6 Essential Cycling Workouts to Get Faster and Stronger

Marc Lindsay
by Marc Lindsay
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6 Essential Cycling Workouts to Get Faster and Stronger

If you want to get faster or improve your cycling fitness, you’ll need to cover all your bases. From boosting your lactate threshold to improving your pedaling technique, these six types of training, added to your weekly workout routine, will make it happen.

Cycling is an endurance sport. Whether you’re a mountain biker or a road cyclist, to get better you’ll need to spend most of your training time improving your aerobic capacity. To improve your endurance, you should ride for at least one hour. If you’re serious about your performance and plan to train for an organized ride or race, aim to ride for 2 hours or more. The intensity for these rides should be low in Zone 2, which is about 60–70% of your maximum heart rate.

Key workout: Long, slow ride of two hours or more in Zone 2. Do it solo, with a few friends or as part of a group.

Whether you’re trying to lose weight, get faster or simply hang with your friends on a group ride, intervals are a great way to supplement your endurance training. These workouts are short but completed at a high intensity and improve your VO2 max and overall strength on the bike. They shouldn’t last more than an hour, and because they are done in Zone 5 (about 90% of your max heart rate) you’ll need plenty of recovery in between sessions. Ideally, you should complete two interval sessions per week on non-consecutive days.

Key workout: Either on the indoor trainer or on the road, complete six efforts of 30 seconds in Zone 5. Rest for 2–3 minutes in between each interval and complete a 10-minute warmup and cooldown at the beginning and end of your session.

Sprinting, climbing and creating gaps between yourself and another cyclist all require you to apply a maximum amount of power to the pedals. While you can definitely incorporate weights and a core strength routine into your training (especially in the offseason), including specific on-the-bike training to improve your power is a good idea, too. Depending on what specific event you’re training for, this usually means training specifically for sprint or hill climbs in Zone 4 or 5.

Key workout: Find a steep climb that’s about a mile long or takes you about 5 minutes to climb. Complete 4–5 hill repeats in Zone 4, resting for 1–2 minutes between repeats (or the time it takes to reach the bottom). For an additional strength/power workout, complete 1–2 of the intervals in a lower gear, aiming for a cadence around 70 rpms.

Long, steady climbs or time-trial type efforts require you to hold a high intensity for an extended period of time. Lactate in your muscles begins to cause fatigue and eventually slows your pace. To improve at these efforts, some of your training should focus on improving your threshold — or the hardest pace you can maintain for 60 minutes of cycling. The pace you should hold for threshold workouts can be calculated by performing a functional threshold power test. If you don’t have a power meter, the pace should be comfortably hard and close to the pace you can maintain for one hour of cycling. Usually this is somewhere in Zone 3–4.

Key workout: Complete 3 sets of 15 minutes riding at your one-hour time-trial pace or in Zone 4 of your lactate threshold. Spin for 5 minutes in an easy gear in between sets, keeping your rpm above 90. As your fitness improves, increase the length of the repetitions to 20 minutes.

While cycling is definitely an endurance sport, there is plenty of technique involved, too. Unlike running, you’ll need to gain comfort and achieve harmony between your body and the machine you’re riding to perform your best. This means working on your pedaling efficiency, balance, cornering, shifting, descending, drafting and even braking technique. Even though a lot of improvement in these areas comes from simply riding your bike more and more, focusing a small portion of your training on developing your technique can pay big dividends.

Key workout: If you’re looking to improve pedaling efficiency, give these drills a try once a week. For a few technique tips you can practice during a ride, this is a good place to start.

Without rest, you’re just tearing yourself down. To get better, any hard ride should always be followed with a recovery ride or a day of rest. This allows your muscles to recover and prepare for the next hard effort. If you do too many hard efforts in a given week without allowing rest and recovery, you’ll make unnecessary injuries and illnesses more likely. Recovery also includes things like post-ride massage, stretching and other post-workout principles.

Key workout: Allow yourself at least 1–2 days per week off the bike. Following a hard interval session or a long ride over two hours, a recovery ride may also by needed. Recovery rides are generally less than one hour and should be extremely easy, with a majority of your time spent in Zone 1.

About the Author

Marc Lindsay
Marc Lindsay

Marc is a freelance writer based in Scottsdale, Arizona. He holds a master’s degree in writing from Portland State University and is a certified physical therapy assistant. An avid cyclist and runner of over 20 years, Marc contributes to LAVA, Competitor and Phoenix Outdoor magazines. He is the former cycling editor for Active.com.

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