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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Psychology for Competitive Cyclists

The psychological aspects of cycling should not be ignored, in fact, you can not.  Simply put, athletes are not pure machines.  We have thoughts, emotions, feelings, beliefs and values which in turn effect our behaviors.  As a result, athletic performance can be greatly connected to psychological or mental factors.  My intent in this article is to discuss psychology for bike racing and identify several skills and techniques, including anxiety management, attention and concentration control (focus), imagery, visual mental practice, and self talk, that can improve performance.

Let's begin with visualization, or the technique of using one's imagination to picture or imagine specific behaviors or events that have or can occur in one's life.  It is important to note, that the act of visualization can significantly improve an athlete's performance.  The value of visualization or mental practice is well established in research.

One such study used sixty beginning basketball players split into three groups of twenty each.  The first group practiced shooting baskets from the free-throw line, attempting a specified number of shots in a specified time for a period of two weeks.  The second group was asked to do the same thing, but only as a visualization or in their "mind's eye".  The third group was a control group and performed neither mental or actual shooting practice.

Each group was tested at the beginning and end of their two-week practice.  As expected, the third group didn't improve.  The group who only used visualization, or mental practice, however, improved almost as much as those who physically trained. (Dan Millman 1999)

In another well known study on visualization in sports, Russian scientists compared four groups of Olympic athletes in terms of their training schedules:
     Group 1 = 100% physical training;
     Group 2 =  75%  physical training with 25% mental training
     Group 3 =  50%  physical training with 50% mental training
     Group 4 =  25%  physical training with 75% mental training

Group 4, with 75% of their time devoted to mental training, performed the best.  "The Soviets had discovered that mental images can act as a prelude to muscular impulses." (Scaglione & Cummins 1993)

The Brain Cannot Tell The Difference Between a Real and an Imagined Action

"According to Lynne McTaggart in her book The Intentional Experiment, electromyography (EMG) has shown that the brain does not differentiate between the thought of an action and a real action.  In an experiment with a group of skiers, EMG discovered that when they mentally rehearsed their downhill runs, the electrical impulses sent to the muscles were the same as when physically engaged in the runs." (Chadwick 2009)  This illustrates the power of visualization. 

This information is HUGE in it's potential impact on athletic training and performance.

A few clear advantages of mental practice versus physical practice is that it's safe, you can do it anywhere, anytime, it produces no physical bodily wear, and because mental practice can be error free, there's no fear of failure.  For competitive cyclists it's an ideal way to rehearse hairy field sprints, or dangerous mountainous descents, and high speed cornering, etc.

Here's how I personally applied visualization to my goal of winning a National Championship.  Among many details,  well in advance of the race, I used the internet and Google mapping to inspect the course that I would be racing on, and later I rode the actual course before the race.   Throughout my training and racing season, I visualized the course and the riders that I had raced against the previous year repetitively in my mind.  I also mentally re-raced the finish of the previous year's National Championship races in my mind with several variations of possible tactics and with as much sensory detail as I could muster.  Always, I would be victorious in my visualizations.   I would imagine myself riding flawlessly, no errors, just perfection. I would imagine myself  calm, collected, confident, calculated, and alert, exhibiting perfect drafting, bike handling, and apply perfect tactical  racing.  I would think keywords such as:  smooth, invincible, strong, smart, patient, focused, etc.    I did this over and over again throughout the year, on my stationary trainer, on long rides, sometimes before sleep and also during travel to races.  In races, I would recall the keywords (smooth, focused, confident, etc) to boost my confidence and performance.     This virtual training combined with my actual training lead me to believe that I could win and become a National Champion, which in fact, I did.  

I have added some more material to the topic of "Psychology for Competitive Cyclists".  It can be found and read by clicking here.

To learn about the best video camera in the world for videoing cycling (which is the cameras that I use for my videos) click here.  


  1. THis is GREAT stuff! I too believe that fully. In my days as a gymnast, I would 'learn' difficult stunts by mentally doing them over and over and then it would be easy. When I visualize sprinting in a crit race, my heart pounds and my adrenaline starts pumping, and it seems real.

  2. Yes! Visualization is huge in gymnastics. Some of my research is from Dan Millman who was a great gymnast and coach.

    I always get worked up watching the finish of stage finish on the tv. I'm pretty sure that's one of the primary reasons folks watch sporting events (whether live or on tv).

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  5. Thank you so much for sharing this great blog.Very inspiring and helpful too.Hope you continue to share more of your ideas.I will definitely love to read.



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