What intensity for shorter aerobic rides?

Hi! Maybe this has been asked before, but I didn’t find it:

What intensity is best for shorter aerobic rides?

I’m one of those many time crunched cyclists. I’m in my mid forties and only recently started cycling more consistently. Used to be a 400m (hurdles) runner until around 20 years ago. I think following a polarised training approach would make sense, plus some strength training. I can manage to get in a longish (3-4 hours) ride in the weekend, maybe another 1,5-2 hour one on the other weekend day. Gym work and an interval ride mainly on weekdays. I think another endurance ride during the week would be useful, but I have limited time.

Would it be best to still keep a 60 minute ride (perhaps 90 occasionally) under LT1 (or in zone 2 of a 7 zone model), or would it be better to make that a tempo ride?


@Ilan welcome to the forum!

So there’s a lot to unpack here. In terms of the best intensity for your shorter aerobic rides, there are some general guidelines. You can start with Training Intensity Zones: Research vs. Practice to get a handle on some of those and to set yourself a starting point based on % of maximum HR. Ideally, you should complete some testing to determine training zones if you haven’t already. That way you can set up those zones, get a handle on areas of strengths and weaknesses, and track improvement.

If you have not been following a polarized approach for a long time, I would keep those aerobic rides at the <LT1 intensity. There is a learning curve to riding like this, so it will take time, and those aerobic benefits take time and consistency to find. How long have you been following this approach with those shorter aerobic rides?

Depending on what point in the year/season you are, you might do that 60 minute ride earlier in the year and keep it <LT1 to promote those aerobic adaptations. As you’re getting into events, group rides, etc. where you want to focus your time more specifically, that ride could certainly turn into a tempo ride to help with the overload. It’s a give and take, so I think keeping that time there is key. It’s about how you use the time after that.



Hi Ryan,

Thanks for your elaborate answer! So, in general, you say that 60 minute <LT1 rides are/can be beneficial? My concern was that a lot of people claim that any benefits of low aerobic rides (for people that are somewhat fit) do not occur until like 90 minutes in.

Regarding some of your considerations: I already have a few months of training under my belt at this point, including intervals at ‘sweetspot’, threshold and VO2 max level, a few 100k+ rides, etc. I was basically trying to get some fitness gains quickly before summer started and I was off to the Ligurian Alps. And I was trying sweetspot, polarised, etc approaches as I read/heard about them, making a bit of a mess of it all. Contrary to previous years, I plan to keep going and not let family obligations, (old) injuries and waves of migraine throw me back to square one…

I do not have any events to work towards, just want to get better. After my current holiday with occasional rides (kind of like off-season), I think about starting a real long training periodisation, giving me like 8-9 months to get better for next spring and pick some events by then.

I do not have lab level zones set, but I have estimated them by myself. The highest heartrate I have recorded the past year was 201, so I used 200 to set a 5 zone range with sort of default percentages.

I had bought a single sided Stages power meter when I started training this spring. Did some ramp tests etc to get a notion of my ftp and estimate a 7 zone range using the percentages I saw at Trainerroad. Was a bit disappointed when that was barely over 200… But being completely sedentary for 6 months (and no structural training before that) and fighting consistent migraine, that’s how it is… :blush: Now I have the Xert app on my Garmin Edge that calculates ftp on the fly. I have seen some improvement, Garmin and TrainingPeaks detecting new FTP’s up to around 235, Xert up to 260.

I think that the main lesson to be learned from the Xert app is that I lack aerobic base and/or am more or less a rider type between a puncheur and a sprinter. Xert estimates a much higher ftp from rides with short bursts or intervals up to 8 minutes (260) than I can live up to in longer intervals or TT-style rides (around 230). That does make sense with my 400m runner background and my body composition. Did a few in the saddle sprints on a ride a few weeks back, reached 1150, not sure what that tells about my rider type.

When I was 17, I had a lab VO2 max running test, with 76 as a result (76,8 if I remember correctly). The athletics federation doctor suggested switching to middle distance, which I didn’t. Obviously, with my current lack of training, added years and almost 20kg more, I will be nowhere near that. And I do not expect to ever get near that again. Garmin has estimated 54, but my guess is those estimates are pretty worthless?

With all that said, your suggestion to do the 60 minute aerobic rides <LT1 still holds true, at least during base phase I guess?




Thanks for all of the information so far, great details.

Could you show me a normal week, by day and how much time you have available each day.

Also do you train at the same time everyday? or do you sometimes have to train at night one day, and then the following morning? If so please put this info in your reply as well.


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Hi Steve,

The past few months I didn’t really have a ‘normal’ week with a default rhythm, but mixed endurance rides and interval sessions up as suited me.

I am working on a more structured plan to start in a few weeks, consisting of four 8 week blocks (with a rest week every 4th week) and a final 4-5 week block. I plan to add a little more strength training than a typical cyclist would do, for a few reasons: my age, extra stability to counter moderate hypermobility and keeping old chronic (mainly running) injuries under control. First few blocks will have 3 sessions a week, eventually going back to 2, and 1 when aiming to peak cycling next spring.

  • Base 1 - focus on endurance riding and endurance strength

  • Base 2 - focus on endurance riding and hypertrophy

  • Build 1 - increasing volume and adding second interval ride, max strength

  • Build 2 - similar re riding but increasing intensity, plyo strength

  • Specialty - reduce volume, shift to higher quality riding, depending on the events I choose to focus on.

A typical week in Base 1 could be something like this (the table I made is looking a bit funny here):

|Monday||rest day|

  • morning|interval ride (e.g. 4x8 min
    power zone 5, 2 min rest), ~60min
    incl warmup/cooldown
  • evening|strength
    |Wednesday|evening|90min endurance ride|
    |Friday|evening|60min endurance ride|
  • morning|strength|
  • late afternoon|90min endurance ride|
    |Sunday|morning|3hr+ endurance ride|

Not sure I will always be able to fit in both the Wednesday and Friday ride. On the other hand, in one of the Wednesday, Friday or Saturday rides I might mix in a few 10-15sec sprints or work on mtb skills a bit, with the majority of the ride being the <LT1 commute to and from the local trail (and taking it easy on the trail too).

Does this make sense? Furthermore, I was thinking about making the Friday ride a tempo ride (HR zone 3 of 5 or lower end of zone 2 in the 3 zone model). Based on what Ryan wrote, I guess all endurance rides would better be <LT1 at this stage?


I think it will help you to plan a little into the future. One thing that really helps is consistency with less hours. So if you have a plan, you will be able to check in on your consistency more accurately.

I would say yes to the LT1 for endurance at the moment, but if you are feeling good you want to try and ride very close to LT1 so that you are doing steady endurance. Don’t do this too often when the legs feel full though, on those days ride below LT1 at a pace that feels good and get in the time. If you find you have to do this too often at this training load you are likely training too hard.

The other thing to think about when you start adding tempo, is to try and build to one day of solid tempo, let yourself adapt and then because you can’t go longer due to time, start to put two days of tempo back to back.

Thanks, Steve and Ryan! Very nice that you both take the time to answer my messages so thoughtfully! I was happy to just get an answer on intensity for short endurance rides, but this is almost like personal coaching… Also, I have really been enjoying your great podcasts and and website, keep it up!

I’m going to give the polarised approach a go, with primarily LT2 work. Good point about the consistency. Maybe a little tempo work eventually. I better not be over-optimistic about the time and effort I can put in, so I can keep up with the plan and feel good about it.


Good luck and have fun!