Length of Endurance (zone 2) rides before seeing diminishing returns

I can’t find a discussion that talks about the length of zone 2 rides before seeing diminishing returns. Are there any studies or discussions that talk about optimal long-ride durations? Is an 8-hour endurance ride better than 6? 10 better than 8? At what point is an ultra-endurance ride going to do more harm than good?

Interested in your thoughts!


What is your individual “optimal” duration for low-intensity aerobic volume? Maybe longer than your body is currently accustomed/adapted to, but not so long that you can’t repeat that volume & intensity with consistency?


I think part of the goal with training is to push that limit as high as you can. If endurance is the goal, then you should be working towards increasing that time spent in z2, without needing a ton of rest days to follow. Trial and error and occasionally pushing that upper envelope are a big part of it.

It’s gonna vary so much though that I don’t think there’s an ideal. It’s kind of like having the ideal ftp…well, ideally it’s infinite or at least 1000 watts, but realistically it’d be nice if it was higher than my current one.

As usual it probably depends on context. However, one thing can be said for sure, key is how much an athlete can handle long term. Training philosophies may differ, however, there is one aspect which applies to almost all: training load has to be sustainable over a block of time.

Zone 2 riding has received this magical bullet image in recent years. Probably because most age groupers are time limited. IMHO it is just one part, it supports the other elements and vice versa.

It depends on what somone trains for, a RAAM winner will ride longer than a GT contender or a crit specialist. Annecdotal pro evidence claims “the longer you ride the less spritey you become”.

When we look at WT pros we can see a shift from the huge volumes 20 or 30 years ago (which included regular 8h rides) to less volume these days. The extreme would be someone like Bernal who does regular 6-7h rides (however, you have to substract at least 25% of descending. And there are plenty of gaps in the recodings, probably coffee breaks). Most other pros do more in the 4-6h range. However, during race season (which is 2/3 of the year) there are not that many “pure” endurance rides. Either there is some element of intensity or it’s a clear recovery ride 1.5-2.5h.

Character of target races and overall training load with athlete’s ability to recover are probably the most important factors determining the optimal length. And of course, time of year.


Is the information going to be used to justify more long rides, or justify less?

I recently did a 140 mile ride, 5.5 hours of it was Z2. I don’t know if it helped or hurt, I just wanted to go ride. Thought targeting Z2 made it a bit more interesting (as opposed to my usual no target).

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…and while we’re chucking in variables its worth noting that the bottom end of z2 is VERY different to the top of z2 in fatigue, and debateably training impact (depending on who’s view you subscribe to?)

Personally I think the idea above of ‘…just beyond what you’re already adapted to’ is probably an important point. I have also found that ‘a lot’ of repeats of a time ‘just below’ what I’m adapted to is also effective.

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Best to find your own optimal zone. I find that more than 6h on Sundays starts to hurt recovery. If I want to be consistent for 6-8 weeks I keep my Sunday rides in the 4.5-5.5h. I only do one long ride a week.

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Diminishing return is when the length of the Z2 ride begins to impact on your higher intensity workouts that follow it. If you know your body you’ll begin to recognise when the Z2 ride has fatigued your legs somewhat and it’s time to cut for home. If you are carrying fatigue from your Z2 ride into the next day , and it’s impacting your next ride, it was likely too far.

Personally I don’t take my weekly Z2 rides above 5-6 hours. Mostly they are 2-3 hours.

There’s also diminishing returns in terms of the rest of your life. If the riding starts impacting other aspects of your life, then that’s a diminishing return right there.

You’ll never know what’s happening at a cellular level inside you. So you’ll just have to go based on how you feel and whether you are seeing gains from what you are doing.

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