib shorts to give you an incentive to get out the door.
"To make that new gear more sustaining as a motivational force, view it as a means to your end and keep that motif like a sticky note on your forehead," said sports psychologist Dr Julie Emmerman. "An additional option is to attribute some meaning to the new gear beyond yourself. Make a personal dedication such as 'The first 500 miles on these new wheels are dedicated to my (fill in the blank here with someone you admire, who passed away, is sick, injured, active duty military or so on)'. The more personal, the better."
3. Adjust your day by one hour
"Go to bed an hour earlier and wake up an hour earlier," said Scott Fliegelman, executive director of FastForward Sports. "Everyone struggles to find the time to workout, especially during the winter months, but there's no better time than first thing in the morning. Roll out of bed and hop right on the trainer or head outside, and get a quality hour in before anyone else wakes up to distract you. Don't forget the importance of recovery in any quality training regimen – a good night's sleep is integral. So get that hour back the night before by skipping late-night TV or web surfing, then hit the pillow 60 minutes earlier."
Well-rested legs are strong legs. Hit the hay early for a better ride the next day
4. Get a training plan
"Most people have between eight and 10 hours a week to train and need to make the most of every hour. So it only makes sense to train with a clear direction through the help of a training plan, rather than just making things up as you go," said Dirk Friel, co-founder of TrainingPeaks. "Training plans are like very good road maps, which help ensure you'll get to where you want to go. If you get an appropriate plan they can also help ensure you'll have enough rest, which can lower your risk of injury. Rest days are just as important as the hard days but we don't get reminded of that enough."
TrainingPeaks claims you are two times more likely to achieve your goal if you have a plan. That statistic is based on a study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology. That study found that when it came to achieving an exercise goal, those who planned their intention by writing down when and where they would exercise each week followed through, while those who read motivational material but did not plan showed no increase in likelihood to perform their exercise than a control group.
5. Get a training tool
Being able to quantify your efforts can be motivating, not to mention being the best way to assess your training and progress. The easiest, most inexpensive way to begin is with a bike computer or even a smartphone app paired with a heart-rate strap. More serious riders may want to get a power meter.
With ride information recorded, "self-coached athletes can analyse their data daily, look for trends and measure improvement," said Frank Overton, owner of FasCat Coaching. "They can log their data into an online tool such as TrainingPeaks or Strava. For athletes with a coach, a training device like a heart-rate monitor or a power meter produces data for athletes and coaches to exchange in order to help each other. For example, the common coach-to-athlete question, 'how are you feeling?' becomes, 'how did you feel while you were making 300 watts and/or 175 beats per minute for that eight-minute climb?' Since the coach knows that 300 watts and/or 175 bpm is 10 percent less that the athlete's threshold power, the answer will help the coach determine if that athlete needs to rest more to avoid overtraining or is fine to continue on with the training calendar in place."
Are you improving or just riding along? A training tool such as a power meter will let you know
6. Get professional help
"Training is repetitive and athletes are habitual, which means some athletes stick to the same methods and ideas even if they've stopped making progress," said Jim Rutberg, editorial director at Carmichael Training Systems. "Other athletes are habitual in that they jump from one training method to another, never allowing enough time to really know what's effective or not. Working with a coach — even for a short time — can introduce athletes to new and vetted training concepts, teach athletes how to integrate new technologies and measure results, and help athletes learn to interpret their physical and emotional responses to training.
"You can get a lot done in a relatively short period of time with a coach," Rutberg said. "For instance, our typical amateur cyclists or triathletes (time-crunched career professionals and/or working parents) sees a 10-15 percent increase in threshold power and a 5- to 10-pound reduction in body weight over his or her first three to six months of CTS coaching. And that holds true whether the athlete is a novice or has been training for 20 years.
"We find one-time coaching consults to be useful as well. Some athletes benefit greatly from just checking in and talking with a professional who specialises in power training, sports nutrition, bike fit, or aerodynamics," Rutberg said. "One etiquette suggestion: Don't just pester the local coach for info on every group ride. Coaches are eager to help athletes and they give away a lot of advice for free, but respect the value of their service and expertise and be ready to compensate them accordingly."
7. Sign up for an event
The best way to get fit is the simplest: commit to an event. This event can be everything from a race to a gran fondo/sportive to a big ride in the mountains with your buddies. Sign up, put it on the calendar and tell friends and family about it so they can support you.
"A huge percentage of success is getting to the start line. Signing up for an event is step one," said Verheul. "Consistency, accountability, keeping it fun, and utilizing professional expertise as needed will get you from signing up to the start line. But that first step is key. It also gives you an actual target to focus on, like a milestone on a long-term project plan. Even with my clients who don't race, we find events for them to focus on for that reason alone."
Video: Top five motivational tips for cycle fitness
Looking for more training advice? Get tips from fellow riders on what works for them in our forum right now.