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Best training resolutions

10 easy ways to see huge results this year

By Selene Yeager
Bicycling Magazine

Don't expect to see changes if you always ride the same routes at the same speed with the same people. If cycling improvement is what you're after, resolve to do these 10 things in the months ahead.

Register for a Race Competition raises your fitness ceiling because it forces you to push your body harder than you do while training. You'll recover stronger and experience a bump in performance that could take weeks to develop otherwise.

Go Easy More Often
The physiological adaptations that raise your cruising speed happen during recovery, not training. Leg-searing, lung-burning rides create tremendous physical stress. Your body doesn't like that, so it strengthens itself by building more muscle fibers and increasing its aerobic engine. Push yourself to your limits once or twice a week and take a day or two off the bike in between.

Ride Out of Your Rut
Many fitness gains are made through neuromuscular adaptations. This means your muscles are throwing a party for your mind, which wakes up and says ";I haven't done this hill before. I'll need to recruit more muscle fibers for the job." Focus on your speed if you always climb; hit the hills if you diesel along flats.

Work on the Fundamentals
Like a golfer's swing or a runner's stride, a cyclist's pedal stroke, bike-handling skills and cadence become more efficient with practice. Do this cadence drill to get a jump start: Warm up for 10 minutes on a trainer. Spin with the right leg for 30 seconds, gradually increasing cadence while maintaining form. Repeat with the left leg for 30 seconds. Then put both legs into action for one minute at a cadence of 90 to 110 revolutions. Repeat, this time with 60 seconds of single-leg spinning per side. Perform the sequence three times.

Get a Jump on the Competition
Plyometrics--explosive jumping and hopping--train your muscles to reach maximum strength quickly. Researchers found that just one month of plyometric training twice a week can increase your power endurance by 17 percent. This means you'll be stomping out longer sprints and charging up hills in your big ring. After you have a few weeks of general training under your belt, do star jumps twice a week: Stand, then bend legs toward the floor into a crouch position. Swiftly jump up and open your arms and legs to create a star shape midair. As you land, bend your knees until your hands can touch the floor on either side of your feet. Do one to two sets of eight to 12 reps.

Shrink Your Cycling Circles
Group rides are important, but too much time in a pack may prevent you from reaching your potential. Power training research shows that you can easily loaf in the middle of a large pack, expending a fraction of the watts being put out by the leaders. Find a small group to train with once or twice a week so you're forced to take the lead.

Condition Your Core
Whether you're pulling up on the bar or pressing down on your pedals, your core is at the heart of the work. As it fatigues, your form deteriorates. In a University of Pittsburgh study of 15 competitive cyclists, researchers found that as the riders' core muscles became tired, their legs started wobbling. To best simulate the unilateral demands of cycling, get into a plank position (arms extended like a push-up), then simultaneously lift your left foot off the floor and extend your right arm in front of you. Pause. Return to start. Alternate sides for 10 to 20 reps.

Track Your Progress
Keep a training log. Write down the usual stats: riding time, terrain, average speed, as well as how you felt. When you notice your stats or mood dipping south, roll easy or take a day off so your body and mind can recover.

Balance Your Body
Cyclists' bodies are notoriously imbalanced from hours of hunching forward, which eventually causes tight quads and hip flexors, weak glutes and hamstrings, soft abs--and the various aches and pains that accompany these disparaties. Stretch your quads, hip flexors, chest and shoulders daily. Strengthen the backside of your body with moves like this one three times a week: Lie back on the floor with shoulders flat, arms at sides, and legs extended, ankles resting on a stability ball. Squeeze glutes and lift hips off the floor while pulling the ball toward your butt with your heels. Return to start. Repeat 15 times.

Set Up a Cycle
"Ride lots" is good advice; "have structure" is better. Spend three weeks building your training load and intensity, extending your long rides and hard efforts each week until you feel whipped. Then scale back during week four. Your body will compensate for the effort and you'll start the next training cycle that much stronger.

Selene Yeager is a USA Cycling certified coach.