Improve your endurance

Improve your endurance

To improve your endurance and ride comfortably for longer periods, you need to spend longer periods on your bike than you are currently comfortable with. Here's how to achieve it.

The definition of a long ride depends on your current ability and experience - it could be an hour for beginners or 100 miles for an expert. However, to improve your endurance and ride comfortably for longer periods, the basics and the training principles are the same.

To increase endurance you need to spend longer periods on your bike than you are currently comfortable with

Aim
  • To increase your body's endurance ability
  • To increase your confidence
  • To prepare for a particular endurance ride, event or race.
Your ability to ride for long distances depends on a number of factors:

Training

To increase your endurance ability you'll need to spend longer periods on your bike than you are currently comfortable with. By pushing your body further, you will become more energy efficient; your muscles and body will adapt to the new effort and you will become more confident. As you get older, your endurance ability will naturally increase, although to some extent this is at the expense of your speed.

Pacing

As you increase the intensity at which you are riding then your energy consumption will increase and your endurance ability will decrease (just like driving a car hard, compared to cruising at a more sedate pace). Therefore it is important that you pace yourself sensibly. This is very important when you are riding with other riders, as it is easy to get 'carried away' and ride beyond your own abilities only to suffer later in the day.

Nutrition

Riding your bike requires energy, obviously the longer you ride the more energy you require. If you are increasing your ride time you will need to increase your pre-ride energy intake, if you are riding for longer than an hour then it is advisable to take some energy on board during the ride (see also Nutrition).

Your position on the bike is important
Position on the bikePosition

You will be spending a long period of time on your bike and therefore it is important that you are in the correct position (see Getting the right size bike. If you are uncomfortable you will soon have to stop. Ask a coach, good bike shop or experienced rider to help you with your position if you are not comfortable.

Riding kit

You can make riding long distances much more easier on yourself by using the suitable kit. In particular, a good quality, well fitting pair of padded cycling shorts and cycling specific footwear will help - and a saddle that suits your shape!

Specific sessions

Before you start the quick fix, as yourself a few questions:
  • On average, for how long do you ride (in hours)?
  • What is the longest ride (in hours) you have completed in the last 2 months?
  • Do you have a particular endurance aim? For example, 100 mile ride with your club, London-Brighton charity ride, Paris-Brest-Paris randonnĂ©e, etc.
You now have an idea of your endurance history and an aim.

Adding percentages

This training technique steadily builds up your ride time and your endurance ability above your current 'standard' ride.
  • Make your first ride 10-20% longer than your standard ride.
  • Make the next ride 20-40% longer than your standard ride.
  • If you are an experienced cyclist you could probably add a third ride up to 50% longer.
  • On the fourth ride (or third ride for a novice) you only ride for just 50% of your normal distance. This is your easy day.
  • If you're feeling fully recovered, you can then add 10% on, so your rides are then 20-30%, 30-50% and 60-70% longer than your original standard ride.
  • Before long you'll have doubled your original 'average ride'.
By having a destination you will have a purpose for your riding. This is a great motivation tool and will help you to tackle the task
Stops
  • When you begin to increase your riding time you may encounter problems because of lack of energy or discomfort.
  • Introduce a quick stop, or even a number of stops.
  • Have a stretch, maybe some food and then when you are ready, off you go again.
  • As your ability increase you can reduce the number and length of the stops, until you do not need to stop at all.
  • Keep the stops brief, usually no more than 15 minutes, with perhaps one longer break of 30-60 minutes at about half distance.
Flat & hills
  • The more undulating the route, the greater the effort will be.
  • In the first week of the training, keep to fairly easy roads or trails.
  • In the second week, introduce some hills in the route.
  • In the third week, make the route much more hilly.
  • Keep the duration of the ride the same, but by adding hills you will be increasing the intensity, increasing your endurance ability.
  • If your aim is an event that is hilly, then this is a good technique to use, as you are building up your endurance and your specific climbing ability.
Destination
  • By having a destination you will have a purpose for your riding. This is a great motivation tool and will help you to tackle the task.
  • Pick a destination, this could be a place to visit, stop and then ride back home. Or you could even ride 'point to point' and stay overnight, or get a lift or a train back home.
  • Decide on a route and work out the distance. Bear in mind hills, wind and how far you have ridden before. It is not advisable to make a huge increase from your current long rides.
  • If you are aiming for a particular event, then make this a slightly shorter practise distance and if possible, choose similar terrain.  
Weekly examples

When training for endurance you must be patient and take your time - see Overtraining. As the training will increase the stress on your body, it is important that you only concentrate on increasing endurance at a time when your lifestyle is not adding increased stress on your body (for example, meeting work deadlines, exams or moving house).

Whether you are a novice or a competitive racer you can still use the same weekly guidelines. This is because you are adding percentages and time onto your personal level of endurance. The more often you ride, the greater increase you will be making. Even if you only ride three times a week, you can still improve your endurance but the benefits you will gain in three weeks will be smaller.
  1. In the first week use the adding percentages method. If you are finding this mentally or physically tough then add a rest stop or two - or make the percentage increase a bit smaller.
  2. In the second week continue with adding percentages, but reduce the time and number of stops you are making.
  3. At the end of the week attempt a ride 30 minutes longer than any other. Prepare yourself for this and chose a fixed destination and route.
  4. In the third week keep adding percentages. At the end of the week attempt an epic ride, prepare yourself mentally, physically and load yourself up with fuel. As you've been making progressive improvements (and had suitable rest as well) this should not be too daunting. Make the ride one hour longer than you any other you have ridden before. If you are nervous about completing the ride use a smaller circuit and do laps so that you can get home quickly.

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