Mental Preparation – Goal Setting

Tuesday, March 7th, 2017


Mental Strength coach, Alan Heary details the importance of mental preparation for your cycling and the practical ways you can achieve the right mindset.

Why is mental preparation just as important as physical?

What we think has a direct effect on our physical sensations. In fact research has shown that the nervous system cannot tell the difference between a vividly imagined experience and reality.

Think about it this way. Let’s say you wake up in the middle of the night and you hear something outside. You think it might be someone breaking into your car or worse, your house. Your body starts to react – your heart rate increases, muscles become tense and you reach for the baseball bat. You are in the fight or flight mode. It makes no difference that it might just be a cat on a bin, if in your mind you think about it as the worst possible outcome your body reacts as if it’s really happening.

Now let’s take it that into a scenario where you have a cyclist who is travelling to a race or sportive and they keep thinking about the route and are concerned about all the climbs and how they might get dropped from the group or crash. As a result they forget to focus on what is important like hydration or food intake and this has a direct impact on their physical performance.

You will not perform to your best if you turn up to a race in great physical condition but your motivation is low and you can’t put in the effort required to do well or you lack focus and miss a break away or there is a sprint finish and you don’t have the confidence to go for it. You need to be physically ready for competition but it’s not enough without that commitment, confidence, control and concentration you need to succeed.


How should a cyclist go about setting goals? (both long and short term).

Goal setting is hugely important for performance. Most people just think about their goals at the start of the year or write them down and then put them to one side never to look at them again but that’s not good planning and a goal without a plan is just an idea!


Here is my five-step plan to setting goals.

  • Decide what you WANT to achieve this year. Focus on a particular event that is going to get you excited. Research the event, finding out what’s involved, the route, the standard, the components of fitness and skills you will need. Speak to someone who has done it before, if it is a new event for you.
  • Build your resources by checking to make sure you have the right people around you and the right equipment and knowledge.
  • Assess where you are now with fitness testing and set some goals during the year based on your results (Medium term goals).
  • Plan the different events that you will do during the year that will help you prepare for your ultimate goal. Set out a list of performance based goals for each event. It is not enough to set a result goal such as winning. You must set a list of performance based goals, which if you achieve will give you a much higher chance of winning such as speed, hydration, hill climbing, concentration levels.
  • Write down ALL your goals and keep a track of how you are achieving each one in your MUST HAVE training diary.


Why is this an important process in training?

Training sessions are mini steps towards your ultimate goals and in order to get the most out of your time you need to have a sense of purpose.

The first step is to ask yourself before you go out – what do I want to achieve today? Are you going to work on climbing, speed or is it a recovery spin. Before you go out write a short list of performance goals you want to achieve. These can include:

  • Going to drink 750ml of water every hour
  • Going to maintain a certain wattage or heart rate
  • Going to climb to the top of a particular hill in a certain time
  • Going to work on pedaling technique

After your ride you can tick off the goals you achieved and decide what your next session’s goals are going to be. This keeps you on target for your longer-term goals.