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Hardcore Bike Training

  It seems that duathletes have no trouble carrying out a comprehensive run-training program. Most include such workouts as intervals, tempo, hill repeats and other complex sessions. But for some reason many duathletes seem clueless when it comes to the bike. This often results in haphazard training and poor race fitness. Many never go beyond long and hard group rides. While group rides have a place in an effective training program, they don’t fully prepare the body for the stresses of a competitive duathlon.

            Just as with running there are several components of fitness to develop in order to produce a top performance on the bike. Here’s a brief look at each.


Aerobic Endurance

            The ability to ride at a comfortable effort for mile after mile is the most basic component of fitness for the duathlete. Aerobic endurance not only ensures that races can be finished, but also provides the fitness “platform” for all other, more advanced workouts. Athletes who have developed abundant endurance have a great capacity for work allowing them to handle more difficult workouts. In essence, they can convert their aerobic endurance into other components of fitness.

            Aerobic fitness is the least complex of all the fitness components requiring only that you ride long distances frequently. “Long” varies with the individual, time of season, and target race. For most international-distance events (5k/30k/5k) 90 minutes to two hours is about the shortest long ride you should do. Longer races typically require longer aerobic endurance rides.

            Doing these once or twice weekly for eight to 12 weeks will produce satisfactory levels of endurance. After this initial “base” development a long ride every 10 days or so will provide maintenance.

            One long ride is better than two short rides in a day for developing aerobic endurance. In the same way, the long ride is more critical to endurance development than the number of miles ridden in a week.



            If you want to become good at pedaling for long periods of time, efficiency is necessary. Since you have limited glycogen stores, energy wasted on the bike reduces the time to fatigue. Energy is wasted if the bike doesn’t fit, your position creates unnecessary drag, or if pedaling skills are poor. Examples of the latter are allowing the foot to rest on the pedal during the recovery phase of the stroke and applying force in ineffective directions.

            Simple drills to minimize these energy-wasting techniques are spin-ups to high cadence and one-legged pedaling on an indoor trainer. While doing these, think about pushing the toes forward in the shoe at the top of the stroke, pawing back at the bottom, or “throwing” the knees over the handlebars on the upstroke to help develop better skills. Also, relax when doing these drills so that tension doesn’t interfere with fluid movement. Winter is a good time to develop better pedaling skills.

            The Spinscan mode on the CompuTrainer is also good for refining pedaling skills.

            To maintain improved pedaling economy throughout the season think about correct technique frequently every week in different types of workouts. Continue to apply the lessons learned in winter skill sessions. It may also pay off to continue drills throughout the season. Better pedaling requires months or even years to perfect.



            The fastest riders are able to apply a great deal of force to the pedal on the downstroke. In fact, there is a close correlation between pedal force and speed whether on a flat course or a hill.

            Some duathletes spend a great deal of time in the weight room during the winter for this reason. Lifts such as squats, leg press, and step-ups develop strength that is later converted to cycling force. But weights aren’t necessary. Big gear work on a hill or variable-resistance indoor trainer is also effective. No matter which method is used, to maximize force generation the load should be quite high and the repetitions low with long recoveries between sets. Be careful with your knees when doing this type of training.

            Once again, the winter base-building period is the best time to work on developing leg force. It can be maintained during the season with periodic hill workouts.


Muscular Endurance

            For non-drafting races the ability to push a relatively big gear for a long time is crucial to performance. The higher the gear-cadence combination, the faster you go.

            Duathletes with well-developed muscular endurance have first established high levels of aerobic endurance and force. So this type of training typically comes somewhat later in the winter and spring when the base is already well established. But since it is so critical to duathlon success, muscular endurance training continues throughout the season.

            The following are examples of muscular endurance workouts:

            · Cruise intervals. After a thorough warm-up do 3-5 x 6-12 minutes at lactate threshold (the start of heavy breathing) with 2-3 minutes of recovery between intervals.

            · Tempo. Warm-up well and then ride 20-40 minutes at lactate threshold.

            When doing these workouts early in the season start with small workloads, such as 3 x 6 minutes with 2 minutes recovery or 20 minutes of tempo. As the season progresses increase the total volume of these workouts.

            Muscular endurance workouts are good for simulating the stresses of racing. To ensure this benefit, select a gear and cadence combination similar to what you use in a race.


Anaerobic Endurance

            For the few racing in draft-legal events, anaerobic endurance training is quite beneficial. In a drafting race the effort is seldom steady, but instead features attempts to breakaway, bridge up to a break, or take one’s turn at the front breaking the wind as others draft. Such efforts will cause the rider to periodically go deeply into anaerobic metabolism producing large quantities lactic acid. If the athlete is not prepared for such stress he or she will soon be “off the back.”

            For the majority of duathletes in non-drafting races, such training has limited value, but is good for maximizing aerobic capacity and lactate clearance capabilities. In either case, anaerobic endurance training should be strictly limited to the last six to eight weeks before an important race. A steady diet of such effort soon leads to overtraining, burnout, illness or injury.

            Anaerobic endurance training is built on a base of aerobic endurance and high-cadence pedaling skills. If either of these is inadequate, such training should not even be attempted as the risk of breakdown is increased.

            The following are examples of anaerobic endurance sessions. Always include a thorough warm-up before attempting these.

            · AE intervals. Do 3-5 x 3-6 minutes at well above lactate threshold/30k time trial effort with 3-6 minute recoveries. Decrease the recovery durations over the course of the season.

            · Lactate clearance reps. Complete 2-3 sets of 3-6 x 40 seconds with 20-second recoveries. Effort is the maximum sustainable for 40 seconds. After each set recover for 5 minutes.

            Either of these workouts, or their many variations, may be done on a hill. Cadence is higher than typical race cadence.

Intensity is difficult, if not impossible, to gauge for these using a heart rate monitor. The best option is to use a power meter, but in the absence of such equipment base intensity on perceived exertion.



Power is the ability to quickly apply a great force as in sprinting or going over a short, steep hill. Again, for non-drafting races it has limited value and training time devoted to it, if any, should be restricted.

As an advanced ability power is built on well-established force and high-cadence pedaling skills. Examples of power workouts are:

· Jumps. During an otherwise easy ride include several explosive accelerations for no more than 10-12 pedal revolutions (each leg). Try both sitting and standing positions for these. Recover for several minutes after each.

· Hill sprints. On a short, steep hill that takes no more than 15 seconds to climb do 6-10 full power sprints both sitting and standing. Recover for 3-5 minutes after each.

Notice that the efforts are kept short to avoid the build-up of lactate in the blood. As lactate accumulates the application of power is diminished and the intended benefit is lost. Also, once fatigue begins to set in it’s wise to stop these workouts as power production will decrease.


Combined Workouts

            Not only is it necessary for the duathlete to complete combined bike-run workouts, but it’s also beneficial to combine two or more abilities into a single training session to produce race-specific training. For example, you might complete an AE interval workout followed up with a tempo ride. Such combined sessions should only be attempted once the individual abilities are well established.

            Your bike training should reflect the types of fitness needed for the highest priority races. If the bike portion of a non-drafting race will be long and hilly then force and muscular endurance training is paramount. The other consideration is how good you are in the abilities demanded by the targeted race. If climbing is poor, but muscular endurance is good, for example, then relatively more time should be devoted to force.

            After considering the many parts that make up a comprehensive bike-training program you should be able to write which abilities will be included each week. This should take less than an hour and gives you a nice plan for the remainder of the season.