You Need To Ride More
You need to ride more in order to improve! In this training tip, we'll give you coaching strategies, and explain the who, what, why and how riding more is beneficial for your power output and endurance! Give our podcast a listen and / or read on 👇
Since most athletes are maxed out with how much they can ride during their Monday thru Friday work week we’ll talk a lot today about the Long Saturday Ride. It can be Sunday too but for the majority of the listeners out there, I know y’all are riding long on Saturdays. I’ll even dip into riding longer both Saturday and Sunday for you young buck go getters :)
But before I get into riding longer on Saturdays I will say this about your weekly volume:
If you can carve out 15 - 30 more minutes a day, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday you should begin to feel a noticeable difference in your power output and endurance in as little as six weeks. As long as you can recover and keep performing your workouts downstream. It doesn’t do you any good if you are not also increasing your recovery to match the riding. What’s the two best recovery techniques to increase? Sleeping and eating. Try for 30 more minutes of sleep on average each night and you’ll want to bump up your food intake - not just carbs but across the board: proteins, fats too.
Before I digress into recovery nutrition just make sure you are sleeping and eating more to match your increased riding volume. And before I double digress wouldn't it be sweet to have a daily metric described in the announcements to tell you if you were training too hard or too easy? Then if you’ve recovered enough to keep following the plan or if a change should be made? That is a BIG digression, we’ll save for a later podcast, moving on!
What about riding more during both the week AND the weekends? Game on - you can do that too. And you don’t even have to do it year round since timing is everything . You can totally carve out more time to ride for a six week block before your A event. And then go back to your normal riding volume after you’ve accomplished your goal!
So let’s start with the Saturday ride - what are we talking about?
The Saturday Ride is generally recognized as the day you have the most time to ride, presumably because you do not have to work. Now there are kids' soccer games, recitals and such but generally there is time you can find a window between 2 and five hours.
If Sunday is your day, that will work too. For all the first responders, health care workers and non 9-5’ers think in terms of the day where you have the most time to ride. And ride more than you have been.
The simplest lowest hanging fruit to improve your power and endurance is to figure out how much you’ve been riding lately and ride more than that. Calculate the last 6 weeks average total weekly hours. Now, factor in your longest ride on your long ride day.
Hours are good and some riders use training stress, kiloJoules and even mileage. I coach athletes in terms of hours because it has real world implications. Training stress is good too but is often hard to relate managing an entire training week based on 600 of 700 TSS.
The main point is to figure out how much you have been riding in order to know how much more to ride. Leverage your data!
Just about every type of cyclist can benefit from riding more, except the Pros. Amateur athletes of disciplines from time trial to road to gravel, criterium, xc MTB, cyclocross and everything else in between. Maybe not track sprinter but points races and even the ‘endurance’ in air quotes events, athletes can benefit from riding more.
The reason the pros don’t benefit from riding more is because they already are! Us amateur athletes with jobs, mortgages and families 99% of the time are limited with their training time. For pros it is their job to ride/train but for us we for the most part have priorities that limit us. Now if you are already doing 12-15 hours a week and a 20 hour training camp week - you are pretty close to the point of diminishing returns. But if you are 8-12 hours on average a week, riding more will net improvement provided you also take the time to recover.
There are two primary reason why riding more is beneficial:
#1 to meet the endurance demands of your long events and races
#2 to stimulate physiological adaptations such as:
- Fatigue resistance
- Metabolic efficiency
- Mitochondrial density
- Improves lactate clear and critical power
I always work athletes up to a ride as long as their event up to 6 hours, maybe 7. Beyond that the recovery to benefit ratio gets fuzzy and tricky but I also never have riders competing in the Unbound 200 do a 14 or 15 hour ride. Same for the LoToJa - a 200 mile road race from Logan Utah to Jackson, WY.
But for the Fondo and short gravel races, you betcha we are working on being able for starters to ride that long.
I have already mentioned riding 30 more minutes on Saturday for 6-7 weeks to work your way up to a 5 hour ride (for example)
Start with a 2 hour ride then 2.5 hours > 3 > 3.5 > 4 hours and finally 4.5 and 5 hours. This is actually a great century plan with progress and specificity.
