Why Include Endurance Training In Your Triathlon Cycling Plan?

To have a successful triathlon cycling performance you need good endurance. Endurance training is about improving your capacity to endure sustained exercise, be it swimming, riding or running.

This endurance (or ability to endure) then helps to form a solid base of fitness upon which to build more race-specific training.

If you imagine a pyramid with a small base, you cannot build it very high before it will topple over. If you build solid foundations you have the chance to build higher and broader.

Starting in the middle of the pyramid with interval sessions designed to boost speed and power will provide you with some short term gains in performance. However these can be very short lived and ultimately limit how high you can build your performance pyramid.

Why Is Endurance Training So Important?

A solid base of endurance training makes chronic structural changes to your body:

  1. A larger, more powerful heart muscle
  2. Increased capillarisation (more of the tiny blood vessels) of the lungs and muscles – allowing more blood to pass through, transferring and delivering more oxygen to the muscles.
  3. Increased mitochondria (convert energy into useable forms) – enabling the oxygen to be converted to energy for movement.

All of this translates into your body being able to go faster for longer.

Another way of putting it is that you become more fatigue resistant. Unlike pure cyclists, triathletes value fatigue resistance as a key ingredient to triathlon performance. It means the bike will have less of a negative effect on the run than before the training.

If your triathlon cycling training makes you fatigue resistant, it enables your run performance to be closer to your best straight running performance. So you can improve your run not by running more, but by being a better cyclist! Speed and Power interval training doesn’t do this. It makes you faster, but this can also have a greater cost to your run performance.

Read on to understand how to get the best of both worlds. Become a faster, more fatigue resistant cyclist and still run like you only just started the race!

If you have any questions about your triathlon cycling training then you can ask us.

Is Endurance Training Important To All Levels Of Triathlete And All Race Distances?

Yes! Even if you are a sprint distance athlete you can and will still benefit from endurance training.

You will most likely want a different balance to your triathlon cycling programme. But you still need it.

What Are The Different Types Of Endurance Training?

We break Endurance down into three types:

  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.

These three types of endurance train your fatigue resistance at different intensities. Depending upon your event you will want to include more or less of the different types.

Why Extensive Endurance?

Extensive Endurance is the cornerstone to a long term programme. It provides the fatigue resistance and basic fitness which will allow you to do more and better quality speed-based training.

This type of training improves your body’s ability to use fats as a fuel. This is beneficial because you have a lot more supplies of fats than carbohydrates to fuel exercise. Also burning mainly fats means less of a build-up of waste products that eventually cause fatigue.

This type of training is most important for building a good base to build higher intensity training on, and also for people training to do an Ironman.

Why Intermediate Endurance?

Sometimes called tempo training (especially in running circles), again this is about fatigue resistance, but at the “uncomfortably comfortable” intensity. This training results in your muscle fibres become more conditioned to fatigue and therefore tire less easily at this higher speed or intensity.

This is different to Extensive Endurance as you are now beginning to use your glycogen (carbohydrate) stores to supply the fuel for the muscles and you need to improve your efficiency at dealing with this. As you are also riding either faster or harder (doing long mountain climbs for those lucky enough to have them), your pedaling mechanics will also change slightly and therefore muscles are recruited in a different pattern and you need to condition them effectively.

This training DOES NOT generally produce significant speed gains, unless there are other elements designed to do this in your programme. If it does it is because you are more fatigue resistant and therefore more comfortable riding a slightly higher speed. Not because you have changed a physiological threshold.

This is specifically relevant to Olympic and Half Ironman athletes although Elite Ironman athletes will also benefit significantly.

Why Intensive Endurance?

This is a hard intensity, and also improves the fatigue resistance at higher intensities. Similarly to the differences between Extensive and Intermediate Endurance, this type of Endurance training has a specific effect on how you deal with fatigue in the muscles at higher intensities.

You will now be relying purely on carbohydrate to supply energy for muscular contraction. This is a hard session and there are also psychological effects of understanding your limits and learning how to get the most from yourself that can be beneficial.

Specifically relevant for Sprint and faster Olympic Distance athletes. Not so relevant for Ironman athletes.

How Do I Use These Types Of Endurance Training In A Triathlon Cycling Programme?

To find out how to include these types of training in your triathlon cycling programme read:

How To Do Triathlon Bike Endurance Training – Beginners


How To Do Triathlon Bike Endurance Training – Advanced

If you’re not sure whether to class yourself as a beginner or advanced, the advanced training includes longer, more frequent sessions than the beginner page. Basically if a 2 – 3 hour ride seems like a lot you’re probably better off starting on the beginner page.

Got a question about your triathlon bike training?

Then please ask us!

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