It happens every year around this time. The Tour de France inspires countless people to head out to the garage, dusting off their bicycles in an attempt to duplicate the racing teams’ feats of glory. And almost as quickly, the bicycles begin collecting dust once again. The reason: Endurance road bicycling is hard. And being a monster in the gym, a whiz on the court or a dynamo in exercise class doesn’t necessarily translate to the open road.
Still, long-distance bicycling can be an effective addition to a fit lifestyle, increasing stamina and taxing muscle sets not typically maximized in other endeavors. You only need to get out on the road. And in the gym.
On the Road
According to Tristan Rice, a performance specialist with Athletes’ Performance — a renowned training center that counts dozens of offseason professional athletes as clients — people aren’t successful cycling because of the conventional wisdom that you have to slog through slow pedaling to build stamina. And folks just don’t want to invest two or three hours a day getting saddle sore. But there’s a solution.
“Not a lot of people have the time to invest,” Rice says. “So to achieve the same sort of results (as a long endurance ride), pare down the time you spend on the bike to 30 minutes and just do really high-intensity riding. Start with a minute of high-intensity or ‘peak riding’ — where you get your heart rate as high as you can for a minute, then come back down in recovery so your heart rate is what it was prior to starting that sprint. That will stimulate the same sort of responses as sitting on the bike for a much longer period.”
Rice recommends peppering your 30-minute ride with a series of peak riding sprints, alternating between these and recovery throughout the workout. As you progress, maintain the sprint for longer periods, reducing recovery times to build endurance and train your legs to process any lactate buildup more efficiently. A typical schedule would look like this: Monday, medium-intensity ride; Tuesday, high-intensity ride (more peak riding); Wednesday, recovery day with a slow, steady long-distance ride. Repeat this three-day schedule on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, with Sunday as a rest day. Then hit the gym.
In the Gym
Instead of hammering your hamstrings and quads with a lot of isolation exercises — they’ll get that on the bike — focus your effort in the gym on your shoulders and hips. Why? According to Rice, the shoulders take the brunt of your bodyweight while on the bike. And that can be magnified in a two-hour endurance ride. You can strengthen your shoulders individually by doing barbell military presses, upright rows and lateral raises.
Strengthen the muscles around your hips with one-leg squats, leg presses and Romanian deadlifts. Stronger hips mean a better distribution of power and a more balanced pedal stroke. That translates into less burn on the quads — and can mean the difference between conquering endurance cycling and a bike that’s gathering dust in the garage until the next Tour de France.