Adult cyclists who work all week typically end up riding 6–8 hours a week, which means that for many riders, each ride is about the same duration. In recent years, many cyclists have begun using virtual cycling programs for simplicity and consistency, which is good in moderation but risks creating even less variety. If the same training is done over an extended period, it tends to create plateaued fitness and chronically tired legs. The solution is to re-distribute your training time and intensity.
WAYS TO ADD TIME TO YOUR LONG RIDE
It is hard to increase volume for most people once they reach 1 hour a day, but there are a few methods that work when applied to certain periods of the year as your race/fitness goals dictate and as your schedule allows.
- Look for opportunities to ride longer. Riding longer midweek or weekends once or twice a month could greatly benefit your training. This option requires some discipline to get to bed early or forego some leisure time but can often be done for a period of the year as you build to a race.
- Start from your door. Rather than driving to work, to the group ride or to mountain bike trails, get on your bike at home and ride from there. It can be surprising how long packing the car, driving, parking and unloading the car takes versus pedaling where you have to go. This option can save money and makes it hard to forget your gear.
- Redistribute your weekly volume. For a period of the year, you might ride four 1-hour days a week instead of five then use that extra hour on a Saturday to go longer. The result is you have a long ride in your week and get the benefit of a long ride and more recovery.
- A monthly endurance block. Use long weekends, holidays or strategically chosen days off to add a day of training, perhaps free from family or work responsibility to add a ride and/or do a long endurance ride. The key is that these rides are not intense but steady, endurance-paced rides, remember the talk test to keep the ride low-intensity.
At first, it is a challenge to get out and ride longer. If you start to fade, run out of energy, don’t finish some rides or miss rides on the days following longer rides, take a look at your pacing and fueling. A good rule of thumb is to eat something each hour you ride. For a 1-hour ride, you are likely eating before and/or after so you don’t need to eat, but as you go longer make sure you are eating and drinking (especially if you have any of the symptoms above).
Pacing, or how fast you are going, is related to your fueling. If you are finding rides hard to finish, slow down and let your pace come up over time rather than forcing it. Low-intensity cycling has benefits if you are able to keep moving steadily and if you can train frequently, so watch trying to do it all in one day.
MIX IT UP
Even if your riding duration is not negotiable, you can vary the intensity. Some days you can focus on endurance or low intensity by excluding town-line sprints, group rides or threshold intervals and then go hard one or two days a week during intervals or group rides. The critical aspect is you go hard and long enough at that goal intensity to elicit benefits.
Doing one maximal hill may seem hard but misses the benefits of doing repeated hard efforts at ~90%. An added boost is associating these focused days with a critical moment in your races (e.g., hard hills late in the race) or addressing an aspect of your fitness/skills you are working to improve (e.g., I am not great at extended efforts on flat terrain.)
A weekly long ride offers huge fitness benefits — and for many cyclists, the adventure, challenge and comradery of going long are what gets them to fall in love with cycling. The concept of exploring new routes and different terrain is worth considering because it is often what is missing when athletes start to get bored with cycling or training in general.
Even the most meager explorers among us can benefit from going a bit longer, leaving the confines of power, heart rate and ‘training’ at home and going on an adventure. Simply by turning right when we might have turned left or exploring that road we’ve never gone down.