Cycling On Form’s 10 Keys to Success

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Adapted from Cycling On Form: A Pro Method of Riding Faster & Stronger by Tom Danielson. 

Through my coaching and my own experience, I’ve identified the most common mindsets, actions, and beliefs that hold people back. The 10 keys are meant to shatter some of cycling’s idols, the sport’s common beliefs (and rules) that are born out of stuffy tradition and misconceptions about how and why pro riders are so good.

I want these concepts to spark your self-awareness. I want them to help you start focusing on your personal progress, on what’s best for you. The majority of riders don’t know where to go to get better. They end up focusing on granular things, like FTP, because that’s what they’ve been led to believe is the key to cycling success. I want the 10 Keys to Success to open a door for you so you can see your path to getting better at cycling, to frame your mission in the sport.

Below is a condensed version of the 10 keys. For a deeper dive, check out my book Cycling On Form.

1. You Are Not Your FTP

FTP, or functional threshold power, is one of those terms that cyclists and coaches toss around casually. Simply put, FTP is the maximum number of watts that a rider can sustain for over an hour. While it can be a useful number in terms of measurements, I’ve banned it from the FORM Performance Method.

I exclude FTP because people constantly define themselves by their FTP; it becomes their identity. Athletes are going to group rides and events with a predetermined marker of how good they think they are. Or worse, they aren’t even showing up at all. They did the test and calculated their power-to-weight ratio. They’ve researched what’s considered good and bad FTP. They’ve put it in their Zwift accounts and training programs. Even if they aren’t consciously aware of it, they’ve tied up their self-worth with this number and it is holding them back.

Instead of using FTP in this book, I’m offering a better solution. We are going to identify the type of rider you are by looking at natural strengths and weaknesses. We’ll consider your mindset and tendencies as we build a cycling program based on who you are as a rider. And in the process, I’ll help you realize that how well you’ll do in the actual sport of cycling is not defined by the number you can hold in a 20-minute test.

2. You Have to Go Low Before You Can Go High

If I were to ask a cyclist how they plan to get from where they are now to where they want to be, fitnesswise, chances are their answer would be something along the lines of “More power, more volume, more hard work.”

It’s not a surprise—many of us go to group rides and feel pinned from the start. We sign up for races only to get shot out the back. So people think to themselves, I’m getting dropped at my current level, so I need to train above that. But this doesn’t work; it has the opposite effect, actually.

The key to improving your upper zones is to focus on your lower zones first. I will teach you how to build the low zones first. There are four Endurance zones, and each burns different amounts of fat. These zones are essential for endurance, but they are critical to establishing the foundation for the higher-end work. Develop them first, and then you can start climbing up those rungs until you’ve built a really tall ladder—a dynamic cycling engine.

3. Planning for Your Workout Is Part of Your Workout

Whether you have a coach or you self-train, planning for your workout is as important as your performance in the workout. This includes getting ready for the ride, mapping the route, prepping your equipment, fueling properly, and more. I think many of us don’t realize that planning is part of our training. But the planning process affects the quality of the session in a critical way; so be sure to give planning the consideration it deserves.

4. Group Rides Do Not Count as Training

This might be a shock, but group rides do not translate to better cycling. In the majority of group rides, the strongest person dictates the pace. If you are not the strongest, you are essentially participating in someone else’s workout. Chances are that workout is above your ceiling, and this kind of intensity is costly both in physical energy and mental stress. Riding above your zones for long periods, reacting to hard efforts, and expending emotional energy can put you in such a deficit that it compromises your training for the next week. Riding hard does not mean you are working in the areas necessary for actual improvement. And the zones used in a group ride are not necessarily the same zones that you would use in a competitive event or ride.

5. Averages Make You Average

Stop focusing on averages. Whether that’s average power, average cadence, average speed, average weekly distance, or average TSS (Training Stress Score). These metrics are best used to merely describe your training, not guide it. As a coach, when I design an interval or workout, I am putting specific concepts into the workout. There are certain zones I want you to work on and specific neuromuscular connections you need to make. If you are focused just on the average, you might as well throw all the things that make an interval out the window.

