Get the most out of your training and improve on the bike.
Do you feel frustrated because you’re riding more, but not seeing the improvements you want?
This is a common problem many cyclists encounter at some point or another. But there’s an easy fix — you likely need more structure to your training. And if that doesn’t sound quite right, then don’t worry. We’ve gathered other common culprits that can slow your progress.
Here are 5 reasons (and common mistakes) why you’re not improving on the bike.
1. You’re riding too much
The more you ride, the better you’ll get. But there’s one big caveat — you still need time to rest and recover, and you can’t overtrain or get injured; otherwise, you defeat the purpose of riding more (if you’re injured or can’t train, you miss out on the necessary physiological adaptations).
And while riding more is great for building your base, increasing strength, and developing bike handling skills, riding too much may hamper your cycling progress.
Allow at least one day of complete rest a week (no time on the bike). You can also add 1-2 easy recovery rides (zone 1) to help recover from those harder sessions.
2. There’s no structure to your training
If you’re just “riding your bike” with no real structure, you’ll struggle to improve. But there’s good news (if that’s you) then you have a lot of room for improvement.
Let’s say you ride 4x a week and complete your local 40 km loop — there are a few hills, a nice descent, and a nasty headwind once in a while. On those rides, you’ll be dipping in and out of all of the training zones. That means you’re not getting the maximum training adaptations, and might be building up unnecessary fatigue.
A better way to train is to follow a training plan that stresses all of the required zones to receive the necessary physiological adaptations to improve. Typically, that includes training by power (using a power metre) or heart rate (HR). And while power is a better indicator of effort, some method of measurement are better than none.
So if you’re not improving on the bike but don’t have any structure or training in the necessary zones, adding structure will help you get better. It’s guaranteed!
3. You’re not doing threshold or speed work
Threshold training (zone 4), teaches your body to clear lactate more efficiently. Adding threshold and speed work to your training will also increase your functional threshold power (FTP) over time.
That means you can cycle at a higher intensity for longer periods of time with less fatigue. If you haven’t done any threshold training before, start with 5-minute intervals with 2-3 minutes of rest between efforts. Build this up over time, but start simple – don’t overcomplicate it, and you will see results.And, of course, you can add speed training — anaerobic efforts in the higher zones, which will develop your upper anaerobic capacity and utilisation.
4. You’re neglecting your core
A lot of cyclists do no strength training, and even fewer cyclists train their core muscles.
Core stability provides the foundation from which power is generated on the bike, according to research. And while training your core might not seem like a big deal, adding core training to your routine can improve stability, power output, reduce imbalances and weaknesses, and reduce your risk of injury.
Train your core like any other muscle group — that means include a mix of exercises to target the individual muscles and perform these at a mix of reps and sets. Aim for 2 sessions a week, 3 max.
5. You don’t know how to fuel correctly for your rides
One of the biggest mistakes cyclists make is not knowing how to fuel correctly for their rides, especially rides longer than 1 hour.
Beginners just starting out often fall into the trap of not eating on the bike and not taking on not nearly enough fluids. Besides, why would you eat while cycling? The longer you ride, the more you deplete your glycogen stores. That means less energy, and in turn, your performance is likely to suffer.
Getting enough of the right foods and calories during your ride can also help prevent the dreaded “bonk,” also known as “hitting the wall.” This is when you deplete the glycogen stores and have very little energy left.
So how much should you eat and drink to not only prevent “bonking” but to maintain your performance throughout your entire ride with few (or no) dips in energy levels?
On rides longer than 1 hour, you should eat little and often. Aim for 30-60 grams of carbohydrates per hour, and consume plenty of fluids (more on hot and humid days).
Related: Why is hydration important in sports?
Why you’re not improving on the bike: to summarise
If you’re not improving on the bike but you’re riding consistently, then there are likely a few tweaks you can make to your training to start seeing progress. Often, the main culprit for many cyclists is a lack of structure (that includes no threshold, speed work, and other sessions).
But to summarise, you’re likely not improving because:
How can I increase my cycling speed?
Add structure to your training and perform a mix of workouts, including threshold and speed work, to increase your cycling speed.
Does cycling get easier the more you do it?
Yes! The more you cycle, the easier it becomes. But you’ll still have to work hard to improve your fitness and functional threshold power (FTP).
Why am I not getting faster at cycling?
You’re not getting faster (most likely) because you have no structure to your training and do not ride in the necessary zones to facilitate the necessary adaptations to improve.