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 Triathlon Bike Training

Endurance For Beginners

If you're a beginner triathlete, improving your cycling endurance is key. 

Before cracking on with training, you might want to read the 'Why include endurance training in your triathlon cycling plan' page.

This describes the three types of endurance training, listed in brief here:

  1. Extensive Endurance (EE) This is the long easy miles, where breathing is comfortable and it takes a while to feel fatigued.
  2. Intermediate Endurance (INE)This can be described as uncomfortably comfortable. It’s not hard, yet it’s not easy.
  3. Intensive Endurance (IE)This is your hard endurance; it is definitely not comfortable.

You should also remember that the main effect of endurance training (at whichever intensity) is improved fatigue resistance.

The reasons this is useful to a triathlete are:

  1. To enable you to do more and better quality Speed Training, to make you go faster.
  2. When racing, the bike section takes less out of you and enables a faster run.

Which Type Of Endurance Training Should I Do?

As a beginner triathlete you might find yourself wondering how you'll know if you're training at the right intensity. You could do some laboratory testing, or you could perform some field tests using a heart rate monitor. However at beginner triathlete level you should learn to calibrate your most valuable instrument – yourself!

A lot of the toys like heart rate monitors cause more problems than they solve. There is so much misleading information out there and most people never use their expensive toys effectively. They also never learn to understand themselves properly.

By calibrating yourself to how a session should feel, you will be able to make better decisions on how to manage sessions and gauge the effect they will have.

If you have a question about your triathlon bike training then just ask us.

triathletes cycling

Extensive Endurance

This is the lowest intensity endurance training and these sessions should be at a comfortable, controlled pace. This is absolutely key. Even at the most basic entry level to triathlon bike training, breathing rate should be relatively low, (not moderately deep) and conversation could flow easily if in a group (or if you are inclined to talk to yourself!).

What you should feel is that as the session goes on you can still talk and breathing doesn’t get deeper or harder, however your legs begin to feel less fresh, and then a bit tired (it can sneak up on you; one minute you are fine then 10 minutes later your legs don’t quite respond the way you intended). This is a sign that you are starting to challenge your Extensive Endurance capacity.

Everyone, no matter how good will reach this point. A pro cyclist might ride to the same feeling and reach fatigue in 6 to 8 hours, whereas a novice could begin to feel it in 45 minutes. This is because the Pro has built up many, many kilometers of Extensive Endurance training over many hours and has become fatigue resistant to a high level. The Pro will also ride significantly faster but importantly the intensity of effort is the same.

This feeling of fatigue is one of the key indicators for you. If you never get this feeling you are not going for long enough. If however you are riding at the correct intensity but every ride leaves your legs cramped and completely drained, you are riding for too long. On a scale of 1 to 5 with 1 being fresh and 5 being absolutely knackered, you should finish the session on approximately a 3.

Our fatigue scale illustrates this:

Intermediate Endurance

This should feel like what is best described as uncomfortably comfortable. Breathing is now a little deeper and slightly more frequent and you can still hold a conversation, but not a long one.

There will be times in an Extensive Endurance session when you have to ride at this intensity (i.e. going up hill, or into a strong headwind). This is generally OK as long as the majority of the ride is Extensive Endurance.

As part of an Intensive Endurance session you would want this intensity to account for the majority of the duration, and be continuous. This is the difference between a specific session for Intensive Endurance and it happening in an easier ride.

Many people include these triathlon bike training sessions on the turbo trainer, because intensity is so easy to control, without having traffic, roads, wind etc interrupt the session. Whilst this can be easy and very controllable, it is not necessarily the best way to get a good training effect. Overly controlling the session assumes that hitting an exact pace is optimal. However this rarely relates to real riding and you miss out on the gains you get from riding in different weather conditions and changes in road gradient.

These triathlon bike training sessions are often best done in very small group rides or preferably on your own, as the intensity is usually quite unique to you.

Experienced elite athletes may be capable of 3 to 4 hour sessions like this (particularly Ironman Pros), whereas a novice would probably start at around 30-minutes and build this towards 90 minutes over many weeks.

Intensive Endurance

We would not normally recommend this type of endurance for a novice. It is very intense and requires a certain capacity for Intermediate Endurance before you can make this an effective session.

Once you can perform Intermediate Endurance sessions beyond 60 minutes then it might be time to start thinking about introducing an Intensive Endurance session into your triathlon bike training programme. Have a read of our Advanced page for how to do this.

When you think you are ready, read the How to do Triathlon Bike Training – Endurance for Advanced Triathletes page for more info.

Also read our Building A Training Plan page.


Summary Of Endurance Training

Extensive Endurance

Builds your foundation to enable better quality performance enhancing training, you become more fatigue resistant.

Feels: Comfortable, breathing under control, can talk easily. At the end a 2 – 3.5 on our fatigue scale.

Duration: As long as it takes to begin to feel tired. For a beginner usually anything from 45 minutes to 2 hours.

Intermediate Endurance

Builds fatigue resistance to a specific intensity that is moderately hard, enabling better quality speed training and significantly improved performance in longer endurance races.

Feels: Uncomfortably comfortable. Have to concentrate a little more, aware of breathing. Can talk but wouldn’t want to talk too much. At the end a 3.5 – 4.5 on our fatigue scale.

Duration: 30 – 90 minutes.

Intensive Endurance

Not really a session for a beginner triathlete, but will ultimately enable high quality racing over shorter races, through specific fatigue resistance.


Got a question about your triathlon bike training? Then please ask us!



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