Cycling is a notoriously time-consuming sport. So answering the common question of how many hours you should train for cycling is tough. It’s hard to avoid thinking more will be better when you see the pros and your friends logging lots of miles. But don’t despair, it is possible to be competitive and enjoy cycling without doing huge rides by assessing what’s realistic then using a few tricks to determine what volume works best for you and your goals.
Here are a few basic questions to get started:
HOW MUCH TIME DO YOU HAVE?
Whenever a coaching client asks me if they should do something, I reverse the question and ask them what they can do — or what they are willing to do. Often there is a bit of extra time to be had by getting up earlier, extending a weeknight ride or going longer on the weekend.
For newer cyclists, finding time to ride longer than an hour or two a week and building toward three hours or longer on weekends can be transformative. This is probably the bare minimum.
WHAT KIND OF STRESS CAN YOU HANDLE?
Who you are right now also dictates how much volume you should do because if you are struggling with health concerns, stressful work hours or are busy with family, then you are already absorbing a lot of life-stress that will limit the training-stress you can handle. Similarly, young athletes can absorb more training stress than older athletes.
The volume you should do also evolves with the cycling season. If you just finished your racing season, then take some time off and do lower volume than you usually do to recover mentally and physically before you ramp up your hours again. If you are in your base phase with several months before your race phase, then it is worth progressing your volume gradually over the phase as much as you can.
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO?
Your weekly training hours will also vary depending on the event you want to do. If you are going to race in a long endurance race then longer rides help your fitness, but also help you figure out your bike setup, pacing and nutrition, which can improve your results, even without the fitness benefit.
For shorter races, the benefits are not as obvious. There is certainly fitness to be gained by increasing your volume, especially for beginners and during the base phases of the season before your main races start. Once you get into race season, the benefits of longer rides will not be as apparent for short races, like cyclocross or criterium, where you could benefit from focusing on skills, intensity and race-specific tactics. These shorter races may be a good spot to focus on in years when you are very low on time availability.
TRICKS TO HELP ADD HOURS
- Adding even 15–30 minutes by extending your warmup and/or cooldown is often something athletes can do a few times a week, especially if you ride to the trails or the local cycling loop rather than driving.
- Bike commuting is a common method many busy cyclists use, hopping on their bike to and from work.
- Don’t overlook the benefit of short spins. These could be an easy spin in the morning before a longer ride later in the day or a 30-minute spin on your recovery day.
- Plan a long weekend block monthly, the effects of even one weekend a month of longer rides can be huge.