How to Prepare for and Conquer Your Hardest Workouts
It’s your time to conquer! After watching the blockbuster performances in the Tour de France and the Tour de France Femmes, you may be motivated to push harder during your next workout. Whether that next training session involves hill repeats, cross training, or leg day at the gym, you know it won’t be easy. So how do you prepare your mind and body for burning hamstrings, screaming quads, and intrusive thoughts?
Training sessions that push you past your limits, prepare your body to handle pain and discomfort when you need to drop the hammer and pull away from the peloton, bridge the gap to lead a group, or cement a podium spot. The hard work, determination, and discipline needed to accomplish these feats can be challenging on not just the body, but also the mind. “Hard workouts can require a lot of mental energy, especially if you’re by yourself,” explains US-based track cyclist and 2024 Olympic hopeful Dalton Walters.
Here are the pro’s tips for getting through those gruelling, hard workouts that test your limits.
Physical and mental preparation is key to preparing for workouts, especially if you are training alone. When you feel motivated, heading for a training session may not require much preparation. But, when motivation is less than optimal, simply getting out the door is a win. In those days, Walters suggests that “if I just pack up to train or put my kit on for a ride, the idea of knocking out my workout becomes much easier.”
Don’t Suffer Alone
When motivating yourself is hard, call a friend. One study in the Society of Behavioral Medicine found that exercising with a partner improved performance. Former professional cyclist and founder of The Last Best Ride, Jessica Cerra, recommends not doing all your hard workouts alone. “There’s something to be said for the discipline it takes to hammer out hill intervals, but I find that a hard group ride, using a race for training, or trying to do a ride with those stronger than me gets me the most prepared. It’s hard to replicate efforts like that on your own and gives a lot of confidence for race day,” says Cerra.
Pushing to stay with the group or complete an interval with a friend is known as the Köhler Effect—the idea is that no one wants to be considered the weakest link when working in a group. Therefore, everyone tends to push harder than they would if working out alone, especially with stronger and fitter people.
Embrace Discomfort and Visualise
With expectations settled, your work begins. As beads of sweat collect on your forehead, your breath quickens, and sips of liquid no longer quench your thirst, you venture into some of the more challenging segments of your training. In these moments, the question of pushing through versus scaling back your effort or stopping becomes very real. Holding on for a few more minutes when your quads and hamstrings are burning can be overwhelming. “There is a time and place to ignore the body’s cues to shut it down. Challenging yourself to endure the discomfort is necessary,” explains Walters.
As you embrace discomfort, take the time to visualise placing well or having a good performance, recommends Cerra. The same goes for visualising quitting and the feelings that come with it. “When I want to give up, I imagine the feeling that comes five minutes after giving up, and it’s one filled with regret, and that is worst!“ says Cerra.
Don’t Be Afraid to Fail
Conquering pain during your workout is essential, but there is a limit. “Never put yourself in a position where you risk your health or ability to maintain consistency,” says Walters. Additionally, if you are struggling with your workout and heart rate, power, or overall quality of the effort is far off, I shut it down. It’s okay to fail in training—that’s what it’s there for.
Want To Conquer? Have Patience
Regardless of the goal, incremental gains will build your tolerance for pushing to the next level. Patience is probably the most underrated strategy for gaining strength and endurance, especially after an injury or time off the bike.
“As athletes, we will always push the limits sooner than most, but once you dip your toe in the water, there is no going back. The most intense interval an athlete will ever face is the interval of patience while injured. It rivals any VO2 [max] workout I’ve ever done. It’s so painful, and you must do it every day for weeks. But that patience makes you tough,” stressed Cerra.