Our Coaching Transformation Process
During your cycling journey the way you’ll have plenty of successes. You’ll also confront failure. As crazy as this might sound, I believe you’ll get far more from your failures than you will from your successes.
It is natural to have a fear of failure. I definitely did throughout my years as a pro cyclist. I found myself holding back in races, not performing to my full capacity because I was afraid of what might happen if my race-winning move imploded or was caught or countered by an even better move. Unfortunately, I was really missing out. In cycling, and in real life, failures, challenges, and struggles are your greatest opportunities. They are a chance to reinvent yourself, to become the next best version of who you are.
I didn’t always see failure that way. Over the years, I often resisted it. I’d make excuses. I’m sure you have heard all of these from fellow cyclists over the years: The other riders were on better form, I wasn’t feeling very good that day, the course wasn’t right for me, I wasn’t motivated. Making excuses is the worst possible response to failure. Excuses only hold you back, leaving you stuck in a place where you aren’t seeing the progress you want. They prevent you from transforming.
Transformation is the only option to move forward after you fail. It’s not easy to do. It can be a painful struggle. To do it right, you have to confront your failure head-on. This might be intimidating at first. After all, you’re just riding bikes for fun. Why worry about a heavy topic like transformation—making tangible changes to your attitude and way of behaving?
Cycling might not be your livelihood like it was for me, but no matter what level you’re at, from beginner to pro, the lessons you take from this sport will enrich your life. Transformation is one of the biggest lessons. I’m going to take you through my method to transform after a failure and become a better, stronger version of yourself. And I think you’ll find that this method is just as useful in real life, when your bike is put away and you’re facing challenges or failures at the office or at home.
I created the ASCEND Process with a little inspiration from my love of climbing. (That shouldn’t be a big surprise.) When I am faced with a challenge or a failure, I view it as a big mountain. I’m at the bottom. The road only goes two directions: up and over the top or back where I came from, and you can be sure I’m not going backward.
There are six big steps to the ASCEND Process
A: Assess the Need
S: Set the Foundation
C: Create the Opportunity
E: Evolve with Growth
N: Next-Level Arrival
D: Define by Practicing Action
Assess the Need
Here we are at the bottom of the mountain, the beginning of your transformation. By now you should have confronted the fact that you had a bad race, struggles in training, challenges with keeping a consistent riding schedule, or a lack of improvement, to name a few examples. This is the step in the ASCEND Process when you take an honest look at what is going on and what you need to do in order to transform.
Positive self-awareness is the fundamental trait needed to Assess the Need. Take a step back and see things in perspective, referring to your Vision from the Focus Pillar. Be honest and realistic. Think about your ability, skills, and direction and ask yourself how they can offer you an opportunity to transform. Don’t retreat or make excuses.
However, at the same time, don’t be too hard on yourself. It is key to frame self-awareness in a positive light. What do you have in your arsenal? How can this transformation help you grow that arsenal so you’re even better at the end? Transformation starts when you hit a low point. It’s going to be challenging, and negativity will only make it harder. Most people hit an obstacle, give up, and move on to something else. So, by tackling your challenge head-on with the ASCEND Process, you are already outstanding. Channel that positive inner strength.
With that positive self-awareness, begin to diagnose the problem. The great news is that, since you’re working with the FORM Method, you have every tool you need to start your transformation in a purposeful way. Look at your problem in the context of the Four Pillars. Your area of need should become clear pretty quickly. This will also help you simplify your solution and focus on a single area so you aren’t overwhelmed.
For example, you might be struggling on long climbs. Is it the Fitness Pillar? Your PowerTrain Zones (PTZs) might be incorrect, or you might be underdeveloped in a key PTZ like Low Threshold. Or perhaps your Execution Pillar is the issue. Body Position, Power Control, Cadence Control—any of these or the other points on the North Star of Execution could be the culprit. Nutrition may also be holding you back on those long climbs. If you aren’t fueling with the right amount of macros, your body simply won’t have what it needs to ride the way you’re asking it to. And finally, your Focus Pillar could be the source of the problem. I’ve seen great climbers pedaling squares because they were in the wrong mind-set, or they simply didn’t do their homework with Core Performance Qualities and Black Line Clarity.
