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Fatigue resistance – what is it and how to improve it?

For cyclists, the thrill of the ride isn't just about covering miles but also about pushing personal limits, achieving race success and simply improving continuously.

Whether you're a casual rider or a seasoned athlete, one crucial factor plays a pivotal role in your cycling journey: fatigue resistance. It's the secret sauce that allows cyclists to pedal through longer distances, conquer challenging terrains, and achieve peak performance without hitting a wall of exhaustion.

Understanding and enhancing fatigue resistance isn't just reserved for elite cyclists; it's a fundamental aspect that can elevate anyone's cycling experience. In this article, I delve into the science behind fatigue resistance in cycling, explore practical strategies to build endurance, and uncover how this resilience can redefine your cycling exploits.

What forms of resistance to fatigue are there?

Muscular endurance in cycling is a critical component that refers to the ability of the muscles involved in pedaling to sustain force production over an extended period. It's essential for cyclists, especially during long rides or races, as it determines how long they can maintain a certain level of effort without experiencing significant fatigue.

Consistent Training: Regular and consistent cycling sessions help condition the muscles to sustain effort over time. This involves riding at varying intensities and durations to challenge the muscles and gradually increase their endurance capacity.

Interval Training: Incorporating interval sessions specifically targeting muscular endurance can be beneficial. These intervals could involve sustained efforts at moderate intensity, followed by short periods of recovery, to simulate the demands of longer rides or races.

Work Intervals: These are periods where you maintain a moderate to moderately high intensity. The duration and intensity of these intervals can vary based on your fitness level and training goals.

Recovery Intervals: These are shorter periods following the work intervals, allowing for active recovery. The intensity during recovery intervals is lower, providing a brief rest before the next work interval. In specific sessions, which my athletes will no doubt recognize immediately, rest is almost entirely removed to create an overload for the system and stimulate adaptations leading to fitness and form gains but also most importantly, improving resistance to fatigue.

Progression: As fitness improves, either the duration or intensity (or both) of the work intervals can be increased gradually over time to continually challenge the muscles and cardiovascular system.

Your cycling phenotype is also relevant here – climbers will have a very different structure to sprinters.

Frequency: Integrating interval sessions into your training routine regularly, typically 2-5 times a week, depending on periodization and goals, helps build and maintain muscular endurance.

Specificity: Tailoring the intervals to mimic the demands of your cycling goals or races. For instance, if preparing for hilly terrain, including intervals that simulate climbing efforts can be beneficial.

If preparing for a flat race, high cadence and high speed intervals are prescribed, and if the race contains cobbles, the structure changes once again.

Generally in cobbled races you need to have the ability to go from high to low cadence with little decoupling aerobically provided the power stays the same.

Another variable is steep climbs where you need to have the ability to create massive power at relatively low cadence, which is in some cases 700-900w for 30-60 seconds at 85-90 rpm.

In terms of specificity, I am a huge believer in doing in training what you need to do in racing.

If you can´t do it in training, you will most certainly not develop magical abilities during your event and have the ability to do/repeat the effort you need to repeat to stay with the group in the crucial parts of the race.

Pacing and Consistency: Maintaining a consistent effort during the work intervals is crucial. It's essential to pace yourself to sustain the effort throughout each interval rather than starting too hard and fading quickly.

Technique: for high cadence intervals you want to be seated and stable in the saddle, not bouncing around on it. If you are bouncing on the saddle, you are above your comfort range and you need to reassess the targets or discuss this with your coach and adjust.

With time it is of course possible to increase the efficiency range with the high cadence efforts.

Same thing applies with low cadence – wrong technique can lead to using the wrong muscle groups or applying load where you don´t want to apply it, mainly to your major joints like knees.

There´s been more than one case where this was neglected and consequences were prolonged rest post sessions or worst case scenario – injury.

Variation with incorporating different types of intervals (longer, sustained efforts or shorter, higher-intensity efforts) can provide a well-rounded approach to improving muscular endurance.

Longer Sustained Efforts:

These intervals involve longer periods of sustained effort at a moderate intensity, typically lasting several minutes (6-20 minutes).

Long intervals help improve the muscles' ability to sustain effort over extended durations, simulating the demands of endurance rides or races. They enhance aerobic capacity, muscular endurance, and mental toughness required for prolonged efforts.

They also improve lactate recycling and lactate flushing from the system.

Structure will vary on your specific periodization.

Shorter, Higher-Intensity Efforts:

Shorter intervals focus on higher-intensity efforts, often lasting from 30 seconds to 5 minutes.

These intervals primarily target the anaerobic energy system, improving the body's ability to handle higher intensities and recover from surges in effort. They contribute to increasing the lactate threshold, enabling cyclists to sustain faster paces for longer durations.

Pyramid or Ladder Intervals:

Pyramid intervals involve gradually increasing and then decreasing the intensity or duration of efforts within a single session (e.g., starting with short intervals, increasing to longer ones, then decreasing back down). I´m sure my athletes will recognize this with some dread.

This variation challenges both aerobic and anaerobic systems, promoting overall endurance and speed. It helps in building mental resilience by adapting to changing intensities, but also the body´s ability to recycle lactates(use them for fuel) and clear them more efficiently.

Lactate tolerance is something that we focus very heavily on with my athletes – as this is what makes or breaks the race more often than not with trained athletes, and this is where my super structure in the workouts comes in.

Over-Under Intervals:

These intervals alternate between slightly lower and slightly higher intensities or effort levels.

