Minimum time to train to see benefits

Hello! Like most dads, time is at a minimum and sometimes even the low volume stretches things a bit. It’s been preached on the podcast that you don’t need to do 5 hour training rides to train for a 5 hour race, since the efficiency of the training helps get you there. While I believe this, it does seem like there is a minimum time commitment before the gains become (significantly) less. For example, I’m going to cruz on 3.5 hours per week, and this is indeed attainable. But I often wonder why I can’t, say, just do 30 or 45 minute workouts on the days I need to do an hour. I assume the workouts would be harder since an hour’s worth of work needs to fit into a smaller amount of time, but that’s fine by me. Ultimately this would require using the alternate workout every session and lowering the time. But if it was possible to gain the needed fitness that way, then I assume it would be given as an option when you select the low volume plan. Common sense tells me that, as an extreme example, I can’t just pedal all out for a minute and call it a day. So perhaps 3.5 hours per week IS the magic low end threshold and I’m answering my own question. But I am curious as to how many higher intensity 30 minute workouts I can substitute for an hour. Maybe it’s because these shorter more intense workouts (almost like a HIIT situation) become deleterious to conditioning and there aren’t enough days for the increased recovery that is needed? Hopefully this is making sense and if it’s been previously discussed, please include a link if possible. Thanks everyone!

I find minimal exercise dose studies super interesting. Of course you can train 30 minutes instead of an hour. What’s the worst that can happen? You are a bit slower in the end?

Just remember that 20-30-40 minutes on the bike is a million times better than nothing.

That will work to a small degree but you can’t keep lowering the time and upping the intensity. At some point, you are over threshold and doing VO2max workouts exclusively.


Problem there is you’re going to be doing all high intensity with little to no aerobic base.

But I’m in the same boat. 3 kids under 5 and a career. I get about an hour an evening and can scoot out for a few hours on the weekend. It’s all about making it the most efficient hour you can. There’s days I can get out for a ride during the week but I still think an hour on the trainer is getting more work than an hour on the road or trail. It’s not as fun, but there’s no coasting, red lights, buddies to run into and start chatting… it’s just an hour of work


I have a friend who stays pretty fast (275 watt ftp) on 3.5 hours of cycling through the winter plus some gym time (5.5 hours total).

All he does is:
Tues intervals (3x7min @ FTP)
Thurs intervals (3x7min @ FTP)
Saturday 90 minutes of endurance
He also fits in 1 hour of weight lifting and 1 hour of swimming.

He designed this bare bones FTP training program himself. I once asked why 21 minutes of interval. He laughed and didn’t really have an answer. He probably read it in a book or something a long time ago.

With that kind of time I would probably focus on simply maintaining as much fitness as possible without trying to progress anything. Jesse Coyle did a nice video on what it takes to maintain cycling fitness:

A sample week would look something like:

- TUE: 90 mins ride with 6x5m @ 95-100%
- FRI: 120 mins ride with 9x30s MAX

Repeated indefinitely until you have time for more volume. So no progression of time in zone or power targets.

TR has plans for seriously time crunched enthusiasts under “Training Plans” / “Specialty Phase” / “Enthusiast”


Im pretty fast with a 40-50 ctl

My ex coach’s workouts were all sub an hour, based on the benefits I saw I think you will too. Usually anything is better than nothing. I’m less time crunched at the moment but when I am time crunched I use the ‘Alternates’ function; sounds like its built for you.

How to use Workout Alternates – TrainerRoad

another audible he could make for some variety and stick with similar goals would be if he did:

Tues 3x7 at FTP + 5-10% (keep the vo2max relatively trained)
and then Thurs combined into one longer 20minute interval!

just a thought! (and use that swimming hour elsewhere on the bike! lol)

I’ve often wondered the same thing as I am limited to 45 minute workouts (due to the agony that my seat/setup causes!!). I’m an unfit beginner with a very low FTP so my opinion is not worth much but I’ve managed to increase my progression levels within SS, Tempo, and Threshold zones without going over 45 mins. And given training 3 times a week, over the course of 28 days the progression levels go up, then AI FTP increases the FTP and then you can go again. Of course, I’ve no idea how long this can go on (probably 3-4 months?) or if it would be adequate for a more developed rider.

Often, adaptive training will prescribe a 1 hour ride that is a lower Difficulty than the 45 minute ride I have chosen, so it seems odd to me that I would spend more overall time to do less time in zone.

