Jason Kenny, Team GB Cyclist, Says That Focussing On The Process Is The Zen Of Beating The World

This world-record breaking track cyclist walked away from his sport at the peak of his powers – RISING joined him for a workout to discover his inspiration for coming back, as well as the mental tactics he uses to win

RISING Competition is fierce in the Olympic velodrome and you have a rep for staying cool but then being able to just turn it on to win – are you thinking of breaking milestones at that point? JASON KENNY, TRACK CYCLIST ’Not really, I just focus on being as fast as possible. When I first started Steve Peters was quite a big part of the team and we were always taught that you look after the performance and the outcome will take care of itself. Just go and be as fast as we can, do everything right and hopefully the medals will come.’

RISING Is that how you access the zone? JK ’Yes, I think it is because it can be quite a stressful experience if you’re not in the right kind of mindset, if you’re stressing about the outcome – ultimately we have no control over the outcome. If someone turns up and blitzes everyone then we have no control over that, at the end of the day. We can just focus on ourselves and getting ourselves to be the best that we can be – hopefully that will be enough.’

‘That really takes the pressure off and I’ve always found a way of enjoying the competition and seeing it as an opportunity to show what you can do. I think a lot of people see it as a cloud hanging over them, as opposed to an opportunity.’

I’ve never understood staring someone down – at the end of the day the fastest man is going to win

RISING So you never get psyched out by the competition, then? JK ‘It all comes from training, ultimately – I’ve never understood the whole thing about staring someone down – at the end of the day the fastest man is going to win isn’t he? When you see everyone in the 100m sprint psyching each other out; you run in a straight line, fundamentally! I know I’ve probably got a simplistic Northern view on things like that, but for me I just focus on being the best I can and the no-nonsense approach.’

RISING How about the weight of expectation that inevitably comes when you’re in line to set new records? JK ‘I don’t really think about it, it’s just numbers and records will fall, they always do. It’s that whole process and outcome thing because we can’t even control the time – we could turn up to the track that’s not that fast – the weather affects it massively. Our process is to get up there and put the power down, and what will be will be.’

RISING What about when something goes wrong in a competition – how do you keep your cool? JK ‘We race a lot. You know when you are going to warm-up, you know when you are going to put your kit on, your number on, so nothing is new. It’s just about staying relaxed and going through those processes, then getting on the start line and being relaxed enough to be able to soak it up if something goes pear-shaped along the way, which is almost inevitably does. All that matters is that you get on that startline – it’s the same principle as making the most of every second, whether that’s two minutes out or two years out.’

RISING After taking home three gold medals from the Rio Olympics, bringing your total to six, making you the joint holder (with Chris Hoy) of the most golds won by a GB athlete, you walked away from track cycling – why? JK ‘After Rio I had had enough – even before the World Champs that year I had already had enough – and I went through the whole season telling myself that it would be my last. I was quite serious about it and I was looking at different career paths afterwards. I was looking at the sporting world, anything high performance really.’

If there was something I could tell my 18-year-old self it would be to take decent breaks

RISING Was that because your athlete’s lifestyle had become a bit too all-consuming? JK ’We only do 20 hours a week so it’s like a part-time job at best! My Dad does 48 hours a week, so compared to me he works a lot more, but it’s 24/7 when you’re an athlete. You’re always thinking about the next session and as soon as you finish one session you’re thinking about recovering for the next session. It was draining not being able to switch off – I don’t know if it gave me purpose or not. As much as I was enjoying it, it’s like anything if you do it enough it becomes a bit of a chore.’

RISING Does that mean you were putting too much pressure on yourself? JK ‘We probably make it more restrictive than it is, in reality, but the way my mind works I’m quite high performance and I am always thinking: “You’ve only got so much energy so if I waste energy on this it could be spent training.” That’s always the mindset I’ve had when I’ve been racing and that’s why I’ve never been able to completely switch off. I think maybe if there was something I could tell my 18-year-old self now it would be to take decent breaks and actually enjoy your breaks away; not that I would listen, I’m sure!’

RISING So, how did you spend the last year? JK ‘We got married and went on an amazing honeymoon [Kenny got married to Laura Trott] walked up a mountain, things that you could never do if you were thinking about training in the next couple of days. I’ve always been thinking about conditioning and getting ready to get back training, so this is the first time I’ve ever stopped and done what I feel like, basically.’

