Emphasis on Volume or intensity?

The results of this very recent study may be relevant for TR users now that we have the possibility of choosing polarized or masters plans with less emphasis on intensity: Critical power and W’ are correlated to volume not intensity. It’s difficult to understand that volume will make you faster rather than intensity even for high intensity events. But that’s the way it is:



All the talk about CP and W’ in the article is quite complex. Maybe this explains why polarized training works best if you are not time constraint, but your conclusion that volume > intensity is nothing new … -IF- you have the time, you should do a lot of Z2 training, if you don’t have the time, intensity will give you some results, but never as much as with more volume… Where the tipping point is, depends on a lot of (personal) factors (life stress, genetics, ability to recover, …)


It’s not an either or question. Volume isn’t just time on the bike but a factor of time and intensity.

So for each of us it’s a question of figuring out what our limiters are and then how to optimise volume and consistency within those limiters. I know riders who have very busy lives and are time constrained but have excellent motivation and discipline. For them they get their best results by packing in quite a lot of intensity and structure to the hours they have available. They can’t increase the time component of volume so they have to compensate with the intensity component. Obviously there are limits to how far you can go with that approach before bumping into a plateau.

Personally I find the more hours I spend riding the more that motivation and enjoyment becomes my limiter. If I only had 5 hours a week to train I could be very structured and efficient with that time. With 10 hours a week I start to lose motivation if all that time is structured (if we’re assuming that “structured” Z2 rides mean very disciplined rides with a very high percentage of time spent in z2, which realistically means doing them solo). I enjoy the occasional long solo Z2 ride but not every day. So the more time I spend on the bike the more I have to incorporate group rides because that’s what I enjoy, and that inevitably means some compromise on how “optimal” the ride is in terms of time in zone.

FWIW Veloviewer (and I’m sure other apps) allows you to report year on year stats including total calories burnt. Calories is a pretty good proxy for volume, certainly better than time or miles, and I have certainly found very good correlation between calories burnt and my performance.


Eh, volume is precisely how much time you’ve spent on the bike!


Obviusly, amateurs cyclists should follow IMHO these guidlines:

  1. Do what you can
  2. If you can do several things, Do what you enjoy the most.
  3. If you can do and enjoy several things, and volume is one of them, do volume most of the time (not always).

And volume is also zone 1, commuting, etc. IMHO its main benefit is to move the pedals as many times as you can in order to improve economy. Wax on, wax off…


See the show notes:-

Okay Triathlon but the point remains.


  • If you are a beginner, you should focus mostly on increasing your volume by increasing the frequency of workouts. Do more workouts, they don’t need to be too long, just do a bit more than what you are doing now by increasing more workouts.

  • ​If you are an intermediate triathlete and you don’t train too much and you have time, you can add a couple of workouts but primarily you should increase the duration of your workouts.

  • For advanced triathletes, if you have a VO2 max of 65 (see note) or above, definitely you need to include about 10 to 20% of your training that is the kind of high intensity workouts that you really try to smash. The kind of intense training that is going to be the most beneficial for you are performed at an intensity level that corresponds to your VO2 max or your maximum aerobic capacity. Power at VO2 max can be 120% of your functional threshold power on the bike or something like intervals at your 5k pace or slightly faster than 5k pace, maybe 10 seconds per kilometer faster than 5k pace on the run.

Note: elsewhere in the notes it said advanced equals VO2max of 60 or above, maybe 65+.


I could be missing something, but I don’t see how you come to the conclusion that CP and W’ are correlated to volume rather than intensity from that study. As far as I can tell, they determined that CP is correlated with CS (citrate synthase), which is a marker for mitochondrial content. CS was not correlated with W’.


Isn’t that basically what the authors are sort of saying? It doesn’t feel like rocket science in 2024 to say greater exercise volume correlates with more mitochondria which correlates with a higher CP/FTP.

Maybe nobody has studied these correlations in this way? This is not a training intervention study though. They tested the power duration curve of a bunch of active college students and found that CS (mitochondrial content) correlates with a higher CP.

