Strength Endurance (SE) is a workout you’ll see a lot of in your Formfinder training program. Strength Endurance is pedalling at around 50-70rpm, as opposed to more typical riding where you pedal between 85-105rpm. We’re big advocates for SE for a whole number of reasons, with the number one reason being that SE is great for your cycling.
SE can be thought of as weight (resistance) training for your pedal stroke. The time it takes to complete a full pedal revolution at a typical cadence (approx. 90prm) is less than one second, and the whole idea of the pedal stroke and technique is to maximise your efficiency. The trouble with having an extremely efficient and fluent pedal stroke, means that as comfortable as you are on your bike and pedals, not much time is spent building each of the muscles used in the pedal stroke, in finer detail. Using SE, you can spend more time in each phase of the pedal stroke, and the lower cadence at the same power output will mean you’re applying in excess of 30% more force to each rotation of the pedal stroke, compared with pedalling at an efficient 90rpm.
One of the beauties of SE is that the body won’t use as high a heart rate to pedal at the same power output, using a cadence of 60rpm compared to 90rpm.
SE in Zone 2 can help with muscle activation. You will often find Z2 SE prescribed in the days leading into a race, as this really helps to switch on your muscles and sharpen up. A lot of Pro Tour riders are big advocates of this.
SE in Zone 3 helps boost threshold and leg power. Your tempo zone is where you develop a foundation that allows you to build and boost your threshold. Riding in the tempo zone is where you get the most benefit from SE training. You’ll most often have SE prescribed in Z3 as it’s a really achievable way to spend repeated amounts of time in the zone. Your heart rate won’t be as high as 90+rpm riding in the same zone, however you’ll be preparing the muscles for the load they will feel when riding in Z4 and Z5.
SE in Zone 4 helps boost threshold while also allowing you to sustain the power at a lower heart rate. Usually it’s the aerobic system and being too “puffed” that brings failure in threshold efforts. We get it, threshold efforts are terrible to do, so we have trialled SE threshold efforts, and all our riders got a great response to both their SE, and their threshold values!
SE in Zone 5 helps boost anaerobic power and can lead to new personal best powers after a short block in this zone. This is quite an advanced workout. Z5 workouts are brutal at the best of times. We’ve found that a couple of Z5 SE sessions thrown into a phase where you’re trying to boost your 3-5min max power, can really make that next step achievable.
From a practical sense, SE is sometimes the only way a rider can get up a hill! Even with today’s bikes having a greater range of gear ratios than when I was racing, there are still a lot of hills around that are too steep to allow a typical person to pedal at 90rpm up a hill in their smallest gear!
The current world tour riders still use SE in their early season build training, and touch on it frequently throughout the year. To quote Simon Gerrans: "I do SE to keep torque/pressure on pedals, for muscle activation, smoothness while pedalling through the whole stroke, not just pushing. It is also great for long climbs - 1 hr at 50-70rpm".
SE can be great for tired legs to get them reinvigorated. SE helps with your general endurance, climbing, sprinting; it will benefit all aspects of your cycling.
One of the most important things with SE workouts, is your low cadence reps will be followed immediately by high cadence pedalling, ranging between 90-120rpm. This is essential to making the SE work in a positive way. If SE is not followed by a high cadence rep to consolidate the muscle building, the legs will have the potential to feel bogged down and “heavy”. This is where SE can get a bit fickle. When it is applied to your training correctly, it will do wonders for your cycling, whereas if the slow cadence is not backed up by high cadence, then the body’s response is not as likely to be so positive.
Finally, the most important part of Strength Endurance training is keeping your upper body and arms as still as possible. The trick is to sit very “heavy” in the saddle, relax your arms while keeping them still, concentrating on pedalling slow, steady circles, and avoiding “rocking” with each pedal stroke.
We hope you enjoy your Strength Endurance efforts. They’re a FormFinder favourite, and have helped many a pro cyclist over the years.
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