Finding/Building Mental Toughness for Training

Winter is coming, which means indoor training season is coming. And this year I really want to stick to the plan…I’ve come to the realization (or just finally willing to admit?) that the mental side of the game is what holds me back.

I’ve got fans, music, zwift/other entertainment on the tv for distraction, but when the legs start to burn, or im just not feeling totally comfortable on the bike that day or whatever other excuse my head will come up with. It’s just way too easy to quit when that means I just have to walk up stairs and not be stranded miles away from home like during the outdoor seasons.

So…anyone got any good tips, tricks or techniques that work for you to HTFU and get through these workouts when your brain is tempting you to stop?

Convince yourself that when things start to hurt/become uncomfortable, that’s when progress happens.

Repeat to yourself ‘This is how I get faster’.


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  • Why?

Suffering for the sake of suffering may work for some, but it sounds like that is not the case for you. I think you need to determine your “Why?” which may be a particular goal.

  • Could be a target event that you want to be more prepared for this year than before, a process goal (like nailing your workouts regardless of the tendency to bail in the past), or an objective goal like a race result or course time.

Essentially, I suspect you might need to form and focus on the reason you even bother to get on the bike.


Mental toughness doesn’t come from extrinsic motivation, it comes from internal combustion.

What eats at you? What did you fail at this year, or in years past that burns you … that makes you feel a gut punch?

I spent an entire winter on the trainer remembering/picturing/replaying/obsessing over getting dropped on a 3 minute, 18% climb in my A race. The peloton was so close that I could reach out and touch them, but I leaked and leaked and leaked until I was unable to ride back on once we crested the climb. To add insult to injury, the race marshall’s car came around me just as I went over the top because the race went up the road.

Every time I pictured that moment, it was worth another 45 minutes on the trainer.

All the movies and Zwifting and music in the world will help you get on the bike, but they won’t keep you there if you don’t care. This is the difference between “working out” and “training” - good luck :metal:


Listen to this guy and read his book for mindset, sure he’s a little overboard to some but is he?

I would also find some good process goals, something simple like I will ride x amount of days or hours. Even if it means skipping an interval session or 2 because you’re tired or had a stressful day. Just get in something, at least that’s my mindset lately. Play the long game, don’t stress about following a plan exactly just to burnout from everything that may happen in life. I say this as my busy season approaches and the next month or two might not be perfect but I’ll get something in.


A target helps with resisting the urge to bail. Whilst I have a specific ‘A’ target, my more general target is wanting to stay fit and healthy. Being well trained also lets me enjoy group rides instead of suffering on those (I keep my suffering indoors :wink:)


What works for me:

  • Still getting outside regularly and not exclusively riding indoors. I perversely get almost as much satisfaction from trying to optimise my winter set up as I do from fine tuning my race set up. There’s a whole world of winter tyres, jackets, overshoes, gloves, mudguards, lights to choose from! And there’s nothing like riding in the cold, wet and dark to give you an appreciation for riding in the garage watching TV
  • Peer pressure. Whether it’s an outdoor group ride or a Zwift ride, agreeing to ride with other people helps with accountability to show up and get the ride done
  • Taking a more open minded approach to training in winter. I figure at this stage of the year just getting the miles in and staying consistent is more important than optimising the structure as long as I’m not overdoing it. So if I need intensity I’m much more likely to do a Zwift race or chaingang than following a TR workout. Or do a group ride instead of a long TR Z2 ride.
  • Mixing in other aerobic exercise. Again it’s really about building/maintaining aerobic base rather than worrying too much about specificity at this time of year, so including some running, rowing, skiing, swimming or whatever else you enjoy is all good. Also a good time to go ride some trails if you can

I use music as a “break in case of an emergency” last resort. I’ll watch some drama or comedy on TV. Maybe a sports race/match/event. But when I do start to struggle and it’s something I want to really suffer through because of my goals, I have a motivational playlist. That usually works well for me.

But if you don’t have a burning “why” that drives your training, it’s hard to really suffer to suffer unless you’re wired really different.

