Many endurance athletes know how it feels to fade and die before the end of a ride or race.
What’s it like?
It’s horrendous and I certainly have some experiences I can bring to mind that were “character building”…
Building cycling endurance is something that a good training plan should always be working on, and improving endurance should be an ever-present goal.
You might have the best 5-sec sprint power or highest 5-min VO2Max peak, but it’ll be useless if your endurance doesn’t allow you to be in a position to use it when it matters.
On a less serious note, just being able to ride long distances or events faster and more comfortably is a common and thoroughly respectable goal that a lot of cyclists have.
So, here are 5 of my best training tips to help you to build cycling endurance the right way.
Let’s get started…
1: LOWER THAT INTENSITY
One of the biggest changes I’ve made to my own training and something I try to impress onto my coached riders is to slow down your sub-threshold endurance training.
I used to try and ride all of my long training sessions at upper Zone 2 and often into Zone 3, thinking the stimulus would be greater than at a lower intensity since it felt harder.
I believe that’s not true for a number of reasons…
Long-duration endurance training is not like high intensity training in the sense of being very sensitive to small changes in power output.
When doing a 3-min effort, being 10-15 watts under or over your target can have a huge impact on tolerable duration.
However, that difference is far less during longer sessions.
Secondly, long duration endurance training relies far more on time spent riding rather than intensity.
So, it figures that reducing power output to allow you to ride longer is a great way to achieve the goal of that particular type of workout. If you need some more convincing, check out some of the pros’ training on Strava. You’ll see how easy (relatively speaking) their long rides are. Seriously.
The thing is, endurance training often feels TOO easy and the temptation is always to go a little faster.
When you have the time to ride for long periods of time, going easier than you think is a sustainable way to increase the time you can spend at endurance-boosting intensities.
2: TAKE BREAKS
Coming back to the idea that building cycling endurance and the associated training relies on accumulated time, stopping and taking short breaks during your long rides will also help you ride for longer and accrue more training time.
Some cyclists believe that taking breaks during long rides hinders the training stress and that it’s about making sure you can ride for as long as you can WITHOUT stopping that matters.
The latter point is true to some extent.
Even so, taking a rest every hour or two will mean you can use that break to ride for longer overall by allowing yourself small doses of recovery.
It’s almost the same as the primarily benefit of interval training, where the recovery blocks allow you to increase the amount of time in high intensity training zones, relative to what you could do in a single interval.
Breaks also literally ‘break’ up the ride, making the daunting prospect of 4-5 hour ride more manageable when thought of as a series of 1-2 hour blocks of relatively easy riding.
That serves to help you stay out for longer, which is what we’re looking for.
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3: PROGRESSIVE INCREASES
Building cycling endurance involves increasing the amount of time you’re training at low intensities as we’ve discussed, but more doesn’t always mean better…
Increasing training time to improve endurance has to be done in a progressive fashion that’s individualised to you.
This is where copying the training of someone else can result in problems…
The training load of another rider could be more or less than your body needs to make the right adaptions.
When planning your endurance training, you need to take into account factors like your training history, your unique strengths and weaknesses and the other demands you have placed on you in general life.
As a general rule, increases in your long ride time and the amount of low intensity training time you accumulate from one week to the next wants to be conservative and in the single digit percentages, perhaps somewhere in the 5-10% range.
Building endurance is a long-term play and with this in mind, even a 5% increase week-on-week will add up to huge differences months down the line.
4: SPECIFICITY INTERVALS
Improving your endurance isn’t just about riding for longer, and improved stamina means different things to different types of cyclist.
For those riding long events, using “fatigue resistance” intervals can elevate your endurance greatly.
What I do to help train myself and coached athletes in this area is to include intervals within certain long rides to train their ability to maintain power in the presence of fatigue.
This can be done with intervals at either the start or at the end of a long ride…
Mass-start events like sportives and MTB marathons often begin at a fast pace, despite being long duration events. Riders will sprint and ride hard to establish positions and with everyone fresh and motivated early on, the pace often sets out at an unsustainable level.
You can train your ability to handle this by performing some hard efforts at the start of a long ride before settling into your regular intensity for the rest of the ride, where you’ll be riding with fatigue in the legs almost from the very start.
Performing some intervals at the end of a long ride when you’ve got the fatigue of multiple hours of riding in your legs will train you to be able to maintain power at the end of long rides and events, where most others will be checking out physically and mentally.
You’ll help train other muscles that wouldn’t be stressed if you were just riding low intensity for the entire workout and this can make a big difference to your endurance.
What’s more, by every now and again including such intervals, you’ll be able to achieve a bump in TSS, putting a greater stress on your body and sending a stronger signal for adaption.
5: ENDURANCE BLOCKS
Block training is something that world-class athletes use to increase the improvement they get in a particular area of their fitness.
However, any rider of any ability can take this same concept and use it to their advantage.
Here’s how it works:
Block training is essentially where you train a particular ability by scheduling back-to-back training sessions without the usual recovery days in between in order to increase the training stress and subsequent adaptive response.
It’s usually reserved for high intensity, but you can use block training to build endurance too.
By riding back-to-back long duration sessions on both Saturday and Sunday, you can benefit from a concentrated dose of endurance-based stress.
Assuming that you allow adequate recovery in the following days, you can benefit from a super-compensatory response and spike your endurance ability more than if training in a more linear fashion, such as a one day “on”, one day “off” pattern.
It should be noted though that CONSISTENCY is incredibly important to long-term fitness improvement and block training should be administered in a progressive way so as not to interfere with your training consistency too much.
Building cycling endurance relies on intensity discipline and long-term consistency in your training.
By employing the ideas listed above though, you can improve the amount of fitness you can build with your individual workouts.
If you need help creating a structured training programme, please get in touch.
Thanks a lot for time and I’ll catch you again on the next post.
P.S. Start putting these tips into practice today with 3 of my favourite endurance-boosting workouts. Get your free guide here: