Road biking endurance, strength and speed
How to build up your cycling fitness
Strength, speed and endurance: three of the fundamentals needed should you wish to improve your all round cycling ability.
All three are vital components whether you intend to race, focus on sportives, aim to ride your first century ride or simply want to get better as a rider. You’ll need a reasonable base level of fitness not to mention strong willpower as well as the ability to focus and stick to a plan. But, it’ll be worthwhile in the end: the immense satisfaction of seeing the rewards of your hard work is something quite special, not to mention the warm afterglow of a hard training session as you work towards your goal..
Follow our advice and you’ll be well on the road...
There are no real shortcuts to improving your endurance, it takes hours and hours on the bike over a period of time, but if your training is more focussed and smarter and you’re willing to push yourself then you won’t need to spend an inordinate amount of time slugging out the miles.
Before you tackle the longer miles ensure you’ve fuelled up properly; so a decent breakfast or pre ride meal plus food and or energy products and drink to get you through the ride. On these rides make sure you are fuelling little and often, to ensure your glycogen stores are topped up. (every 20 mins to half an hour on a four hour ride is ideal.)
Remember to pace your longer rides, starting off steadier at a tempo you know you can sustain. For the first third of your ride settle into a pace that is relatively easy to maintain before assessing whether you can up the pace a little and push on. Once into the last third of the ride try to look to push the pace even more, not flat out but at a rhythm that is bordering on the uncomfortable yet still sustainable.
Mentally breaking the ride down into intermediate goals can make the whole experience that little bit easier to cope with as you tick off each section in your mind. It could be at the top of each long hill or a specific place or landmark on your route. As each one passes your morale will improve, making the whole experience far more manageable and less daunting.
In doing these longer rides you are essentially teaching your body to become more efficient. The more you ride the fitter you will become and the better your body will become at burning fat rather than carbohydrate, which means you can ride for longer. Over time build up the distances gradually, ensuring appropriate rest, especially if you are juggling training around study or a job, as well as the other stresses of modern day life. Try to work rest and recovery around lifestyle then factor in your training around that. Not the other way around. Also ensure that there is consistency and structure to your training with a focus on progression and also keep a training diary to look back on to reflect and adapt if needed.
There are many ways of improving your strength as a rider, both on and off the bike. But, before you head off to the gym look at what your goals and aims are. If you are looking to improve your sprint and regularly race your strength training will be different to a rider who just wants to complete their first century sportive.
One training method that will help you as a rider whatever your aims and ambitions happen to be is core strength. It’s increasingly popular now and helps create a strong support system for your legs when delivering power (as well as shoulders and arms when out of the saddle sprinting or climbing). The stronger your core the less you will experience fatigue on longer rides. Core strength is something I work on every day now, even though I’ve finished racing. It’s definitely made a difference, especially to my stability on the bike and ability to transmit power whilst seated.
You can easily incorporate strength training whilst out riding, either on a short specific ride when you focus on this element or interspersed on a longer endurance ride.
Some examples of specific strength training include: short sharp sprints of 10 seconds from a slow speed, using a hard, high gear that you can feel imposes a load on your muscles, giving you something hard to push against. During these efforts your heart rate may not get that high, but don’t worry, as the focus is on exerting the muscles to effect neuromuscular adaptations more than stressing you anaerobically. Another method is to ride up a local hill (around 1.5km or a about a mile will suffice) whilst remaining seated turning the pedals at a cadence of around 55-60 rpm. Again, focus on the action of pedalling whilst trying to remain seated. It may actually be inefficient in relation the climbing the hill fast but remember the focus is on distressing the muscles.
Every rider wants to go faster. From Mark Cavendish to a club rider in their local time trial. And, with work and application improvements can be made.
Again, if time is a scarce commodity try and introduce three or four one minute efforts into your longer rides. Using a flat stretch of road (ensuring a good warm up first) ride as hard as you can for a minute before easing up, spinning the legs and continuing on. As you get fitter you will be able to introduce more into your ride but for maximum effect rest up for at least 5-10 minutes before repeating the effort.
The turbo trainer (see my realbuzz article on turbo training for more detail) is a great place to do these efforts in a more controlled environment. (It’s where I did most of my speed work). A typical session would be a 10 minute warm up then 5 sets of 1 minute efforts with 4 minutes active rest in between. Very hard indeed but really worth the effort! Try and do sessions like this at least once a week as it will not only improve your ability to ride fast but also your strength and endurance!
The key to seeing improvements of strength, endurance and speed is to mix up your training and to not get into rut. If you ride 25km a day to work and back at 25kmh an hour day in, day out, that’s what your body will become remarkably efficient at, to the detriment of everything else. So vary your training, you’ll find it psychologically stimulating too, especially when you see the results!
Written by Matt Stephens
Matt is a former British Road Race champion who represented GB in the Olympics, World Championships and Commonwealth Games. He is now a regular commentator for EuroSport and a presenter on Global Cycling Network.