Hi! I’m trying to understand this sport a little better.
I’m only a few weeks in and I’m very surprised by the number of hours people seem to put in and at the length of the workouts. It is of course due to me not understanding much about cycling. I don’t train for racing or any cycling specific goals. I train for general fitness, to slow down aging and to help with weight loss. Endurance is only one of the aspects of fitness and so it is very important, to me, to also spend regular and consistent time in flexibility training and strength training, and of course I’m try to get good quality sleep… with inconsistent results.
So for a fitness enthusiast like me, who has a full time job and truly enjoys spending time with wife and kids over the weekend, any workout longer than an hour looks “strange”, to be honest.
Are they really necessary for my goals? Is the time commitment for cycling different than, for example, for running? If so, why? I’m looking for some basic references to educate myself.
I enjoy training every single day, it helps me mentally and with planning my nutrition. I’m not trying to optimize for maximum performance results but for overall fitness and daily life balance. For now I’m trying the plan builder and just selecting 60 minutes alternates for anything above 60 minutes. Let’s see where it goes. Thanks!
Hi! I’m trying to understand this sport a little better.
Fun that you have taken up cycling!
Short answer, yes. Cycling requires* more time than (many) other sports. Simple reason being that the sport events in cycling is often an event that is longer than 2-3 hours. So to train for that, you need to spend those hours on the bike in training as well.
And as an endurance sport, you need to build that endurance. To do that you often need to spend a lot of time on the bike.
*Depending on your goals its definitely not needed to spend the time, since its up to each own to spend the time that you have/or wish to spend.
What will happen if all your rides are 60min long, and you maybe only spend 3 hours per week, is that you’ll eventually plateau.
If you’re doing it because you enjoy riding, and don’t necessarily have any specific goals, just do what you enjoy
What sets aside cycling as well compared to many other sports is that it’s very “gentle” on the body, in terms of load on joints and others. This makes it very easy to spend 10+ hours per week on the bike, compared to lets say, running.
No, you’ll be fine
Eventually, you will likely do some probably just for variety but eventually our bodies get used to a routine and varying the length of workout is one way to continue your fitness gains.
Oh yes, the reason I got myself a trainer and a TrainerRoad subscription is that I’m dealing with plantar fasciitis due to running. I thought I was being very careful, with running form, shoes, etc… but I injured myself anyway… Looking back I ignored the signs of tight calves, tight Achilles tendon, but hindsight is 20/20. I was explaining all of this to the physical therapist on the first visit and she looked at me and said “Well… you’re also 48”
So I’m getting even more geeky about my training and flexibility has taken center stage.
It’s all relative.
At the high(er) end of the sport, cycling is an aerobic, endurance activity (where even shorter events tend to be an hour long or more), and the consensus of several decades’ worth of research (and countless years of anecdata) is that 15+ hours/week is required for most people to attain the fitness needed.
Of course, if you’re not competing, that’s not at all necessary (nor is it practical for most)
and you should focus on your own goals and needs, but as others have noted, you’ll plateau sooner.
I also think, with careful planning (perhaps an early start, for example) and communication, most people can manage a longer ride (say 3 hours) once a week. It’s far from my place to give others’ relationship advice, especially when it’s not asked for(!), but my wife and I try to ensure we each have one free ‘block’ of decent time a week to pursue our own interests, which we both think is important.
We have that as well and it is great. But I have many interests (too many, maybe), so I need to make some priority decisions on how to use my private weekend time. I’m not ready to give it 100% to cycling, but I do agree that stretching beyond one hour once in a weekend is totally doable, maybe not every weekend. The consideration is more about what am I going to miss on if I don’t do that. I did a few 90 minutes runs in the past and they felt good.
Cycling is really really fun so you need to do lots and lots of it.
