By Martin Sigrist
Takeaway: “Killing two birds with one stone” is usually a good idea if you have the opportunity. Short home gym workouts lasting only a few minutes provide one. If done “metabolically” they will help build or retain muscle and be painful. The latter is good news as it gives a chance to try out some mind hacks to see which work best for you in pushing through the pain barrier that you can then take forward and also use on the bike.
My previous articles dealt with mixed topics, some ideas on how to train better than in a gym at home and introducing some enemies which exist largely in the imagination but are very real threats to achieving an ambition.
Upcoming articles will take the latter subject further but before doing so I thought I’d do something that combines both topics along with some 101 training theory.
My sources are four Athlean-X videos. As I’ve said previously these have to come with a slight health warning, the presentation style is, deliberately direct and some parental discretion may be advised in terms of language. And they push their product, which is fine by me. I’ve no connections with them, not even buying anything and if the price for their content is to listen to a plug or two that’s a price I’m willing to pay. Because I do find that under the brash surface the actual quality of content is consistently high. Anyway disclaimer over, on with the article.
The theme is one that to me is just plain old common sense. If you are doing something then if you can, at the same time, achieve something else with no more effort just do so. It’s captured by the phrase “kill two birds with one stone.” And why stop at two? The more the merrier.
One of the “enemies” in my last article was perhaps the one many fear the most: pain.
Pain exists as an alert to let us know that the mind thinks that something in the body is wrong. It is absolutely critical to survival, without it we would die young.
However there are times when though inevitable pain is unwelcome and training is one of those times. We know that if we can just keep going a few seconds longer the previous minutes will be more worthwhile but its awfully hard.
You can just grit your teeth and push on, but since that is very hard, it’s worth experimenting with some mind hacks that may make it a little less tough. These can come in variety of forms and individuals will vary in terms of what works and what doesn’t.
Mantras are an example — phrases you repeat to take your mind off the hurt. The most famous in cycling is probably Jens Voigt’s “Shut up legs!”
A related method is self talk, maybe “I can do it.” Here’s a hint. If this is your method (first heard on The Sufferfest), try saying “you can do it” instead. There is quite reliable research that talking about yourself as if you are a spectator is more effective not just for workouts but also dealing with other pressures such as the anxiety of making a speech.
Another method is reward. “Another 10 seconds and I’ll have earned that candy (substitute pleasure of choice).”
Or dissociation — where you attempt to focus on something external, trying to take your mind out of your body, music and TV. Apps like the Sufferfest are popular because they use this.
A variant on this is to direct all attention towards some external target, say a shadow in the road a few yards ahead. Then just as you are about to hit it shift to a new one and keep repeating for as long as you can. (On one of my all time hardest climbs on a bike I only managed to keep going by counting the white lines on the side of the road from a kilometre out until I reached the top.)
Something that also works for me is switching from muscle group to muscle group every 5 seconds, pushing them a little bit harder when they have my attention then a little bit less when they don’t. So push a couple of percent harder with the quads then let them “rest” while you push a couple of percent harder with the glutes then repeat.
A variant on the above that also works is to focus on a part of the body that is unaffected by the workout, say your toes or ears. If the mind pays attention to them and finds they are fine it can be less worried about the parts that are not.
An even more effective variant is to really concentrate on essential perishable skills trying to make your form perfect. Say how you are pedaling. This can distract the mind and has the additional benefit of ensuring that the pain is not making you inefficient. This is really bad news as it means at least some of your suffering is for nothing as some of your hard earned power is lost.
Breathing is a perishable skill but also a special case of the above. It will be a topic of a future article but for now it is worth noting the well established fact that breathing does a lot more than simply suck in air. It is intricately connected to the systems that regulate emotion both as a cause and a symptom. Long story short, if your breathing is controlled then you will be likely to feel less stressed and so less affected by pain.
Anything that engages the mind can work. If doing reps or counting seconds try doing it by listing letters of the alphabet or spelling out words (swear words can be especially helpful and if saying them out loud helps then do it, anything is fair game.) This works in part because over time the mind builds associations between things so if you know that once you hit rep 10 things start to hurt then the mind will already be issuing warning signals at rep 7. If instead you recite letters it may confuse it. Doing so backward even more. Or count up then down, so 15 reps is counting up to 8 then back down to 1. This may sound daft, but the whole point of this article is that there is nothing to lose by trying different techniques and everything to gain if it happens to suit you.
Visualization is another technique. Bradley Wiggins, for example, has said that during long time trials he imagines his legs are like the pistons on an old steam engine just relentlessly pushing him forward at the same rate, just needing a little bit more effort when the road goes up, a little be less when down.
Any or all of these may work for you or you may have other methods that work (if so please share them).
The key thing is to practice them and find out what suits you best.
Luckily, pain is pain. By that I mean the pain you feel when cycling hard is the same type of pain as you feel if you try to do push-ups to failure. It’s caused by our energy producing metabolism producing by products (hydrogen ions which create an acidic environment) too quickly for our natural waste management’s buffering systems to cope with. Training increases the power when this occurs but the pain remains the same once the balance is tipped.
Hence the link between keeping fit by having a home gym and dealing with imaginary enemies. It’s possible to kill two birds with one stone by seeing what mind hacks help you deal with pain even if you are doing a 5 minute dumb bell workout to improve your shoulders.
It does though depend on the nature of the workout.
This brings me to the first video. This is an overview of the basic principles of weight training. (Don’t be put off by the talk of “building muscle.” It won’t make you slower on Strava — it is something everyone should try to do, especially when getting older.)
Hopefully the entire video will be of interest but the key section is about method 2, “metabolic training.” This is what we cyclists know and love as short but sharp interval training. The underlying physiology is the same, the interval doesn’t really start to have a training benefit until it starts to hurt and then the longer you can bear that hurt the better it will work.
With that background information in hand here are three more videos with some examples of metabolic gym workouts. My suggestion is to try them and at the same time experiment with pain mind hacks that allow you to go a bit further, even if it’s just a few seconds or one rep more. Anything is fair game, the only important thing is that it works for you.
The advantage they have in this regard is that they all take only a few minutes from start to finish and can be done at any time that’s convenient with minimal equipment. So there is plenty of scope to practice different things compared to the one or maybe two hard interval sessions you will be doing on your bike per week. As explained above recovery should also be quick as well as they should not cause excessive muscle soreness.
Full Body Workouts
Abs specific workout (along with some others as cyclist can always benefit from improving their core stability both in terms of increased performance and reduced pain / discomfort)
Now among the world’s fittest sexagenarians Martin Sigrist started riding on doctor’s orders in 2005 and had to push his bike up his first hill. Next year he soloed the Tour de France. He has since experienced every form of road cycling from criterium to ultra endurance. His ongoing mission is to use the latest in science and technology to fight a, so far successful, battle against Father Time.