I have to add that the TR sessions are supplemental to my key sessions on the weekend which are multi-hour dirtbike rides… so that may skew things somewhat.

Dad/husband here. I understand the problem of balancing family and hobby. My solution was early morning workouts. I can get 90-120mins in @ 5am before anyone is up. This was the only acceptable solution as I don’t want to sacrifice time with my children/wife. I try to get a long (~3hr) ride in once a fortnight, I always ‘ask’ spousal approval but is granted as I am back in time for breakfast. This is sometimes 2 rides in one day (e.g. 5-7am, 12-1pm).

I can say colloquially that riding your bike is better [for fitness] than not riding your bike.

If you are riding less than 15hrs a week and performance is your goal then adding volume via endurance riding wherever you can will be beneficial. That could be 2-a-day rides (no matter the length) or adding 5/10/15mins to the end of a session when you can. Adding 10mins/4times a week would be ~20% more volume on ~3.5hrs. That’s not insignificant.

Volume or intensity are broadly speaking the 2 dials you have to turn, when one goes up the other needs to inversely come down.

If 3.5hrs was the cap and it were me I’d be do something like the Jesse Coyle rides above, but split into several hard/easy days if 45m was my ride time limit. And try and get the odd long(er) ride in as well as those 5/10/15m ‘extras’.


Thanks for all the feedback!!! Great interval advice for short workouts and the Jesse Coyle rides were really informative and helpful. As was svens’ seriously crunched recommendation.

Again, 3.5 hrs per week is 99% attainable, I was just curious as to the science behind why the low(est) volume plan is set there, especially if 30 and 45 minute options are available. My take home points:

  1. “Problem there is you’re going to be doing all high intensity with little to no aerobic base” (Chawski)

  2. “…you cant keep loweirng the time and upping the intensity. At some point, you are over threshold and doing VO2max workouts exclusively” (AJS914)

  3. Getting up at 5 to get a workout, or anything, done without unanticipated interruptions is crucial for parents

  4. Any workout is better than no workout. Consistency, consistency, consistency.

It is completely path dependent.

  1. You are doing 3.5 hours consistently and seeing gains. If you lower to 3 hours, you will likely still see gains but they will most likely come slower (3.5 hrs to 3 hours is a 14% reduction in volume).
  2. You are doing 3.5 hours consistently and have plateaued. By simply choosing shorter alternates, it is unlikely you will see gains.

To your observation about 3.5 hours; it is not a magic number so much as an assumption by TR that most people can fit an extra thirty minutes in on the weekend.

If you bike hurts within 45 minutes on the trainer something is very off in the fit and or your cycling equipment

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With respect to the discomfort, I’d suggest review of my FAQ as a starting point to see what might be the root cause(s) of the problem(s).

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I dont think that is entirely true. IMO there is a training effect on your butt that occurs during the first weeks and months of more serious riding. I remember back when I started progressing beyond 2-3 mile commutes, 30 miles rides would destroy my backside. That faded away over a summer of riding without changing a thing.

But 45 minutes and then needing to stop is something different from at least 90 minutes for 30 miles.

Maybe his butt needs to get used but maybe something is wrong that can be fixed

Yea it’s entirely possible. Barring a really bad saddle…if he’s only weeks in and it’s just the butt I think it probably just needs time.

If other stuff hurts…yea could be anything.

My go to no time to ride workout is 30 minutes with 3 all out sprints -

5 min w/u
15 minutes 70% FTP/zone 2
3x20 second all out maximum effort sprint with 3 minutes rest after each.

If I hit the sprints hard enough I can get 40 TSS and the overall intensity factor is .85-.90

I’ve done this workout dozens of times sporadically over the past few years and while its only “as needed” a/k/a no time, I’m pretty sure if I ONLY did this particular workout 5 times a week, I’d be in decent shape.

The root cause is mostly likely that I have a cheap bike, a random seat, and I’m too fat to ride in a “normal” roadie position so more weight is going through the seat. There is something wrong though as it’s not just getting used to as it doesn’t get any better and it’s VERY painful. Odd thing is, I can take the same bike outside, and it doesn’t get uncomfortable for at least 90-120 mins.

Don’t want this to derail an otherwise interesting thread but thank you for the input. I do need to sort it out as I really enjoy TR.