5 self-coaching tips for competitive riders

5 self-coaching tips for competitive riders

A lot of cyclists and mountain bikers are self-coached, i.e. they plan the majority of their own training rather than employing someone else to do it for them. It can be daunting to plan a year, a season or even a few weeks of training if you don’t know where to start, and it can be even more difficult to execute what you have planned. 

In this post are 5 tips for self-coached athletes wanting to put together their own training plan and coach themselves to success. This advice has helped me a lot in both coaching myself and others, so hopefully they’ll do the same for you.

Know the “why” 

One of the most important parts of being self-coached cyclist of any kind is knowing and being able to justify exactly why a workout is in your plan. If you can’t come up with a good, specific reason, then the likelihood is that it’s there to make up the numbers.

Workouts should have a very clear purpose and be designed to improve your fitness for the demands of your chosen cycling discipline. This becomes more important if you’re time-crunched and don’t have all day to train too. 

Of course, if you come to a rest week and want to include some rides or sessions that are simply for fun, that’s completely fine. Just be careful that when you are training, you’re putting your time into workouts that will induce just the right kind of stimulus to initiate the right adaptions.

Be objective 

One of the dangers of being a self-coached cyclist is that it’s easy to get carried away and not treat your own training plan like you might do if it were someone else’s. There’s a danger that you don’t apply the same level of detail or rules to yourself, which can leave you running into problems with fatigue or not following best practices.

Do you need someone to look over or create a training plan for 2017? Check out my coaching page to see how I can help!
— Tom

For instance, you might be really keen to build fitness and so schedule 6 hard training days back to back. But, would you advise the same thing if you were writing the plan for someone else? 

As self-coached athletes, we have to practice what we would preach and look objectively at what we’re doing. Try to look at your plan as if it were another cyclist’s, and make decisions in more of an objective manner.

This should keep you on track where you otherwise might slack off, or at the other end of the scale, allow you to see when recovery is needed. 

Set goals/work backwards

A lot of athletes planning their own training don’t employ the same level of detail as they would if they were coaching others, and this often manifests in not setting clear goals. What a goal allows you to do is set a very clear reason for your training, as well as a deadline.

With this deadline, you can then work backwards to plan what training needs to be done in your build-up. Without a firm goal, you can end up training by the seat of your pants and never really knowing what you should be doing when. 

Just a calendar or dedicated piece of training software like TrainingPeaks or Strava to log your goal events for the year, and then work backwards to plan the workouts you need to do to prepare. You’ll also find you’re far more motivated to train once you have a timeframe and a reason to put in the work. Check out this post on goal setting if you need some help.

Consult with others

Even though as a self-coached athlete you’re doing most of the work yourself, it’s always good to consult with other riders or coaches from time to time. Remember what we said about being objective? Well this is an opportunity to get some real objectivity and perspective.

If you can’t really find anyone else that you trust to give you some good advice, you can always just look at the training of others to see what they’re doing and to pick up some tips. Strava is a great way to do this, but a simple Google search of top athletes you’re interested in will also often yield some good results.

Try to keep an open-minded approach to advice from others, whilst still remaining critical and a little bit skeptical. 

Stay flexible

Finally, staying flexible is one of the most important but most difficult issues facing the self-coached cyclist. When you have put so much time and effort into creating what looks to be the perfect plan, it can be a little demoralising to change things around.

However, it’s almost certain that you’ll have to change things up somewhere along the way, and you need to be willing to do this when necessary. Never assume that what you have planned is 100% correct, and be wise to when you’re behind or indeed ahead on your training. 

Factors like work commitments, family commitments, injury and illness are inevitably going to get in the way at some point, and are something that even the very top athletes have to deal with.

Always think of the training plan like a road map, and when diversions appear in the road, it’s clear that you have to back up or find an alternative.


Do you have any tips for being a better self-coached cyclist? What mistakes have you made or seen others make? Please let me know by leaving a comment below! 

How to use TrainingPeaks: 3 time-saving hints

How to use TrainingPeaks: 3 time-saving hints

In photos: My custom Merida 96 Team XCO Race Bike

In photos: My custom Merida 96 Team XCO Race Bike