Ask The Expert

How To Improve Your Cycling Endurance

What are some of the best ways to improve your cycling endurance? We asked some cycling and fitness experts to find out

How To Improve Cycling Endurance
(Photo: Adobe Stock)

What are some of the best ways to improve your cycling endurance?

Whether you’re just starting out on two wheels or have been cycling for some time, gradually improving your endurance over longer rides is key to your progression as a cyclist.

We asked a selected group of cycling and fitness experts for their best tips and advice when it comes to improving cycling endurance.

Here is what they said.

Get A Bicycle Fitting And Consider Footbeds

Former UCI professional road cyclist and Tagalong Pro trainer James Hibbard

When you think of road cycling, it’s often the ability to endure which comes to mind – the sunken faces atop freezing Alpine passes and the exhausted dust covered bodies after the cobbled classic.

But what exactly is endurance in cycling and how can you improve it?

When seeking to improve your endurance, it’s easy to jump to simply extending the intensity and duration of your rides.

However, while this sort of training is indeed absolutely critical, there is another piece to the puzzle of increasing endurance which is often overlooked by amateur cyclists, seduced too early in their development by power meters and increases in functional threshold power. That piece is efficiency.

While professional cyclists are all genetically gifted with outlier VO2 maxes and outstanding power-to-weight ratios, an under-appreciated – and very trainable – aspect which also distinguishes professional riders is that they waste very little of the energy that they produce.

Assuming one rides for a mere four hours with an average cadence of 90 RPM, one has turned over the cranks more than 21,000 times, so any biomechanical inefficiency, from needing footbeds to failing to properly unweight your leg on the recovery stroke, can add-up to massive losses in efficiency and hence endurance.

So, what can be done to improve cycling efficiency?

• Get a bicycle fitting: A properly fitted bicycle will ensure proper saddle height, reach to the bars and saddle setback, making sure that energy isn’t wasted in supporting your body, in fighting asymmetries, or stabilizing yourself.

• Ride the rollers: Unlike a trainer, rollers force you to apply power evenly to simply stay upright on them, improving the efficiency of your pedal stroke.

• Ride a fixed gear: Much like rollers, the higher cadences of a fixed gear bicycle (make sure to have two properly fitted brakes when training anywhere but a velodrome) train your neuromuscular system to apply power where and when it matters.

It’s no accident that from Bradley Wiggins to Mark Cavendish, a number of highly successful road professionals cut their teeth on the velodrome as young riders.

• Consider footbeds: When cycling, all of your power goes through your feet, so everything from a collapsing arch to other biomechanical problems at the foot/ shoe interface, can waste a great deal of energy. Consider investing in specialty cycling orthotics.

Some of these steps towards efficiency, along with the rigors of a well thought out periodized training program, will go a long way towards ensuring that you’re capable of outlasting other riders in the final kilometers of your next race or club ride.

James Hibbard’s memoir about the philosophical aspects of cycling, The Art of Cycling: Philosophy, Meaning, and a Life on Two Wheels, is available for pre-order and on sale everywhere 3 June.

Road Cycling

(Photo: Adobe Stock)

Train Close To Your VO2 Max

Garret Seacat, Professional Endurance Coach

Improving your fitness as a beginner can sometimes seem daunting when you keep hearing words such as ‘VO2 Max’ and ‘lactate threshold’ – but if you think of your fitness like a car engine, you can quickly learn the best ways to improve your fitness.

By training at or close to your VO2 Max, you can quickly tune your engine and improve your efficiency.

Sticking with the car analogy, a finely tuned four-cylinder can outperform a poorly maintained V8.

To do this properly, you need to be performing one to two minute long 100 per cent efforts 10 times during your ride.

Give yourself five minutes of recovery between each sprint and you will have a highly effective one-hour workout that you should be doing two to three times a week!

Man Cycling

(Photo: Adobe Stock)

Try Cross Training

Jordan Duncan, Owner of Silverdale Sport and Spine

Improvements in cardiovascular function can contribute to increased endurance on the bike.

Since our cardiovascular system is trained relatively equally through different forms of exercise, cross training would be a great way to increase cycling endurance.

Beneficial forms of cross training could include other endurance activities such as running and swimming.

Woman Cycling

(Photo: Adobe Stock)

Train Aerobically On Long Rides

Bob Butler, Ironman Certified Coach and Advisor for Intake Health

Good old-fashioned cycling endurance training, such as building your base by logging lots of miles, is benefiting from new thinking.

Taking a lesson from Ironman and ultra-runners, endurance cycling benefits from training aerobically on those long rides.

Now, instead of just logging lots of miles, the cyclist makes sure those miles are done without reaching their anaerobic heart rate (ie. keeping the workout aerobic).

A good starting point on determining your maximum aerobic heart rate is 180 minus your age. So, if you’re 35 years old, the max aerobic heart rate is 145 bpm (check out the work of six-time world champion Ironman Mark Allen to learn how to fine-tune your numbers).

Pick a relatively flat route of about two hours ride time and ride that course every other day without letting your heart rate exceed 145 bpm (if you’re 35 years old).

Soon, you’ll notice you are covering the same distance with more power and more speed at the same heart rate. Thereby, gaining more performance for the same exertion, the proof of successful endurance training.

Training aerobically releases hormones that build slow twitch muscles that are more efficient. Anytime you exceed your max aerobic threshold heart rate, you are undermining your endurance training.

Another key to endurance training is to stay hydrated (and fuelled) so the body has everything it needs to make those muscle-building hormones throughout a long ride.

The best way to do this is to learn exactly how much hydration your body needs for that ride. Check your hydration status before and after every long ride using technology such as the Intake Health Hydration Tester.

Soon you’ll be able to determine the exact hydration you need for given conditions, without coming up short, or carrying surplus hydration and their weight.

The right training heart rate and precise hydration are critical to quickly building cycling endurance with fewer miles.

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