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8 reasons why you’re not getting faster at cycling, and what you can do to improve

Goal-setting for 2024? Whether your aim is to compete or just to get to work a bit quicker, here are some top tips to help you accomplish your two-wheeled mission

Last year, I decided I was going to pull my finger out and be the fastest I’d ever been on a bike. My motivation lasted until about mid-February, at which point I'd pretty much burnt out. This year though, things are going to be different. I’m going to be realistic, motivated and most importantly, sensible! So, let's take a look at how to really improve on the bike in 2024. 

2022 wheels test, Liam riding shot

I probably would have told you the same at this point last year, but I’m confident that I’ve got a plan in place to prevent a repeat. That’s because instead of some fad New Year's resolution that I stand no chance of keeping, I’ll be following a dynamic training plan on the Join Cycling app. I’ve also got some tips off of their World Tour-level cycling coaches to see where my training has been going wrong.

Without further ado, here are eight ways you might be going wrong with your riding that is preventing you from improving, and what you can do to avoid falling into these training traps... 

1. You’re not being consistent

2023 jamie and aaron indoor training turbo

The start of the year is a great time to start afresh, and my initial goal was to see how many watts I could increase my FTP by in January, whilst my motivation is at its highest. Luckily before it was too late, the guys at Join Cycling told me that this was a stupid idea, and was a surefire way to repeat what happened last year, i.e. burning out.

Because Jim van den Berg - the founder and CEO of Join Cycling - still coaches the likes of Taco van der Hoorn of Intermarché and former Dutch champion Pascal Eenkhoorn of Lotto, I thought I’d better listen…

The truth is that you can make very little difference to your cycling fitness in 30 days. Yes, you can tune yourself up to be better at a short effort, but any meaningful gains are made over a much longer time period.

2024 join cc app

This year it’s sustainable gains that I want to make, and that means increasing my cycling fitness. By doing so, I should be able to cycle faster for longer and put out more power at my current weight.

According to Join’s proprietary level system to monitor my fitness and progression, I’m currently a level 28, so I’m not a completely untrained beginner (0) but I’ve got some way to go until I’m at level 50 world-class Tour de France GC contender!

2024 join cc workout suggestion

So, how many weeks of consistent training do you need to do before seeing fitness improvements? Well, Join Cycling has conducted its own research and found that with only three to five hours of training per week, the progression of its users after 13 weeks is around 8%. Not bad! If I can see an 8% increase in fitness after just three months, I’ll be very happy. 

If you are to see those kinds of gains, then you need to train consistently for several months at least. That means starting sustainably rather than going crazy to begin with.

2. You’re not allowing for flexibility

2023 Zwift winter training video riding shot

Obviously, there are going to be weeks that we find it easier to train than others, whether that’s due to the weather, other commitments or illness. It’s here that my training usually falls apart, as I miss a session and then try to play catch-up. The truth is that missing one session isn’t the be-all and end-all. Even a Grand Tour isn’t won or lost from one missed ride.

When planning your training you need to allow yourself some flexibility, allowing for adjustments and changing around the immovable bit of your life. 

2022 Jamie and Liam winter kit jacket

I don’t want a training plan stopping me from going on a spontaneous group ride with my mates, and I don’t want to feel guilty if I have to cut a session short. Most of all, I don’t want to do sessions that are inconvenient for me. Luckily my training plan on Join will be updated immediately and will change dynamically to adapt to my progress, training goals and busy life.

3. You don’t have the right goals

If you’re anything like me then you need goals to work towards to keep yourself motivated - but how can you make sure they’re the right ones for you?

Well, Join Cycling allows you to select a tailored training plan or event. You can also create your own custom cycling goal. These can sometimes feel a little far off, so it's good to track your progress and see how good you are compared to friends, colleagues, neighbours, or even Pogačar!

Perfs Pedal race, 2023 (Credit - Ian Wrightson)
(Ian Wrightson)

Now’s as good a time as any to set goals for the year, but you need to make sure those goals are: 

  • Specific: Don’t just be vague! Pick a certain event, or if you want to be more competitive in a group ride - who is it you want to beat, and where? On a hill? In a town sign sprint? Work that out first.
  • Measurable: How are you actually going to know when you’ve been successful? Define what the goal is. It could be getting around a big bucket list ride, or getting under a certain time for an event or particular distance.
  • Achievable: You need to find the right level of challenge vs achievability so that your goals aren't going to demoralise you. 
  • Relevant: I’d recommend setting both long-term and short-term goals. Maybe you want to do an Ironman triathlon one day, and by summer you want to be stronger on the bike. Those two goals align, but you wouldn’t want your short-term goal to be to have a wicked sprint like Fabio Jakobsen, because that could harm your long-term objective.
  • Time-based: Finally, it’s important to know when you want to achieve this goal, so stick it in the diary, whenever it might be.

4. You’re too concerned about the numbers

2023 Wahoo Summit Freeride - 2

Numbers are great. It's no coincidence that pro riders are a lot faster now than a few decades ago, when they have access to highly accurate power meters and heart rate monitors. However, there’s most definitely a point where you can take the data too far. We aren’t machines, and sometimes there’s simply no explanation for not being able to hit those targets.

