4 Beneficial Stamina-Building Workouts for Cyclists
Thinking about stretching your bike rides out a few more miles? Maybe even tackling your first century? Perhaps you’ve even thought about adding a better touring saddle, so you know you can handle the extra time.
Still, every time you imagine adding another 60 miles, you stop short. The thought is overwhelming. How could you possibly do it?
As any touring cyclist knows, endurance is the key to unlocking those long rides. If you only think about the end goal, it seems impossible. You need to shift your focus to the incremental gains. Slowly but surely, as you build stamina, that 60-mile gap will become…40…30…20…
Increasing endurance involves a systematic, intentional approach. It doesn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t happen by accident. You have to make an endurance cycling training plan for your daily cycling workouts, stick to it, and stretch yourself a little at a time.
To get a picture of what this stamina-building routine might look like, we talked to someone who has been through it—and coached others through it—many times over.
Darryl MacKenzie, better known as Coach Darryl, has been cycling for 33 years, and coaching for 23 of those. He leads over 2,000 training sessions a year, with an emphasis on endurance cyclists. Every single one of the 49 cyclists he has trained for a double century has crossed the finish line. You might say he knows a thing or two about endurance and distance cycling. What we’re sharing with you is the backbone of his training program, so listen up.
Respect the Process
The first step in building stamina is to understand that there’s an order to it. As you progress in your training, you’ll slowly shift your workout to different focal points.
As Coach Darryl puts it, “There’s a wise and successful way of training and then there’s the brute force method.” If you don’t respect the order, you’re just brute-forcing it. You're bound to end up cramping and petering out on long rides.
That order, known as the periodic process, is:
- Strengthening your legs
- Increasing endurance
- High-end conditioning (cardio and deep breathing)
A proper regimen, Darryl says, will gradually add in more of phase two and three as it progresses So, if you’re doing a three-month stamina-building program, you might spend 50% to 65% of the time in month one on strengthening, then 50% to 65% on endurance during month two, and finally 50% to 65% on cardio during the last month. This is the method used by cyclists in the Tour de France, so we think it’s got some street cred.
4 Foundational Stamina-Building Workouts
With that in mind, here are Coach Darryl’s top four workouts for building your endurance. You’ll need to set a time frame for your goal and plan incremental growth over that period, but whatever your goal, these workouts will get you there. You’ll need a stationary bike for some of this training, and we highly recommend a tensioned leather touring saddle to ease the extra pressure you’ll have on your rear on the stationary.
One-legged strength building
This is your starting point. Without leg strength, you can’t have distance, no matter how well-conditioned you are. You’ll need a stationary trainer for this exercise.
- Set your rpm to 55 to achieve just the right challenge without hurting your knees.
- Unclip one leg from the bike.
- Pedal with one leg for 2 minutes.
- Switch legs pedal with the other leg for 2 minutes.
- Repeat 2-3 more times, alternating legs (3-4 sets total).
- Your end goal is to get up to 8 minutes on each leg.
“This is the exercise that is the most beneficial for any cyclist to do,” Darryl says. “If you do this two days a week, you’ll notice an improvement in your climbing in as early as two weeks.”
Spend the majority of your time here during the first phase of your endurance cycling training plan.
Flat-terrain distance riding
Here’s where you have to start your mental battle a bit, because this part of the workout can get a little boring. You’re going to be riding a lot of level routes (hence the name), and it will get a bit repetitious. Keep your end goal in mind, and stay motivated—now that you’ve build the leg strength, you can start growing your stamina a little at a time.
- Find a nice, flat route or set your stationary bike to a level grade.
- Ride for 20-30 minutes in a hard gear.
- Track your distance.
- Repeat the same route and time, attempting to add a bit more distance every time. An increase of 5% to 10% each week is a good target.
This will be your primary focus during the second phase of your training regimen.
For these last two workouts in the endurance cycling training plan, we’re on to phase three, and conditioning is the main goal here. It’s exercises like these that enable Coach Darryl to maintain the same average heart rate of 117 for every single one of his past five double centuries. You want your body to work more efficiently, using less energy per mile over the course of your increasingly longer rides, and the way to do that is to get your heart rate and breathing up.
In a seated climb, you’re focused on ascending either very steep or very long hills. “The steeper the hill, the slower the cadence,” Darryl says. Think slow, steady, hard workouts that really get you breathing.
This workout is best for short bursts on long climbs. Standing up will allow you to increase your pace and heart rate for brief pulses, and you can rotate back and for between seated and standing positions as you climb. Push yourself a bit more each time.
For the cold seasons, or in areas where hills are hard to come by, both of these climbing exercises can be done by adjusting the grade on a stationary bike with your front wheel up three to seven inches. You can also simulate this effect by pedaling into the wind.
“The combination of these four is the foundation for just about all training,” Darryl says. Now you don’t just have a dream for that century; you’ve got a plan. Grab that Selle Anatomica touring saddle and start adding miles today.
You can find more insights from Coach Darryl over at his website.