Start Blog Lizzy Banks - Athlete & Coach

Lizzy Banks - Athlete & Coach

Posted by Andrew Davidson on November 8, 2022

For the better part of the last two seasons Lizzy Banks, pro cyclist and member of the EF-Education-Tibco-SVB team, has been in a holding pattern. After a lengthy recovery from a concussion she was sidelined with Covid and subsequently Pericarditis, which to her understandable dismay lingered for months. Throughout this time she’s shared quite openly on her social media accounts and in various interviews what her slow battle to once again return to the pro peloton has looked and felt like. I’d recommend checking out the thoughtful insights she’s shared on rebounding from these setbacks, but for our conversation I wanted to steer the subject matter back to the time she was training and racing and her notable self-coaching approach, something many of us non-pros take on out of necessity or interest. Read on to find out how the double Giro d’Italia Donne stage winner plays the role of athlete and coach at the World Tour level and some tips she has for doing both successfully.

Listening to the great interview you did with Matt Stephens on his podcast recently, you mentioned that you are self-coached, which I always find intriguing to hear from pro/world tour level riders. Anna Kiesenhofer, winner of the women’s road race at the 2020 Olympic Games is a name that comes to mind as another example of someone who is self-coached to great success. What made you choose to go the self-coaching route and why have you chosen to stick with it?

I am someone who always wants to understand why I am doing something and when I first started training in the winter of 2015/16, I got a cycling coach, but I also decided to read two of the core texts for cycling coaches. I knew I needed help with how to do it because I had never trained for anything in my life before! But I also knew I wanted to understand for myself the processes which my coach was putting me through and why. I learnt a huge amount from my coach, we worked together for about eight months and after that, I struck out on my own. I had no reason to believe that if someone else could do it, I couldn’t, and after all, I was the only one who could actually feel what I was feeling in my legs and body. I have to say Lizzie Deignan was a huge inspiration for me too as it was well publicized that she had been self-coached and I thought if she can do it then why can’t I?

You’ve spoken at length on your own social media and in interviews about overcoming a fairly serious concussion a couple of seasons ago and now working through Pericarditis. While obviously not the same as coaching yourself through cycling workouts, I imagine there are some similarities between monitoring your cycling progress and monitoring your recovery process, in that you need to listen to your body and know when to ease off. Would you say there’s some truth to that and can you think of any examples of playing coach/doctor in your own recovery process?

Yes, very much so. The key to both scenarios is the ability to listen to the fine details of what your body is telling you and being brutally honest with yourself about it, even, and most importantly, when it is not what you want to hear. The difficulty with some illnesses is that they grow with you, so you don’t realize for a while that what you are feeling isn’t normal. It can then be a very slow process to get back to what normal is and only once you feel it again can you fully appreciate how unwell you were before. I think this is actually quite similar to overtraining. The signs of it can creep up on you, growing with you as you train until you suddenly realize it’s a really big problem and things start to break down. The way to avoid overtraining is simply to know the early signs, listen closely to your body and adapt your training early. Don’t follow a program just because that’s what it says you should do. All programs need to be adjustable and sometimes that can even be on a daily basis, listening to your body and adapting the training accordingly.

During this recovery/comeback period, what activities are you able to do to keep yourself mentally and physically engaged as much as possible(yoga, weights, walking, meditation, etc)?

This period with pericarditis post covid infection has been particularly difficult because any increase in heart rate aggravated the condition so I wasn’t able to do anything at all for a very long time. A number of attempts to exercise lightly reignited the symptoms and in total it was about 6 months with effectively zero exercise at all. It has been an incredibly challenging period as cycling is a huge part of my identity and very important for maintaining good mental health.

A moment of feeling the frustrations that injury and set-back can have. 📸 @ashleygruber

Although you may not be in the full swing of typical training currently, looking back to “normal times”, what would you say are a few key things to avoid doing and some things you would recommend doing for someone looking to create their own training program and self-coach?

I think one of the most important things is not to be influenced by what others are doing. No two people will have the same physiology, let alone the same starting points or end goals so it’s important to look at where you are now and what you want to achieve. Once you know those two things you can outline a long-term plan of how you’re going to make those steps. Plan for what is going to be best for you and don’t make your plans based on how somebody else is training!

There’s a lot of data available to riders in the modern era of cycling, with power, heart rate, sleep quality, stress score, etc, what sort of metrics do you find most helpful and reliable in designing and executing successful training programs for yourself?

