I am trying to build up to longer rides (75 - 100 miles). I usually only have time for one long ride a week. I can squeeze in one or two shorter rides of 20 miles or so. How can I build mileage under those kinds of time constraints?

The obvious answer is to go out and ride a little longer each ride, and I'm doing that. I am really looking for supplemental workouts or cross training ideas. My legs and lungs are doing well with the increases but my shoulders, back and arms are not. Frankly even ways to get used to being on the saddle that long would help.

What other aerobic exercises are best? (running, swimming, etc.) What other strength/flexibility exercises will help? (yoga, back/shoulder exercises, etc.)


6 Answers 6


One of the best ways to build up to longer rides is through interval training.

The best book I've found on the subject is: The Time-Crunched Cyclist: Fit, Fast, and Powerful in 6 Hours a Week by Chris Carmichael. The book includes a lot of info on lactate threshold, energy metabolism, nutrition, race and century training plans, etc. I first tried out his methods after reading one of his articles in Bicycling on century training.

Basically, Carmichael's methods are a form of interval training where you are doing things like hill-repeats, power intervals, fast pace intervals, etc. There's a lot of info out there on interval training. One of the more common is called HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training).

FWIW - I've made interval training my primary method of training for long distance training. I did 3 centuries this summer and never did a training ride over 60 miles. Prior to 4 years ago, my mode of training for long distance was a gradual distance build-up and had mixed results. With interval training, my performance on long distance rides has improved significantly in both speed and how I feel afterwards.

"What other strength/flexibility exercises will help? (yoga, back/shoulder exercises, etc.)"

The upper back and neck can be a real problem on long rides. For this I use a regimen that I got from T-Nation called Deconstructing the Computer Guy. I've found that the exercises to alleviate insufficiencies related to sitting at a computer all day, also translate quite well to cycling.


I'm between projects at the moment so thought I'd add to this a bit more.

You asked what other aerobic exercises are best. Probably the best is something that you have accessible and will actually do. Swimming, running, walking, rowing, elliptical machines, etc are all good aerobic exercises, but you actually have to like it enough to be regular about it.

For strength and flexibility there are plenty of options. Yoga is one; as well as things like martial arts, tai chi, etc. For strength, weight training is fine; but not a "body builder" type program.

You specifically mentioned that you are having issues with shoulders, back and arms on your increasing distance. I mentioned an article from T-Nation above that has some great techniques for alleviating these kind of issues. (I must note that T-Nation is a rather obnoxious web site, but the advice I referenced is quite good.) For myself, I had postural and muscular imbalance problems due to cycling and too much time at the computer; and found a lot of relief in following a program very similar to the one described in Deconstructing the Computer Guy. (Four years ago I was on a century and could barely turn my head in the last 30 miles due to neck/upper back pain.) It definitely worked for me and my cycling buddy as well.

Hope this helps.


Having a strong core is crucial to being comfortable. In addition to riding 4 days a week I whitewater kayak a few nights a week. The twisting done in that sport helps keep your core strong as well as working the arms.

I'd suggest that yoga, and pilates are good core/flexibility workouts that you should look into to get your core strong.

Long ride saddle comfort is also a product of a proper bike fit. You may have a stem that's too long and making you reach farther than you should. Looking into a bike fitting at you LBS is probably something worth your time to make sure that it fits you as well as possible.


Your approach to building up distance is a great tried-and-true method. I do a fair number of long distance (200-600km) rides but don't currently do any type of cross training. Like yourself, I started out with shorter distances and gradually built up to longer and longer rides.

With more and more time on the bike, you will start to notice all of those little areas where your riding position needs tweaking. A fresh bike fit might help dial in your comfort more. It sounds like you could use a stem adjustment -- a bit shorter or higher will give you a more relaxed position. Many riders are positioned too aggressively on the bike and this really shows up over longer distances.

You also need to take more care of your body on long rides. It's important to get out of the saddle regularly, long before anything starts to hurt. Same goes for moving your hands around on the bars. Stretching out your neck, shoulders and arms during the ride will also help.

If you do want to add some cross-training, anything that strengthens your core or adds flexibility will help (see curtismchale's answer). Swimming is fantastic for your core. I haven't tried yoga or pilates but I imagine they would help too.


As wdy mentioned, it is quality over quantity especially in your case.



Imo increasing your mitochondrial and capillary density are two important items for any type of endurance cycling. As you can see from that chart that puts your most beneficial training zones as 4 & 5. As well you want to increase glycogen storage so riding at tempo (zone 3) is incredibly beneficial.

For the zone 4ish rides I like to do sweet spot riding or LT intervals



Zone 4/5 you can do criss cross intervals where you go above LT and then drop below LT over a period of 8-15 minutes.

For your tempo ride you can simply warm up for 5 minutes and go. Ride at tempo for the entirety of your 20 miler and for different effect you can ride at 5 rpm below your standard (or above) or alternate back and forth every 5 minutes.

Zones 3/4/5 can greatly help you in achieving your distance goals w/out necessarily being able to ride that distance regularly.

As well if you can fit quick core workouts in in the morning that will greatly help your comfort and performance, as was mentioned above.


I have a friend who is a stairmaster / row machine addict in the off season when there isn't enought light to ride before/after work. He never slows or weakens even though he may spend up to 4 months off the bike during winter. As for me, I have an indoor trainer and up the resistance along with doing intervals when I can't go out. An half hour to fourty-five minutes of intervals (1 minute sprint - 2 minute easy spin - repeat) works me a LOT more than even a 2 hour ride does!


Find a really big hill in your neighbourhood and on your 20 Mile rides do say a 5 mile warm up and then do seated climbs all the way up, rest on the way down, and repeat till you run out of time and ride home.

Don't climb out of the saddle, make it a seated climb, and you will build strength all over as needed that is of great value in riding.

You will rarely do 20 miles of climbing, so this will help you through the hard parts of your longer rides.

Though there is value to finding a long shallow hill. 5-10 miles long, but not very steep to practice spinning and climbing on.

  • I like this idea a lot, but I live in Chicago and we have no hills. We have a couple of noticeable bumps that might do the trick.
    – Mike Two
    Commented Aug 31, 2010 at 18:36
  • Bridges often stand in for hills. :) For example, the Queensboro bridge in Manhattan, when you run it during the NYC Marathon is almost a 2 mile uphill slog. Not very steep, but uphill for most of it!
    – geoffc
    Commented Aug 31, 2010 at 19:42
  • 3
    You do have wind, at least occasionally, in Chicago. Riding into the wind can also stand in for hills.
    – Rebekah
    Commented Sep 1, 2010 at 10:53
  • @Rebekah: Alas, I have to disagree. While long distance riding into a head wind is about the most disheartening thing, hill repeats are still worse! Wind is a great tool for building strength, but nothing like slogging up a long hill!
    – geoffc
    Commented Sep 1, 2010 at 17:40
  • 1
    but the great Lemond says that hills are a suitable substitute for hills when the hills are missing Commented Jan 11, 2011 at 6:01

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