Picture Perfect

Visualizing yourself riding more skillfully can boost your cycling performance.

Indoor cycling is often described as a mind-body form of exercise and part of the reason is undoubtedly because you need to visualize the terrain you’re riding on. (After all, you’re in an exercise studio, not outside.) So, as you increase your resistance to simulate climbing a hill on the bike, it helps to imagine the slope, the scenery, and what’s waiting for you at the top of the peak. As you increase your pace during a sprint, it helps to picture yourself breaking away from the pack as you maximize your effort to race to the finishing line.

These are among the more obvious examples of the power of visualization.

The truth is, using visualization techniques during your indoor cycling sessions can optimize your performance in numerous ways. Think of this as a vital form of mental training that can enhance your physical training. Here are five ways you can harness the power of visualization to improve your indoor cycling performance:

Visualization strategies can improve your riding technique. If you visualize being able to make your pedal strokes more fluid or picture yourself engaging in a speed burst or breakaway that pushes you out in front of the pack while you’re riding, you will set your muscles up to master those skills. Using visualization greatly increases “the chance of attaining superior performance because [mental] images program muscles,” as sports psychologists Costas Karageorghis and Peter Terry write in their book Inside Sport Psychology.

Essentially, you’ll be strengthening and training the nerve pathways that coordinate and code the muscle actions that you’ll be using. This makes the moves and the effort more automatic as you execute them.

Visualizing energy can boost your stamina. When fatigue begins to set in, picturing yourself getting an infusion of high-octane energy can help you push through your tiredness and keep going.

Similarly, you can imagine the fatigue leaving your body in a helium balloon as you pedal, thereby helping yourself feel like the ride is easier and forgetting about your fatigue. Or, you can picture your muscles actually relaxing and recharging during a recovery interval so that you can recoup your energy for the next challenge.

Using visualization techniques can help you enhance your pace. Sometimes your mind limits your body's actions. Think you can’t pedal any faster than you are, and you probably won’t pick up your pace. But if you tell yourself that you can and you picture your legs pouring on the speed or imagine someone chasing you during a 20-second sprint or a 10-second breakaway, your cadence will naturally increase and you’ll ride faster (a boon for your fast-twitch muscles).  

Visualizing power and strength can become self-fulfilling. When you’re in the throes of an intense hill climb, picture your legs working like powerful pistons to carry you up the incline and you’ll help your leg muscles build greater strength and peak power.

The idea is that seeing the effect can lead to believing in it, which can lead to achieving it. Your mind is your most powerful muscle, so why not flex it to boost your mental motivation and physical strength?

It can help you get revved up for the next session. Harness the power of visualization between indoor cycling sessions, as a form of mental rehearsal, and you’ll perform better during the next workout. Besides helping you feel energized and psyched to ride hard, using visualization techniques can also help you feel and practice the physical actions you’ll be making. Basically, this will train your mind to train your muscles in all the right ways between workouts, as well as building your mental and physical confidence. The more vivid you can make these images and the more you can recruit each of your senses by imagining the sights, sounds, and feel of what you’re doing, the more effectively you will prime your muscles for optimal performance.

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