A man riding up a hill cycle training

Cardio Training for Cycling

Cardio Training for Cycling

Cardio Training for Cycling

If you’re a cyclist looking to become stronger on your rides, sustaining energy on steeper climbs and longer distances, then you’ll need to address—and improve—your cardiovascular fitness. Training cardio will ultimately make you faster, capable of tackling bigger challenges, and more comfortable while you do it. Getting stronger takes foresight and planning, and not just doing more of the same. Here’s the most effective way to increase cardio endurance and boost your overall riding performance.

Start With a Plan

Having a clear, defined plan and a goal will help keep you consistent. When it comes to cardio training for cycling, consistency is key.

Begin Slow, and Early

If there is an event you have in mind, set it as a goal and start training a few months in advance. Improving your cardio in too short of a window can lead to overtraining and injury. Instead, ease into cardio training with long, slow rides to establish a base. Use that base to build to more difficult training. Create smaller benchmark goals and adjust them, adding distance and time as you become stronger. What you don't want to do is burn out early and dissuade yourself from continuing with the plan.

The flipside to consistency, of course, is listening to your body: When it starts talking to you with news of parts tweaked or hurt, address the issues before they become serious problems. In almost all instances, you should take at least one day off a week and avoid doing your biggest, hardest rides on back-to-back days.

Build a Base

Building a base with long, low-intensity rides will help you become faster, more powerful, and more efficient as you ride. The goal here is not to go as quickly as you can, but rather to ride longer. If you are used to a 45-minute ride, think 1 hour, 15 minutes, or a full 90 minutes. The intention is more time on your saddle, getting your body more used to sustained exertion on the bike.

A consistent heart rate, about 70% of your maximum, is often best for these rides. A quick shorthand to determine your maximum heart rate is 220 beats per minute, minus your age. So, a 25-year-old’s maximum heart rate, likely 195 beats per minute, would ideally shoot for 137 beats per minute on a longer, base-building ride. Measure heart rate with a standalone monitor or a wearable device. Another simple way to approximate this target rate is by riding at a pace where you can talk comfortably. 

Stay consistent, aiming for longer rides two times a week, increasing the distance or time when possible.

two cyclists training on bikes on a flat road

Interval Training

Another key to improving your cardio is interval training. These training rides do not need to be nearly as long as your extended rides; they can provide an effective workout in a short window.

These workouts consist of periods of high-effort riding, around 90% of your maximum heart rate for anywhere from 30 seconds to 5 minutes. Over the course of a ride, mix in these windows of intensity, and keep them at a consistent length. Use the rest of your ride, outside these windows, for recovery. 

As your body becomes more accustomed to this style of riding over the course of weeks, lengthen the duration of the high-intensity bursts, shorten your rest periods, and add more intervals throughout the ride. The intervals will help your body become better equipped to feed your muscles oxygen as you continue training toward your goal.

Add slowly. These interval-training rides will increase your endurance but they are a large tax on your body—only do them two or three times a week, and never on consecutive days.

Consider a Fasted Ride

Many cyclists like to ride before breakfast. The idea here is that the early-bird effort makes your body more efficient at turning fat into energy, rather than burning easy-to-digest carbohydrates from earlier meals. Listen to your body, though, and only attempt it once or twice a week if this method fits you and your training schedule. Keep these rides shorter at an intensity level many would call “tempo,” anywhere from about 75% to 90% of your max heart rate.

Recovery and Sleep

You can’t improve your cardio fitness without making your body perform at its best off the bike. Be sure to stretch after your rides, take rest days each week, and (of course) always drink enough water and get enough sleep. Giving your body the rest and fuel it needs is crucial to becoming a stronger rider—and sticking to your plan.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.