Hierarchy of training needs, how much volume

Based on the Hierarchy of Training Needs by Dr. Seiler, we fist need to put in a lot of volume to make significant progress. But when have you covered this basic need?

I do a maximum of 6 hours a week during the summer. There is very strong relationship between volume and performance. I changed the program over the years, but still volume seems to be the key.

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I think the question can only be answered through the lens of your ultimate goal. What are the demands of your target event/performance? Are you looking to race? Are you looking to undertake long-distance events? Are you looking to reach your genetic potential? Each of those will have a different “minimum effective dose” of volume.
At least in my observation, anything under 10-12 hours can be optimized by an athlete in such a way as to remain commensurate with others in that same bucket. That is to say, a 6-hour athlete can optimize to be competitive with a 10-hour athlete of similar physiology and phenotype. The benefit of adding volume in excess of that 10-12 hour mark seems to make a pretty tangible and somewhat linear performance impact on an athlete IF properly structured and recovery is prioritized. You can see this play out in higher category road racers, the lion’s share of Cat 1/2 racers are putting in 15-18 hours per week (and often more) to be competitive. The athletes who seem to upgrade quickly follow a similar paradigm. Criterium athletes can get away with less, but they tend to be pretty pigeonholed in those cases.


Hi Sarah, great follow-up questions!

I set my maximum training hours to 6 per week, 1 every day (except the rest day).
When I plateau’d last year I started to increase intensity in those hours. Last year it was quite polarized, this year (see COPID post) less polarized.
When reviewing the data of those two years, i was only faster in the second year at the moment when i had more volume than in the previous year.

@kjeldbontenbal I really agree with everything that @Sarah_LaRocque has said about the volume needs.

Have you tried taking two days off and adding more time to another day so you can work on getting a longer ride once per week? I have done this with athletes with less time and his has worked.

But anyone who knows me, I am volume/tempo kinda coach, using races to put icing on the cake before peak events.


Thanks @steveneal and @Sarah_LaRocque !

I’ve had some inconsistent attempts and concluded I need a training partner for those durations :slight_smile:

Can you elaborate a bit on the effects of the extra long session? I couldn’t find specific research on it.

Zone 2 Endurance riding stimulates Type 1 muscle fibers and stimulates mitochondrial growth and function which will improve the ability to utilize fat. By improving fat utilization an athlete can preserve glycogen utilization throughout target events or performances. Athletes can then use that preserved glycogen to execute at higher intensities at key points during those performances. Besides fat utilization, type I muscle fibers are also responsible for lactate clearance. Activation of type II muscle fibers export lactate away through the transporter MCT-4. Type I muscle fibers contain MCT-1 transporters which take up lactate and transport it to the mitochondria to be reused as energy. Zone 2 training increases both mitochondrial density and MCT-1 transporters, thus increasing lactate clearance capacity.

The reason for the long ride is the overload principle. One cannot improve without increased stimulus. The body will quickly adapt to shorter Z2 durations and will not elicit further adaptations to mitochondrial enzymes, glycogen capacity, fat utilization, or lactate clearance. A three-hour ride is more than 3X the benefit of the one-hour ride as the requisite physiological tax is being placed on the body to generate fatigue resistance and the primary benefits of riding in zone 2. This is typically why low volume athletes often focus primarily on intensity with interspersed Z2 rides mainly to shed fatigue and maintain touchpoints at an aerobic zone. They will not see an appreciable benefit by doing extra one-hour sessions at Z2. If however, they can introduce the longer ride that forces those adaptations, there is far more value per hour of training at Z2 elicited from that format.
There is quite a bit of research on the subject of Z2 training in general that in combination with an understanding of functional overreaching/overload explains why the long ride is so beneficial.

Training for intense exercise performance: high-intensity or high-volume training?

What is Best Practice for Training Intensity and Duration Distribution in Endurance Athletes?

The Road to Gold: Training and Peaking Characteristics in the Year Prior to a Gold Medal Endurance Performance

Comparison of Reduced-Volume High-Intensity Interval Training and High-Volume Training on Endurance Performance in Triathletes

Training for intense exercise performance: high-intensity or high-volume training?

Intervals, Thresholds, and Long Slow Distance: the Role of Intensity and Duration in Endurance Training


Thanks so much @Sarah_LaRocque for your extensive answer!

So Training Duration Distribution versus Training Intensity Distribution. Sounds like a great research topic for the spring!

Statistical analysis of my training log reveals that Volume is the key driver for aerobic performance (duh…). So keeping my TID and volume equal for next year while changing the Training Duration Distribution, can’t wait to see the results.

just released: Effects of Increased Load of Low- Versus High-Intensity Endurance Training on Performance and Physiological Adaptations in Endurance Athletes in: International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance - Ahead of print

The abstract says: volume is key, but measure in TRIMP.

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I typically do Long Z2 rides on Mon,Wed, & Fri. If the weather is bad I may substitute a VO2max session on the the turbo instead. The other days are either spent recovering ( easy or rest) or , what I think of as keeping the fatigue topped up with 1 hour endurance workouts on the turbo. Am I wasting my time with these hour workouts?

Is that 1 hour endurance workout on the turbo enough to deepen or maintain the fatigue you’ve built already? If this is going above and beyond your normal easy or rest days, then it would seem to be a good option until you see that plateau in adaptation. I would consider the intensity of that ride and know that you can still do an endurance ride in Z1, Z2, or Z3 (in a 5 zone model) and still accomplish your goal of achieving fatigue within block of training.

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I have another volume related question along the lines of this thread. In the podcast about time crunched athletes C. Carmichael was clear there is a caveat, that program is limited for short time gains if I understood correctly. So the next question becomes what is the minimum hours per week and what distribution to start to see the benefits of the aerobic base? I assume it is not 5-6h I assume in general it is likely at the minimum of 10h per wee to allow for the longer duration activities needed to generate the aerobic gains?

I’ve interpreted the wise words of @Sarah_LaRocque as:
the duration of your long ride should increase every week.

The minimum average hours a week will vary by individual. But bear in mind @steveneal ’s post in the how easy is easy thread. He said he had a guy he coached who saw no gains for two years of easy volume. Then the guy started seeing some impressive results.

From the hierarchy of needs and frequency / volume. I’d say progressively increase the volume as much as possible till it’s maxed out in terms of not negatively impacting “real life”. Once you’ve done that , and got used to that frequency volume, look at the next level of the hierarchy.

Plus if you think you’ve maxed your volume , can you manage more by doing some rides that start before sunrise or finish after sunset?


So in the math of endurance physiology, 3 is more than 1+1+1. In the last 6 weeks I increased my long endurance rides by 30% or more. The other interval/weights efforts stayed the same. In the past couple of weeks I have seen an increase in VO2 max and power at endurance HR that was pleasantly unexpected. Your response indicates why.

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Sarah I am liking your responses, they resonate with me. I have a question you may be able to help with. I currently train 10-15 hours a week and have never bridged into that 15-20 hour/wk zone. I was thinking of just doing 3 hours in Zone 2 six days a week. Alternatively, I could do something more varied like:
M: 4 hours Z2
T: 1 hours Z1
W: Threshold intervals (Z4) for 1hr plus 2 hours in Z2 (total 3 hours)
Th: 2 hours Z2
F: 2 hours Z2
S: 5 hours Z2
Su: rest, no riding