'Maximum' effective dose (diminishing returns) - Long Rides

Morning all.

I read a couple of training articles related to fell running (long distance e.g. Bob Graham Round etc) and a lot of the training behind it didn’t have much running over the 3-4 hour mark.

It showed a couple of charts illustrating that once these runners got to the 3 hour mark of continuous running, the aerobic and muscular adaptations ‘peaked’ and the trade off of increased injury Vs improved athletic performance diminished… So this 3 hour ‘sweet spot’ unofficially existed.

It did mention that there are lots more benefits than just aerobic when going longer (mental toughness, being prepared for the time on feet etc)… But I was curious if the same applies for cycling?

Is there a point where the long ride ‘peaks’ and you get all the benefits and anything after sees a decrease in overall gains but an increase in injury risk?

We’re talking endurance based rides/ running, all day pace stuff.


No, with cycling we do not have these biomechanical constraints. Running is a different beast, takes such a toll on the body. That’s why 2-a-days and clustering runs on consecutive days is such a common practice in elite or ambitious runners.

Of course, if you have a weak core or a poor bike-fit you can hurt yourself on the bike as well.

Riding loooong is still metabolically demanding. While low intensity the duration may make it demanding. Depending on the purpose of a training block riding loooong can hamper recovery. Hence, there is the issue of diminishing returns if you fail to meet your goals on the other training days.


So are you saying that you could cycle for one long (say 6 hour) endurance ride every week… And as long as it didn’t impact your other planned rides for the week… It would be considered constructive, rather than detrimental to your improvement?

For example, remove the 2 hour Sunday sweet spot and replace with a 6 hour long ride.

Surely there must come a point that you’ve got as much out of that long training ride that to continue would be ‘pointless’ (gainz!?) wise.

It interest me as I have quite a lot of time to train, and I love really long days out on the bike (and fell walking/ running etc… But we’re just talking cycling here).

A lot of the plans are for ‘time crunched’ athletes, but I’ve actually got quite a bit of time on my hands working shifts… Is this where in a recent podcast the team eluded to polarized ‘experimental’ training, linked in to adaptive (similar to where the demand for sweet spot high) came from?

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If you’ve got extra time, adding volume is a good thing, as long as you keep it easy. I don’t think one 6 hour ride a week is particularly much either. If you were doing multiple 6h+ days, then I’d think it becomes too much at some point. I think the limiter is actually how much you can eat, and how quickly you can recover.

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As usual, it always depends. For example, I’ve heard from several sprinters (the likes of Greipel) that doing fairly long rides regularily makes them lose “snap”. Therefore, they cap these rides during race season.

These are the things one has to figure out for oneself, how much training can you absorb in a block of training. However, I would rate frequency higher than duration. Especially when we look at longish rides >3.5h.

It always depends on what the goals are and where one is coming from. Context matters.


Yeh, I totally understand that context can change the response.

Just interesting, so are we saying that the literal, physical impact of running on the body is the limiting factor for long endurance runs… Hence you don’t see many 3 hour plus runs, even in ultra training programs… And that as the impact is so much less during cycling, it’s more down to how much a long ride would impact the rest of your training… From a more aerobic recovery standpoint, over the more physical (muscle, soft tissue, bone fatigue/ recovery needs etc etc)

I’m sure I heard @Nate_Pearson say once that you could get all of your training needs met within a 2 hour session. I’m also sure I heard @Jonathan mention something similar around diminishing returns for longer rides in the same podcast once.

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Yeah to echo what sryke said, context matters and it depends. What kind of time do you have and where are you in your season? Something I’ve discovered is that it’s better to do long rides, especially if you have a consecutive block of them, on the lower side of Z2 and fuel well. I used to stick to the arbitrary 0.7 of FTP, but the fueling costs are higher w minimal difference in adaptations. And I consider long rides 4 or more hrs. I’m starting cx racing in a month or so, so any long rides I’ll be conservative w intensity b/c the cx prep stuff is pretty demanding. But at diff parts of the season I’ll let intensity go higher if I feel good.

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I think thats exactly right, but of course you also need to consider the area of fitness you want to develop…

6hr rides wont deliver the same benefits as SST rides for example - if you want the benefits that long distance endurance rides deliver then all is good, but if you’re looking for other benefits then a long ride might not be what you want to do.

I think this is a very valuable discussion area though, as I agree with you that the vast majority of discussions around training are in the context of fairly limited time, while some of us outliers have more time available and might enjoy a different training approach or simply have te time to do more of the rides many training plans/recommendations ignore.

