Follow Balazs Simon’s Journey from Cycling Pro to Coach and Personal Trainer
Professional cycling involves endurance, determination and a focus on peak performance – characteristics that Balazs Simon fought hard to develop. Based in Hungary, Balazs recently swapped a successful cycling career for the life of a coach and personal trainer. Below you will find his fascinating story, along with plenty of solid advice for aspiring cyclists of all levels.
How did you first get involved with cycling?
Like most kids, I cycled everywhere. I loved the freedom, the speed and that you can get everywhere, any time. I also went on bike tours with my dad so I got a good feeling what challenge and accomplishment means. Around 2005 I realized that cycling can be much more than just going from ’A’ to ’B’ so I started training and setting goals.
When and how did you become a professional cyclist?
My first major race was the Tour de Gella (Hungary) in 2006. This 80km race consisted 5 laps with a hilly section. I was a rookie, nervous, and ready to test myself. This was also the first time that I saw pros in action. I knew that I had one big advantage; no one knew me! On the last lap, there was a gap, this was a chance to attack; so I did. I pushed as hard as I could and although they caught up on me just before the finish line I still snatched the 3rd place.
Many people came to congratulate me, and to persuade me to join their team. My fate was decided there and then; cycling became my ‘day and night’.
Many times, I had my 80-100km done before school and I was eager to jump on my white alu bike right after. Soon it turned out that I have some talent and I also enjoyed the hard work that came with it. Every day I was facing to my limits and every day I pushed them a little further out. I was on the bike when it was raining, I was cycling when it was scorching hot. Sometimes I got home with thorn cuts and bleeding wounds, but I loved it.
Time trials were really my specialty – though I also managed to win some mountain races. From 2007 I won various races including 2 Hungarian National Championships.
When and why did you decide to stop racing at pro level?
My pro career was rather short. I decided to quit in 2012 after 6 years of racing. You need to be very talented and committed to make it to the elite level. You need to ask yourself if you are willing to have the lifestyle and make the sacrifices necessary to do it. And that’s a lot! The level of the Tour de France was out of my reach. Financially these years were also challenging and I had to start working. Next to a full-time job there was no energy left to keep up with the regime.
I am fortunate to say that my job is also my hobby. I am working in a bike shop so I did not leave cycling entirely. I just changed the court.
What motivated you to become a coach and personal trainer?
I did not plan it, somehow life just pushed me in that direction. People around me started asking for advice regarding training and nutrition plans. After a while I realized that I like working with people and helping them to achieve their goals. I also realized that there are plenty of room to educate myself. First I became a certified personal trainer then I achieved certificates in TRX and road cycling.
You are a qualified body geometry specialist. What does that mean and what is it good for?
Body Geometry Fit enables riders to maximize power, effectiveness and comfort by assessing individual’s needs through precise measurement and calculation.
I have fitted more than a 1000 bikes in the past few years. The right riding position is extremely important to maximize both performance and comfort.
How do you design your training plans?
I used to train by monitoring my heart rate only. These days there are more sophisticated ways to track performance. While heart rate monitors the body’s response to effort, power measures that effort. Power has a number of advantages over heart rate. Heart rate can be suppressed by fatigue and can also be influenced by other factors, like nutrition, stress, caffeine intake…etc.
Another technique to fine-tune someone’s training plan is to run an FTP (Functional Threshold Power) test. FTP represents your ability to sustain the highest possible power output over approx. 60 minutes, depending on whether you’re a trained athlete or not. As a result, 95% of the 20-minute average power is used to determine FTP.
Sport science is constantly renewing itself; giving us more insight into fitness and providing new tools to optimize training plans.
What is the biggest mistake that you see amateur athletes make?
These days we want everything instantly! We eat fast, we speak fast and we want achievements fast. The biggest mistake that amateur cyclist’s make is that they believe that an hour training with maximum intensity counts as ‘good’ training. You may see a sudden improvement in your fitness but it is only for the short term. Soon you will see that no matter what you do, neither your performance nor your endurance is improving any further.
Why do you think that the presence of a coach is beneficial for the individual?
Coaches and Personal Trainers have the knowledge to design a personalized training plan based on and individual’s fitness level and goals. Most people do not know how to plan their own regime correctly.
Coaches can analyse an athlete’s performance and to scale the work up or down accordingly. Most importantly, let’s not forget about the fact that athletes are risking their health if they are overdoing an exercise or not doing it correctly. By following a carefully designed training plan (mixing endurance and interval training as well as rest days) we can achieve our goals faster and more safely.
Who are your clients and what are their goals?
I mainly work with amateur cyclists. Some start from zero, others would like to fine-tune their performance. There are people who want to lose weight or want to start racing – or would like to improve their overall performance and are aiming for a better time trial result. One of my clients is training for 5 days at more than 10,000m elevation for a race in the Alps.
So, I work with people at different levels and different goals. I am proud that I helped people to start to love cycling and it became their lifestyle. Obviously, there are some who drop out but it’s nice to see the same faces year after year, happy and reaching their goals.
What kind of training and exercise is necessary to become a strong cyclist?
If you want to become a great cyclist you should spend most of the time on your bike. Although never underestimate the importance of cross-training. Strength training will make you stronger (TRX, weights). You can build up specific muscle groups that will benefit you when riding.
Swimming is a great way to improve your lung/breathing capacity and oxygen uptake. It also helps you to build a strong core. I also suggest to do some yoga to improve your breathing technique so you can breathe better on the bike. It also improves your strength and flexibility.
One of the biggest worries for all athletes is getting injured. What are your techniques for avoiding injuries?
Stretching and strengthening core muscles are extremely important. It is a common mistake that people jump on their bike without warming up. It is important to get the muscle ready and warmed up before aiming for a big effort. The same applies to cooling down and stretching the body especially the parts that were heavily used. Treating ourselves with a massage is another nice way to help muscle to recover.
You can even mix stretching and massaging at home with the help of a foam roller. Foam rollers can release tight muscle, break up adhesions and scar tissue and speed up the healing and recovery process after your workout.
Cherished memory: In 2009 I was racing in the World Championship in Mendrisio. The fans/onlookers looked up my bib number and were shouting my name to cheer me on. That was quite a moment 🙂
I’d like to thank Balazs for some excellent insights! If you are a fitness professional, involved in the fitness industry, in research or product design and would like to feature in your own ‘Fitness Pro Interview’, then please get in touch via email@example.com
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