Training for Endurance Cycling – 80/20 and Strength & Conditioning

The key to cycling faster and longer?

Train slower

Lift weights

That’s it. Nothing too complicated.

But you will still read plenty of blog posts, books or just people talking at the gym:

“High Intensity Intervals – that’s what you need to be doing”

“Why would you want to lift weights if you just want to cycle 100 miles?”

No pain, no gain

(usually said by someone who has just injured themselves

or is about to)

Ignore them. At best they are well-intentioned but don’t understand what it means to train for endurance sports. At worst they are going to get you injured, maybe badly enough that you won’t be able to take part. Trust us – you want to train slow and lift weights.

Let’s look at both parts of that:

Train Slow

We often have a natural inclination to always cycle as fast as we can. Even if we are experienced cyclists and know that we need to pace ourselves, it’s still hard to hold back so we have enough left in the tank to finish. But when we are training, why not always go as hard as possible? That’s when we get the most benefit, right? When we feel like our heart and lungs are about to burst – that must be good for something, surely? There’s all those articles in the weekend papers about High Intensity training, written by a trainer to the stars. He must know!

So, on one level, the guy in the papers/down the gym has got it partly right. Intensity is a useful training tool. And if you were simply trying to improve your overall health, burn some fat and hopefully reduce your chances of heart disease, then short, brief bouts of highly intensive exercise (1-2 minutes at a time), are certainly an efficient way of doing so.

But that’s not you. You want to do more than just ‘get fit’. You want to push yourself. You want to prove something to yourself. You want to go above and beyond what normal people expect. You want to cycle your first century. Or do it for 6 days straight. So, you are going to need a different approach. And that approach is long and slow. This is how elite endurance athletes train – be it Mo Farah, Paula Radcliffe, the Brownlee brothers, or Bradley Wiggins – they all do most of their training at low intensity. Why? Because it has been scientifically proven to provide the best increase in overall speed over long distances of any training method.

The reasons for this still aren’t completely clear, but the key benefits are:

  • It enables a higher volume of training. I.e. you can ride for longer at low intensity than if you are pushing yourself as hard as you can. And that means less fatigue, too.

  • High intensity training may have MORE of an impact if your body is conditioned by lots of low intensity training

  • High intensity training is very stressful on the body, and so you can’t do enough of it to get sufficient performance gains

Whatever the mechanisms for why it works, the science shows that it does, and elite athletes, who are highly competitive by nature, have not yet found a better method of training.