How to train for endurance cycling

Endurance is key to cycling performance, but how do you improve your endurance ability? Here are some top tips

Clock17:30, Wednesday 17th April 2024

Whether you’re a weekend warrior, ultra-distance sufferer or simply enjoy an easy spin, endurance is important. It’s the one ability that virtually every type of cyclist wants to improve, helping them to ride faster and further.

Cycling on a regular basis will naturally improve a rider’s endurance, but there are certain ways to maximise these endurance gains through dedicated training. Here are five tips that will help you to unlock your full endurance potential.

Be consistent

Endurance doesn’t improve overnight. One endurance training session every so often won’t be enough to make big gains. Instead, you need to be consistent.

Training consistently over a long period will give your body the time to adapt and become more efficient at using oxygen, in turn improving your cardiovascular system. Over time your heart and lungs will become stronger, allowing them to deliver oxygen to the rest of the body more efficiently, which is a key factor for endurance ability.

Your muscles will also get used to the workload too, reducing fatigue over longer periods of exercise. This is key, as increased muscular endurance allows you to train at higher intensities for extended periods.

Being consistent isn’t easy and is usually linked to motivation. This is where a training plan or dedicated app like Zwift or Wahoo SYSTM can be handy. They can take care of the sometimes dull process of planning sessions and giving you something to aim for.

Don’t ignore low-intensity long rides

There is now lots of research showing the effectiveness of modern, structured training methods. This has led to a decline in the old-fashioned ways of simply going out and logging lots of low-intensity miles.

But if that method was good enough for the greats like Eddy Merckx, it’s good enough for us too. Rolling around for hours at low speeds sounds easy, but it’s not as simple as you might think.

The key to maximising this type of training is to ignore the impulse to ride harder. Just because your heart rate isn’t rocketing, it doesn’t mean that you’re not in the midst of an effective training ride. Try to stick to around 65% to 75% of your Functional Threshold Power (FTP).

Endurance rides should also be at least two hours long. If you struggle with longer riders, build the distance up over time.

High-intensity efforts matter too

Low-intensity training alone won’t be enough. To help your body adapt, you need to incorporate some high-intensity intervals into your training too.

There are lots of ways to do this, but a high intensity effort is usually between 4–10 minutes long, at 108% to 125% of your FTP. High-intensity efforts like this lead to improvements in FTP and VO2 Max - the higher these numbers are, the more effort you’ll be able to put out for longer periods.

Interval efforts can be tricky to do when riding outdoors, especially on hilly parcours when the demands of the road determine how hard you need to pedal. In this situation, use the landscape as part of your training. Save your efforts for the hills and use the flat for recovery wherever possible - you don’t want to be hitting the foot of a hill at the end of an interval.

Indoor training platforms can be a great way to train at higher intensities, as you don’t need to worry about the parcours. Instead, you can concentrate on hitting those all-important power numbers.

Utilise polarised training

Finding the right balance between low-intensity rides and tougher sessions is important. Go too hard in training and you’ll soon burn out. Don’t do enough and your progress may falter.

Polarised training offers one of the most popular solutions. It’s been around for many years but has gained more traction over recent times, and involves splitting your riding time between 80% at low intensities and 20% at high intensities.

It’s regarded as one of the most efficient ways to distribute training load, while also missing out the middle intensities which, according to Tadej Pogačarr’s coach Inigo San Millan, are a waste of time - and who are we to argue with a man that has trained a Tour de France champion?

Don’t neglect nutrition and hydration

Most of the hard work and gains will be made on the bike, but you shouldn’t neglect good off-the-bike habits too.

Nutrition is top of the pile here. Good nutrition will help your body to recover after rides, which is essential for improvement. Endurance riding also expends a lot of energy, and you’ll be relying on nutrition to fill that energy void.

Hydration is equally as important. Most cyclists are good at staying on top of this during the summer, but neglect it more in the winter - it’s really easy to forget to take on liquids when it’s cold. Try to remember to drink little but often.

For more cycling training guides and workouts, head over to the GCN website

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