How to Improve Your Cycling Endurance

July 28, 2020 6 min read

Cycling endurance training can help you enjoy late-season sportives or long rides. If you’re new to the Wattbike Atom smart bike, or simply haven’t been able to be as active as you’d like recently. We can’t promise you’ll be Tour de France ready by the end of August, but there’s a high chance you’ll at least build a solid foundation for the next season if you follow these tips for improving your cycling endurance.

Table of Contents:

What is Endurance Cycling?

In the simplest possible terms, endurance cycling is your ability to ‘last the distance’ in your chosen cycling event, whetherSportives orGrand Tours. Track pursuit riders need endurance for their sub-5-minute race, as much as a hundred-mile sportive rider will need to be strong and comfortable in the saddle for five hours, often more. As with all training before you start a program you need to define your goals.

an endurance cyclist riding uphill ahead of other cyclists

Endurance training is often thought of as simply ‘getting the miles in’, focusing on accumulating time in the saddle at an easy, constant pace. As fitness develops the time spent in the saddle is increased. How long your longest ride needs to be depends on your goal race or distance. You don’t necessarily have to cover the full distance of your target event in training, but you should feel comfortable with riding up to 80% of it

How to Do Endurance Rides

A good endurance ride needs to be controlled and can often feel uncomfortably slow, particularly on the hills. If you are using heart rate or power, you will really have to back off to stay in your training zone which can be hard if you are riding with others who are eager to push on. (Endurance training takes place at 60-70% of your max heart rate or 55-75% of your functional threshold power.)

If you don’t have aWattbike smart bike, power metre orheart rate monitor the simplest gauge is how much you can talk. You should be able to chat comfortably throughout the ride, if you start to gasp you are going too hard.

What Does Endurance Cycling Look Like?

Long endurance rides are a good opportunity to practise your nutrition strategy for events and experiment with different foods and drinks. A word of warning; easy steady pace riding can really rev up your appetite and it's very tempting to over eat when you get in!

Fuel your ride well and make sure that you have a healthy snack with protein and carbs or a recovery drink as soon as you finish. Aim to be drinking 500-750ml of fluids an hour and eating around 60g of carbohydrate, starting in the first 40 minutes of your ride.

Whilst traditional steady cycling endurance rides are fun and sociable they are also time intensive with minimal reward for your investment. You need to do a lot of hours at this pace to see your fitness progress, and remember time spent in the café doesn’t count!

Professional riders might spend as much as 80% of their week riding in their endurance zone in the early part of their season but they will be training 30 hours or more with plenty of time for recovery.

Getting the Most from Endurance Training

If you have a limited amount of time to train, then there are ways of getting more benefits out of the time you put in. Here’s how to make the most of cycling endurance:

  • Do short, intense sessions - It is well documented thathigh intensity interval training benefits endurance, doing short but very intense intervals can increase your body’s ability to use oxygen during exercise, one of the markers of endurance. If you only have an hour or less to spare, doing a constant steady paced ride (unless it is for recovery) will not greatly enhance your endurance cycling. Instead a HIIT session will develop your cardiovascular endurance and increase your power. Double win. If you can’t go long, go short and hard.
  • Mix up longer and shorter rides - Creating a balance of training is a challenge for every busy person. If you can get one long, constant pace ride and a mix of shorter and harder rides on days when you have less time available then you will be able to develop your cycling endurance whilst making the best possible use of the time you have available.

5 Ways to Improve Your Cycling Endurance

Cycling endurance training is often thought of as ‘getting the miles in’, but to make the most of the time spent on the bike there are a few things you need to take into consideration.

1. Train Your Body

Regular riding makes the body fitter and better at using fat stores, and fitter riders use higher amounts of fat-based energy, stretching out carbohydrate reserves. In order to train your body properly, you’ll first need to incorporate some aerobic exercise. Do this by adding in some high tempo efforts into your cycling endurance training sessions to make the necessary adaptations to your cardiovascular system.

3 cyclists in black clothing riding uphill around a hairpin bend

Secondly, planning in some fasted sessions can help train your body to burn fat more efficiently. Although we wouldn’t recommend doing this all the time, it’s worth adding a few sessions here and there to kickstart your body into burning fat for fuel.

Finally, it pays to be consistent. It’s thought of as getting the miles for a reason. You’ll need to keep up your training if you want to see improvement. As you find yourself getting better, you can look to set a bigger goal every second or third week, getting further and further every time.

2. Know Your Pacing

Endurance rides should take place at around 60-70% of your MHR (maximum heart rate), or 55-75% of your FTP (functional threshold power). This is easy to track on the Wattbike and theWattbike Hub. However, if you’re out and about without a power metre, orheart rate monitor, you should be able to assess what level you’re working at by how well you can talk- you should be able to chat comfortably throughout the ride.

3. Practise Reverse Periodisation

If your targeted cycling endurance events aren’t on your agenda anytime soon, it’s worth considering trying a new training method. Traditionally, cycling training follows a periodisation model, building your base initially before moving on to harder, race-style efforts to finish the programme.

This method isn’t so effective for summer endurance cycling events, so if that’s your goal, areverse periodisation model might suit you better. This would involve getting your harder, faster efforts out of the way over winter, and then tapering down to your longer but steadier endurance rides more towards the spring.

Looking to do your endurance cycling rides outdoors with friends? As fun as they are, remember these sessions are often time-intensive with little reward, so swap out some rides for some focussed Wattbike sessions. Eight hours outdoors equates to considerably less time on the trainer.

If you’re looking to build your endurance any time of the year, you can always get started with one of ourcycling training plans or add in someindoor sessions for increasing cycling endurance.

4. Get Sweaty While You Cycle

Adding some high-intensity interval training can also help to supercharge your cycling training sessions. This is because doing short but intense intervals can increase your body’s ability to use oxygen during exercise. This, in turn, increases your endurance.

a distant shot of 3 cyclists riding downhill around a hairpin bend

If you’re short on time, an hour of steady riding isn’t going to yield good results, so swap out the session for some HIIT instead and practise using that oxygen supply. Balancing your sessions between long and slow rides and short, hard sessions will help you make the most of your available time.

5. Figure Out Your Fuelling Strategy

Long endurance rides require you to practise your nutrition. By getting the practice in you’ll learn what food and drinks work best for your body, allowing you to avoid any incidents on the day of the sportive. However, easy steady riding can easily ramp up your appetite, and fixating on that slice of cake at the end can easily lead to you overeating.

Keep yourself fuelled throughout the ride with around 60g of carbs per hour, starting from the 40-minute mark, and aim to be drinking around 500-750ml of fluid an hour.

When planning yournutrition for a long endurance ride, you’ll need to be making the most of your internal reserves. Glycogen comes from the carbohydrates via the muscles and liver, glucose from the bloodstream and triglycerides (fats) are stored in the muscles.

Plus, there is the biggest source of energy: body fat. Running out of muscle or liver glycogen, or low blood glucose levels are what will make you hit the wall, so make sure to stock up on your carbohydrates.

Performance Training with Wattbike

At Wattbike, we’re helping you get the most from every ride. With ourcycling workouts andperformance tests, you can benchmark your progress and get closer to your targets with every session.

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