Once you pin down the area of need, the thing you must improve to transform and improve, then you can move on to the next step of the ASCEND Process.
Set the Foundation
This step is a research and planning stage to develop the instruction manual that you will follow for process transformation. Depending on what need you found and chose to work on, you must now research and find the “how,” or the program that will you follow to improve it. This program could be as simple as following a simple pre-made training plan or as involved as hiring a coach to work with you personally.
You’re about to undertake a difficult, potentially long process. Everything has to be in place before you begin so that your work is productive, pushing you to the top of that mountain. This step of the ASCEND Process also lines up with the Four Pillars.
Putting the right program in place and planning how it will fit in your schedule sounds obvious, but it’s not. In fact, a lot of people skip it, and that’s a bad idea. Think about all those people—you may be one of them—who just focused on improving by doing more, or by copying other people. While you might have seen improvement, there likely was no foundational fitness and repeatable program to fall back on to keep performing the transformation month after month, year after year. This second step will ensure that the work in your transformation is the right direction, a strong foundation to hold the new level, and easy to repeat in the future.
Let me take you through an example of how you could set the foundation for a common need: improved climbing. Many people struggle on climbs because their Threshold PTZs are too low or they’ve only developed one threshold PTZ. I would begin by testing to find their deflection point and then test to look at their efficiency in PTZs 2, 3, 4, and 5 below the deflection point. And then comes the “set the foundation” step: The testing is the first part of this step—it’s the research. If this testing confirms that they do need to create and increase their Threshold PTZs, then we continue on to the second part of this step, the planning. This could look like creating the best training program for the Threshold PTZ growth they need. Then, after the program is created, I would teach them the key terminology used in to describe the new training, the new exercises they will be performing, and the concepts behind the purpose. Last, I’d customize their training schedule.
No matter what your specific need, as identified in the first step of the ASCEND Process, don’t just jump right to the solution. Instead, create this foundation for your process. Your work has to be repeatable. We want you to be able to establish new habits that will drive your transformation.
This is a challenging step. You’ll be adding something different to your routine, establishing a new mental pathway, or introducing an uncomfortable change to your daily life. A lot of people quit when they see the work ahead of them, so again return to that positive mind-set and know that you’re already above average by committing yourself to transformation. You don’t have to be perfect. You just have to be open to the process, to learn and absorb the new methodology.
Create the Opportunity
Now we reach the uncomfortable step of the transformation process. It’s time to start putting things into place and doing the hard work to climb your mountain. I hope you were thorough in the first two steps of the ASCEND Process, because you need that clear focus on your need and a foundation for a repeatable, habit-forming process to make this work pay off.
Now, you are using the process to push your limits. That challenge that was holding you back? The failure in an event that kicked off this whole process? That’s what you’re tackling, and that is what you’ll improve on with this work. Isolate what’s holding you back and directly attack that barrier.
Depending on which Pillar you are taking on, this step could be a time to map out how to build out your aerobic system or spend time refining your threshold zones. Or you might be setting a core strength or plyometrics routine to improve your Execution. For some people, the work might happen off the bike. It might be all about shifting the way you shop for groceries and plan your weekly meals. The work could be entirely mental—no physical effort is required if your goal is to establish the right practices with Black Line Clarity or the Performance Chains.
One of the keys to this step is to give yourself room to grow. Many people do not grow because they’re stuck doing the same kind of workout day after day, week after week. Or they eat the same diet for years and wonder why their performance suffers or even why they are gaining weight. Install this new process into your day-to-day life, based on the first two steps of this process, and avoid falling back into your previous patterns.
Push your limits. Be ambitious. Find ways to give yourself that room to grow. Make significant changes that position you to succeed in this transformation.
Evolve with Growth
The grind: Some people love it, but a lot of people can’t handle the daily workload needed to transform into something better.
