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How to Build And Improve Cycling Endurance

Updated on February 7, 2013
CyclingFitness profile image

Liam Hallam is a sports science graduate. He is also a keen cyclist as well as being a lover of the Derbyshire Dales and Peak District.

Endurance Cycling Training To Become a Better Bike Rider

Cycling is an endurance sport and therefore any training you perform has to have an element of targeting the development of endurance as part of a training program. There are so many cycling workouts to develop endurance that can be considered. This article looks at the types of workouts that can be used to increase your ability to ride the bike for longer and hopefully quicker too as endurance training also goes hand in hand with strength and speed training to make you a better cyclist.

Improve your endurance to become a better cyclist

Building your endurance will improve your cycling ability
Building your endurance will improve your cycling ability | Source

A brief insight: What is endurance and how does it affect cycling?

In it's most simplistic term

"Endurance is the ability to continue working despite the onset of fatigue[1]"

Endurance is also relative to the cycling activity. You need a different level of endurance to be able to feel fit and strong at the end of an Indoor Cycling Spinning Class as opposed to towards to end of a 100 mile ride in the mountains. They both involve endurance however at different levels. Being physically fit enough to completing a spin class in great shape can lead towards developing and endurance base for events such as long hilly rides in the mountains.

In general endurance for competitive cycling involves developing a base level of fitness to allow progress to more specific event orientated training. This can also be true with those who want to lose weight through cycling and need to initially develop a base level of fitness from which they can progress.

There is actually a more specific endurance when it comes to cycling- Muscular Endurance

Muscular endurance is the ability of a cyclist to sustain a high workload for a long period of time. This is especially true in events like road races and time trials where a cyclist has to maintain a relatively high cadence while pushing a relatively large gear.

Muscular endurance develops from normal endurance throughout the course of a training programme.

Muscular endurance is a key ability in Time Trial Events

To ride an effective time trial event you need to develop excellent muscular endurance
To ride an effective time trial event you need to develop excellent muscular endurance | Source
Improving your cycling endurance can lead to more enjoyment on the bike
Improving your cycling endurance can lead to more enjoyment on the bike | Source

Physiological adaptations to endurance training in cyclists

What physiological characteristics can be improved and how can the body show signs of adaptation through endurance cycling?

  • Reduced resting heart rate and heart rate during exercise
  • Increase in red blood cells within the bloodstream to carry oxygen to working muscles
  • Increased level of mitochondria within our muscle fibres
  • Increased capillarization of muscles to improve blood flow
  • Increased ability for muscles to resist fatigue
  • Potential to decrease body fat
  • Decreased stress levels

These are just a selection of the general ways that endurance cycling can improve our body and life.

Long Slow Distance Training to improve cycling endurance

Long slow distance training to develop cycling endurance has long been a favourite with competitive cyclists and casual cyclists to increase the time they are able to comfortably spend riding a bicycle.

Long slow distance training involves spending extended amounts of time on the bicycle working your aerobic energy system to increase your cycling stamina. The key to developing cycling stamina is to incrementally increase the workload performed over time and never by more than 10% of what you are accustomed to. This allows the body to overcompensate during recovery.

Aerobic rides such as these are essential base training for cycling and can be done outdoors on your own or with a structured group that won't push you too hard. Or alternately they can be done in the comfort of your home on a turbo trainer attached to the rear wheel of the bicycle, a set of cycling rollers (not recommended for beginners) or alternately on an exercise bike in your home or a gym environment.

How to build endurance in cycling- get out and ride!

Make the most of summer days and get some long slow distance training in to improve cycling endurance
Make the most of summer days and get some long slow distance training in to improve cycling endurance | Source

Fixed gear cycling to improve endurance

You may have seen people riding around town on a singlespeed, fixed gear bicycle or own one yourself. They can be great to ride although in some ways that fact they only have one gear can be seen as a way they can hold you back. However if your aim is to improve your cycling endurance riding a fixed gear bicycle can really improve your stamina. A fixed gear bicycle means that you cannot freewheel and have to constantly pedal.

Fixed gear cycling (using a moderate gearing that feels comfortable to spin on flat roads) works on endurance as well as your leg speed when you ride downhill as your legs are often forces to turn much quicker and it also works on your leg strength while cycling uphill.

As you don't get the opportunity to freewheel while riding a fixed gear bicycle you actually get a more concentrated workout when compared to cycling a regular bicycle. This means that a shorter workout has similar benefits to raising your cycling endurance.

Interval workouts to improve your cycling endurance

Sometimes we get used to cycling at one single pace. Which can be good however it can also lead our body to a limiting point in terms of endurance and fitness development. Interval training for endurance can help you to get out of a 'one pace rut' and take your endurance and cycling fitness to whole new levels.

Interval workouts can be excellent at developing muscular endurance for cycling events. Heart rates during muscular endurance intervals are typically at the high end of your aerobic metabolism pushing into anaerobic metabolism.

Typical Interval Training Workouts for Muscular Endurance

A selection of interval workout ideas for developing your muscular endurance

These workouts are based on Anaerobic Threshold Heart Rate. To find out how to calculate your Anaerobic Threshold heart rate please investigate The Conconi Method of predicting anaerobic threshold.

1. Long Muscular Endurance Intervals

5x 5-10 minute long intervals with 3 mins recovery

Typically done on a relatively flat course or on a turbo trainer/ cycling rollers ride strongly yet in a controlled manner keeping your heart rate close to your anaerobic threshold heart rate.

2. Knife edge Muscular Endurance Intervals

Names because if you made a graph of your heart rate it would look like the serated edge of a bread knife.

5x 10 mins intervals with 3-5 mins recovery between

For each interval start of slightly harder than in session 1. Steadily over the course of the first 2 minutes bring your heart rate to about 5 beats above your anaerobic threshold heart rate. Then take the next 2 minutes to steadily lower your heart rate to 5 beats below your anaerobic threshold heart rate, This workout takes some practice however once you get used to taking full control of your heart rate can have a really positive effect on you your cycling.


1. Friel,J.(1996) The Cyclists Training Bible., A&C Black London


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    • dobo700 profile image


      7 years ago from Australia

      thanks for the tips, I'm new to cycling and looking for all the advice I can get.

    • CyclingFitness profile imageAUTHOR

      Liam Hallam 

      8 years ago from Nottingham UK

      Thanks internpete. Good luck with improving your endurance. I hope you can come back and let me know how you've got on with some of these workouts. I like Cannondale bikes myself. Always considered one but i've never owned one personally. Good luck

    • internpete profile image

      Peter V 

      8 years ago from At the Beach in Florida

      Good hub! I got a cannondale road bike and have been enjoying it a lot. This was some great info as I was thinking about how to get my endurance up more. Thanks!


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