How much time in the saddle does it take to be faster and have more endurance? If your goal is to improve performance and successfully finish cycling races, this article is for you. Let’s take a closer look at the number of hours and types of workouts you will need.

What does better performance look like?

A lot of cyclists would probably agree that being able to ride a bicycle longer and at higher speeds equals better performance. But in reality, most of us interested in performance are probably thinking about whether we can finish our favourite race. If this is your goal, the number of weekly hours you spend on the bike will need to be higher than someone’s who is cycling just for fun and general cardiovascular fitness. And you will probably also have to think more about how to structure those hours on the bike.

MTB
Mountain Bikers at Newnham Park, England. © Profimedia

Between 6 and 10 hours per week

If you want to be ready to take on most amateur cycling races, you will probably need something like 6 to 10 hours of cycling per week. This should be enough to successfully complete shorter intense races such as criteriums or short-track MTB races, and even longer cross-country MTB races as well as century races and marathons.

But it’s good to realize that your total workload always depends on two things – time and intensity. The number of weekly training hours is one thing. How you work with intensity during those hours is equally as important. So, making the best use of those 6 to 10 hours will require you to create intentional workouts and organize them into a training plan.

Creating cycling workouts

When performance is the goal, you can no longer just ride your favourite routes at a comfortable speed. Each ride turns into a workout and as such should have a clear goal. You have to know what element of your overall fitness are you trying to maintain or improve. Are you going to focus on muscular endurance or anaerobic capacity? If you don’t define this beforehand and try to do a bit of everything, the training signal will be too weak to make your body improve significantly. Check out our previous article on how to create cycling workouts.

Women's race
The peloton hard at work. © Profimedia

Periodizing your training

After you define your workouts, you should think about how to periodize them properly. Just randomly cycling between a few different types of workouts is not very efficient. A proper training plan includes cycles that each focus on a different goal.
You can think of cycles as weeks, months, and years. A year is your whole season and the goal of that season might be completing your main race. Months are big training chunks that should help you progressively improve in a certain area while including sufficient recovery. A common way to do that is to increase the training load every week by around 5-10% for 3 weeks and have an easier 4th week to help your body catch up before you start a new month.

And you can also think of your weeks as mini-cycles where you always want to include a variety of intensities. For simplicity, try to avoid repeating the same session very often and aim to spend most of your hours at low intensity and only do roughly 2 high-intensity sessions.

Armed with these rules of thumb, you will be able to progress systematically and make the best use of those precious 6 to 10 hours. If you’re even more ambitious and you want to win those races, keep reading next time.