When David Forkner of Franklin, N.C., started racing mountain bikes in high school, he wasn’t great. He had some natural talent, no doubt, but Forkner was fine crossing the finish line in the middle of the pack. The race was secondary to the fun.

But after attending college at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., during which time he raced and served as president of the collegiate cycling team for three years, Forkner decided to get serious about competing. For eight years he raced at the elite level in cat 1 road, pro mountain, and cyclocross. He won a number of regional races, including the NC State Criterium, but soon, it became apparent that his true calling wasn’t racing—it was coaching.

“The success I found through my coach led me to realize early in my career that I wanted to help others realize their potential,” writes Forkner on his Carmichael Training Systems profile.

Since 2009, Forkner has offered his training services through Carmichael and says that most of his clients aren’t professional riders, though he’s mentored a number of national and world champions. They’re time-crunched, family-oriented, working weekend warriors that want to make what little time they have to ride count.

Sound familiar? Let David help with the following bits of advice for getting back into a training routine and sticking with it.

10 Tips for Getting Back in the Saddle, and Staying There

1. Define your goals clearly.

Do you want to lose weight and get in shape? Are you prepping for a regional race? Is there a climb you’ve always wanted to tackle, but never felt fit enough to do it? Determine your goal and don’t compare it to other athlete’s goals or training regimens. “Just because you know someone who trains 20 hours a week, doesn’t mean you should or can,” adds Forkner.

2. Make training part of your schedule.

Likely the easiest excuse in the book is, “I can’t do _______ because I don’t have the time.” Get up early, stay up late, work out during your lunch break, do whatever it takes to incorporate your training as part of your routine.

3. Find what motivates you.

“I eat to ride, ride to eat,” Forkner says. “I have a system—the more you ride, the more cookies you get to eat.” So whether it’s cookies or cocktails, find a reward that gets you up and going. Joining group rides or active clubs also helps motivate, especially during the colder, darker days of winter.

4. Hold yourself accountable, or hire someone who will.

Unless you’re extremely well-versed in the ways of self-discipline, the “you don’t get a cookie if you don’t work out” tactic likely will not be enough to get you off the couch. Hiring a personal trainer, even if only for a few sessions, is an investment of your money and somebody else’s time. “It’s important to have an objective voice to tell you what to do,” says Forkner. “Even as a coach, it’s easy to talk myself out of a workout or to do something more than I should. [Having a coach] is not just for racers. It’s not just for pros. It’s for anyone who just wants to make the most of their time.”

5. Increase frequency first, then intensity.

Been off the couch for awhile? Don’t push it too hard too fast. Forkner recommends gradually building up time in the saddle to get a base level of fitness. The focus, he says, is not how hard you go but how often you do it—for the first month, maybe it’s four days a week, 90 minutes per session. “From there, I would increase frequency by 10 percent every month until that person is able to do 10—12 hours a week without problem.” Once the consistency and frequency are achieved, that’s when the intensity of the workout increases. Adding intensity too early could result in injury.

6. Cross train.

Doing the same activity day in and day out might not only get boring but potentially dangerous. “Cycling is a very one-dimensional sport,” says Forkner, so muscle groups in your core and upper body don’t really get that much attention. For peak performance, incorporate strength training and focus on parts of the body you don’t use. Not big on lifting weights? Low-impact, balance-oriented activities like swimming and yoga are great substitutes. Aim for two or three days per week of cross training for a well-rounded fitness profile.

7. Train when you’re training, rest when you’re resting.

“You don’t want to slog along in this gray zone of always kinda riding hard,” Forkner says. It will be detrimental to your body in the long run. At the very least, take one day off completely. On your other rest days, limit yourself to 60 minutes of active recovery, something that circulates the blood but keeps your heart rate low.

8. Climb hills.

And climb them frequently. “Don’t just save the big climbs for when you feel like you’re fit,” Forkner says. “You gotta train on them all of the time to get better.” After all, what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.


The summit of Spruce Knob can often be harsh and arctic-like, perfect training to start the new year. / Photo by Travis Olson, MountainRides, LLC

9. Embrace the foam roller.

It hurts, and it hurts for a reason, but it’s going to hurt a lot more if you wind up with an overuse injury later in the season. Prevention is key! “Ease into it,” Forkner says. “Roll out the sore muscles 10 or 15 minutes after most rides, three or four days a week. The more frequently you do it, the less overuse issues typically arise.”

10. Make mini goals.

Preparing to climb 1,000 feet every 10 miles for 100 miles straight (standard protocol in races like the Assault on Mount Mitchell) can seem, well, daunting. Start small and celebrate every step forward. Maybe it’s just a 20-mile ride with only 2,000 feet of elevation. Maybe it’s simply the fact that you didn’t have to hike-a-bike on that one climb that you normally walk. Whatever it is, use it as fuel to keep going.