Endurance...how does it make you faster?

This is a bit of a noob question, and I should know considering this is my 2nd year using trainer road. How does the endurance work outs make you faster, how do they make you faster compared to the vo2 work outs?

I understand building the base of your aerobic engine, but how does this make you faster when you’re not pushing your limits like a Vo2 work out? I am asking because I have a 5 session week (before I head to Mallorca) and they’re all endurance ones.

I can’t answer your question of exactly why, but I know if I go out at least every other weekend for a 3-5 hour road ride, it makes me wayyy faster on the mountain bike for some reason!


More mitochondria


Long slow rides fatigue type 1 fibers forcing type 2 to engage more and more as the ride progresses. Oversimplified this means, in longer harder more selective situations during competitions more muscle fiber activation compared to less equals either more power late or more matches late. Or put a different way…pushing PD curve to the right.


I once heard the comparison to a highway and i’m not sure i remember it 100% correct but it was something like this: VO2 max/Threshold workouts improve how hard you can ride on that highway. Endurance rides add more lanes to the highway to allow more traffic.

I’m sure if it’s not fully correct someone with more knowledge will correct me.


This kinda makes decent sense to me…VO2 max is how hard you can press the throttle, and endurance is engine size? If we’re talking in car terms?

I’d say vo2max is the engine size. At some point displacement becomes the limiter for increasing HP, but you can do a lot to improve the power putput for that size engine. You can even bolt
on a nitrous system(EPO)

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To use the motor metaphor:

LSD adaptations: these equal engine size. More years of endurance volume = greater displacement.

HIIT Adaptations: these equal engine efficiency. A HIIT cycle = greater output per liter (to continue the engine metaphor).

The endurance adaptations make you faster in the long term – bore out your engine as much as the block will allow. The HIIT adaptations slap a turbo on that engine you’ve built, but after a few weeks you have to pull the turbo off, or you blow the engine.




Doesn’t it seem weird that SST doesn’t give anything on the last 4 categories, where all other zones do?

The misleading thing about that chart is that it does not take into account volume, or long-term development.

Someone could look at that and go “gee, all I need to do is a whole lot of sweet spot” or “gee, all I really need to do are a lot of zone 5 intervals and some recovery days.”

To modify Seiler’s cake analogy. Zone 2 work = measuring, mixing, pouring, baking the cake. Zone 5 and higher = icing the cake.


Sweet spot in this table is high tempo (Z3)/low threshold (Z4) hence why it is labelled as zones 1 -7 but not assigned a numbered zone itself.

As zones 1 to 5 all give 1x to the last 4 rows it seems safe to assume that sweet spot is no different.

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being a car fan…this makes the most sense to me…good metaphor!!!

remember that vo2max is just a proxy for the amount of energy you can produce aerobically. so the things called “vo2max intervals” are kind of unfortunately named because they are not like specifically beneficial to increasing the amount of energy you can produce aerobically; rather, every different type of endurance training does, so ALL of it increases your vo2max.

Low intensity training is stuff like increased numbers of mitochondria, increased capillarization, etc. These things build slowly slowly slowly over time, take a long time to go away if you stop training, and definitely increase your vo2max.


As mentioned above - Mitochondrial density is improved massively by Z2 riding - that is the organelle that converts the sugars to energy in each and every cell in your body and therefore the more you have the faster you are…simples as the meerkats say!


to continue the car metaphor, from Richard Hammond’s description of the Ford Sierra Cosworth:

  • Stiffen the chassis and the engine mounts – get thee to the weight room

  • drop in a big engine – do as much endurance as you can adapt to

  • bolt on a “sodding great turbo” – do your HIIT


I fully agree. it’s a simplistic view.

what is great about the chart is that it marries the zones to what is actually going on biologically. those biological changes over time affect in turn your FTP/vo2/vlamax/etcetc

and here’s the rub – would 12 weeks of 20 hours a week of zone 2 boost ftp more than 8 weeks of 10 hours a week with three days of 2 x 20? No way to know! It would all depend on the athlete.

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Combo of both would probably be best if the person could handle it. It also depends on how the athlete responds. Will hit a point where more intensity won’t make you faster, you’ll eventually have to add more time if you’re looking to get better.

I think another thing to consider is the lower stress response from endurance rides, even long ones, compared to more stressful sweetspot or higher work sessions. Doing back to back days of longer rides is doable provided available training time isn’t an issue. It’s a great way of accumulating a lot of aerobic adaptations without the risk of burnout. Plus it’s a great way to improve body composition, if that’s a goal, without having to worry about restoring glycogen reserves for the next session; starting a long endurance ride with low glycogen stores is not a problem if CHO intake is done on the ride.