Stamina is the ability to keep going when the going gets tough. Whether this means keeping up with friends on weekend rides or competing in a triathlon is purely individual, but the path to get there is the same. You need to progressively increase the load on your cardiovascular system, forcing it to become stronger and last longer.
Do Short Intense Interval Workouts
The best way to increase your stamina without spending hours on your bike each day is to do interval training. During an interval workout, you vary your pace between very intense effort and recovery. The intense effort intervals are 30 seconds to 5 minutes, and the recovery intervals are either equal to, more than or less than the intense intervals, depending on your fitness level and training program.
This type of training elicits physiological adaptations in skeletal muscle that promote increased stamina. It also increases VO2 max (maximum oxygen uptake), an important marker of aerobic endurance, better than long, slow rides or intense steady-state workouts, according to a 2007 study in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.
Do Some Longer Rides
As effective as interval training is, it's intense and it shouldn't be done more than two days a week on non-consecutive days. On the other days, you can do a couple slower rides of varying length.
If you're training for an endurance event, it's a good idea to include one or two longer ride each week to get your body used to being on the bike for hours at a time. Otherwise, a couple easy to moderate rides of less than an hour will help you maintain your fitness on the bike.
Start Small, Go Big
In the beginning, don't bite off more than you can chew. Start out with short interval workouts and short moderately paced workouts. Set weekly, monthly and yearly goals for increasing your endurance. Each week or every other week, add distance to your long rides, add another interval, or up the intensity.
Many cyclists would never set foot in a gym, thinking that extra muscle mass weighs them down on the bike. According to Roy M. Wallack, author of Maximum-Overload for Cyclists, that couldn't be further from the truth. Resistance training is highly effective for overloading the muscles — putting stress on them so that they recover stronger than before, Wallack writes on Bicycling.com. Strengthening the main muscles involved in cycling — the hamstrings, quads and glutes — makes them less easily fatigued on the bike, so you have more staying power.
Make Time for Recovery
Building stamina isn't all about what you do. Quite often, it's about what you don't do. Overtraining can stall your progress and lead to fatigue and injury. Be sure to take at least one recovery day each week, and don't do hard workouts on consecutive days, unless it's infrequent and part of your specific training program.
Stretching and mobility work will also aid recovery and stamina by preventing injury and improving movement and functionality. After you warm up on the bike, get off and do a few dynamic stretches, such as walking lunges and walking knee grabs. These movements prepare your body for the work to come.
After your rides, do static stretches, holding for 30 seconds to one minute. Before or after your ride, and on your off days, do mobility exercises to increase range-of-motion and work out kinks in tired muscles.
Don't Forget About Diet and Sleep
Eating a healthy diet and getting enough sleep are integral to improving stamina. Fatigue off the bike will only lead to more fatigue on the bike. And a nutrient-poor diet won't provide the fuel you need to keep going. Be sure to get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night and eat a diet rich in fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats from vegetable oils, nuts and seeds.
- Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise: Aerobic high-intensity intervals improve VO2max more than moderate training.
- Bicycling: Your New Endurance Training Plan
- Primalist: 14 Mobility Exercises to Become a Faster Cyclist
- REI: How to Train for Endurance Cycling
- BikeRadar: 5 ways to improve your cycling endurance
- Total Women's Cycling: Static or Dynamic Stretches: Which are Best for Cyclists?