In the last year or so, I have really started to focus on how I prepare for a hard workout. It can be so tempting to think that day to day life and training are two entirely separate things. The truth is, they highly impact each other. As a coach, I often hone in on when my athletes are stressed about work or family or maybe just had a less than great day. All aspects of life can influence your training.
So, how can we prepare for a hard workout and leave all other stressors behind? How can be optimize our body for the next few hours on the bike? How can we check all of the boxes before a workout so that we know we gave ourselves the best chance we could to hit our goals on that day?
There is no magic solution, but these are the steps that have worked for me. Please note that each workout you do can be influenced by days leading up to it. This post is designed to help you optimize the workout just based on the hours beforehand. Consider this your checklist before walking out the door.
- Nutrition and Hydration
Food is fuel! I cannot tell you how many times I have heard someone say they flopped a workout because they, “forgot to eat breakfast” or “realized I didn’t drink water all day!” These things are so simple to fix once we start putting just a little bit of focus on them.
For me, my go-to hard workout fuel is pancakes. It gives me fast energy and is easy to digest. Before I race, I try to eat my meal 3 hours before. I am a little more relaxed before a workout but I will still try to keep it in the 2-3 hour window before a workout to avoid any extra stress on my body. I might have another small snack like a Gu or Chews right before walking out the door.
It might be worth noting that eating 15-75 minutes before exercising has shown to make some people feel more fatigued at the start of exercise due to a greater prevalence of hypoglycemic levels of blood glucose. This is usually self-corrected within 10 minutes of beginning exercise but if you are experiencing any of those sensations that could be why.
Finally, don’t forget to hydrate! Hydration starts days in advance. You cannot correct dehydration just by chugging an entire bottle before walking out the door, but if you decide not to hydrate the day of your workout you can certainly hinder yourself even further. Make a conscious effort to drink water or electrolytes before your workout.
- Compression Boots/Massage Gun/Foam Roll
These types of modalities can help mobilize tissues and/or increase circulation which will make your warm up go even more smoothly. I am a big fan of including at least one or all of these modalities before and after a workout.
Not only do they help my legs feel more prepared but they force me to get off of my feet for a moment and they act as a signal to my brain that we are about to put in some hard work.
- Mindfullness Moment
It only takes 5 minutes! That’s something I have to tell myself a lot in order to get this one in. I’ve always fought back a little against meditation. I like to go-go-go, so sitting still can be very challenging, but makes it even more important for me to carve out 5 minutes to do this before a workout.
You can approach mindfullness many ways. You can sit and visualize a positive outcome of a workout or a race. You can sit and practice breathing focusing on box breathing or other techniques. You can use a modality such as HeartMath M-Wave to actually measure your mind/body coherence or you can just sit and think thoughts of gratitude.
I find putting myself in this state before a workout helps me to leave other stressors behind, increases my ability to focus on gratitude while riding, and ultimately helps me achieve higher numbers on the bike.
- Activation/Mobilization Exercises
I do not static stretch before working out. It has been shown to decrease power and endurance. I do, however, always complete activation or mobilization exercises before a workout.
Consider this your mini injury prevention for the day. This is the time to complete a short version of any rehabilitation exercises you have been prescribed. I usually complete some exercises that help ensure my pelvis is neutral when I start my ride.
Not sure what to do here? As cyclists, we can almost always benefit from some glute activations. Try completing a few clam shells or fire hydrants before jumping on the bike.
- Amp Human
I always put on Amp Human before my hard workouts. I like to put it on and let it sit for almost 20 minutes before walking out of the door. Personally, I have felt a big difference from using Amp Human so it’s something that I like to include in my routine, especially when I have really hard intervals where I expect that lactic acid will be pooling in my muscles.
- Prepare Equipment
It’s all good, until it’s not. Make sure you have everything you need before walking out the door. It’s so frustrating to be half way through your incredibly hard interval set and suddenly experience a mechanical.
Before heading out the door here is your equipment checklist:
- Orange Seal Sealant Top Off
- Lube Chain
- Bolt Check
- Ride Nutrition/Hydration
- Mini Pump and Multi-Tool
- Warm Up
Finally, get in a good warm up! I think that what constitutes a good warm up is an entirely different training tip, but the point is, make sure you are giving yourself a chance by warming up well. Be patient with your body. Don’t ask too much of it too early and make sure you get your legs moving and heart rate up before starting your intervals.
Also! Don’t judge how the workout will go during the warm up. There have been many times that I have struggled through a warm up only to have break-through interval sets.
Finally, go ride your bike! Have fun, be safe, and don’t over-think it.