If you are going to try to add more zone 2 time to your mid-week workouts - add the zone 2 after your interval work and it also doesn’t have to be everyday. Could be 1 - 2 days when you have the time. Again, not to sound like a broken record be sure you are recovering the next day and the next.
Recovery is one of those things, where you think you are until you aren’t and then it's too late. So track your sleep and your HRV , win in the kitchen and my best recommendation is to increase your weekly volume no more than 15% each week. I.e don’t go from 7 hours a week to 12. Instead ramp up gradually for example, 7 hours, 8 hours, 9 hours and so forth - give your body time to adapt. Big jumps in volume usually don’t work.
I like to have athletes do three types of long rides in a progression that takes anywhere from 18 - 24 weeks or more if there are interruptions.
The first is the zone 2 ride, the 2nd is the sweet spot TSS ride and the third is the AmEx TSS ride.
Long Ride Type #1
I mentioned the zone 2 ride above: 2 hours > 2.5 > 3 > 3.5 on up to 5 hours - do these at your all day endurance pace, zone 2, first before you move onto riding that long at higher intensities.
Many athletes skip these all together in favor of riding harder to combat boredom but the diligent athletes that FtFP usually progress farther than those that don’t.
Zones 2 is zone 2 - fairly straightforward , steady constant pedaling and avoiding any forays above zone 2 - oftentimes facilitated by choosing to ride on flat terrain.
This progression takes 6-7 weeks or less if your longest recent ride is starting from greater than 2 hours.
Long Ride Type #2: the Sweet Spot TSS Ride
Now with a bunch of long zone 2 rides in your legs, you are ready to ride harder in your sweet spot, 84-97% of threshold. Not for the whole time but organically weave sweet spot into your rides for 2 hours, 2.5 > 3 hours 3.5 4, 4.5 and finally 5 hours.
Out here in Colorado these rides are our bread and butter because of all the canyons we have to climb and fun routes to choose. For example, we can do a 30 minute climb , descend and go up a 20 minute climb, descend and then a 15 minute climb. In total that’s 65 minutes of sweet spot in a 3 - 5 hour ride.
We also prescribed this rides with a set amount of work to offset coasting, descending and riding easy. You have to sweet spot in order to achieve the TSS in the prescribed duration.
200 TSS in a 3.5 hour ride - that’s 57 TSS per hour. Use real time TSS on your bike computer to monitor and track your progress during the ride. Often times athletes get ahead when their legs are fresh and then have to dig to hit the TSS in the prescribed time. These are hard rides! And often times how gravel race and long marathon MTB races happen. So we prescribed a lot of Sweet Spot TSS rides for athletes preparing for these types of races.
Nutrition, fueling and hydrating becomes incredibly important during these rides. If you don’t eat or drink enough you will not be able to perform because when you are riding these hard you are literally chugging carbohydrate. So eat up every 20-30 minutes. Drink a minimum of 24 oz per hour. Use a hydration pack if there aren’t places to stop and fill up on fluids.
Once you’ve done a 300 TSS Sweet Spot Ride for 5 hours you are really really fit and can race and hang quite well. However there are still some gains to be made.
Long Ride Type #3: the AmEx TSS Ride
American Express’s slogan, was ‘don’t leave home without it’ and the AmEX ride slogan is ‘don’t come home without it’ - the TSS that is. These are race simulation like rides. Very challenging yet have a high ROI.
Same progression from 2 hours up to 5 hours with 30 minutes ramps. Yet now you are riding even harder than sweet spot - with forays up into zone 6. These rides are very important because it's how fast gravel and fondos start. Even MTB races. A threshold effort here, a few trips for 20-30 seconds up into zone 6, a longer threshold watt effort. These occur mostly in the first hour until the race settles down and groups are formed.
With the increased intensity AmEx rides are prescribed with higher TSS’s -65-80 per hour for yes up to 5 hours. They are definitely hard but every athlete that cane belt these out is absolutely prepared not to finish these races but to talk about how soon and in what place.
