How many miles a week should you ride? Such a simple question, but the answer isn't so simple. For starters “How many miles should I ride” isn’t really the right question, as not all miles are the same. Riding 50 miles on flat ground being pulled along by a group is not the same as doing a hilly ride, braving the wind in a solo effort. “How much should I train?” is really the better question. But still, there are different ways to measure “how much.” Power meters are now a common site on the bikes of pro and amateur riders alike. But before the power meter era, heart rate was considered the gold standard in training technology and many athletes used a heart rate X time metric known as TRIMP*. Now that a bike can be outfitted with a power meter for under a thousand dollars, riders of all levels are using the power related metrics as their preferred method of measuring training volume and stress. A power meter user can track daily and weekly kilojoules, and training stress score, along with acute and chronic training load as well as training stress balance**. While I love both training and coaching with a power meter, I also use a much simpler metric that pre-dates heart rate training, and power: The watch.
Saddle time is a simple metric that anyone can measure, and endurance athletes have been measuring their training in this manner for as long as endurance athletes have existed. Of course an hour at race pace is not the same training stress and an hour at recovery pace. But weekly training hours will give you a pretty good idea of total training volume. Weekly hours are not only easy to measure, but easy to understand. Some riders don’t care to learn about or use hears rate monitors or power meters. For these riders, weekly hours is going to be their best measure of how much they are training. So then the question is: “How many hours a week should I train?”
People naturally prefer simple answers to questions. But even seemingly simple questions have complex or even unclear answers. Answers to questions like: “How much improvement will I see from coaching?” or “How much should I train each week?” are difficult to answer, because everyone is different. Anyone that tells you to expect an exact amount of improvement or tells you that everyone should train a certain amount is either uninformed or untruthful. As far as how much you should train, the answer for most people is: As much as you can without it being too much…as much as you can train, and still recover both physically and mentally from the training. You should train as much as you can while still ensuring that you get in the quality and intensity of your workouts. You should train as much as you can while still succeeding in your career, having a balanced social life, enjoying family time, and keeping your significant other happy.
When I’m planning the training for my athletes, the “A” (top priority) events go into the calendar first. The next items to go into the calendar are family, work, and travel commitments. The first workouts to go into the calendar are the highest intensity workouts. These efforts are typically the most important workouts of the week, and the integrity of these workouts must be maintained. If you don’t get them right, you are just spinning your wheels. Most amateur riders should not try and do the same volume of training that professional riders do, as the pros are dealing with a completely different set of commitments, priorities and circumstances. I’ve seen riders read about the weekly hours that the professionals train, and try to replicate it themselves. But for a professional rider, training IS their career. The pro rider can concentrate on recovery by napping, eating, relaxing on the couch, and maybe getting a massage. While the amateur rider with a 40+ hour a week job is often doing things that are counterproductive to recovery. Some riders increase their training volume and actually get slower, because they aren’t recovering properly in between hard workouts. One of my jobs as a coach is to ascertain: What is the optimal training load for that individual athlete. Some athletes are limited by how much time they can actually spend on the bike. For these riders, the task is to ensure that they are spending their time wisely. Some athletes have practically unlimited time to train, but I need to ensure they are recovering properly and not overdoing it. As an athlete it can be difficult to see when you are a pushing it a little too much, and that is when the objective eye of a coach can become invaluable. Athletes all have different needs, time, and stressors in their lives. All of these things must be taken into account when determining how much training volume and athlete can handle. There is no easy answer to “How many miles a week should I ride” or “ How many hours a week should I train”. It seems like a simple question, but there isn’t a simple answer. Do you need help figuring out how much is enough without being too much? Use the contact form on the right side of this page to contact us.
*TRIMP was developed by Dr Eric Bannister. Google will help you if you need to know more. ** Training Stress Score is based on the original work by Bannister. This and other terms were developed by Andy Coggan and Hunter Allen. Check out the book “Racing and Training with a PowerMeter” for more information.