As a freshmen in college I was required to take quite a few course that had nothing to do with my major. One of these courses was meant to deal with the stresses of being a college student.
I actually enjoyed this course and have been able to apply many of its tenants to my life. lets start with a new one. a relaxed cyclist is faster, safer and much more confident cyclist.
Do you find your self in a solo ride practically crying because of a stiff neck? Do you find yourself exhausted half way through a fast group ride because you are freaked out by the bar to bar and wheel to wheel nature of the ride? What about races? Are you nervous, fearful and tense?
All cyclists have been from time to time but we either intuitively learn how to improve or compensate. Some of us never learn and we become an endangered species in the peleton.
Relaxation should be thought of as equal parts performance enhancer and recovery technique. So the techniques can be used on and off the bike.
Physical activity creates both good and sometimes bad stress. Same is true for competitive activities. as a competitive cyclist you want some, physical, mental and emotional stress but to much and you may loose the race before you start.
here are some tips to help alleviate stress and tension.
Off the Bike
- Breath meditation is easy and very relaxing. Start with 5 minutes of siting up right in quiet room and focusing only on your breathing. breathing deeply without exaggeration and keeping your mind clear is key. if you have a stray thought its OK just recognize them for what they are and let them pass.
- Muscle tension and release is especially effective at the end of a tough training day. as you lay down to sleep start with focused deep unexaggerated breathing then starting with your toes tense them up and relax them down 3 or more times. You now want to do the same thing progressively through out your body. Tense and release your ankles, calves, knees, hips, abdomen, chest, arms, fingers, neck, and face.
- Creative Visualization is another tool I have written about. Using the above two methods plus using your minds eye to put yourself into stressful moments and prevail against the stress will also greatly increase your ability to conquer stress. to do this effectively you funny enough need to start off relaxed hence the above two methods. think of the following as super charged day dreaming. Use all the detail you can with your imagery. Weather, sights, smells, sensations, and even sounds. the more of these incorporated the better the visualization the better chance you have of training your mind and body to release what makes you tense and anxious.
On the Bike
- A tensed body is doomed. When you are tense you may just feel your stomach, neck, shoulders or other parts of your body tighten. what actually is happening is multiple sets of muscles are contracting not just the ones listed above. this chain reaction causes fatigue that can and must be avoided. as an endurance athlete we need to use our muscles sparingly this economy of endurance cannot happen when tense.
- While on the bike ask yourself am I tense? If so what is tense? Once you pinpoint what muscle group(s) are tense try to stretch then relax them. you may need to do this several times.
- Ask yourself am I breathing to hard. I can hear it now “Of course I am breathing hard I am in a race!” but are you over doing it because of panic or the heat of the moment.
- Here is a quick tip that is one of my favorites. when in a race especially Time Trials let your lower lip relax and visualize it flapping in the breeze. You will be amazed how the rest of your body will relax.
- When riding in the drops or hudz from time to time tense your shoulders and relax them. doing so will help relax your shoulders and neck.
- Also when riding the hudz or drops be sure to keep your elbows slightly bent. if you do not, your not only unstable your putting unnecessary stress on your upper body.
- If you can stand out of the saddle quickly tighten and release each calf followed by the quads, glutes and lower back.
The above are just a small sampling of ways to release stress so you can ride confidently, safely and fast.
If you have examples of how you do this don’t be shy leave a comment. until then relax its only a race.