Aerobic fitness takes decades to develop

I agree that most people are not getting close to their genetic limit. But everyone is more or less in the same boat in as far as what they can realistically do about it. For example if person X and person Y both reach say 75% of their own genetic limits, the fastest one will be the one with the higher genetic potential. The only time you see an overlap is when someone with a higher potential under-achieves, say only reaching 50% of their potential while someone with a lower potential over-achieves, say hits 90%. I would class myself as an over-achiever in that sense, but unfortunately my genetic potential is very average. My untrained performance was pretty hopeless (around 2.2 W/kg), while I’ve seen others arrive off the couch with well over 3W/kg, making progress that much easier.


That’s a good point, two years ago riding at a steady 200 watts for 30 minutes would destroy me. Now, I can ride at a steady 220 watts for almost three hours.


Well that seems pretty impressive to me. 200W is about my limit for 3 hours.


ever heard of “the eye of the tiger”? :grin:


Are you saying I don’t have it :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:.

I can’t ride my bike up stair sets well so I wouldn’t make a good Rocky!

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The cream rises to the top (quickly) and stays there. This is what I’ve noticed about the fast old geezers in my club. That have some natural talents to start with and they have all been riding for years and years. My theory is that they keep coming back to cycling because they are rewarded. They have local KOMs, podium in local races, etc.

Maybe the slow guys just walk away at some point or they turn into century riders if they still love the sport?

I raced for 6 years straight in my 20s. I got to be a solid cat 4 in a very competitive district and was on the cusp of cat 3 but got burned out. I calculate that my FTP was in the 300-325 range based on my time up a well known long climb that took about an hour. I got progressively better and better for 5 years straight and then plateaued. I don’t think decades more would have done much for me.

Pogacar - I think a lot of these young riders are coming up now because of several factors. One - a coach or team manager can look at power files and know whether the guy has the engine. A young rider may no longer have to put in many years riding for someone else. Two - guys like Pog probably have been riding for 10+ years if they started with they were 12 or 13 years old.


I’m not sure i’d agree that it takes decades to build an aerobic base if you are using that term to define “the ability to ride for a long time”. I’d say that you are just nudging up against the limits of your training, recovery and genetics. For sure your aerobic base “matures” over the years but if you train right and recover right there is no reason why you can’t achieve everything you think you should be able to achieve this year.

I had no history of running or riding but aged 46 followed my young kids into running, after being stood by the side of the track bored and cold, and found that i could do it reasonably ok. I ran more and more, i got injured, got a bike, rode 20 miles and thought i was a hero. I started to swim, did a few triathlons, did a 70.3 in 5:22, then another one in 5:10 and then an Ironman. I fairly rapidly (by year 2) went from FTP 200 to 250, 300, 310, 330 @ 75Kg from doing lots of TrainerRoad while doing the 2 other sports as well.

There are a lot of us on Strava who i ride with: all about the same old age, several at over 300W, some at mid 200’s. I’d put most of it down to who trains/rides the most, and can recover right. Genetic limitations come into play when you’re looking at who is a pro at 430W vs the rest of us mortals but for most of us we are nowhere near the limits so don’t need to worry.

If you see limits look at what might be causing them. Take a look at your diet for instance: Are you all wholefoods or is your cupboard full of processed food? Do you drink beer? Are you carrying 10Kg of fat? Are you sleeping 8 hours a night? Are you efficient in your riding/mobility?

lots to look at…


There was a study looking at non responders to exercise. As expected there were what you’d consider non responders to the initial prescribed exercise regime. They then gradually changed the prescription either adding intensity , increasing frequency, increasing volume, changing recovery timing and length. Eventually they found everyone responded. But you had to find the right mix of intensity, frequency, duration, and recovery. Some will respond to much lower volumes and smaller doses of intensity. Some needed much more.

We can all get off that plateau if we have the time to indulge ourselves to find our minimum effective dose. But for some that minimum dose is much lower.

A plateau may just be a plateau because of the amount of time we can dedicate to our hobby. I doubt I’m at my current genetic potential. But I may be at a plateau in terms of how much time I can dedicate to this hobby.


This is really what I meant by “genetic limitations”. @RCC starts riding at 46 without any prior history and quickly ramps up to 4.4 W/kg by year 2. Not everyone can do that and I would suggest that the vast majority of people would not get there, however effectively they trained. It doesn’t mean @RCC has hit his own personal genetic limit, but he might well have exceeded most other peoples’.