RISING Sounds like fun – so what made you reverse your decision to retire? JK ‘I did all that for a year and carried on exercising just because I enjoyed it, and before I knew it I had reverted back to what I was good at, which was riding my bike and doing the gym. So I was training part time anyway, just because I liked it, and before I knew it I had a go back on the track to do a bit of filming with British Cycling and HSBC, and I just loved it.’

RISING Laura and you have just had your first child – how has that shaken training up? JK ’We’ve got a little boy and before he was born I never would have thought it was possible – the way I was before we used to plan every second of every day. We used to train at the same time of the day because we knew that was the best time to train – we went into mad detail and I just didn’t think that lifestyle would fit in with having a child that brings colds home and doesn’t sleep – a complete disaster for high performance!’

‘Actually it changes the way that you train and we are learning that now – to just try and train when you can and just get the work in, and not let it stress you out. If you haven’t slept that well then you have to adjust your training the next day. As an athlete you are always learning and adapting whether that’s to injury, or lack of sleep, or jet lag – so we’re now adapting to having a 7-week old, which is carnage!’

RISING It must be tough at times to maintain your motivation to train, so how do you manage that? JK ’It’s keeping your focus – I have this mentality that you make the most out of every minute, it doesn’t matter whether there’s five seconds or five years to go you always want more time. What I like about sport is the fact that there is a goal and you’re working towards that goal to get yourself into the best possible condition that you can be on the day. That keeps me going and to make the best out of every day because once it is gone you can never get it back.’

RISING It might come as surprise to some that you spend a lot of time pumping iron in the gym – what’s the goal there? JK ‘It raises your strength and gives you that greater potential for more power, which will hopefully make you faster. If you just did the bike you’d get to the point fairly quickly of finding it hard to get that extra little bit. It is about explosive power generation – when we do squats, a lot of it is about that maximum intent so I we try to monitor speed of the bar. The gym is a really important supporting factor, particularly for the sprint guys.’

RISING Is there one key lift that you find really helps push your strength? JK ’I’ve always liked doing power cleans but I bash myself to bits doing them so now I enjoy doing the snatch, just because it gets the bar away from me a bit! You still have the same commitment as with a clean but with less weight on, which feels safer and you don’t have the fact that you have to catch it on your shoulders, and bash them to bits.’

RISING You do a lot of conditioning work too – is that to prevent injury? JK ‘We go in and lift the big weights then there’s a whole host of stuff we do off the back of that. We don’t even call it core stability, I just call it conditioning – you do your warm up, your key lifts and then conditioning, which is about injury prevention and building up those core muscles to support you, and make sure you’re not getting too unbalanced. What we do on the bike is really specific; we don’t carry our own bodyweight and we don’t change our position that much, and the gym is quite good for offsetting that, for injury prevention. Squats is very heavily quads and glutes so it’s good to put a bit of hams in there to look after your knee health.’

If you want to go fast, then short of falling off a mountain, the track’s the place to do it

RISING Say our readers wanted to check out track cycling – how do you get into it? JK** ‘The first thing is to just try it – that’s how I got into it, I just went to Manchester Velodrome and did a taster session. The session after ours was a club session and I joined the club, and that was it, I never looked back.’

RISING What’s different about riding the track to the roads? JK** ’The big thing is you can’t freewheel [track bikes are fixed wheel] which trains your movements and could potentially transfer back onto the road – I know that Mark Cavendish used to do training on the track to help his sprint on the road. Even endurance races on the track tend to be shorter and punchier – 20 mins, 30 mins max – they are done at quite a high intensity.’

RISING Sounds a bit like a HIIT session! So, if you like going fast then head to the track? JK ‘Absolutely – at the end of the day you’re riding on wood as opposed to tarmac so the rolling resistance is much less, and the track itself will help you to go fast. If you want to go fast, short of falling off a mountain, then that’s the place to do it.’

WHAT NEXT? Riding is believing, so if you want to experience the flat out speed and spinning leg burn of track cycling without shelling out for a bike, then head to your local velodrome for a taster session. Check out British Cycling or USA Cycling.

Jason Kenny is supporting the launch of Wiggle’s new gymwear collection – now available

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Comments are for information only and should not replace medical care or recommendations. Please check with your Doctor before embarking on exercise or nutrition regimes for the first time.