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Yep, 20hrs/wk for a couple of years now. Difficult to find “guidance”/experiences from outside the pro ranks. Most information out there is geared towards time limited beginners (sort of).

Exactly. Compared to other endurance athletes training volume is quite low for runners. This is reflected in lower mitochondrial density of there muscles (compared to cyclists and other sports).
And this is also one of the reasons why these new carbon sole shoes appear to be such a game changer. It’s not just that they allow faster running. They allow a higher training volume because running in them is not as stressful. Less recovery necessary equates to more time running.


FWIW, I recall two separate interviews with Valverde and Landa saying that unlike many other riders (Bernal for instance comes to mind) they stick to 3hr ride max 4hr and will never go above.
Granted they are massive talents and probably are doing 3 hrs on a daily basis which must give a nice aerobic depth out of sheer consistency.

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Here is a great walkthrough on prep for Masters Nat’s to race win.


I follow him on Strava and he pretty much rides 5-6hrs most days, including a LOT of kj’s of work in many, but not all, his rides. I think it would be fair to characterise his training as that of a full-time pro. It’s something to see!

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There is a study that looked at this. I looked at it a while back but I have no recollection who the author was.

They had a graph showing diminishing returns of the long ride. 3-4 hours was the sweet spot - giving you most of the potential gains. Hour 5 showed diminishing returns and by hour 6 the potential returns were marginal. This seems to track with what we see pro cyclists doing.

Are you training for anything specific? If you love long days then do long days. Why not do what you love?

If you have tons of training time then your training becomes more pro like - tons and tons of easy endurance, a little middle intensity, and a few intervals. Time crunched plans usually swap the easy endurance for more middle intensity and maybe more HIT intervals.


Look at some elites cyclists on Strava. They tend to ride 4-6 hours regularly (like 3-5 times per week). I’ve never really seen them go over 6hr. I believe it’s more about specificity for the events. Pro cyclists race for 4-5 hours (with intensity). Often multiple days in a row (stage races).

I don’t think it makes much sense to train long and slow for something like say 8hrs.

In an actual race (for pros), drafting makes simply riding the mileage/time very easy. They just wait for the key moments of separation (vo2 / anaerobic efforts) to get into the lead/winning group selection.

You might look to the ultra riders for the answer to your question. Like the people who ride across a country in the races so they ride like 12hrs/day. I’d imagine they train long like that too but it just makes no sense for a world tour pro cyclists to get their body ready to ride 8hrs


The study was with rats or mice and only the Velonews podcast guys were drawing these conclusions from the study.

If you refer to a different study please share. I’d be interested to see which parameters they look at to determine the chronic effect of low intensity long distance riding.

Yes, there is a nice paper from the 1990s or so where they looked at the training of Team Telekom. In particular at a spring training camp. Good old East German tradition with consecutive low intensity 7-8hrs rides. You really don’t see this anymore these days.

On the other hand, these days race season lasts for 10 months. And most riders have to perform throughout the year, only the Rogs and Pogs of this worls are allowed to focus. Different demands, makes comparisions difficult.

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Here it is, rats:

No more than six hours

A third study out of the University of Waterloo showed that three hours per day of low-level muscle stimulation was enough to produce near maximal MCT gains in rats. And MCT levels dropped slightly when muscles were chronically stimulated for more than six hours.

Source: Six ways to make your base training better | VeloNews.com

uffff …


Thanks for the replies and conversation, genuinely a really interesting topic to me.

I suppose this is there you cross the line from ‘time crunched’ to polarised/ traditional base conversation. I live in the Lake District and work shifts, so I get big chunks of time off for either road/ riding the passes or when the weather is poor… Gravel bike.

I like the interval/ structured training to be done on the turbo and any Z1/2 or even some SS out on the road.

I’ve just done Namcha on the turbo 10 minutes ago… And I couldn’t bring myself to do more than 1 hour 20 minutes (57 intervals :roll_eyes:)… I love the longer Z2 sort of stuff, I’d happily go out day after day doing that… I Suppose, why I brought up the original topic. Think I might take a look at the polarised plans after I’ve done the Fred Whitton in September.

Maybe even look at traditional base (plus commuting) to scratch that long Z2 ‘effective dose’ aerobic training :thinking:

I’ve always been of the belief (don’t know where i heard it) that prepping for a long distance event/race you should target 80% of the distance you expect in the build up to the event.

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