Still searching, but found some related posts worth a read:

And reading material pulled form the Books thread:

Psychology, Mental Training

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Maybe instead of searching for motivation, try to find specific pattern(s) why are you skipping workouts? Are you hungry? Too little energy? Generally fatigued? Dreading upcoming intensity? Frequently too much overall intensity and/or load hides behind losing motivation.

Once you find common pattern, then you can tackle case by case a la eating right time, drinking coffee right time, different loading/recovery week pattern, different weekly workouts layout etc.


Dreading intensity is a big one. 1.5-2hrs of a Z2 workout is fine, and I can actually push through those shorter more intense Vo2 max intervals easier than the more sustained sweet spot intervals. Knowing I only have to push for 30s or 1m before the intensity lets up makes it more doable even though its a harder effort?

Coming into a workout more prepared might be a factor too. Often im trying to squeeze the workouts in in the hour or two I have between when I get home from work and dinner/family time so I’m not always in the best headspace/state of readiness for the intensity from the start

Maybe you can switch to POL6LV for indoor season? It has single intense workout per week: you can move it to weekday that better fits to your “real life” schedule. For me getting off the work and jumping too soon to workout would be really hard too. And when plan prescribes you long VO2max intervals, find alternative with same PL but with shorter intervals. Whenever you find more free time, you can fill it with low intensity Z2, well suited to watch your favorite TV-show same time :slight_smile:

Once weather gets better, then can switch again to another plan with more/longer intervals if you wish to.

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The question I have for you is, do you have capacity (not physical) to train consistently. If your cup is full now, which may explain why you bail, how are you going to make room for an additional stress? I’ve been disciplined. I had a year when I missed maybe a handful of days on the bike that I planned. However, I’ve also had times where I couldn’t be disciplined and upon reflection, that primarily had to do with something else going on. A stressful job, t-ball coaching, a nagging injury, sleep schedule, whatever. If you think you have capacity, you will still need a goal to provide the direction you need to go and somewhat the motivation, but none of that is possible without the capacity.

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The key here is to do workout that you can be successful at. You build from the bottom up, don’t over reach when you start. When I started riding my max was about 45 minutes (it is all my rear could handle in the saddle). I liked being out there and naturally progressed to being in the saddle more and more. I took the same methodology into structured workouts too. Start easy to give the body time to adjust.

Maybe instead of threshold or SS workouts you do tempo. Instead of level 5 you do level 1, 2 or three. If you struggle with long intervals choose those that are shorter and slowly increase the time in that zone. (No workout that matches what you need… make one). If it is the length of the workout that is the problem start with 30-45 minute workouts. Then bump up when you are ready.

As for the mid-interval “I want to quit” feeling… know you are not alone and even Olympians and Pros get there too. It is important to try to keep pushing but if you just can’t (we have all been there) I think it is important in this case to finish. Lower the intensity as low as you need to so you complete the workout. Yes, there are times to scrap the whole thing but if you want to work on grit… this is how you do it.

Good luck!!!


I switched to a more volume based approach (not polarized, really, essentially just z2 + weightlifting at the moment) for this reason. Like you I have an easier time with vo2 intervals. Though this didn’t used to always be the case. Either the interval is short enough that it’s over quickly or it’s not uncomfortable for a long time and by the time it is I’m invested in the workout (ie, 2.5 hours into a 3 hour workout I’m not likely to stop)

More generally, find workouts that you’re more willing/able to to complete and if there are small easy things to avoid that you find annoying than swap those workouts out. For me it’s slightly undulating type ramps I find more annoying than straight intervals (ie eclipse vs galena).

In previous years, I’ve applied context to my training. I don’t mean training for an event, rather training based upon past experience.

We’ve all been out the back during a ride or race and for most people, that experience seems to leave an indelible mark. Use it. Own that experience.

Break it down and celebrate small victories. Maybe you need to more threshold work. Why start off trying to tackle 10 minute intervals? Try three or five minutes. Smile when you finish the session. Then reduce the recovery and soon you’ll be able to string six, seven, eight five minute threshold intervals together with only 30 seconds of recovery. That’s a solid breakaway group you’re now emulating. Now own this and smile.

Breaking the challenge down and approaching it from a different angle can often open your eyes to skills and abilities you didn’t even realise you had.

Mental toughness doesn’t have to be defined by the fact that you got to the destination following the same path as everybody else.