How to Improve Cycling Stamina7 March 2023
A common misconception within the cycling community is that training is only for those who intend to race. While it’s true that pro-level cyclists will do a lot of training in order to maintain their fitness and performance, this isn’t to say that casual cyclists can’t benefit from working on their cycling as well. Whether you just want to make the most of your sunny weekends or you want to make your commute to work more enjoyable, improving your cycling ability can have a big impact.
So what can you do? Well, when it comes to getting better at cycling, there are two approaches you can take. Firstly, you can boost your overall fitness to try and improve a range of skills at once. Alternatively, you can target a specific area of your cycling ability, aiming to make a greater improvement in that one area.
Both of these methods have their benefits and their drawbacks, and most cyclists will use a combination of both to improve their cycling performance. If you really want to progress, this is a good approach - so how can you apply it to stamina?
How to improve your cycling stamina
First of all, let’s take a moment to think about what stamina actually means. It’s often confused with endurance, and the terms may be used interchangeably to some extent as both refer to how long you can maintain a level of physical activity. Typically, endurance is split into the two categories of cardiovascular endurance and muscular endurance, and applies only to your physical capabilities. Meanwhile, stamina can encompass your mental ability to keep going when things get tough as well as the physical side of things.
For example, say you’re tackling a long, tiring ride. You’ll need muscular and cardiovascular endurance to physically keep pedalling, but you’ll also need the inner motivation and strength to not turn your bike around and head home when you see the size of the next hill.
So what would a general improvement in stamina require? Well, a good start would be to push yourself when doing cardiovascular exercise - go a little harder for a little longer each time and watch as your endurance increases. The key here is ‘a little’. Like in all forms of exercise, moderation is vital in order to give your body time to recover and develop - otherwise you risk burning yourself out and ending up in a worse position than when you started.
Cardio doesn’t all have to be on the bike, though. Mixing in a few runs with your usual rides can help to inject variety into your training and boost your enjoyment, as well as giving you a break from long hours in the saddle. If running doesn’t appeal, you could also try skipping or rowing.
Muscular endurance is another important aspect of stamina training, and though you might think weights are just for pro cyclists, improving your muscles’ ability to recover during and after exercise can be beneficial for any rider.
Another contributing factor to good stamina that can often be overlooked is nutrition. It may sound obvious, but if you don’t fuel your body well enough before a long or challenging ride, it’s likely to feel more difficult to complete. Make sure to prepare with slow-releasing carbohydrates before the race and bring some quick-releasing energy gels or bars for during.
How to get better at climbing hills on a bike
Hill climbing is a specific aspect of cycling that many riders struggle with when it comes to stamina and endurance. Hills are naturally more challenging than flats, especially if they’re very steep, very long or both. Many cyclists need a little extra training to truly get to grips with them.
One of the easiest ways to prepare for hill climbs is to practise them - over and over if possible. Hill repeats are a great way to build endurance for long hills when you don’t live near one yourself. By keeping the interval between repeats as short as possible, you can effectively simulate a larger, more challenging hill. The added bonus is, this one is as long as you need it to be. To train for a longer hill, just do more repeats before taking a break.
But what if you live in a flat area where there aren’t many opportunities to build your hill-climbing skills? Well, while it’s always good to get practice on the real thing, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do to improve your hill climbs without a handy hill to do it on. Up your tempo on the flats and push yourself to go further, faster and with more intensity - it will all help. And just as general training can help with lots of different aspects of cycling, improving your stamina can boost other areas of your performance too.