Here’s the clincher… Ericsson argues that virtually all differences in performance can be accounted for by the amount of deliberate practice a person engages in.

In other words, it’s not about going and doing something lots. It’s not really about how many hours or kilometres you’re riding. What matters is the deliberateness with which you practice. That’s one of the key reasons that getting a coach is such a valuable investment. If you really want to be good, you need to “practice”, and that’s not the same as simply riding lots.

The best example of how this principle of deliberate practice works is demonstrated in one of Ericsson’s studies. He and his colleagues recruited groups of musicians. These were either: top level professional violinists, ‘best’ violinists at an academy (likely to become top level professionals), ‘good’ violinists at the academy, and violinists so rubbish they would probably become music teachers.

He found that the better the violinist, the more time they had spent in ‘deliberate practice’ activities across the entire span of their time as a violinist.

The figure below demonstrates this relationship between hours spent practising and level of expertise. You’ll note that weekly hours of practice clearly distinguish the best from the worst violin players.

When those hours of practice are averaged across the life of the musician, the graph looks like this…

Based on Ericsson’s research it would appear that 10 000 hours is the magic number needed to attain the highest standard. (Malcolm Gladwell recently addressed the 10 000 hour rule in his book, Outliers.)

The 10 year rule

Other researchers have discovered that it takes chess players 10 years of intense practice to attain international level of chess skill (this includes famous child prodigies) – which works out to be about 10 000 hours of deliberate practice.

That means it’s necessary to do 20 hours of deliberate practice every week for 10 years to get to the top!

Other studies suggest this ‘10 year rule’ also seems to apply to many other domains such as sports.

Anderson (2000): “all the evidence indicates that genius is 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration” (p.304).

While it’s true that the bulk of people reading this blog aren’t gunning for the next world titles or even a local team, the critical point here is this.

“Ride lots” is good advice, but it only tells half the story.

Riding with a purpose, deliberately practicing, doing sets and reps, using a heart strap or power-meter, reading quality books and blogs that teach training tips, and getting a coach are the things that will really make a difference in your riding.