I’ve competed in cycling races as an athlete for just one season, which was back in 1998. My best friend and I were almost at the same level and did most of our training together. In the spring, my friend began to add 5 to 10km at the end of each ride to add more distance to his training volume.
I remember how I thought ‘what a waste of time’ riding additional relatively low intensity kilometers at the end of a long training session.
What I didn’t realise was that he was doing that little extra to achieve better results.
And it worked!
He performed – consistently – just a little better than me during the entire spring season.
This experience taught me how small tweaks to your current training can make significant improvements over time. And also, it illustrates a valuable point: small changes are easier to consume than major ones.
Sometimes you should take that extra kilometer. It’s more than just a mental shift. Even small steps add up over the long term. If you train for five days per week and add 5km to each ride, you’ll end up with 100km extra per month. That’s more comfortable to consume than adding an extra 100km ride on one of your recovery days. Also, it gives a mental boost to know that you are pushing just a little harder. If you increase your training volume now, there is a good chance that your performance goes up within 6 weeks.
How much should your training volume increase?
I suggest you add about 2 hours to your current training volume. For most riders, that is probably 20% +/- of their current training volume. If you only train 5-6 hours per week, it might sound like a lot to add an additional two hours to your training volume.
However, it is possible to go up to a training volume of 7-8 hours and still have at least a few days without training per week. Therefore, if you just use a reasonable structure of your training, you can easily increase your training volume without overtraining.
If you are already training more than 20hours per week, you should consider whether there are other areas in your training that need more attention. Adding more volume might not be the answer for you.
One of the most important tips I give to riders is structure.
It’s probably the single most valuable change I make to training plans. If you have a solid structure on your training – with a perfect mix of hard days and recovery – you’ll get stronger.
If you want to increase your training volume and just find it difficult to find enough time for training, I suggest you analyze where you spend your time at the moment. You’d be surprised to see how much time you spend on non-training tasks. Many riders spend enormous amounts of time on activities where they don’t train. They chat with each other before and after each training session, they repair and optimize bikes, they watch cycling races on the television and read cycling magazines.
I understand that cycling is a hobby and most of these actions are part of it. However, if you want to find more time for cycling because you desperately want to increase performance, then you need to eliminate the time consumers. It sounds reasonable to limit chatting before and after training to a minimum and hold all the discussions on the roads instead. If you add 10 minutes here and there, you’ll soon ride much more than you are used to.
Also, it’s not unlikely you can squeeze an extra hour or two for training if you decide to ride on your bike instead of watching a professional cycling race on the television. Perhaps you have your own time consumer that can be limited or totally eliminated.
Remember that if you overall goal is important enough for you, it is also easier to find the solutions to make your goals realistic (hint: always have a goal with your training).
Training Volume Does Matter
Interval training is important, but additional volume (at endurance intensity) has proven to improve performance for many athletes. It has been seen so many times that people with large training volumes achieve fantastic results.
You can argue that these riders could achieve the same results with less training. Personally I’m a strong believer of time effective training, but I also agree that volume training is a safe and valuable component in endurance training.
However, it is worth noting that endurance training in itself can achieve extremely good results without any organised interval training. Doing a heavy amount of long distance endurance training combined with a few races has been a winning training formula for many professional riders over the last 50 years.
I can think of many arguments as to why adding VO2 max training or other sophisticated intervals might be better than sole endurance training. However, it is remarkable how well riders that rely on endurance training only perform in races.
I won’t go into a discussion whether these riders should change their training methods or how much you can gain with a different approach. Instead, I use these riders to illustrate how strong the results you are that you can achieve with endurance training and use that as an example on how an increased training volume can make you better.