If you get back from a ride and your average speed is lower than usual, you couldn’t hold that power for as long as you would have liked or just generally felt that you didn’t get the reward of speed for all your effort, don’t worry. It won’t always be like that!

2023 turbo kit taking a drink hydration

The human body is a funny and temperamental thing, so accept that the same session is going to feel different on any two separate days. It is worth noting how you felt during each session though, so you can begin to draw patterns between when you feel good and not so good, as well as using this to locate your strengths, weaknesses and symptoms of being under the weather.

5. You’re doing the wrong sessions

2024 join cc workouts

If anyone tries to tell you that there’s such a thing as a magic workout, they’re a liar! There’s no fast-track way to getting fit - just because one workout works for someone, doesn’t mean that it’ll elevate your performance to the same extent.

However, there is such a thing as a good combination of workouts which will take into account your current level of fitness, your strengths and weaknesses and what you’re training for. Once you know this, you can tailor your training to focus on specific areas, ensuring you work within the appropriate intensity zones

2022 wheels test, Jamie riding shot 2

We all know that doing set workouts is a reliable method for getting quicker or raising your FTP. However, the team at Join Cycling are refreshingly flexible when it comes to just going out for a ride, pointing out that even pro cyclists don't do 100% structured training. 

Integrating a handful of structured sessions into your plan will take your training to the next level, but how do you know that this session that’s going to take up all your willpower is going to deliver the gains you deserve?

2024 join cc computer workouts

Signing up to the Join Cycling app is particularly useful if you don't have the time to devise your own sessions. You have access to over 400 sessions which are recommended based on your entire profile, previous training, weaknesses, and targets.

6. You’re trying to do it by yourself

2023 Jamie and Tom Odd Down riding shot expensive vs cheap speed test

Especially during the winter, motivating yourself to get in the saddle and turn the pedals can be challenging after a hard day at work. This year, I'm going to try not to do it alone. 

Whenever possible, join group rides, find a cycling club, or message a cycling buddy, informing them of your challenge. Chances are you'll motivate each other, making it easier to tackle the most challenging part: actually getting on the bike.

Wild Wales - Group Graveltrack Descent.jpeg

You can share your goals with a riding buddy as well as set up a private cycling group. This is an ideal way to organise group rides to make sure you don't bail at the last minute or put off riding. You can even exchange information about your training plan and routes to see what sessions you might be able to join other people on. 

7. You’re not resting properly

Recovery is important for everyone, not just the world’s best athletes. While cyclists may naturally experience a slight decline in performance from day to day, the key is to minimise this decline.

2023 mid efforts jamie lanza grimace, interval

It almost goes without saying that your recovery should be longer after hard and lengthy workouts, so this year I'm going to try a polarised training plan. That means that around 80% of my training will be easy and around 20% of my training will be hard.

It's easy to fall into the trap of riding too hard during long endurance rides, which can often leave you exhausted and unable to fully complete more challenging sessions and efforts in the subsequent days. 

2024 recovery tips join cc video

In 2024, try to make sure that your endurance sessions are actually easy, so that you can give the hard efforts your all. An ever-changing training plan is going to help here. 

If you want to read more on how to recover properly, check out 11 tips on the website. 

8. You think all hours are created equal

Last year, I set myself a goal of riding at least 150km each week, whatever the weather. However, this usually meant that by Sunday I was in a state of panic trying to cram in the remaining 149km or so. 

The coaches at Join Cycling have made me realise that it matters how you spread your time across the week, calling it frequency first. 

2023 Jamie riding shot Bwlch climb

The idea is that you must get the frequency of your workouts right first, then volume, then finally, take care of intensity. In other words, training for an hour three times a week can yield greater benefits than opting for a single three-hour ride. Additionally, this approach may be easier to fit into a busy schedule once you get into the habit. 

Training more often also helps to create a routine, and if you do train more frequently, you are more likely to pick up the bike again. After all, exercise is addictive, and unlike most other addictions, this is one you can grow old with just fine. Take advantage of these happiness hormones and let the serotonins, endorphins and dopamine motivate you for your next workout.

2022 jamie riding shot lanzarote

What changes will you be making to your training in 2024? Let us know in the comments section below...

Jamie has been riding bikes since a tender age but really caught the bug for racing and reviewing whilst studying towards a master's in Mechanical engineering at Swansea University. Having graduated, he decided he really quite liked working with bikes and is now a full-time addition to the team. When not writing about tech news or working on the Youtube channel, you can still find him racing local crits trying to cling on to his cat 2 licence...and missing every break going...

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Velophaart_95 | 3 months ago

Or you could always just go out to ride, and enjoy it; take in the scenery, have a pub lunch/ cafe stop. 

Performance isn't everything...... #partypace 

demondig | 3 months ago

My own life suggests other possibilities, alas  - 

9. You just aren't capable of getting any faster.

10. You are starting to suffer from the debilitating effects of age.

Safety replied to demondig | 3 months ago

Agreed, or in the not so subtle words of my beloved. "Oh for God's sake your in your 60s what do you expect?".

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