Episode #73 – 7 High Performance Principles for Cycling

Episode #73 – 7 High Performance Principles for Cycling

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These High-Performance principles apply to every competitive cyclist – not just those at the top. These principles will help you understand how to keep developing your cycling to be better year after year. It’s not just about training smart, but it’s also how you adapt and change over time, and the people you surround yourself, including the type of relationship you have with your coach, and yourself.[buzzsprout episode=’134826′ player=’true’]

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Continuing on from the theme of last week. In style and substance is a look at 7 High-Performance principles to gain a broader sense of how you can consistently perform at your best. The hyphenated word high-performance is thrown around a lot, but what is behind creating the culture to support your own high-performance?

I’m exploring this with the of a blog post, which I believe was originally a talk given by Ross Tucker PhD. If you don’t know Dr Tucker he’s a bit of a gun when it comes to working in the world of HP, and also taking the occasional look from the outside.


High Performance Principles by Ross Ticker PhD


He talks about these principles in the context of sports and business, and creating a high performance culture in a team. Semi-Pros don’t usually move in packs, or at least there is not a lot of group think, and team dynamics in individual cyclists training, and preparation – I thought it would be cool to break out these principles as they stand for Semi-Pros.

Like Tucker says, these principles are not to be seen as formulaic because performing is so complex. Also, like Tucker I hope these principles inspires some thinking and questions.

1. People and purpose

Finding the right people to advise your training is critical to your success. Coaches, training partners, life partners, your cycling club and/or team. Each one of these people have a role in your cycling life. Choosing the right people for each job will not only create strength, but flexibility and guidance, and support.

And by support, I’m not talking a professional support – although you should pay your coach well. It’s more like your swannie is your wife, your general manager your father, your Director Sportif is your club captain, your mechanic is at your local bike shop, and your nutritionist is The Feedzone Cookbook.

Also, as Jim Rohn famously said that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. Make the people on your cycling ‘team’ the best people possible, and you can’t lose.

Part of the equation of finding the right people is looking at their ‘why’. Everyone has a motive for most if not all of their actions. So a great filter is finding out why the people around you love cycling, what motivates to do what they do. Hint: It’s not just for the money.

Tucker has a great graphic in the post breaking down High-Performance into 4 boxes: get the right people in the right places, give them a powerful purpose to ensure they’re doing the right things, and then make sure you do things right. That’s high performance.

2. Invest in understanding everything

Tucker writes about how small the the margins between success and failure are, and to think of them as “what ifs?”.

It is this paragraph that really stands out though

“The remarkable thing, however, is that this difference, often as small as 0.01%, is ‘fixed’ in the sense that if you held the same race 10 times, you’d get the same overall outcome nine or ten times.  How can that be?  In my experience, it’s because that final result is the outcome of all the things that go into preparation, practice and optimizing the performance outcome.  In other words, the result is ‘decided’ before the first whistle in the match, or the sound of the starter’s gun.”

I’ve often thought about this – the idea that all the work is done before the race – physical, mental, mechanical – whatever. But the importance of understanding each part of the performance puzzle – and addressing them in preparation – is what I do as a coach, as a cyclist, as a business person.

Using research, knowledge and experience to predict an outcome of close to reality as possible. Not leaving anything to chance by covering as many of these elements as possible – like Tucker says:

“You’re either investing in the pursuit of “everything”, or you’re hoping for luck.”

Understanding in modern cycling means analysis. And the information we have access to in increasing every year. But the outcome of the analysis itself is not the answer. Much like one of my favourite sayings – you can’t polish a turd. If you put shit in you will get shit out – so the understanding is as Tucker says, in the questions you ask. Understanding the ‘inputs’– it’s about knowing what it takes to win, and then optimizing all those input factors.

Limited resources can really get in the way here, even team Sky would bump up against some limits of analysis and execution. For the Semi-Pro it’s about creating a culture around your key factors, so that you don’t waste time analyzing meaningless things. Which means you can then invest heavily in the things that matter, and leave everything else alone.

This is driven by understanding of the specificity of your event, and knowing what it takes to win. Rather than being reactive to other forces, you set the course and control the inputs first, then shift when necessary. Always question your answers, and direction at every opportunity. Because just like an aeroplane pilot makes small directional changes after takeoff – they still get where they’re going.

3. Innovate, adapt, change

The only certainty in life is change, and that this saying will remain the same.  Everything else is up for review. Rules change, opposition changes, equipment changes, and so success today is by no means a guarantee of success tomorrow.

Tucker sees that this happens for two reasons:

One is that success inspires imitation, and so your rivals will close the gap simply by borrowing from, and enhancing, what made you successful. The information about performance usual trickles down from the PRO ranks – whether it’s training techniques or equipment – if it worked in the PRO peloton chances are at some point we will get hold of it. At which time the cycle continues – the leading edge cyclists may get an advantage from being an earlier adopter – but then as the information of product moves to the long tail – the advantage will diminish. At which time you need something new to create a gap again.