4.2 Correlates of W′
There was no correlation between W′ and CS activity, suggesting
that mitochondrial content is not a primary determinant of this
parameter of the power–duration relationship. This is perhaps not
surprising given that W′ has been defined as the finite capacity
for work above CP, or a fixed anaerobic energy store

This study has demonstrated a large positive correlation between CP
and CS activity (a valid marker of mitochondrial content). Although
mass-corrected CI + II E was positively correlated with relative CP, this
relationship was no longer evident when controlling for CS activity,
and there were no further correlations with mitochondrial respiratory
variables. Therefore, the present study suggests that CP was more
likely to be determined by mitochondrial content, rather than intrinsic
mitochondrial respiration. Citrate synthase activity was not correlated
with W’; however, CS activity-corrected CI + II P and PCR were
positively correlated with relative W’, suggesting that some facets of
mitochondrial respiration might influence W’.

Did you read this study? The conclusion was

“Therefore, the present study suggests that CP was more likely to be determined by mitochondrial content, rather than intrinsic mitochondrial respiration.”

Go look up Gollnick study from 1973. Here is the abstract:

On a limited budget (under 8 hours/week on average) I’ve proven to myself that:

  • Intensity works (2016-2017)
  • Volume works (2020-2023)

It’s not if you listen to and read from trusted sources.

One adaptive signal for increasing mitochondria is low-intensity muscle contractions. From the paper you referenced in the original post, their conclusion was that FTP/CP/MLSS/etc was more likely to be determined by mitochondrial content (the amount or number of mito) rather than mito respiration (ability to use oxygen).

You need both, but to use an analogy, it is better to build up a large number of engines than to make a smaller number more efficient.

@Jose_Manuel to clarify look at this post I made recently:

Yes, the study claims that Mithocondrial content is correlated with absolute CP but not with absolute W’ although there’s a correlation with the relative W’.

You are getting push back because you led with something else:

Just a nit-pick, but I think the real debate is duration vs. intensity.

Volume = duration x intensity, so it’s a function of both and it’s a pretty good measure of training stress. A good unit of measure for volume would be Kj’s of work performed.

In general, the more volume you can push and absorb, the closer to your genetic potential you will get. The reason elite athletes will push the time/duration so high is that you can only increase volume so far via intensity before the stress is too much and it becomes counterproductive. By lowering the intensity, you can increase the overall volume by training more hours. But it takes a lot of time, so nobody wants to hear that and you can still get pretty fit by leaning on the intensity work. If you are training 5 hours a week, a good percentage of that can be intense effort because most people can adapt to that kind of stress. If you are training 20+ hours a week, most of that will need to be lower intensity or you will dig a deep hole very quickly. Everyone is different and can take on different training loads (absolute volume and intensity mix), but volume has always been king in cycling (and most aerobic sports). Every person has to figure out the right mix for them based on what events they are targeting and how much time they can (or want to) train.


Totally agree. I drafted a reply but deleted it as I couldn’t be bothered to argue the point.
I realised and hoped someone could/would put it better than me.

Amyway. Great post.

at a top level, and in order, its frequency, duration, and intensity.

Some skip the first part and jump directly to intensity, and bring frequency down to two or three days a week.


You are right but not kind

Also because it’s specific to their events.


Nope intensity is not relevant to volume. 30 mins of riding is 30 mins of volume regardless of intensity it’s ridden at.

VOLUME = duration x frequency.


Name checks out. :laughing:

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Depends! Some say it does, some not. Its not black and white.

No point having the argument as different coaches and people have a different beliefs on what volume is. Duration for sure, frequency over a period yes, (but what period) some include average intensity over the period and that probably makes sense. IMO.

"TSS is a volume metric that combines workout duration and intensity to give you a more accurate idea of how much you have been training. "

Source: Training Peaks

Volume from an audio sense is intensity!!!


Maybe I’ve missed the conversations about volume where people are discussing doing low volume 500 tss a week vs. Higher volume 1000 tss a week.