Seven Habits of a Successful Athlete

The below is taken from an original article published by Frank Overton (one of the forefathers of training with a power meter).  It's based on his experience coaching cyclists and gives some invaluable insight into his learnings that are highly relevant to all Endurance & Multi Sport athletes.

You’ve probably heard of the book “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”.  I’m a fan and over my coaching years, I’ve noticed how the same principles apply to cyclists: their habits to be successful.

Most masters cyclists are focused on success in all aspects of life: their relationships, their kids, career, and of course their cycling goals. This ‘life balance’ as I call it requires an ever-changing delicate tip-toeing.  There are factors working against older athletes, especially age. Father time…constantly decreasing our power output since power meters were invented.  Recovery is an issue too: masters cyclists don’t bounce back like they did in their 20’s & 30’s.  And last but not least, master cyclists simply don’t have all day train. For some carving out 45-60 minutes to train is a victory.

How do they improve, get faster and sometimes win? What makes masters cyclists successful? Here are seven habits I’ve noticed from coaching successful masters cyclists.

SEVEN HABITS OF SUCCESSFUL MASTER CYCLISTS

  • They ride in the morning.
  • They trust and follow their training plan.
  • They win in the kitchen*.
  • They recover well.
  • They are flexible with their day to day training and they commit to it for the long haul.
  • They train with power, upload their data to TrainingPeaks, AND leave post activity comments.
  • They enjoy training, work hard and set goals.

 

To double check what I’ve noticed, I reached out to other successful masters cyclists and pro coaches who have won national championships to ask them about their #1 successful habit. They had phenomenal advice that you can start using right away!

 

They go to bed early

Successful Masters Athletes go to bed early. This is another way of saying “they get enough sleep”, but that starts with identifying when you one has to get up (what masters age athlete doesn’t have a plethora of responsibilities, be it kids, or a career?) and counting back to be in bed in time to get the amount of sleep needed. By the time one is a masters athlete, they should know how much sleep they need every night to perform optimally, and benefit from the training stress generated. Whether that’s 7, 8, 9 hours or even more, getting that amount of sleep starts with going to bed early enough to get it. There are other details that impact sleep hygiene (blackout the room or use a sleep mask; earplugs; no screen time, alcohol or caffeine after a certain time; etc.), but the most basic step one can take to get the sleep needed to perform optimally is to get to bed as early as needed to get that sleep.

 

They focus on the big picture and don’t obsess over the small stuff.

You see riders fretting over little details, like counting calories, hitting certain power goals in each workout, or having just the right equipment. Often this comes at the cost of their sanity, work, relationships, or even their actual training. Prioritise different aspects of your fitness goals and life goals. Know when to be a hard athlete and stick it out and do that workout in bad weather, but also know when it’s snowing and it’s dangerous that might be best to take a rest day and make up your workout later.

 

They Lift

Highly Successful Master Cyclists understand that cycling does not make a balanced athlete, and that cycling must be offset and complemented with off the bike strength work, functional training, balance work, stretching, cross-training, and mobility. The restricted and repetitive motion of cycling does not support long-term, healthy body function. We all just want to go ride our bikes, but the longer you are in the sport, the more problems it will cause (for 98% of riders. If you are reading this, you are not in the 2%, sorry!). Common issues are asymmetrical movement patterns that become amplified and embedded over time, postural problems (including shoulders that are rounded forward, a collapsed chest, rounded spine, forward head posture), chronic tightness in hips, shoulders and neck, poor function of posterior chain muscles (glutes, hamstrings, lumbar musculature), pronation and “medial collapse” of the lower body under load, and ridiculously weak feet and ankles, to name a few. Step one is figuring out your specific list of challenges that need to be addressed. Step two is putting together a program that addresses this list. Step three is attending to that list every day. It is just like tending your garden; if you weed a few minutes every day, it stays looking nice all year long. If you only spend one weekend a year weeding, your yard will look like s*!t for 10 months out of the year.

 

They do Intervals

They focus on the interval work, and not the duration of training. Rides should almost always be only as long as they need to in order to get the work (intervals) done.

Additionally, they know when to say when: pull up before you’re done. If I did 3 intervals as a pro, I only do 2 as a master. Never leave it all out there on the road during training. Ride home feeling good, save some of that energy for family or parenting or work or the next day’s training, and focus on staying on the completable side of your workload.

 

They Win in the Kitchen

Masters Cyclists ‘win in the kitchen’ by doing their own grocery shopping. What comes home from the store usually goes in your mouth so the first step to eating healthy for optimal performance and recovery is bringing home healthy foods.  If cookies come home, cookies go in your mouth.  Masters cyclists plan out their nutrition with healthy recipes that generate healthy grocery shopping lists.  They cook their meals, have a killer set of Tupperware, and store the leftovers to eat again in a time-efficient manner. The entire act of cooking a nutritious meal to fuel training is one habit I have noticed in successful masters cyclists.

 

They Set Realistic Process Goals

The most successful masters athletes I have worked with are grounded in reality and are process oriented rather than fixated on an outcome.  The one characteristic they all share is the ability to realistically set goals for themselves that are possible for them to achieve.  If I had an athlete that was a personal accountant, considering the ubiquitous April 15 deadline, it would be fool hardy for her to expect to be in top form for a late Spring or early Summer event.  Rather, our goal setting process would include consideration of the extraordinary demands on their time that they face in the months of February, March, and April.  Rather than having an (unrealistic) expectation to focus on an early season event, prioritising an event for later in the summer is preferred.  The healthiest and most successful masters athletes I’ve worked with are invested in the daily ritual of being healthy athletes.  They acknowledge the stress and strain of the “real world” and apply that acknowledgement to their daily performance expectations.  They understand that they don’t have control over lots of factors that could influence their results.  This is especially true for those that compete in mass start events.  However, they prioritise showing up to the start in the best condition possible, given the variables that life throws at them and with that criteria, arrive to the event, having already won.

Final Thoughts:

When coaches emphasise the fundamentals we don’t mean to imply not to pay attention to the small stuff.  Successful cyclists are also extremely detailed oriented! However, they don’t lose focus of the basics obsessing the details.  Still wear a skinsuit, choose the fastest lube and chain but don’t let those details come at the expense of the basics: do the right training, go hard, don’t do too much, eat and recover well.  Finally, have fun.

Frank Overton