How to stay motivated during extreme social distancing

Unless you’ve had your head in a bucket of sand, there’s no escaping the current global situation. From a sporting perspective, most of this year’s events have either been cancelled or postponed.  There’s still no guarantee that even the postponed events or those scheduled for later in the year will go ahead since we just don’t know how any easing of restrictions will take effect, and whether groups that are part of the sporting experience will be permitted to gather.  Whether you are a follower or a participant in your chosen sport, this is an uncertain time and that IS a certainty!

Now that’s the gloomy news over, but I’m determined that this post today will be an upbeat and helpful one.

Why bother training?

You’ve trained right through the winter, right?  You’ve battled the elements, largely wind & rain this winter, but now all of that effort seems like it’s to be wasted if most events are off.

But, do you really want to waste all that fitness that you’ve so meticulously spent months attaining? You don’t really want to have to start over when you get confirmation that rides and races are to begin again. Do you?

With Governments in Europe curtailing long-distance cycling opportunities and banning group rides, you might be excused for wondering how you can possibly keep your fitness ticking over.  The sun is shining now.  In fact in the UK it’s possibly the best spring we’ve had in years, so do you really want to spend endless hours on a Turbo trainer – assuming of course that you even have one?

I myself spent the first 2 weeks of lockdown at a pretty low ebb.  I was just over a month away from my first and longest ever bike race, and it was obvious it wasn’t going to be happening.  We didn’t know at the time whether it was going to be postponed or cancelled until next year.  I had been preparing for my last long multi-day training rides and my sole and very strong motivation for training had been my impending event, and with that not happening any time soon I felt aimless. My motivation suddenly hit rock bottom.

I had the foresight to upgrade my Turbo Trainer just before the lockdown, but I had no desire to get on it.  With 6 months of hard training seemingly down the drain, I spent the next two weeks with the hubster eating takeaways, exercising very little, and putting on a very quick half a stone in weight. My clothes that had been loose for the last 6 months very suddenly appeared to have shrunk!!.

In the UK, exercise has been encouraged, as long as we adhere to strict social distancing guidelines. But in the early days, there had been some confusion over what that has meant, especially for cyclists. We were told we could only go out for exercise once a day, for the shortest time, and to stay local. The exercise was considered to be walking, running or cycling. Dog walking was included in the 1 a day. We have dogs, which significantly reduced the amount of time we could go out for actual exercise without the dogs.

Social media groups had all kinds of different interpretations, although most agreed that the spirit of the directive was to not travel too far from home, and not go out for long all day rides.

At the Robert’s house, we interpreted the guidance as staying local, and if we couldn’t walk home in the event of a mechanical issue that couldn’t be fixed, then it was probably too far away.

My motivation has since returned, and I have grown to love both the turbo sessions and getting out a few times a week on the bike and for runs. We walk the dogs late at night as well – well it was either them or us, and this was our acceptable compromise.

Find your reason to train

You might wonder how I turned this around. I had only been training for one event this year (+ a small triathlon), but I made a decision to take matters into my own hands. My event was an international one, and even when lockdown ends and the country starts to open up, there are no guarantees that I will be able to travel abroad this year. I faced up to that possibility and decided that I would train for a solo event in the UK, of my own making. Lands end to John O’Groats is something that I have never done before, so I thought I would make it a bigger challenge and go there AND back again, unsupported. I set my sights on a September kick-off.  Then I heard that the Race Around the Netherlands was being postponed until August Bank Holiday. So I now have two potential options, and at least one of them is likely to be possible. I have found my motivation to keep on training, even if it is for two completely different types of event at the same time.

A month later, I have lost that excess weight and am working with my coach on an adapted training program that will keep my fitness but work on my weak points rather than distance, which has always been the one thing that I could do well.

If you have lost your enthusiasm and cancelled your coach then I urge you to think again. If you have already reached a level of fitness in readiness to complete your events, how much do you want to maintain that and be able to put it to good use later?

Could you find another event to stay motivated for, or like me, consider one of your own, that would be largely unaffected by social distancing measures? Maybe it’s time to tour your own country.  Is there a trail you’ve always fancied trying?  In the UK there are numerous distance challenges such as LEJOG, or Coast to Coast rides. You could ride solo, with friends, or contact one of the many tour companies and find out what their plans are for later in the year. Like most of the leisure industry, they are also currently unemployed, but your inquiries could mean the difference between some of them staying afloat, or closing up for good. I feel certain that some would be willing to talk about specific tours or challenges for small groups, with a view to putting something on when the time is right.

If you plan a solo or personal trip, you can spend some of the lockdown time planning routes & sorting out your kit lists, so that you are ready to roll when the great outdoors beckons again.

How to train while options seem limited

1 – Assess your options

Depending on the type of sport that you do or the country you live in, your normal training regimes may be severely curtailed. For example, in the UK we are encouraged to exercise, but not put ourselves at risk of needing emergency aid whether physical or logistical. That means staying local (ish). In France, they are restricted to 2km from home, and Spain and Italy have a complete ban on going outside for exercise.

But this is a cycling blog, so I will focus on cycling. If you have now found your reason to keep training, what options are available to you?

You may have a turbo trainer available to you. There are a variety of different styles and you are likely to have one of these to play with.