People just have to be realistic with their personal goals and find their own limits. I think that would be more rewarding and a lot less frustrating than thinking you might get to some nirvana with several decades of dedicated training! I think for most people who train smart and are committed, 2-3 years is plenty long enough to get close to their personal limits. After that it would be a matter of finding marginal gains from experience. The performance curve is always going to flatten off quite rapidly even after the first year. @RCC’s progression going from 200-250-300-310-330 is a good example. We could guess what his genetic limit would be at this point. It might be around 350 or even a little higher, but it’s not likely to be over 400. But we can say he’s well above average. Now if some other guy comes along and expects to replicate this progression simply because they see that @RCC can do it, they may get very disappointed if their genetics don’t happen to stack up.

Everyone needs to set their own realistic goals. I’ve been chasing the 4 W/kg target for several years now and that’s my personal fitness goal. @RCC would find that target too easy, others might find it too ambitious. Chasing other people’s goals is a fool’s errand and will likely lead to frustration.


Like your EDIT, thats so true IMO. So much out there these days, looking for that magic pill. It takes years, and consistency.

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I believe the vast majority of variation is explained by genetics. I was lucky to get on the bike in early 20s w about 4w/kg coming from a hockey and weight lifting background (you would not look at me and assume I was an aerobic athlete). Got it towards a 5w/kg in 2-4 years by training and racing about 10hpw, consistently.

I don’t agree it takes decades to hit (nearly) your genetic potential. I think you just have to be realistic about what that potential actually is.

I have a friend who started from a relatively lower level and achieved a slightly higher level than me, and he says it’s all hard work and anyone can do it, but I believe he’s kidding himself that he didn’t have the genetic potential as well.

I’m pretty sure the ‘pros’ start faster and get faster at a much faster than average people (ie genetically determined).

It’s about having fun. I don’t think anyone of us makes money from this hobby.

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Back in the day, I remember this ‘decades to develop’ myth regarding marathon running. The people who were winning major marathons were all in their early/mid 30s (and presumably had been training since early teens). They thought it took 20+ years to develop a base.

But does it? I’m not convinced.

Thinking back, most of them were clueless about endurance training. For them, it was all volume, all the time. Top athletes bonking during televised international competitions, or having obvious digestive problems, are just some indications that they were much less sophisticated and knowledgeable about endurance training than even amateurs are today.

Read Jim Fixx’s book and marvel at how rudimentary the state of the art was, 30+ years ago.

I raced in the late 90s and we didn’t know squat about training. I read about intervals in Bicycling magazine and maybe did a few but I didn’t know what a progression was.

I’m sure Olympic caliber coaches and old school cycling coaches knew some stuff about training and prioritization but it still wasn’t common knowledge. Tyler Hamilton’s book surprised me. Not the part about drugs but that he never really did any structured training until he met Ferrari. I seem to recall in the book that Ferrari gave him some sort of tabata short/short intervals and Hamilton thought they were magical.

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I’d ask you TWO questions. How many hours are you training…and can you increase said hours? You are not going to be a world beater on 5 - 6 hrs per week. Forget all the high intensity saturated plans. There is no shortcut to this business. IMO I think that you will need to be at 10 hrs/wk minimum to keep a reasonable rate of progression (year on year) and you will also have to be doing things the right way, meaning the focus is going to have to be on longer Z2 riding. I’d say at least 8 long rides per month…in the 3 - 4 hr range (minimum). Sure you can sweetspot, threshold and Vo2 your way to some good condition but past a certain point you will plateau, especially if the bulk of your riding is done above Z3.

If you follow what junior riders are doing you will see that most don’t do a boatload of high intensity. What they really do are the big rides…4 - 5 and even 6 hrs on occasion. 16 - 20 hr weeks plus. Lots of Z2 and tempo. Typically they will use races to sharpen up the top end…at least early in the season. They do incorporate threshold and Vo2 max but from what I’ve seen nowhere near the rate of those who are on intensity-heavy plans.

That said…in the real world of the time crunched adult with encumbrances, long hours on the bike may be tough to create but it WILL be a limiting factor on how high you can push the bar long term. I’d say that 5 w/kg is not something most (not all) will be able to achieve with sub 10 hr weeks. 4 to 4.5 is probably doable but you are more likely than not going to have to be well into double digit hours per week to reach what I consider to be “amateur elite” status (5 w/kg)…and probably near 20 hrs/week to reach 5.5 w/kg (and it will take a number of focused and consistent years).


The less hours per week you have to ride…the longer it will take. I wouldn’t compare myself with Pogacar. Most juniors I’ve seen are doing over 500 hrs/yr by the time they are 17 or 18 yrs old. At 19, I’ve seen some do close to 1000 hrs in a year. These kids ride a LOT of miles at a time when their hormones are really kicking in. They can recover at the best rate and they don’t have the time-limiting factors that affect most adults…meaning they can eat. sleep and breathe cycling.

