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Muscular Endurance Workouts for Cycling

author image Kevin Kolodziejski
Kevin Kolodziejski began his writing career in earnest in 1989. Since then he's written a weekly health and fitness column and his articles have appeared in magazines such as "MuscleMag," "Ironman," "Vegetarian Times," and "Bicycle Guide." He has Bachelor and Masters degrees in English from DeSales and Kutztown Universities.
Muscular Endurance Workouts for Cycling
Improve muscular endurance and you'll keep pace with faster riders. Photo Credit Thomas Northcut/Photodisc/Getty Images

Whether you race competitively, train for centuries or ride socially with the local club, you’ll cycle at a faster pace for a longer time if you increase your muscular endurance. While you can improve muscular endurance in the gym through specific weightlifting workouts, you can accomplish the same thing through endurance workouts on a bike.

Pre-Season Workout #1: Pre-Tempo Ride

Muscular Endurance Workouts for Cycling
Social riders benefit from muscular endurance workouts. Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

After an end-of-the-season break and some base training, try pre-tempo rides to increase your current muscular endurance and provide the base for later improvement. After a sufficient warm-up, choose gears that keep your pedaling cadence around 70 revolutions per minute, rpm, and ride for 20- to 30-minute stretches. Ride hard enough to produce steady and rhythmic breathing, but not so hard that you're panting -- this is a 13 on Dr. Gunnar Borg’s six to 20 scale of Ratings of Perceived Exertion, or RPE. Borg calls the effort, which is 70 to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate, "somewhat hard." Highly competitive racers often do three of these inside a long ride, but social riders benefit from one.

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Pre-Season Workout #2: Tempo Rides

Muscular Endurance Workouts for Cycling
Tempo rides get you ready to race. Photo Credit Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images

A tempo ride increases the duration and intensity of a pre-tempo ride while maintaining the same rpm. Make the effort “hard,” 14 or 15 on the RPE, and peg your heart rate at about 85 percent of your max. When Chris Carmichael, author of “The Time-Crunched Cyclist,” coached Lance Armstrong and George Hincapie, they’d ride at this pace between 90 and 120 minutes as part of long rides on successive days. Competitive racers benefit from a 30- to 60-minute block and social riders need half that. But all riders need to be aware of what Carmichael calls in a “Velo News” article “the slow drain," the subtly taxing effect tempo rides create, which can lead without proper rest to overtraining.

In-Season Workout #1: Grinders

Muscular Endurance Workouts for Cycling
Ride up a moderate hill to do grinders. Photo Credit Ryan McVay/Digital Vision/Getty Images

In “Fred Matheny’s Complete Book of Road Bike Training,” Matheny calls grinders the equivalent to doing squats on the bicycle. To get that effect, find a moderate hill that takes three to five minutes to climb and a gear that you can turn between 50 and 60 rpm while staying seated. Keep your RPE and heart rate close to the same as the tempo workout, but expect the bodily sensation to change. As Matheny says, “You should feel the strain in your legs, not your lungs.” Competitive racers improve by doing five to six of these in a ride once or twice a week. Social riders see results from two or three in a ride once a week.

In-Season Workout #2: Extended Grinders

Muscular Endurance Workouts for Cycling
Find a longer, more moderate hill for the extended grinders workout. Photo Credit Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images

Racers prepping for time trials or riders a few weeks away from riding a century often extend grinders to make them more event specific. While still remaining seated, ride a longer, more gradual climb. Increase your rpm to higher than the suggested 70 for tempo rides but lower than what you’ll pedal during your event. Sometimes, the higher rpm elevates your heart rate above the target of a tempo ride, but your RPE should remain a 14 or 15. Intervals of 10 to 20 minutes aid all types of riders, but volume does not. Don’t do more than two per workout to avoid burnout.

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