  • Basic gym style turbos where you have to use your gears to change the difficulty and have no ‘smart’ capabilities,
  • An entry-level smart trainer, where you attach your complete bike, and if configured accurately it will have a degree of automation with regards to simulating hill climbs when attached to an app that links to smart trainers. You keep your back wheel on, but make sure you use a turbo trainer tyre, as they will eat through your normal road tyres pretty quickly as a lot of heat is generated
  • A more sophisticated smart trainer, that has a chainset on it, in place of your own rear wheel. The unit uses its own internal power systems to simulate the hill gradient. these are very effective and realistic.
  • A Wattbike or similar trainer. These are the same as you see in the gym, with a fixed wheel, and make for an intense workout. These are good in that you don’t have to mess about keep putting your bike on and off.
  • Rollers – exactly what they sound like. You put your bike on the rollers and away you go. Any change in powers is controlled by you with a change in gears. These do have the added training difficulty of needing to stay balanced all the time.

Whichever kind of trainer you use, there will be an app that can help you to make the ride interesting, especially if you are not following an individual coaching program. Many of the apps themselves also have training specific rides, such as intervals, hills, endurance etc. Most of them, will still post your rides to your logging app of choice – Strava for example.

Taking your trainer outside in the garden can make this seem a little less tedious as well, especially on a long ride. I have found that the best way to pass the time is to put on YouTube videos of my favourite bucket list routes and pretend I am there riding them.

If you don’t have an indoor trainer, what else can you do? You may still be able to ride outside but may need to be a bit creative if you need to stay local.

If you are not able to go outside, then other options may still be available so that you can focus on specific training areas. Maybe now is the time to look at strength & power work, flexibility, or strengthen your core. These are often areas that get overlooked when our normal turbo or outdoor riding is available, but can be really valuable to practice so that you are well placed to remain injury-free when you can finally get back on the bike and out for long rides or racing.

If you are still being coached, ask your coach for an adapted program based on whichever training option (s) are available to you. He/She will be all too willing to help you over this period as they don’t want to see their athletes’ fitness drop off either.

Most coaches currently have more availability than ever as their pro & elite athletes look to save money and therefore put coaching on hold for a while. You could find that you can get a great coach, even for a short while that will really help to keep you focused and maintain your fitness. If you are currently earning, why not make an investment in your own training so that you come out the other side of this strong and competitive. For events that are still on the calendar, those that have continued to train will be the ones that do well.

This video clip includes a few thoughts from my coach as to how he’s adapting his coaching plans so that we can focus on our weaknesses and come out strong.

2 – Be flexible, get creative

If you can’t ride, then what else can you do?

One of the great things that the lockdown has brought is online delivery of classes. It’s now possible to connect with businesses both at home and abroad who are delivering yoga, pilates, fitness classes, and a whole heap of new content not previously available.

For example, I have now reconnected with a friend of mine who had moved away and began to deliver cyclist Pilates classes locally to where she lived. The lockdown meant that all ended rather abruptly and so she investigated delivering these online. I could never attend before but now I regularly take her class every Saturday. I had done Pilates before, so the fact that this was online wasn’t an issue for me. I have also enrolled in a cyclist specific Yoga class, by another instructor based in Nottingham, who I would never have known about before this lockdown.

There is lots of opportunity currently to focus on strength and conditioning work, and you might find that you enjoy this new kind of workout enough to continue when this is all over. I would imaging that given the popularity of these online classes, that some will continue beyond the end of lockdown.

If you can still ride but chose or have to stay local, what can you do to stay enthusiastic?

You could maybe find a local loop or hill that you can do reps on. True, it’s not as much fun as the open road, but try it at different times of the day. An early morning ride could mean witnessing an awesome sunrise, or a late evening ride, go for a sunset view – we have plenty of sunshine at the moment (in the UK), enjoy it.

Is there a local Strava segment that you can challenge yourself on? How much better can you get on it over the next few weeks? If you’re competitive, why not pit yourself against your friends and see who can move up the highest on the leader board.

How about turning your local rides into treasure hunts. With an absence of significant traffic at the moment, it’s an ideal time to explore your local surroundings and look for things that you might not have noticed before. You could go in search of small landmarks, milestones, or pick a colour of the day, or maybe go in search of the oldest local buildings, There are so many things you can do to make local rides interesting. It’s not necessarily intense training, but may help to keep going outside interesting so that some days you train, and on others you explore.

The video below is from a micro-adventure I took last weekend, visiting somewhere I had never been before, despite being really local.

Micro adventure to new places

3 – Plan ahead

We don’t know what our near future will look like right now, but it’s certain that there will be restrictions in one form or another for many months ahead. So now is the perfect time to start planning ahead. If you were planning a tour or your own rides, you can use this time to research and prepare your routes. Plot out your routes, and you have plenty of time to check them through with Google Street view to reduce any ‘adventure’ routes or blocked paths. You can sort out your kit lists. Do you have everything you need? If you are bike-packing you could discretely start testing your kit. I am still trying to get used to bivvying, and haven’t mastered sleeping in mine yet. So I’ve been trying it out in my back garden and living room. Hopefully, by the time I need to use it in anger, I will be able to slumber without any issue.


You might be able to find some great deals later in the year for accommodation in awesome cycling locations as the leisure industry finally starts to re-open, but you would be wise to contact potential hosts now in order to get notified when dates open up.

And finally

This crisis has brought about a change in what we now find important in our lives, and we have discovered new and creative ways to keep in touch with each other and to learn. Businesses have had to adapt, and they will look to keep some of these new streams available in the future.

Everything may have changed, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t still use the time wisely.

  • Find a great reason to train
  • Keep moving
  • Be creative
  • And most of all, have fun





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