For example, you might finish an interval with an average power of 200 watts. But when your power graph looks like an EKG, spiking and dropping, and you merely averaged 200 watts, you didn’t ace the interval. I’ll look at that graph and point out that you did time at 150 watts and 250 watts. These are entirely different zones that require different muscle recruitment, fuel sources, and neuromuscular connections. While the average of 200 watts might be spot-on, you did not control the power, so you did not complete the task.

6. Progress Is Not Pass/Fail

There is no pass/fail in cycling—progress always happens, and you can view it as either growth or practice. To progress in life, you need continuous practice and growth. Progress is a constant balance between these two. With this new mindset, there’s no reason to beat ourselves up when we fall short. Know that you are getting stronger. You are becoming better. And you are finding new opportunities to grow—whether it’s in your Fitness, Execution, Nutrition, or Focus. So let’s change our mindset and own all our experiences. We are either practicing or growing.

7. You Create Motivation; You Don’t Find It

Motivation is your responsibility. Motivation is within your own power to create. No one can give it to you. Now, another person can guide you in helping you create your own, but that’s all they can do. Life gets hard sometimes, but in my experience, low motivation almost always stems from a lack of vision. If you are continually looking every which way, wondering what you should do with yourself, you are not focusing on what you want to do or what needs to happen over the long haul. To get motivated, you need something to inspire you. The only way to identify what will inspire you is to perform the introspective work to get to know yourself inside out. Learn what aspects of the sport you feel passionate about and map out a plan for a cause greater than yourself. That is your vision. Commit 100 percent to the process of achieving that vision.

8. Consistency Is King

Have you ever wondered how some cyclists are endlessly progressing while others seem to work just as hard but achieve very little? The answer lies in their consistency. There’s no substitute for putting in the work every single day. There’s no gene that you are born with that makes someone consistent or not. No matter how many highs and lows anyone has, it is the daily grind that counts. You must develop a training process that you can realistically perform every single day in order to stay on the path to your highest priorities and goals. Much of consistency depends on your ability to hold yourself accountable for your daily choices. You and you alone are responsible for what you do and what you don’t do.

9. Chasing After Someone Else’s Level Pulls You Further Away from Improving Your Own

Do you know people who are better than you? Do you base your objectives on what those other people are doing? How often do you set your sights on peers, friends, or rivals? Almost all of us are guilty of doing this. But looking at other people for direction takes you in the wrong direction. When you try to become another person, you become much worse at being yourself.

Instead of looking at other people and trying to emulate them, you should understand who you are, what you want to do, and where your current level is. Specifically work your way, your pace. Keep your perspective, desired outcome, and your dreams in focus. Spend your precious time and energy identifying and developing your personal Rider Type, and then become the best version of yourself.

10. There’s Nothing Good Back There

Never sit up. Never give up. It sounds simple, right? It’s not. The premise is that when you feel like you can’t do it anymore, that’s when you don’t back down. This is your moment! It’s when the selection in the race is going to happen. It’s when you have primed yourself to have a mental, physical, and emotional breakthrough. You must give it your all because nothing good will come from giving up. “Back there” is where your past regrets, old version of yourself, bad habits, and toxic patterns exist. But many of us never get that breakthrough because we make the mistake of thinking, I can do this forever, so we sit up.

It’s never better behind. I know that when you’re suffering it feels like sitting up will bring you relief. But it won’t. You need to hang on. This is the time when you need to break through. Embrace it. Fight for it. Because on the other side of that movement is the outcome you wanted when you signed up for the race in the first place.

Cycling On Form: A Pro Method of Riding Faster & Stronger by Tom Danielson reveals how the pros train: by training the whole rider. Danielson shows how you can ride like the pros by training your weaknesses and racing your strengths.