I think that a lot of cyclists get turned off by their setbacks. But growth is not a linear process. Usually this part of a transformation is two steps forward, one step back—and that’s a best-case scenario. So while you make progress then maybe fall back a little, always remember that struggle is growth. Success is practice. It may not feel like it, but if you’re sticking to your proven process, working off of a good foundation, you will be adapting and growing.
People also find this step challenging because it is the longest of the six parts of the ASCEND Process. Your growth might take months or even a year. Why is this step so long and difficult? If you’re truly setting yourself up to transform, you pushed your limits in the previous step of the process, setting ambitious goals. Those will require time and effort as you adapt to the new workload, or as you establish new habits. It may be intimidating to see months of work ahead of you, but you can tackle that challenge with confidence because you were careful in the first two steps of this process. You charted the right course by assessing your need and setting your foundation. Now we climb.
This is a milestone, the point where you achieve mastery of the skill or quality you’ve been working on for months. It is a little hard to pin down exactly when you reach this point.
For instance, over the last few years, I’ve given a lot of speeches. They’re usually on topics like transformation, so I know the subject well and I am passionate about it. I have practiced a lot, and I’ve figured out the best way to express these concepts. But this skill is still not truly ingrained in me. I can’t quite do it over and over again on command.
On the other hand, if we were riding up a steep, tough climb together and you attacked me, I’d cover your move instantly. Maybe I’d even counterattack with a standing acceleration. It would be pure instinct. That’s a skill I’ve mastered thanks to years of practice.
That’s the difference between simply being good at something and Next-Level Arrival. When you actually get to the next level—the goal for your transformation—all of that habit-forming growth and repetition becomes part of who you are.
You can’t predict when you’ll achieve this mastery. You can’t force it, either. But there should be no question at all when you hit this milestone. The habit will become so ingrained in your practice that you’ll be able to do it on command in an event or on a group ride. You’ll be surfing terrain without even thinking about it. Or your meal preparation will be a seamless, automatic part of your daily life.
This is a really exciting feeling. It’s why I value transformation so much, both on the bike and in real life. All of your effort, struggle, and time will feel completely worthwhile.
Daily Actions to Define New Transformation
So that’s it, right? Why would we need a sixth step in the ASCEND Process if we just arrived at the next level? We need another step because transformation isn’t about achieving a result and putting it on your mantle. It is about becoming a better version of yourself and owning that new way of being.
You might know someone who has finished an Ironman triathlon. It is a popular goal to chase after, and honestly it is a pretty big challenge for most people. However, those friends of yours who did an Ironman—are they still living that lifestyle, and continuing the practice that got them to the finish line of that grueling test? A lot of the Ironman finishers I see have let it slide because for them it wasn’t a full transformation. They rose up to achieve that goal but they didn’t stay up there after the race finished. To put this in different terms, you can’t call yourself a pilot if you aren’t flying regularly and practicing your trade to keep your license. Same goes for doctors or musicians.
Define the new version of yourself with your actions. Be that person all the time by your consistent daily actions that reinforce who you have become through this long and difficult transformation. Here is some good news: Once you’ve gotten to the final step in this process, your habits will be so ingrained and frictionless that it will feel natural to continue as your new self. You’ll have adapted to the training load—you’ll probably even crave it. You’ll feel the thrill of great execution and have no reason to regress. A better nutrition plan will give you a feeling of well-being and energy that powers you through the day. Who would give that up? Or your new mind-set will make you happier through life’s ups and downs.
Don’t just do it. Be it. And enjoy this new, better self.
The process of transformation is as rewarding as it is challenging. I know it seems intimidating at first, but always embrace it. When a failure or a setback comes your way, address it head-on, right away. It is tempting to procrastinate, but this process is even more difficult if multiple problems pile up before you start this process.
Also, be prepared to restart the process after you’ve worked through a problem or a challenge. Just like riding an epic mountain stage, you’ll face one climb after another. The great thing about the ASCEND Process is that it gives you a chance to have moments of success, achievements when you work through a problem and make a transformation, no matter how small it might actually be.