Seriously though: You’ll get a lot of fitness from just doing 60 minute workouts several times a week. You only really need to go to 90 minute workouts when you need to go up to the extra fitness levels, or just because more time is more fitness and more fun. There’s a ton of hours in the day and it’s pretty easy to find 60 minute slots of time to spend having fun on the trainer. Becoming efficient with your time allows you to fit a lot more stuff in. In the past I’ve managed to train even up to IronMan level with a wife, 3 kids, a professional job and long commutes so it’s all possible. I just don’t spend a lot of time in front of the TV.
My schedule is fairly optimized right now. I can (and do) put 60 minute of cycling pretty much every day. I work from home so, during the day, I’m able to squeeze, during the breaks, a good 25 minutes flexibility session and a short strength session (I have bands and a pull up bar). Setting up all days to be very similar from the training standpoint has always been good for my consistency. When I tried to do, for example, one day aerobic and the next day a longer weight lifting session, my consistency and motivation have gone way down, so that’s what works form me. TV? What is that? Unless AC Milan is playing…
I would say that in a lot of cases people are doing lots of hours not because they have to but because 1) they can; and 2) they want to. Because cycling is non impact even an averagely fit/talented cyclist can do a lot of it without the injuries associated with high volume running. The draft effect means there is far more scope for riding with other people and being sociable (or competitive outside of races) than with other endurance sports. The time you can spend on the bike combined with the speed you can go means there’s a lot of scope for exploring new or rarely visited roads. And there’s no facilities needed - if you have the right kit/bike and/or indoor setup you can ride any day, any time.
It’s absolutely not necessary to do those high volumes though. You can get very fit doing sessions of 1 hour max. Especially if your goals are personal rather than competing with others. Just at some point if you do want to compete with others you’ll find that you’ll be competing against people doing more volume than you, and there are performance benefits to that volume, particularly for longer distance events.
Cycling originally is a mode of transport. You’re trying to go somewhere, and I’d probably take an hour or two, or longer (and the same back). Then with racing is is basically trying to “go somewhere” faster than the others. That way, it’s easy to do a lot of hours in a week - just commuting half an hour each way to work is 5 hours, and that doesn’t include and leisure rides. Going to a cafe with your friends is likely at least a 3h ride - 90min there, 90min back, otherwise it wouldn’t really be worth it.
It depends on how you count your hours - i.e. the time you spend doing an activity vs the time you leave your front door to the time you get back. Pre-family, I used to rock climb a lot, in a decent day of sport climbing I might spend 1-2 hours on the rock, but by the time you factor in a 2 hour drive each way to the nearest climbing area, the walk in, taking turns at leads etc, it was a dawn til dusk day out, just for those 1-2 hours.
Now I am in a similar situation to you, full time job, family. My main activity is cycling because every minute I am out of the house I am cycling until I get back. In an average week, I will cycle ~7-10 hours, usually a 3hr club ride on Sunday morning and maybe a midweek 1.5hrs, but all other rides probably under 1hr. Also run and go to the gym maybe once a week each, again locally.
As someone else also mentioned, being opportunistic, if we have a family day out, I will ride home etc.
For general fitness and health, you definitely don’t need to put long hours into it. Nothing wrong with sessions 1 hour and less.
Most of us train more because we love being outside with friends, have the time, and are competitive. When I say competitive, it’s mainly to race, just keep up with friends, or tackle big goal rides.
IMO you’ve got a great approach to your goals- it’s easy to get lost in the weeds of cycling perfmance gains and I think that’s where many of this forum are coming from, but from a general health standpoint a mix of strength work and whatever cardio floats your boat is all you is all you really need.
Unfortunately I think it’s common for people to think they need to fit a certain mold to bit ‘fit and healthy’- in practice I think that’s better served by a bit of variety as well as managing things like stress, diet and sleep. (not to mention finding something that works for your lifestyle and that you actually enjoy- sustainability and consistency are where people usually struggle!)