In training these take a huge heap of motivation. Honestly group rides are invaluable for the AmEx rides because of the external motivation. If solo one tip is to use the terrain anytime the road or dirt tilts up, give ‘er above your threshold and recover on the downhill. Keep the throttle on the flats - tempo and sweet spot and give it again on the uphills. Variable terrain is keep although flat terrain works well too. Hilly terrain works well especially if you are training for events that have a ton of climbing. Be mindful of all the time you spend descending bc you are on the clock to achieve the TSS in the prescribed time.
What happens if you find your limit and can no longer hit your watts and haven’t achieved the prescribed TSS? You keep going! Remember: don’t come home without it.
These are how the long fondos and gravel races go - hard hard hard and then the rider cracks and has to keep going. It's good mental training and highly educational from a data perspective. For example - the rider had a 250 TSS 3.5 hour AmEx ride but became completely unglued 2.5 hours in at only 155 TSS. There are three possible issues to analyze:
- Did you fuel enough, drink enough?
- Did you go too hard in the first hour?
- Were you under-recovered from your training plan?
AmEx rides flush out your shortcomings and provide real time feedback for what you need to work on. We reserve AmEx rides for the 2-8 weeks prior to the competition date and are not prescribed year round.
Get off your trainer, put on some spring weather riding gear and double the longest ride you’ve done on the trainer this winter. Say that is 1.5 hours indoors so ride 3 hours outdoors. Ride 3.5 hours the next weekend and keep going to 4 > 4.5 and 5 hours each weekend. That is a 5-week progression.
Bonus! If your life situation warrants, do two long rides each weekend! I realize this is a giant order for many athletes with families but I also know there are many athletes out there that can! Kids grown up, etc..
For example - so now you are doing regular 5 hour rides every Saturday. On Sunday’s you are going to go from 2.5 hour ride and increase the duration by 30 minutes each successive Sunday on up to 5 hours.
Now you are talking two long rides over the weekend for 10 hours of training + the 3 - 5 you are getting in during the week which adds up to close to are 12-15 hour training week. That’s a lot of mitochondria. And that’s how you build endurance and improve your power output. It is not fancy - just comes down to time in the saddle.
FTP gets a lot of hype while endurance is the ugly step sister. Let me tell you without ‘endurance’ your FTP is going to be subject to fatigue during your event. Aka that 300 watt FTP at the beginning of a 4-6 hour event will be 200 watts or less in the final hour.
Scenario: If you have only been riding one hour a day 5-6 days a week for a total of 6-8 hours of weekly training for 6+ weeks and your FTP is over 300 watts that is great. But when you start getting into your Springtime and Summer events that require endurance, that 300 watts FTP will decrease each hour going to 275 and 250 and on down and the miles roll on.
However for the athletes that have put in the time in the saddle training 8 - 12 hours per week their FTP is going to decrease less over the course of a long endurance event. Remember our podcast with Peter Stetina? He finished Unbound with the equivalent of a 170 watt FTP as measured by his normalized power in the final hour. And he finished 3rd! And he has incredible endurance from his training and years as a world tour pro.
That race is truly a test of endurance and FTP much less so. And here’s my coaching experience for ya: you can incur less fatigue and have less FTP decline during an event from doing regular long rides.
Even MvDP and Wout van Aerto go do 20-25 hour weeks in Majorca in December to get ready for 1 hour event in January. Because it is an aerobic endurance sport. And that’s also why they are such good road racers. Side note who do you think will win Flanders this weekend? My money is on van der Poel!
Even Criterium racers and XC mountain bikers with events less than 2 hours do long rides because it's an aerobic endurance sport.
Time trialists and hill climbers benefit from long rides because it's an aerobic endurance sport. And of course gravel fondo and century riders need and benefit from long rides because its specific to the event! The event is a long ride.
As the expression goes, ‘long live long rides’ because they are fun, can be adventurous and honestly what I’m looking forward to this Spring and Summer. In the mountains of course.
Thanks for reading and be sure to subscribe to our Training Tip Tuesday emails because next week we’ll be podcasting about winning in the kitchen with Dr. Lauren Costantini!
And if one of your buddies or the internet argues with you about the benefits of riding more, say in your best Big Lebowski voice ‘mitochondrial biogenesis man’
Do your long rides and remember to “Work Hard, Ride Fast, Have Fun and as always FtFP.”
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