Bike Touring Training Tips and Exercises

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If you’re preparing for a long-distance, multi-day bike tour like the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route or a month of pedaling through France, arming yourself with a well-rounded preparation plan can help you successfully achieve your goal.

A thorough program that includes four to eight months of training should also encompass a smart mental approach from the beginning. There are going to be tough days in the saddle, and an unending climb or a strong headwind can derail even the strongest mindset. But with a calm, focused mind, and a solid training plan focused on endurance, strength and flexibility, you can make your goals a reality.

Cardio Training for a Bike Tour

Physical preparation time can vary from person to person depending on your previous experience riding, your current fitness and strength levels and even your bike handling skills.

Setting a Training Schedule

As consistency is critical to your success, commit to the number of days you can train and stick with it. Indoor cycling classes, riding a stationary bike, or cross-training such as jogging, swimming or rowing can help during the week when you’re short on time, but you will need to build up to completing two longer rides on the weekend.

Sample Training Week

Sample training week

Long Training Rides

It’s essential that you spend time in the saddle with your packs loaded to get used to the physical demands and bike handling skills you’ll need for your trip. Also consider the types of terrain you’ll be riding; if there will be lots of hills on your tour, spend some quality time outside on your bike, with your packs loaded, climbing.

Building your mileage gradually can keep you motivated and successful. Depending on your current physical condition, aim for training rides that leave you challenged but not exhausted.

Increase your training volume gradually by adding no more than 5–10 miles every couple of weeks until you’ve reached your goal distance. Your goal for a single-day training ride should be the maximum distance you expect to ride in a day on your tour. Initially, ride without your packs; once you’ve met your distance goal, gradually increase your pack load.

Strength Training for a Bike Tour

On long rides, it’s not just your legs that get tired; it’s often the upper body, neck and back that limit your endurance. Having strong legs but also a stable core and a strong upper body can make those hours in the saddle feel much shorter.  

This training program will not only help you develop lower-body strength and efficiency but will also train the upper body; when you get out of the saddle on a tough climb, you’ll have the strength in your arms to help you get up the hill.

Warm up with 5–10 minutes of light cardio before starting this cycle-specific strength-training program. Do these exercises in the following order:

Dumbbell Goblet Squat

Woman standing holding a dumbbell vertically in front of chest
Woman squatting with dumbbell
  • Hold a dumbbell vertically (or use any weight) up against your chest.
  • Position your feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart and turn your toes out slightly (the less mobile the hips, the more the toes will need to turn out).
  • Drop your hips straight down toward the ground, keeping your chest open and shoulders anchored down and back.
  • Pretend you are separating the ground with your feet and engage your glutes as you power back up to the starting position.
  • Do 8–12 reps, for 2–3 sets with 60–90 seconds of recovery between each set.

Modification: This exercise can be performed as a body-weight squat (without the added weight), or as an assisted squat with a suspension trainer. If you are unable to perform this exercise as shown, remove the load and/or reduce your range of motion.

Rubber Resistance Bilateral Seated Row

Woman seated on ground with resistance band around feet

  • Begin in a seated position with legs outstretched and the band wrapped around your feet.
  • Exhaling, bend your right elbow and pull the handle to the side of your ribcage, driving your elbow straight behind you.
  • Keep your shoulders pressed down away from your ears and your chest open. As you pull your elbow back, rotate your upper back.
  • Maintain perfect posture while squeezing between your shoulder blades. Slowly return your hand to the start position.
  • Alternate each side, taking one second to pull your hand in and two to three seconds to extend your arm forward.

Dumbbell Split Squat

Woman standing with one foot stepped forward and dumbbells in hands
Woman moving back knee toward the ground
  • Begin with one foot out in front of you with the shoulders in line over the hips. Hold one dumbbell in each hand.
  • Bending both knees, sink your hips and lower yourself until your back knee almost touches the floor.
  • Maintain an upright posture and inhale as you lower slowly, with control. Exhale and push up to the start position.
  • Keep your shoulders square and chest lifted.
  • Do 8–12 reps each side for 2–3 sets with 30–60 seconds of rest between sets.

Push-up to Side Plank

Woman in a plank position
Woman in a side plank position
  • Perform a push-up (on knees or toes).
  • Next, rotate your body to a full-body side plank: Rotate your ankles so you’re resting on the side of your feet and hips are stacked vertically, then lift one hand off the floor and reach toward the ceiling or sky.
  • Pause for 4–5 seconds then return to the start position. Perform another push-up, then do a side plank on the other side.
  • Keep your spine lengthened throughout the entire exercise by maintaining a contraction of the abdominals.
  • Do 8 push-ups with 4 side planks each side. Recover for 30–60 seconds, then repeat for another 2–3 sets.

