Short term vs Long term gains: minimum effective dose

Hey all,

I have been debating with myself about the following question: Can a short term peak negatively affect my long term peak? In other words, Can the optimization for short term gain be detrimental to long term gains?

Initially, I thought that fitness would always be “incremental”: the gains from my training will accumulate/compound over time leading to a better performance in the future. This is kind of a greedy approach, I want to optimize for the biggest gain in the short term because they will lead to a better performance in the future.

But then @Chad brings the minimum effective dose (MED) concept and it messed up with my understanding. MED made me wonder whether pursuing the minimum amount of work will that leads to adaptations will be better for a long term goal.

For example, let’s use FTP as a proxy of fitness. If I’m still seeing FTP gains with low volume plans, I should do it until I plateau. Only then I would increase training volume to create more adaptations.

Does it make any sense? Is there any research related to this topic (Chad?)? I still think it is incremental, but I would like to know what you guys think.

Thank you in advance!
Have a great day.

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You really want to tag @ Chad (no space) instead of me.

I’m just a forum moderator, not TR’s head coach. :smiley:

@mcneese.chad Edited my question. Thanks for the heads up!

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Interesting question! I‘m curious what Chad‘s take is on this one…

I agree that the MED angle makes some sense, but it doesn’t fully hold up for me. Using your example, say you are getting FTP gains from a LV plan. What if you can handle the additional load of a MV plan and get bigger gains? Why wouldn’t you go for that? What if you cannot handle the load of a HV plan for extended periods of time? In that scenario the MV plan makes the most sense to me as it gives biggest fitness boost but with a training load that can be tolerated. HV might give short term gains but eventually you’ll drive yourself into the ground.

I think that the MED point of view can be beneficial in that it guards against throwing on too much training load and driving yourself into the ground and counters the ‘more is better’ view. With optimizing for short term gains all the time I think one is trying to walk that line of running the highest load their body can handle and absorb without pushing themself over the edge into non-functional overreaching. I would imagine that is difficult in general and also when trying to be objective about their current state (if self-coaching.)


Thanks Craig.

I have similar thoughts that you described. I think with higher volume, it is easier to mess up your training and it requires way more attention. Let’s not even discuss the higher probability of burnouts and injuries.

That being said, I’m curious to see if there is any study that we can look so we can take an informed decision when we decide our training volume. I would be more than happy if I could find something that answer the following question: :slight_smile:

  • How do the gains curve look like? Let’s say FTP over time based on volume/TSS (TR’s data might be very interesting to analyze from this perspective. This seems to be a very similar to predicting FTP gains based on some rider characteristics and training volume).

Are you assuming all additional volume is going to be Sweet Spot intervals?

Try sticking to the low volume plan and add additional Endurance volume.


Just speculating but what if you look at longer timescale (multiple plans / a season)…
Fictive simplified scenario:

  • LV 1 gives you 5% gain and a following LV 2 (or maybe LV2+ or MV) gives another 5%
  • MV 1 gives you 7% gain and a following MV 2 gives 2% or 3%

So overall you would end up with ~ same gains but

  • in the first example you needed lesser time/stress and/or it’s easier to continue progressing in the second phase (maybe even outperforming second example)
  • in the second example you might have more gains in the first part but it’s harder to progress in the second phase. Maybe even stagnating if you can’t add more stress than MV…

Just fictive as said. I’m sure this happens in the real world when considering all other life factors that get in the way (life stress, nutrition, regeneration…).

Would be interesting to see if that fictive example would also hold true for some athletes even if other factors were taken out of the equation.

EDIT: @Nate_Pearson I’d really like to know if you think that the scenario I described in this post would be something that an adaptive training plan or Thingy1whatever could be tackling…(speaking purely theoretical🙄)


Short term vs long term gains reminds me of a trainingpeaks presentation I saw. They were explaining it as base training where you are shifting your power curve to the right, so maintaining same power for longer, vs build where you are mostly shifting power curve up for certain durations.

The idea is that putting the emphasis first on maintaining the same power for longer will then allow you to increase the power over those longer intervals and make the build more effective.

This presentation by the way:

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Not necessarily. I’m thinking about volume as an approximation for TSS. I didn’t want to add another variable to the question, but I also assume there is some periodization happening.

What I personally noticed is that SSB LV + endurance rides are slightly harder than SSB MV. My current plan of action is to do LV + endurance rides as it gets a little bit harder for me to fully commit to MV plan.

I thought very similarly to you, but I was afraid of tagging @Nate_Pearson :slight_smile: Not sure how much data they can share back to us :smiley:

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Very very interesting, thanks for sharing.

I can attest that SSBMV + a little z2 endurance is much harder than SSBHV.

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and on a related note re: SSB HV

Versus SSB-1 HV, by taking more time (12 weeks vs 6 weeks), I can attest to better gains by substantially increasing the amount of zone2 (aerobic endurance) and sprinkling in a little bit of intensity.

Speaks to both of the points in your subject (long vs short term gains, MED), when looking at 8+ hours/week of cycling. The minimum effective dose may in fact be much less than you would think.

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Very interesting, thanks for sharing your experience. I can’t imagine myself going through HV training schedule (I bet I will change my mind down the road :))

Good point about determining where the minimum effective dose lies.

Trying to really dial down min effective dose can take a leap of faith.

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