If you want to compete you need to invest a lot of time to train your type I slow twitch muscle fibers but otherwise just enjoy riding your bike
A big part of it has to do with the mechanical nature of a bicycle. Riding a bike is an extremely efficient way of moving. Generally speaking, you’ll burn less calories for a given amount of time on a bike than you will doing any other endurance activity. Of course effort level matters and you can bury yourself on a bike in a few minutes if you want to but in practice, an hour on a bike is generally about the same amount of work as 30 minutes of running. That’s the main reason you have to ride more hours to match the work you would get running for example. Also, while we all try to work hard all the time a bike does let you take it easy, coast or otherwise insert little, or long, breaks while still moving unlike something like running or swimming which tends to add time to a ride without making it harder.
There is also a big “because you can” element too. Because of the efficiency (and low impact nature) of cycling, even normal middle aged humans can actually ride a bike for 4 hours. Try running that much and you’ll destroy yourself. Cyclists, like good swimmers to an extent, put in long hours because they can without tearing themselves up.
Don’t think this is true. If you want to compete at a high level in longer events then certainly true. But racing in lower level categories in short races like crits you can certainly be competitive without putting in a lot of time.
Thanks! A lot of good answers that clarify things quite a bit and also give me a few things to go and study.
It feels that TrainerRoad doesn’t really have plans tailored for my goals out of the box, but with some tweaking and fiddling, I can make it work easily enough. On the other hand, it would be awesome and maybe not too complicated to have a plan builder with the options of setting daily max workout durations and the days in which you want to workout. Of course there would be all the caveats “this plan is meant for general fitness, if your goals are different look at our other plans”, etc… .
In theory TrainNow could do that, but in my experience it has too many shortcomings that make it not useful for my use case. I’m looking also at the Join app, because of the long thread in this forum, but I’m 5 minutes into the trial and I already have bad vibes. So most probably I’ll stick with TR and make heavy use of alternates, plus adding some workouts as needed using progression levels (and maybe Garmin Load Focus) as guidance.
There is no requirement to do any of this. It’s all personal to you. I think you’re doing it perfectly for your health goals and keeping it balanced with strength/mobility and family.
Reasons why cycling appears to take so much time:
Training to ride faster is a different kind of goal that requires progressive overload. Higher volume at lower intensity relative to the individual builds the infrastructure or “plumbing “ as @ambermalika says, for even high intensity race efforts. (Mitochondrial density, increased capillarization, etc.).
Riding outside involves an unavoidable amount of coasting, hence it can take longer to get same amount of effort.
Running is harder on the body. Even some runners will add cycling into their training to safely progress volume.
For many, just being out on the bike is intrinsically joyful. It’s a way to relax the mind, experience nature, or have fun with friends. It doesn’t always have to be about fitness or race performance. (Saying this is probably sacrilege here )
Before buying a road bike for epic adventures, I started out by:
- daily walking the dog for 20-40 minutes
- Tuesday/Thursday early morning high intensity spin classes for an 45-75 minutes
- 1-2 hour easy ride around town on the weekend
That was plenty to improve general fitness and increase calorie burn to help with weight loss.
This is an interesting 2016 article about kettlebell conditioning program:
that discusses the importance of aerobic training and “the talk test” - and it was published well before all the noise about polarized. The principles of developing general fitness and health have been known for a long time. Get in plenty of aerobic work, and add some intensity by doing HIIT or sprint work. Aerobic work is important.
This is an interesting question: Looking at elites only for each sport, runners typically do 10-12 hours per week, and cyclists about 20-25 hours per week. This is ballpark, but cyclists at the top would likely be double the time of runners. I’d say the biggest difference between the two sports is cycling is just easier on the body - runners have a hard time absorbing more work than 100 miles per week - injuries are the big limiter. In endurance sports, more endurance training is better. Simple as that. How you do it and how you adapt is the magic.
I don’t know if we can scale this down to a recreational approach, but 5 hours of cycling may be similar to 2.5 hours of running. Either is certainly enough for general aerobic fitness health.