The most important metrics to me are how I feel. It is normal to feel tired when you are training hard but I know very well the first signs that I need to back off, I start getting grouchy and irritable and I simply don’t feel as good in myself. When I’m on the bike, power is absolutely the most important metric for me and watching the data from my 4iiii allows me to train to the best of my abilities but I still think it’s important to combine what you are seeing with the feelings in your body to know when it is a day to push extra hard or when it’s time to go home and rest.

As a double Giro Donne stage winner, you clearly struck some great form for that event, are there any key workouts you could describe that helped prepare you for either of those editions?

I don’t think it was key workouts that helped me be successful at the Giro, as much as good consistency. I worked hard and balanced really hard training with really hard rest. Consistency is definitely one of the most important things when it comes to training successfully.

Capturing a selfie with some of the locals on an easy/recovery adventure. 📸:Lizzy Banks

Do you have any examples of perceived weaknesses in your cycling arsenal that you were able to pinpoint with data you collected (power or otherwise) and then noticeably strengthen it? What was it and how did you go about it?

When I first turned pro, my sprint and kick was a definite weakness. I decided to start incorporating sprints into nearly every ride and especially when riding with friends to sprint to the top of a climb or a town sign just for fun. Alongside structured sessions, this had a huge impact on my sprint power numbers as I was simply practicing it much more often. It was really encouraging to see the power numbers that I could put out even at the end of a long hard ride and the motivation of having a rival to sprint against was always very helpful!

One thing that I personally enjoy about designing my own program is the freedom to experiment from season to season and use myself as a bit of a science experiment to see what works and what doesn’t. There’s definitely a sense of satisfaction crafting the whole process from training to race execution when it all comes together nicely. Would you say that’s a similar feeling you get from overseeing your own development? Yes, definitely. I am still learning a lot about what I am capable of and what works for me. Physiologically, I think that I am still quite new to cycling and endurance training and so my body is still adapting each year. Last winter, for instance, I found that I absorbed a much higher training volume than I previously could and was also recovering better than ever despite it. That’s why it’s important to have a flexible approach to training because you can never be truly sure how your body will react to different training stimuli every year. If you just do what you’ve always done, you won’t really find out what works for you or how much you can improve.

Getting out on home roads, even in the harsher temperatures. 📸: Lizzy Banks

Some people struggle to take an off day and are prone to overtraining, others struggle to push through the fatigue of consecutive hard days/weeks that are sometimes required to build form. What camp do you find yourself in and when do you know it’s time to back off or push through?

I manage to have a really good balance of working really hard and knowing when to back off and that’s why self-coaching works for me. For those individuals who just continue to push hard all the time, a coach is an incredibly important role to help pull them back when they need to. Personally, I like to train really hard but I am well aware of the risks of overtraining and so I am careful to manage my rest well and incorporate longer periods of rest every few weeks into my training, which will then allow me to push harder in the long run. Without rest, your body can’t rebuild so it has to be a balance.

Can you describe one of your favourite types of on-bike workouts and one of your least favourite (but necessary)?

My favourite training days are long adventure rides, essentially it’s an endurance boost but I like to incorporate hard climbs which I can push hard on and create routes to new places which gives me such a great mental boost. When you feel good mentally then pushing harder on the pedals doesn’t feel like work. Sometimes for these long adventure rides, I just ride as hard as I can for the whole ride! It sounds a bit nuts but you get a huge physical boost from it so long as you take the appropriate rest afterwards! The workouts that I hate are 1 and 2-minute intervals. They are so important because it’s an incredibly common race effort but I hate them because I’m not very good at them and that makes it incredibly hard!

Even if one is independently designing workouts for themselves, there are still a lot of people that make up a support system, whether it’s parents, a partner, teammates, physical therapists, managers, etc. Who are a few people you attribute to helping you on your professional cycling journey so far and how do they play a key role?

My husband is without a doubt my biggest pillar of support. He has been both supportive and encouraging throughout the whole crazy cycling journey. He has sacrificed a lot to support me in so many ways and in particular in the past two years throughout a very difficult period battling various injuries and illnesses. My wider support network includes my team, teammates current and former who have now become very close friends and of course friends and family too. It’s really important to have a good support network around you because professional sports can be brutally tough with the highs and lows that it brings.

You can follow Lizzy’s adventures and progress back to the pro peloton on Instagram.

Listen to her great interview with Matt Stephens on his podcast.

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