Second, you’ll get worse, because the tiny little things that got you to the top tend to be forgotten once there. Laziness, complacency, lack of motivation? I’m sure they all play a role – has this happened to you? When a rider gets stuck in their ways, or trains the same way ‘just because they don’t know any other way’. Then this can signal the beginning of the end.

To avoid becoming obsolete or simply out trained you must stay flexible, and able to adapt to stay ahead of the curve, what works and wins in the present is likely to be exposed as inferior in the future. I’m sure some old timers have some great stories about the cycling training of yesteryear, just like we’ll have in another 20 years or so.

Thus, the key requirement for sustained success is constant adaptation. It’s not really about reading all the latest scientific papers, or even reading all the latest books. It’s more like having a go to trustworthy resource that can filter out the bogus info information from the legit stuff.

Staying on top is also a matter of being prepared to make changes when you come across them.

“Surviving, and thriving, means capitalizing on change, not avoiding it.  If you aren’t moving forward, you’re as good as dead.”

4. The paradox of failure

As Tucker puts it – The paradox of failure is that those who wish to be successful are also those who are best able to fail – the “good failures”.  Being a “good failure” means understanding that innovation, progress and improvement are never smooth processes, that failure is inevitable, and is an opportunity to learn.  It’s not really failure, even, but rather it’s gathering intelligence on what might work.

I’m a big believer in failing fast – meaning go hard and risk the crash and burn, but do it quickly so you can get moving again faster, and smarter.

Part of this process for the Semi-Pro is having a safe environment in which to fail. Whether on a micro-level like eating the wrong food in training and wasting the ride, or blowing up in a B race and wasting the race, instead of an A race. A coach can help you facilitate failure at the right time, so that your future success is not compromised and still comes later.

“An athlete who pushes their body to the point of ‘failure’ is demanding adaptation that will, provided recovery is optimal, shift the limit in future.  A coach who teaches new techniques or tactics must expect players to stumble and feel their way nervously at first, making numerous errors, before success comes when it matters most.”

My Two key adapted requirements that enable ‘good failure’:

First, understand that failure will happen when you are pushing into any new territory. This mindset will help you move past any failure much quicker – help you to take as much as possible from it – and then enable you to apply the information to change the second outcome.

Second, the timing of failure is crucial to your season. It may (and will) happen at unexpected times, in which case refer back to the first point. But if you can, balance between stability and innovation, and allow for some degree of failure. Try new things when you know there is some leeway or room to bounce back. This means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but at it’s core is understanding the risks and benefits of trying new things at the right times.

5. Restlessness

Related to #3 and #4 above, high performance environments are by nature restless.  They always seek the next thing, and never accept the status quo. Complacency and satisfaction are the enemies of progress.

Satisfaction is good, but complete satisfaction means the journey is over.

The journey is never over in the Semi-Pro world, because the competition never stops.

Tucker talks about this as being this concept being the essence of high performance, because high performance is not about being the best, it’s about being better.  If you can be better today than you were yesterday, better this month than last month, better this season than last season, then you are achieving high performance.

“Not everyone can win, but everyone can be better.”

It’s a nice way of allowing everyone to compete with themselves. Which is a big part of being a Semi-Pro. It’s not just about competing to win – it’s about trying to be the best you can be, with the resources you’ve got.

So, adaptation, innovation and the ability to fail exist in this constructive discontent.  In cycling and life, discontent drives progress.  The challenge is creating, by design, a collective restlessness in your life, and this is the art of hunger.

6. Responsiveness

The classic top down hierarchy is when you’re a coach, you give the orders, when you’re the rider you take the orders. This system is unresponsive, inefficient and ineffective. By allowing knowledge and instructions to flow both ways – utilises the knowledge and experience of all parties involved.

This comes with new responsibility of athletes to take control of their own bodies, and consult with their coach. I’m sure you are already interested in your own training, and how your body operates under certain conditions. This principles is about not letting that go the moment you get a coach. Staying active and alert, eager and ready to learn and question any decision your coach makes.

The best way to out this is: if an athlete knows they are not responding to a training session. They can quickly notify the coach of what happened, noting the unusual sensations felt during the ride. A decision can be made much more effectively and quickly because the coach wasn’t left to solve a puzzle from scratch, he just had to put a couple of piece in place. This same time and effort, and results in much more efficient training and recovery.

Responsiveness are where all parties involved, coach and athlete are independent and tasked with some aspect of strategy and tactics, and thus able to adapt and move instantly in response to opposition and the changing environment.

7. Balance

Tucker rounds out the principles with balance because in each principle a balance that must be sought.

The sliding scale between innovation and consolidating what you already do well is the best way to picture the role of high-performance in your cycling training. It’s a balance between risk and reward, between variety and stability, between freedom and control.

Your approach to anything high performance involves deciding where the balance lies for every principle of this list, or each ‘input’ you decide on. This is part of the art of managing your performance – and getting the most out of your situation while not risking your investment.




Photo Credit: thelearningcurvedotcom on Flickr


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Build fitness on a realistic schedule with this time-saving planner.

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