Training Volume

Not all hours are created equally:  For me winter hours are a combination of focused trainer rides, xc skiing, fat biking, gym, and running.  -20 and combination workouts can often mean a little less hours and more quality is more benefit.  Being able to stay home during the winter and train with focus is key for my summer energy level and desire to push the pedals come spring!
This winter I shared some of my thoughts on training volume for endurance athletes and wanted to expand on that topic here with some additional thoughts for both recreational and elite endurance athletes.

My Original Instagram post: Training volume is a hot topic right now in endurance circles and it’s an interesting one because so many different athletes are successful on different amounts of training. Currently the trend is towards more, but probably my best season was 2011, where I did almost 100 hrs (12%) less than my mediocre season last year (about 780 vs 880). In training, more isn’t always more and of course there are many factors that go into having a good season (Fitness, recovery, motivation, health…) But more important to consider than hours, is the composition of your training. Does it have consistency? The right stress/rest balance? And are you working on your biggest weaknesses as a rider and the greatest demands of your sport?
If you said yes and you are staying healthy, you are doing your training right. If at that point you feel you can handle more, that’s when it’s time to push the volume to find more gains.”

That I found more success on 780 hours in 2011 than 880 in 2017 does not necessarily mean that more volume was less successful. Racing and training is way more complex to get right than just hitting the right hour number and how you respond to training hours and their composition may change from year to year as you change as an athlete.  When I was successful at 780hrs I was 6 years earlier into my career and those hours may have stressed me more than 880 last year.  I was also successful in 2016 winning an Olympic medal on 850. The differences are seemingly small and demonstrate just how much more there is to look at when training than purely hours.

In any training program that pushes you, getting the rest and recovery dialed is critical and often where things go sideways.  Not only does insufficient rest impact training quality, but motivation and ability to stay healthy. With motivated athletes, you often have to reign them back, rather than ask them to do more. For these reasons, I feel the most important elements of a training program and success as a racer are not hours, but consistency of training and attention to the stress/rest balance.

Volume is important however, as you will have guessed from my continual push for more. A World Class elite cyclist should expect to be doing anywhere from 700-1000+ hours/year. The higher of these training hours are not intended for every cyclist, but for those who are already 90-95% optimal and are looking for the remaining percentages gained in physiological efficiency. For many of you, without the ability to make cycling the number 1 priority in your life, for younger athletes and for those earlier in their athletic development, striving for these ambitious hours may be too much stress and dilute training quality as you do not have the recovery time or the training capacity yet to respond positively to the hours. 

Everyone knows that athlete that trains super hard on low volume and is wicked fast. This may be making the best of their time available around other life commitments and a volume that enables them to hit their training goals and so is the right volume and approach for them.  For those that have chosen to make cycling their number one priority, this “time-crunched” cyclist model will run into limitations.  Building your volume base is important if you want to be fast for an entire season.  Everyone can hop on the bike, ramp up their training and find some immediate short-term gains, but without a big enough training base there is not a large enough foundation to progress to the next level, or even maintain current fitness for an entire season without going back and rebuilding their aerobic base through volume.

Early into an athlete’s aerobic development their body will respond to any increase in training if structured well.  What is the first step to getting fitter and faster?  Just go ride your bike more!  Train consistently 4-6/week depending on time available around work, school and family.  Watch going too big on any single day if it means you can’t train consistently the next week because you need to recover. Remember that volume is relative.  The volume that stresses a newer athlete to improve will be less than what is required to stress a seasoned pro or lifelong athlete.

When you are feeling strong, training consistently, paying attention to stress/rest cycles by giving yourself a rest day every week and some lighter training between harder days and you still feel capable of more, then this is the time to start developing progressively towards higher volume. 

Becoming an Elite rider is developing progressively towards higher volume by starting with 400, 500, 600 annual hours for example.  Getting stronger on your bike and being the best cyclist you can be around work, family and other commitments can be successful on lower volume that is well-structured and designed to help you get the most out of your week and have you looking forward to hopping on the bike.  

Article first appeared in Pedal Magazine's MTB Frontlines