Dumbbell Bent-Legged Dead Lift

Woman with straight legs and bending forward with flat back

  • Begin standing with feet hip-width apart and dumbbells in front of the body.
  • Hinge forward at the hips, driving the hips back behind the feet, while at the same time bending the knees.
  • Inhaling, hinge forward until the spine is almost parallel with the floor, lowering the dumbbells toward the floor.
  • Exhale and drive up through your hips and knees to the starting position.
  • Brace your abdominals strongly, maintaining a lengthened spine. Don’t allow your spine to flex or become rounded.
  • Do 8–12 reps with 60–90 seconds of rest in between for 2–3 sets.

Glute Bridge

  • Begin lying on your back with your feet hip-width apart and knees bent.
  • Exhale while pressing your heels into the floor, and drive your hips up until you are resting on your shoulders.
  • Slightly lift your toes off the floor. Inhale and lower your hips to the starting position.
  • When at the top of the bridge position, tuck your tailbone under so that you don’t excessively arch your lower back.
  • Do 8–12 reps with 30 seconds of rest between for 1–2 sets.

Bird Dog

  • Begin in a tabletop position with hands under the shoulders and knees under the hips.
  • Exhale and raise your right arm and your left leg until they are lined up with your spine. Brace your abdominals. There should be no movement in the lower back at all.
  • Keep your neck neutral without looking up or down. Keep the whole of the spine aligned, from the top of your head to your heel.
  • Hold this position for 20–30 seconds and maintain a natural breathing pattern.
  • Slowly return to the start position, then repeat on the other side.
  • Do 2–4 reps each side for 1 set. No rest between right and left sides.

Flexibility Training for a Bike Tour

Cycling often makes your muscles tight and can cause muscular imbalances. Building and maintaining good flexibility is part of a balanced approach to preparing for distance riding.

Perform these stretches after you ride and before you cool down. Hold each stretch for 15–30 seconds, to a mild point of tension; it should feel pleasant, not painful. If your muscle begins to shake, back off from the stretch slightly.

While this is a good starting point, including a more substantial program will further benefit you. Mat Pilates and yoga classes offer significant benefits to cyclists through flexibility and core strength training.

Supine Hamstring Leg Pull

  • Lie on your back with left leg straight on the floor, then raise your right leg and wrap a towel or yoga strap around your right foot.
  • Holding both ends of the towel or strap and keeping your right leg straight, gently pull your leg toward your chest to stretch the back of your leg.
  • Hold for 30 seconds before repeating on the other side.

Figure-4 Hip Stretch

  • Lying on your back, cross your right ankle above the left knee (not directly on top of the knee joint). Bend and lift your left leg toward your chest, while holding the back of the thigh with both hands. Keep your right foot flexed and your left foot relaxed.
  • Gently encourage your right knee open as you pull the left leg toward you.
  • Hold for 30 seconds before repeating on the other side.

Prone Cobra Torso Stretch

  • Roll onto your belly and slide your elbows under your shoulders with your forearms on the floor.
  • Push up and extend your chest away from the floor stretching the front of your body.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.

Side-Lying Quad and Hip Flexor Stretch

  • Lying on your right side, propped on your right elbow, grasp your left ankle/foot and pull the ankle behind you while keeping your knees close together.
  • You’ll feel a stretch in the front of your hip and thigh.
  • Hold for 30 seconds before repeating on the other side.

Butterfly Groin Stretch

  • Sit with the soles of your feet together and knees bent and out to the sides.
  • Hold your feet and gently pull your body forward while keeping your back flat and encouraging your knees gently down.
  • Hold for 30 seconds before repeating on the other side.

Seated Head Tilt Neck Stretches

  • Sitting cross-legged, reach your right hand to the side away from you, toward the floor.
  • With your left hand gently tilt your head to the left, stretching the muscles in the right side of your neck.
  • Hold for 30 seconds before repeating on the other side.

The nonprofit American Council on Exercise (ACE) educates, certifies, and represents more than 53,000 fitness professionals, health coaches, and other allied health professionals.

This publication is not intended to provide medical advice on personal health issues, which should be obtained directly from a physician.

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