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Improve Your Triathlon Bike Training

Endurance Training For
Experienced Triathletes

The triathlon bike training sessions on this page are for you if you:

  1. Perform long steady rides of at least 2.5 to 3 hours at least once a week if not more often
  2. Include some more intense long rides
  3. Do the above on a regular, consistent basis.

If you have read the "Why Include Endurance Training" page you will remember we use three types of endurance training.

These are described again below:

  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 your bike section takes less out of you and enables a faster run.

If you have any questions about your triathlon bike training then please just ask us.

How Do I Know What Intensity To Train At?

You could do some laboratory testing or you could perform some field tests using a heart rate monitor to determine the correct intensity of each session for you.

However 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, most athletes never use their expensive toys effectively. They also never learn to understand themselves properly.

By calibrating yourself to how a triathlon bike training session should feel, you are able to make better decisions on how to manage sessions and gauge the effect they will have, and then interpret your own training data. Don’t let the data dictate the session!

Extensive Endurance

This is the lowest intensity endurance training and these triathlon bike training sessions should be at a comfortable, controlled pace. This is absolutely key. Breathing rate should be relatively low, and not moderately deep, conversation could flow easily (if you are in a group, or 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 an experienced but non-elite triathlete could begin to feel it in 2 hours. 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 with this type of triathlon bike training. 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.

The intensity will vary during the session, due to factors like hills, wind and other athletes. This is normal and should be encouraged; however the bulk of the ride should be at this comfortable intensity.

You should vary the length of your rides and within this you can vary the intensity. For instance if you are doing a 3 hour ride and this is a comfortable duration for you, you should still come home with a feeling of fatigue. To do this you may need to ride closer to the feeling of ‘Uncomfortably Comfortable’.

If you are doing a 6 hour ride obviously you need to ride at a lower intensity, otherwise the level of fatigue will be excessive and will prevent you from training in subsequent days.

At the end of the session you should feel quite fatigued: A bit drained of energy and you can feel it in your legs if you go up a slight incline. On a scale of 1 to 5 with 1 being fresh and 5 being absolutely knackered, you should finish on approximately a 3.

Our fatigue scale illustrates this:

training fatigue scale

Intermediate Endurance

This should feel like what is best described as "uncomfortably comfortable". Breathing is now a little deeper and slightly more frequent, 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 triathlon bike training 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.

These 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

Exactly as it says – hard, sustained training. Intensive Endurance triathlon bike training is used by triathletes mainly competing in Sprint, Olympic and for the very quick, Half Ironman.

The sessions are very intense and should last for between 30 and 60 minutes depending upon fitness, training requirements and stage in the training cycle.

The effort during an Intensive Endurance session should make talking a non-starter, you need all your concentration to hold the pace and focus on maintaining good technique. You should find that if you push just a little more fatigue sets in quite quickly, so you need to back off again. With experience you will not need to push over the limit to find it.

Breathing is much deeper now, and has increased in frequency compared to the Intermediate Endurance session. However you should not be panting or hyper-ventilating. If you are, you are either going too hard or need to learn to control your breathing.

The aim of these triathlon bike training sessions is to be able to sustain this intensity for longer. So although you might see slight changes in speed from week to week, you should find that after a few sessions you are able to go for longer at the same pace. This shows that you are improving your endurance capacity.

You must be fresh to get the most out of these sessions. If you are feeling fatigued, do the warm up, and start the effort but if you are not able to bring the intensity up to the required level, don’t flog the dead horse by carrying on with the session. YOU WILL NOT GAIN ANYTHING. The whole point is you are getting better at resisting fatigue at a specific intensity. Not achieving the intensity will mean you are not getting any benefit. You are just exercising, not training.

Ideally this session should be done on your own, in your race position. Cycling time-trials are usually a good way of making this session more tolerable by turning it into a competition. If the distance is not compatible with your training requirement, finish the race and carry on on your own.

For those in the Sprint or Olympic races, where your race pace could be around this intensity, this type of triathlon bike training is useful as it will have a significant effect on your ability to run better off the bike at this intensity.

Start off with efforts of around 20 minutes and build quickly up to about 30 minutes, as you get used to the pacing and intensity of the session. Then try to increase the duration you can hold the intensity for by 2 to 4 minutes each session.

To find out how to incorporate these three types of endurance training into a triathlon bike training plan read our Building A Training Plan page.


Summary of Triathlon Bike Training For Endurance

Extensive Endurance

Long, steady sessions, at a comfortable intensity. Controlled breathing and easy to talk. 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 more experienced triathlete usually anything from 2 - 8 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: 45 – 120 minutes.

Intensive Endurance

Builds fatigue resistance to race pace efforts for a short race (sprint or Olympic distance), which can significantly improve run off the bike.

Feels: Definitely uncomfortable. Breathing significantly deeper and faster, but still controlled. Conversation is not an option. At the end a 4.5 – 5 on our fatigue scale.

Duration: Between 30 and 60 minutes.


Got a question about your triathlon bike training?

Then please ask us!


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