10 Tips to Improve Your Cycling Fitness

Your training shouldn’t solely be about putting as many kilometres into your legs as possible. Instead it should be carefully planned to enable you to slowly and steadily build up your fitness while letting your body get the rest it requires. If you overdo it you will eventually be forced to stop because of injury.

Many of the training programs developed for cyclists are too complicated and scientific for amateur cyclists but this doesn’t mean that you can’t put some effort into optimising your training. Structuring your training sessions will not only give you a better return on your hard yakka but also make your riding more focused, motivating and fun.

Whether you are a newbie or an experienced cyclist you should be able to be inspired by the 10 tips found below:

1. Consistency is key. If you are new to cycling or if you have been away from it for a while you will need to build up your basic fitness. Therefore, it is important to start your routine with many shorter rides rather than fewer and longer rides. For example, 3 to 4 rides a week of 25 to 30 km will be more beneficial than one big ride of 100 km on the weekend. The benefit of shorter rides of greater frequency is twofold, firstly these rides will build up your fitness and secondly they will ensure your body is not put under undue stress with the subsequent risk of injury.

2. Get in the right gear. If you are like most cyclists you like to put your bike in the higher gears and really feel your quads getting a workout. Many people choose low RPMs because they think this is the best way to get a workout. The problem with this approach is that it creates a build-up of lactic acid in your muscles, which will impede on your riding as well as your recovery. If you want to build up endurance you are better off increasing your RPMs to give your quads a rest.

In endurance sports such as cycling you want the body’s aerobic system (the long duration energy system) to handle the workload. Therefore, you should try to keep your RPMs around 90 and your pulse at 60-70% of your maximum heart rate. If you are an experienced athlete you can go as high as 70-85% of your maximum heart rate.

3. Alter your training from time to time. Any physical training is basically about stress and adaptation. When you recover from a workout your body will rebuild and adapt (improve) to be able to handle future workout sessions. This also means that if your training sessions are always the same your fitness will remain constant as your body is already conditioned for the particular load.

Therefore, you should make sure you keep challenging yourself through variation in your training. Alter between long rides and shorter interval-style sessions. Let your intervals of increased effort last for 3 to 5 minutes (with 1 to 2 minutes low-intensity recovery in-between) depending on your fitness level. Keep your interval intensity at 80-90% of your maximum heart rate and your recovery around 60% of maximum heart rate. Finally, make sure you spend 20 to 30 minutes on warming your body up before you start your intervals.

4. Gradually intensify your training. In order to take full advantage of the body’s ability to adapt to physical training you should make sure you increase training intensity gradually. A golden rule is to increase the length and intensity of your training sessions by 5 to 10% a week for three weeks. The fourth week is a recovery week where you reduce intensity by 20%. From the fifth week you can add another 5 to 10% to your previous maximum from week three and so on. This stepwise increase will help your body take advantage of neuromuscular and cardiovascular adaptations along the way.

5. Don’t perform high-intensity training sessions several days in a row. Recovery is just as important for your fitness and physical ability as the training session. Despite this fact, recovery is an area that is happily ignored by many athletes. Your body needs time to recover in order to prevent overtraining and injuries but recovery also has a big influence on your ability to increase your physical ability. Therefore, make sure you take a day off or spin your legs out with an easy ride between high-intensity training sessions.

6. Stretch! Cyclists are notoriously famous for having bad backs, sore necks, tight quads, stiff hamstrings, aching calves and tense glutes. Although we all love riding our bikes it is putting a lot of strain on our bodies. Sitting in the saddle for too long can cause all sorts of problems with your joints and muscles that can be quite hard to get rid of once they are there. The best way to stave off any problems or injuries is to have a stretching routine that is performed (at least) after every workout. Make sure you target your quads, hips, hamstrings, groin and calves. Try to stretch immediately after your training sessions as your muscles are more flexible when they are warm.

7. Ride with others in a group. Riding with other cyclists has many advantages. Not only is it more fun and sociable during and after the ride, chances are you will push yourself more when riding in a group. When you are riding with a group of fast and fit riders you will have to push yourself to keep up. At the same time, larger group rides often have interval training built into them because of the ever changing speeds.

8. Alter you training routes. Doing the same ride over and over again will not only tend to be boring, it may also mean that you are not challenging yourself enough. Change your cycling routes from time to time to keep up your motivation.

9. Fuel your motor. Nutrition is a very important part of your ability to perform. Make sure you eat well before and after riding to assist you with performance and recovery. Before a ride you should consume foods that are high in carbohydrates but not too high in fibre or fat. For instance, bananas or a slice of wholemeal toast with honey are good examples of pre-ride snacks. High-fibre foods such as muesli bars can cause an upset stomach if consumed before or during a training session. If you are riding for longer than an hour you should bring along some gels, sports drinks or a chocolate bar so you can replenish your energy stores.

10. Listen to your body. If your body is tired or achy you need to let it rest. Remember, recovery is an important part of your training.

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One thought on “10 Tips to Improve Your Cycling Fitness

  1. Optimising your training isn’t rocket science as people think it is, and it can also be done by newbies in cycling to make sure they lessen the risk of injury and maximize the fun.

    I agree with the first tip, given that not everyone has the time or the lungs to pursue a constant 100km 3 to 4 rides a week, so it’s better to go for shorter and move up to that.

    But there’s one thing I would like to add for #8. Other than the benefits of not making your training route look mundane, it also doubles as a sightseeing tour, keeps you on your toes, and challenge different terrains.

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