Learn to loosen up
When things get tense on the road—you’re tired, the conditions are tricky, the race intensifies—the body tends to get tense too. Your upper body locks up and that just makes things worse. “When a cyclist is nervous, stiff and doesn’t let the bike move smoothly beneath him or her, accidents happen and performance also decreases,” says Michael Barry, a former teammate of Lance Armstrong and Canada’s top male cyclist. “Being relaxed on the bike also prevents injuries and makes the ride more comfortable.” Riding stiff leads to bad posture on the bike, which in turn leads to back, knee and hand strain and pain.
To stay relaxed, Barry focuses on smooth rhythmic breathing, which tends to loosen the whole body and helps maintain focus and composure. On the bike, let the upper body relax so that all the energy goes into pushing the pedals. To practice, ditch the asphalt and let the bike move.
What you need: a mountain bike, a smooth, twisty, slightly downhill section of trail.
How to: Think of your bike as an extension of the body. Just as in running or skiing, let your lower body and bike do the turning while your upper body stays quiet. Keep the upper body relaxed and centred, and gently guide the bike through the turns, allowing it to move back and forth underneath your body. Your arms should be slightly bent and able to move up and down and back and forth with the bike. After practicing this a few times, get back on the road and try to emulate the same feeling. Practise by coasting down a small hill, carving turns by swinging the bike back and forth beneath you.