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How Can I Become a Faster Cyclist?

Ask a Pro — Diane Stibbard

Coach, Personal Trainer, and Two-Time Canadian Duathlete of the Year

Diane Stibbard - two-time dualthlete of the year


Question: “I want to become a faster cyclist. What’s the best way to do that?”

Diane’s reply: Cyclists often talk about their speed and how far they went on a particular ride. Many focus on how fast they’re riding and want to become faster.

Becoming faster is a product of how fit you are. A conditioned cyclist requires a combination of muscular strength, power, and aerobic endurance, plus a high lactate threshold (they can sustain a higher level of intensity without accumulating too much lactic acid in the muscles). Lactic acid is a byproduct of high intensity training. During cycling it accumulates in the muscles, causing a burning sensation in the legs. If this persists over a prolonged period of time, the buildup of lactic acid may cause the rider to slow down.

To become a faster cyclist you need to implement different types of cycling workouts that address strength, power, lactate threshold, and aerobic endurance.

There are different tools available to measure intensity. Some cyclists use a heart rate monitor, others invest in a power meter. Power meters, which measure how many watts (units of power output) you’re doing on a given ride or workout, are costly, so most riders use a computer, which measures cadence, distance, and speed. Many also wear a heart rate monitor to measure how hard they’re working.

This is a list of the heart rate intensities needed to train each system.

• Aerobic conditioning – zone 2 (60–70% of MHR)
• Strength – zone 3 (70–80% of MHR)
• Lactate threshold – upper zone 3, to lower zone 4 (80–90% of MHR)
• Power – zone 4 and 5 (90–100% of MHR)

Here are some sample workouts for each of the above training protocols:

Aerobic conditioning: Ride from 90 minutes up to 3 hours outdoors over rolling terrain, or, indoors, 90 minutes up to 2 hours. Keep the average heart rate within zone 2.

Strength: (Can be done inside or outside)
• 15 minute spin to warm up
• 4 x 5–10 minute intervals in zone 3 with 2 to 3 minutes spin recovery in between each interval
• 15 minute spin to cool down

Lactate threshold: (Can be done inside or outside)
• 15–20 minute easy spin to warm up
• 5 x 20-second high cadence spin-ups (gradually increasing the cadence over 20 seconds)
• Ride for 15 to 40 minutes at high zone 3 to low zone 4. The objective is to keep the pace consistent, without starting out too hard. This ride mimics a time trial/tempo effort, where you’re keeping a smooth pedal stroke and even pace throughout.
• 15 minutes easy spin to cool down

Power: (Can be done inside or outside)
• 20–25 minutes warm-up. Longer warm-up recommended for maximum efforts.
• 10–30 sets of 30 seconds maximum intensity effort intervals (high zone 4 to zone 5), with 30 seconds of recovery. Do each interval in the large chain ring, in a hard gear. During each 30-second recovery, drop down into the small chain ring and spin the legs out as much as possible before starting the next interval.
• 20 minutes easy spin to cool down

To become a faster cyclist it’s important to train at different intensities. This prevents the body from stalling at a certain speed, and stimulates the required level of training to increase conditioning and speed. Many cyclists find it easy to ride the same course in the same time. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if your goal is to increase your speed you need to challenge your body out of its comfort zone.

Try some of the above training protocols this spring, and reap the benefits of improved conditioning and speed.

Training for a two-day cycling eventDiane provides training programs for recreational and competitive cyclists, duathletes and triathletes, including nutritional counseling and personal training. Does your company need a fitness consultant? Get in touch with Diane to discuss fitness seminars for corporations

You want personal training but don’t live near Diane? No problem. Diane does email and telephone consultations. To learn more, visit Diane’s website or contact her at

Check out Diane’s e-programs: Keeping Fit in the Off-Season and Training For a Two-Day Charity Event For the Time-Starved Cyclist.

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