Endurance Training for Cyclists

Photo: Ben Herndon/Tandemstock

If you want to go for longer rides, or simply make your go-to neighbor loop more enjoyable, then improving your cycling endurance is a must.

Training for endurance is your best bet for faster, longer, and more comfortable rides. That improvement takes commitment, a plan, and follow-through. But with the right plan and hard work, you'll see results, breathe easier, feel stronger, and recover faster. Here's how you can increase endurance on your bicycle.

Create a Plan and Stick to It

Consistency is the key to success. Working out, tracking your progress, and staying on course will help elevate occasional exercise to a serious training plan. Listen to your body, though, and avoid the common mistake of overtraining. If your knee hurts, you feel unusual discomfort or serious general pain, adjust your workout to accommodate. Nothing in your control will throw off your training quite like an overuse injury.

Start With Your Cardio

One of the most effective ways to improve your endurance is training your cardiovascular system. Exercising your heart and lungs will make your riding more efficient, allowing you to work harder for longer. Here’s a recap of the cardio-training basics:

Build a Base With Low-Intensity Rides

First off, increase the amount of time you spend on your saddle. If you're used to 45-minute rides, do 1 hour, 15 minute; if you're used to 90 minutes, do 2 hours. Work to keep your heart rate consistent throughout this ride at about 70% of maximum. Do these longer, low-intensity rides about two times per week. These rides do not need to be super fast, or up the steepest hill; the important takeaway is simply spending more time, and miles, on your bike.

Interval Training 

This involves periods of high-intensity effort surrounded by rest periods over the course of a single ride. These high-intensity periods can range anywhere from 30 seconds to 5 minutes. Ride at about 90% of your maximum heart rate for the interval, then pedal easy in the rest periods to allow recovery. For example, over the course of a 30-minute ride, do five 1-minute intervals followed by 5 minutes of rest. As you get stronger, increase the number (and length) of intervals on your ride, and decrease the amount of rest between intervals. Do these high-effort exercises about two to three times per week, but not on back-to-back days.

Strength Training

Cycling is an activity that requires strength throughout your body. While it’s easy to feel all that exertion in your leg muscles (especially quads, hamstrings, and calves), don’t forget your other muscle groups; your chest and arms do their share of work on the bike. Training all of these groups will help increase your endurance. Consider doing strength training off your bicycle, about twice a week.

Lower Body

Exercises like squats, step-ups, calf raises, and hamstring curls will help improve the major muscle groups of your legs that are critical for cycling.

Upper Body

Your arms and chest do a lot of work for shock absorption and balance on your bicycle. While they don’t propel you forward, they do keep you upright. Activities like push-ups, burpees, and rows will keep your chest and arms from fatiguing early—or ending your ride before your legs even warm up.


Think of your core as the transmission of the body. It creates smooth, efficient, and powerful pedal strokes (not to mention how it helps you balance). Having a strong core will ensure a stable ride. Doing regular core exercises like sit-ups, leg raises, and Russian twists will help maintain a strong core and a stable foundation on your bicycle.


Don’t ignore this essential that ensures you’re ready to ride day-after-day without stiffness or reduced mobility. Riding puts incredible strain on hips, ankles, knees, and neck—incorporate stretching into your strength training after every ride. Consistency will help you recover faster and ride in a more comfortable, and aerodynamic position. Pay special attention to your hips, ensuring that they maintain a full range of motion and avoid becoming overly tight, moving only in the direction of your bike pedal. (That key hip range will keep you on the bike longer, allow you to get more out of your workouts, and prevent injury.)

The Right Equipment

Just as a car gets better fuel efficiency with the right tire pressure, your endurance will improve if your equipment is properly tuned. Make sure your tires are filled to the right pressure, and that your bike fits well.

Rest and Fuel

Bring food on longer rides to fuel for more miles. What you eat on a ride comes down to personal preference, but aim for carbohydrates and fats. If you feel your body running out of steam, eat something mid-ride for a boost. Be sure you’re drinking enough water, too—at least a liter an hour, especially when riding hard. And after the ride, your body needs to rest. Make sure you're getting plenty of sleep so you can recover and be ready to attack your workout the next day.

Get Out There

Results will not arrive without consistent effort and follow-through. Attacking your cardio—improving both your fueling and resting habits, as well as the hard strength and flexibility work off the bike as well—will help you pull ahead at those local fondos, group rides, and tours. Have fun, and pedal hard.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.