For endurance cyclists the most foundational workout is the no-frills, “endurance ride”.
This workout may not be as exciting as interval work or as exhausting as sprint efforts, but it is absolutely one of the most important workouts to master as every cyclist needs to maximize their aerobic economy.
For the unknowing cyclist, it can seem mundane or unhelpful to hold-back and only ride at an endurance pace. After all, most of us grew up embracing the “go hard or go home” mentality of stick-and-ball sports.
However, the seemingly unassuming endurance ride can bring distinct gains to cyclists of all skill levels, disciplines, and abilities.
With this notion in mind, we want to share three tips to help you make the most of your next endurance ride…and every one after that!
Incorporating these tips will enhance your muscular endurance while developing a deeper cardiovascular economy, making you stronger and more efficient in every aspect of your cycling.
Endurance riding is important for cyclists of all levels, from recreational riders to seasoned pros. Every cyclist needs to know how to execute an effective endurance workout. Photo Credit: Danny Munson, DMunsonPhoto.com
#1: Get The Cadence Up!
There is no lack of research supporting a snappy and quick cadence as a means of increasing performance and prolonging power output for endurance cyclists.
What’s less commonly known is that developing a quick cadence is one of the fastest ways to become more efficient and economical on the bike.
And there is no better workout to develop both muscular endurance and aerobic economy than a long steady-state endurance effort.
In order to make the most out of your next endurance day in the saddle, we suggest riding with a “comfortably quick” pedal-speed, preferably 85rpm or more throughout the entire ride.
A great goal is to achieve an average cadence of 85-90rpm (including the warm-up and cool-down) for every endurance workout.
Although this sounds easily attainable, and it might be if you have developed this skill, take a look at the data from your last endurance workout. What was your average cadence?
Did you have the quick cadence you thought you did?
If not, tomorrow is new day and opportunity to make sure you do!
Note: If your average cadence is significantly lower than 85rpm, i.e. below 70rpm, we suggest gradually increasing your cadence average 5rpm at a time until 85+rpm becomes your preferred cadence.
Endurance riding is not just for 'roadies', cyclists of all disciplines, especially those in the world of endurance MTB or Gravel can benefit greatly from these sub-threshold days in the saddle. Photo Credit: Joy McCulloch
Tip #2: Narrow The Gap Of NP To Avg.-Pwr.
For power-meter users, Normalized Power is a lauded metric that offers valuable perspective and insight as to how hard a workout is.
Unfortunately, it is all to common for there to be a sizable disparity between Normalized Power and Average Power in many of the workouts an Athlete performs, even ‘steady-state’ efforts.
For an endurance workout, the most important comparison of power data is evaluating the difference between NP (Normalized Power) and Average Power (Avg.-Pwr.).
In order to narrow the gap between Avg.-Pwr. and NP, an Athlete will have to produce a very “even” effort with minimal spikes in power output.
This low variability in effort is the essence of steady-state work.
Although seemingly simple, this tip can turn an average endurance workout into a highly-effective protocol that produces the greatest physiological adaptation to training.
It take practice to narrow this gap, but it is well worth the effort!
Finding an open road or steady climb makes it easier to keep an even power output and narrow the gap between NP and Avg.-Pwr. Photo Credit: Brian McCulloch
Tip #3: Shift Often/Use All Your Gears!
Proper terrain selection for a prescribed workout is one of the most common difficulties for Athletes following a structured training plan.
This is because not every Athlete has access to steady climbs or flat roads that make for ideal endurance training grounds.
Despite this challenge we think this lack of steady/open roads offers a unique opportunity for those Athletes willing to replace their shift cables a little more often.
By shifting more frequently, throughout an endurance ride, it will be much easier to maintain a quick cadence as well as a narrow power-output.
If riding undulating terrain, all it takes is a little situational-awareness to shift to a lighter gear as the road tilts upward. Then, as the grade begins to soften, progressively shift to harder gears while maintaining an even output/pressure on the pedals and a fast cadence. Once the climb crests keep the steady pressure "on" and build your momentum!
In short, be sure to use all the gears that your bike came with and shift as often as you need to maintain a steady-state effort!
Proper hydration and nutrition is essential to ensuring you can ride strong throughout a steady-state effort. Photo Credit: Joy McCulloch
Bonus Tip: Eat Early/Drink Often
Because endurance rides are steady-state in nature, meaning the working Athlete is producing constant power with no rest, the need to fuel this type of effort is paramount!
Additionally, despite the fact that an endurance ride is not “leg breaking” in intensity, these workouts absolutely require proper fueling to be executed effectively.
With that notion in mind, we suggest that Athletes' utilize the same fueling strategies they depend-on to complete intense workouts for an endurance ride.
That is to say that eating 200-300/kcal per hour in a mix of solid and liquid sources, coupled with consuming approximately one water bottle, per hour, will ensure that you are performing strong throughout your next endurance workout.
Endurance riding may not be a cutting-edge training method, but it is absolutely an effective and foundational workout that Athletes of all fitness levels benefit from.
In fact, as a cyclists' training volume increases, more and more of their miles have to be endurance-paced in order to avoid injury, burnout, and over-training.
With that in mind, mastering each of the previously mentioned tips is critical for every Athlete looking to enjoy years of growth as an Endurance Cyclist.
Until Next Time, Be Safe, Train Hard, & Have Fun!
-Brian and Joy McCulloch
Big Wheel Coaching