The flexibility of a low-volume training plan makes it an excellent fit for a variety of schedules, goals, and abilities. If you’re considering a low-volume plan, here are the advantages of low-volume training and how to know if it’s the best volume for you.
Choosing a Training Plan Volume
TrainerRoad training plans come in three volumes: low volume, mid volume, and high volume. While the hourly commitment can vary, on average, the low-volume plans have three structured workouts per week, the mid-volume plans have five, and the high-volume plans have six. Whenever you start a new training plan, you’ll need to choose a volume for your plan.
When choosing a volume, we typically advise that you select the one that you can consistently complete. This will be a volume compatible with your schedule that provides you with enough rest in between workouts. Deciding which volume checks those boxes can be tricky. If you’re unsure which plan might be right for you or wavering between mid-volume and low-volume, a low-volume plan is usually a better place to start. Here’s why.
Is a Low-Volume Plan Right for You?
The weekly structure of the low-volume training plan makes it an excellent go-to for a lot of athletes. Like all TrainerRoad training plans, the low-volume plans follow a progressive and periodized training structure. Training blocks consist of periodized training cycles, and the difficulty of the training progresses with your developing fitness to reach peak performance for a goal event or discipline.
Unlike higher volumes, though, the low-volume option has four dedicated rest days. This structure makes this plan compatible with a wide variety of schedules, goals, and abilities. With four rest days, athletes have more time to recover in between hard workouts, they can re-schedule sessions on the fly, and they have enough leeway to add in additional activities at their discretion.
That’s not to say it’s the best choice for every athlete. Like any training volume, it has its limitations. With training stimulus, your body may reach a point where it needs additional volume to continue eliciting positive physical adaptations. For some more experienced athletes, this means that a higher volume is necessary to continue building fitness. To help you decide if the low-volume plan is the right volume for you, here are the typical situations where athletes benefit most from the structure and volume of the low-volume plans.
Athletes Getting Started With Structured Training
If you’re new to structured training or returning to structured training after an extended break, the low-volume plan is a great volume to start with. With four days of rest, this plan gives you plenty of time to recover, mentally recharge, and get a feel for interval training.
For example, Amy has been mountain biking for a few seasons but hasn’t done any structured training. This season, she’s decided she will start a structured training plan to prepare for a few mountain bike races she wants to do. While she’s already built some strength through unstructured riding, she’ll likely want to start with a low-volume plan before she takes on a higher training load.
Like anything, structured training comes with a learning curve. It might take you some time to figure out the routine around training that works for you. Furthermore, your body will need time to adapt to this new training load, interval training, and its effects. In Amy’s case, because she hasn’t done any structured training before, the intervals and high-intensity workouts in her plan merit some additional time to get used to. Having four recovery days in her plan should give her plenty of time to rest and recharge as she grows accustomed to the cognitive load of training.
A low-volume plan can be the most effective volume when you’re managing a training plan on top of an already hectic personal schedule. Even athletes who have years of experience can benefit more from a low-volume plan than a mid-volume plan when they don’t have the time to nail mid-volume consistently.
As you progress through your training plan, your training steadily progresses in challenge and specificity to bring you to peak fitness. If you miss workouts in your training plan, it disrupts this progression. If this happens frequently, your training plan can progress at a rate that’s not sustainable for you. Consistency with low-volume training is more productive than intermittent consistency on a higher volume.
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For example, Lydia is a road racer who has been training and racing for several seasons. Despite having the fitness to take on five workouts per week, she doesn’t think she has the time in her schedule for five. A low-volume training plan is the best volume for Lydia. For Lydia, it’s better to opt for a lower volume that she knows she can stay consistent with than a higher volume that she’s going to miss workouts in. The extra recovery days in her plan also give her plenty of flexibility to move things around. For example, if she has a workout scheduled on Tuesday that she suddenly doesn’t have time for, she can take a recovery day Tuesday and then easily move that workout to another available day in the week.
Athletes That Want to Add Unstructured Riding
If you’d like to add additional training stress to your week in the form of unstructured rides, strength training, or group rides, low-volume might be the best volume for you. Generally, the low-volume plan has enough integrated rest that you can add one or two unstructured rides or additional activities at your discretion.
Adding too much training stress to a training plan isn’t productive and can even put you at risk of non-functional overreaching and overtraining syndrome. Because of this, it’s essential to make sure that your training plan doesn’t have too much stress and that you’re getting enough rest every week. With that said, it’s to be expected that for many athletes, unstructured riding and additional activities like strength training are priorities too. If unstructured riding is your priority, it’s better to plan and make sure your training plan won’t be out of balance by opting for the right volume.
A low-volume plan gives many athletes the flexibility they need to add in unstructured rides while maintaining the productivity of their training plan and goals. For example, Aaron wants to get out on his mountain bike every weekend for some unstructured trail riding this season. Because this is a priority, the low-volume plan is probably the best fit. The low-volume plan will help him build the robust fitness he needs for mountain biking while still giving him enough time to enjoy that fitness on recreational rides. As long as he’s getting enough rest, Aaron can complete his three structure workouts on weekdays, two trail ride on the weekends, and then maintain two rest days in between.
Athletes Who Need Additional Recovery
Every athlete has an individual recovery rate. The same workout that takes one person no time to bounce back from could take another athlete a few days to recover. This recovery rate isn’t just genetic and can be influenced by other factors like life stress, age, and experience with unstructured training. Ensuring your training plan has enough weekly rest is key to getting faster and maintaining the productivity of your training plan. It’s also one of the many reasons the low-volume plan is excellent for so many athletes.
The four recovery days in the low-volume plan make this volume an excellent choice for any athlete who needs extra time to recover from their workouts. For example, Colin manages a really demanding and sometimes stressful job. He frequently finds himself working late hours, and his workload leaves him mentally drained at the end of the day. For Colin, having extra recovery integrated into his training plan is vital to maintaining a healthy relationship to training and a productive training progression. Because of this, Colin opts for the low-volume plan. Four days of rest gives him plenty of time to recover.
Picking the Right Training Plan
The best plan volume is the one that is productive, gives you enough rest, and keeps you motivated. If the low-volume plan is the one you can envision yourself being able to stay on track with the best, then it’s the best possible plan for you.
That’s not to say the low-volume plan doesn’t have its limitations. With any form of training stimulus, your body can reach a point where it needs more volume to continue eliciting positive physical adaptations. In turn, if you have years of structured training experience under your belt and plenty of time to train, you may want to consider a mid-volume training plan instead.
With that said, it’s important to remember that you can always increase your plan volume during the season. So even if you opt for the low-volume plan and decide that there’s a better volume for you, you can very quickly move up. There’s a lot to be gained by introducing any form of structured training to your schedule. You can’t go wrong when you start with a low-volume plan.
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