Mimicking the varying demands of races or challenging terrain, over-under intervals train the body to handle changes in pace, improving overall endurance and the ability to sustain effort during fluctuations in intensity.

There are many shapes and forms of these intervals – and again, it´s a topic for an entirely separate article.

Overs can be anything from 105-125 percent of your FTP, while unders can be anything from 95 to 85 percent of your FTP.

Variable Terrain or Hill Repeats:

Hill Climbing and Resistance Training: Riding uphill or using higher resistance levels (on a stationary bike for example) can effectively build resistance to fatigue.

Climbing challenges the muscles to work harder against resistance, improving their ability to endure prolonged efforts.

Depending on your cycling phenotype, you might want to consider how much climbing you should do in your training though.

If you are a sprinter for example, too much climbing might dull your top end speed and peak sprint power, and for this reason, for my sprinters, I often add 2 or 3 max sprints in a 20 min interval depending on the time of the year or specific period of training we are doing to keep the top end very much alive.

One of the most popular and most used drills for sprinters is Tractor Pulls, which is essentially starting overgeared, so 2 or sometimes 3 gears too high, from the drops, and going until failure finishing it with a max effort of 10-15 seconds.

This is followed by recovering for 4-6 mins after the effort, usually going downhill and coasting or pedalling gently.

This works wonders for muscular endurance and is particularly well used in the beginning of the season or specific workouts in a block leading up to the event.

The single most important type of resistance to fatigue though, now that we´ve gone into setting the foundations for starting and building it, is the ability to retain the highest possible percentage of your max efforts when fresh – confirmed in various power tests and/or test events.

These are everything from 5 second peak power, VO2 to your anaerobic capacity efforts from 45 seconds to 5 minutes.

I personally use 4 different FTP tests which are the ramp test, custom built on percentages of FTP and designed to push 3, 5 and 10 min max power every single time you do it.

My athletes know – we never use templates, we always go custom for maximum accuracy.

Second test is the steady state 30 mins at the projected power numbers received from the ramp test.

For the coaches reading this, it is absolutely crucial to take into consideration your athlete´s phenotype – sprints will not have the same aerobic efficiency as climbers or TT specialists to nail this test so you will likely need to drop the target number for the steady state effort by a few percent.

Same goes for short term power – climbers will not be able to nail high intensity efforts for 1-8 mins in the same percentages as sprinters or puncheurs – due to the differences in physiology.

If your athlete fails a certain type of workout – it is crucial to analyze and adapt the targets to them personally, not a random template number saying what they “should be able to do”


Third test is the 3x8 at 112 percent FTP Vo2 max test.

This is also I believe the most dreaded, at least for those who haven´t attempted the race sim test.

There has been only one person who completed it on the first try.

Since I work with most of my athletes remotely, the variety of testing is key for me to understand their strengths and weaknesses, in order to produce the absolute best plan I can for them.

Fourth FTP test is the Race sim test. This is a variety of high intensity intervals testing the body to the absolute limit and displaying precisely the physiological properties of the individual, but also disclosing all weak point of their cycling game that need to be addressed and improved.

Generally, on the first try, people complete about 30 percent of this test and it takes 3-4 attempts to completely nail it to perfection. It is quite satisfying when it happens.

On top of these.. a lot of my workouts, also known as the “specials” have hidden tests within them to measure resistance to fatigue in terms of ability to recover from high intensity intervals and retain the highest possible percentage of your fresh efforts all the way to the end of the workout, preparing you in the best way possible for your race event.

Often my athletes will say that the workouts are harder than the events they participate in.. which is exactly how they should be!

Train hard, race easy.

The reason it feels easier in the events is the fact you are tapered(recovered) and perfectly ready to perform.

Testing, in actual tests, workouts or test events, is incredibly important for overall progress and maximum accuracy of all the data sets and should be done regularly.

Without frequent testing there is no accuracy and training progress will be hindered.

One thing you will also not want to neglect is mental preparation, as I´m sure it´s clear, training to be super strong at the end of the race after surviving or better yet, instigating attacks, is no small thing, physically, or mentally.

Mental toughness is crucial in maintaining power output towards the end of a long and/or intense event.

Develop mental strategies to stay focused and motivated even when fatigue sets in. Techniques such as positive self-talk, visualization, and breaking the remaining distance into smaller, manageable sections can be beneficial.

One thing I always say to my athletes – do not lie to your brain. Don´t pretend the pain is not there, don´t tell it´s not so bad, as it knows the truth.

Force your mind to embrace the pain, to hug it, love it, and enjoy it, and with time and practice, it will stop being perceiving pain as a problem and a negative thing and therefore you will get stronger and more resilient, not just in your workouts and races, in LIFE.

The main mistake people make is to run away from the pain as soon as it comes – all pain, will eventually subside.

Visualization techniques involve mentally rehearsing the race or a challenging segment of the ride beforehand. This helps in familiarizing oneself with the course, envisioning success, and mentally preparing for the demands of the event, contributing to a stronger, more confident mindset.

It is a very good idea to do specific power intervals you expect to do during the race, on the actual race course, at the required trainer difficulty, then measuring what is actually left in the tank so you will know what to expect in the event.

The human brain doesn´t deal well with uncertainty – when it knows what to expect and the level of discomfort that is coming, it will adapt and make you stronger and more efficient for it.

Your ability to tolerate pain and discomfort in cycling will make all the difference in your racing success.



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