If you can ride mid double-digits per week (14 - 16) I would say that 5 years is a reasonable amount of time to reach 5 w/kg. IF you are CONSISTENT, and doing things the right way…including all the little things that help speed up the process, you should progress if you can avoid injuries. Coaching will add some propellant.

The “genetic limit” thing is overblown. Most amateur riders are not riding anywhere near enough to even approach their genetic limits. They are blocked by their practical limits (time constraints). Again…and this cannot be stressed enough…if you are doing enough hours the right way you will have a rate of progression year on year that grows your aerobic ability. However, like anything, it will require LOTS OF TIME. There is no other way around building year on year progress. If you do 3 years at 6 - 7 hrs per week it simply won’t be enough. That is the sobering truth about this business and a truth that many probably don’t want to hear.


They get faster at a faster rate because they RIDE MORE. I’m talking 600, 700 and up to 900+ hrs/yr. And they do that for many years.

It is underestimated by many amateur riders the level of riding it takes to be a high level cyclist. Genetics only come into play at the highest end of the scale. Riding 200 - 300 hrs/yr for 10 years does not equal riding 700 - 900 hrs/yr for 10 years. It just isn’t even close in similarity. The sobering reality is that building (year-on-year) oxidative aerobic capacity takes time, focus and consistency…over MANY years.

That’s a very optimistic view (ie almost anyone can do it with enough effort and dedication). I am pretty sure the exercise science literature would disagree. I am sure there are many anecdotes of average people becoming elite with huge dedication, but I doubt is statistically significant - it is not a generalized case.
That does not mean a rider shouldn’t train hard and become the best version of theirselves. But rather they should be realistic in goal setting


All I’m saying is that you are “generally” going to reach a much higher level of ability if you can ride 700 - 800 hrs/yr than if you can only ride 250 - 300. It’s a huge difference in blood volume, capillarization, muscle contractions, fat utilization, mitochondrial development and other factors having to do with muscular endurance and oxidative aerobic capacity. Over 5 years that’s 4000 versus 1500 hours. Moreover, this increased number of hours will be far more conducive to making year-on-year gains.

We can’t be too quick to surrender to excuses without merit…or lack of “genetic potential”. Most amateur riders probably don’t ride their bikes anywhere near a level to worry about genetic limitations. This would apply more readily to TrainerRoad users, who delight in shortish plans with high intensity as the focus. Unless you are on 20 - 25 hr wks regularly, you ain’t getting anywhere near your limit.

Finally, not every pro cyclist is a Grand Tour winner but most can push 3.5 - 4 w/kg for 3 - 4 hrs and that only comes from many years of high volume aerobic development. Thibault Pinot in 2013 was doing 4.9 w/kg for 4 hrs when he was capable of just 3.7 five years earlier as an amateur (2008 - 526 hrs). He rode over 750 hrs every year after 2008.

Just because you can’t or won’t do it doesn’t mean that you couldn’t, given time…and if “huge dedication” is really the limiting factor (for the “average” talent) then it doesn’t say much for the “genetic limit” being an excuse.


I’m not sure how true it is to say most athletes could reach 5wpkg, or that riding many hours in Z2 is the way to greatness.

As an anecdote, when I was doing Ironman and Triathlon I would, like a metronome, ride ~20hrs per week. Almost all in Z2 (though well before I had a PM), I certainly was never near 5wpkg. A mate of mine who is a few years younger, was riding half that and we weren’t even in the same universe when it came to performance. He’s closer to 6wpkg than 5, and it’s not just from riding easy and long for the past ten years.


I didn’t say riding strictly Z2 is the way to greatness but of a 20 hr week only 3.5 - 4 hrs is intensity for me…and that is Z3 + Z5. Barely 20% of the total hours ridden. I wouldn’t put much on what you were doing without a power meter or a lactate test to accurately determine just where LT1 was. If Z2 is ridden too easy it won’t produce much past a certain point if that is all that you do…and without a power meter there is no way that you could be progressive with the plan. You would be basically riding blind. You would be able to go a long time but you will be slow as hell, something I learned after riding mostly Z2 for 18 months.

Weight will also be a factor in the w/kg equation. Triathletes, though not all of them, tend to be on the heavier side. If you were riding 20 hrs/wk regularly then I’m not sure how much else you would be able to do with running and swimming on that type of schedule. You must have been a real threat to win Kona.

Finally…triathletes can’t really be compared with roadies. Apples vs. oranges.