The 3 Hour Cycling Week - Is polarized training optimal for the time crunched?

Currently very time crunched and wondering how to get the most out of my 2-3 hours of weekly cardio, it seems clear that I want to do two hard VO2 max intervall workouts (I’m more of a sprinter/pursuiter and will do some explosive leg strength work 2x pr week too, goals are 1800W 5s, 1000w 1 min and 500w 5 min power @ 86 kg) but I’m not sure how the remaining time should be spent or if I need to spend it at all.

I’ve seen the studies showing superior results for polarized over sweet spot, but I get the feeling some may be comparing SS overtraining to HIIT + recovery rides (I would love to see control groups with HIIT VS same amount of HIIT + zone 2), although one study where riders only rode approx 7 hours pr week showed polarized helped TT times 20% vs 10% for threshold training.

I’m considering three workouts pr week amounting to about 3 hours.

  1. VO2 max 30 min: 3 x 5x30/30s with 3 min rest All-out efforts
  2. VO2 max 30 min: 4 x 3min with 3 min rest 120% FTP
  3. Zone 2 2 hour ride <75% of HR max (perhaps throw in some form sprints…).

Or would I likely be better off doing two 1 hour sweet spot workouts instead of the Zone 2 work given that the total weekly work load is relatively low? What about just doing three VO2 max intervall sessions to save even more time?

Back in 2014-2015 I got a decent ftp by doing two really hard “vo2” spin classes a week, plus an outside ride or two. It was “good enough” fitness, and the tradeoff was I didn’t have any real endurance or ability to ride at FTP for 30-70 minutes. No matter, I didn’t have time for 3 hour rides on the weekend.

The TR Maintenance or Time Crunch plans will give you decent fitness on 3-5 hours/week:


Thanks! I’ve edited my response, my goal is not so much to build FTP but focus on 1 and 5 minute power. So where do I put the 1-2 hours I have left after the two VO2 max sessions?

I think I would do a SS and/or Threshold workout instead of the z2. With 3-4 full days of rest, I don’t think that will be too much intensity and I don’t think you will have enough volume to really maximize the z2 stuff. I think this is really the argument for SS plans. The low volume sweet spot plans are probably perfect for you.

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I average about 12 hours a week on the bike throughout the year which includes off weeks and come nowhere close to those numbers. I should pick up another sport if you’re doing that off 3 hours a week.


If you have 4 hours a week sweet sport low volume or time crunch plan better?

FWIW and counter-intuitively, my best 1-4+ minute power came after doing a LOT of aerobic base work (6-10 hours/week total riding). So if you only have 4 hours/week for cycling, I’d go with the 3rd workout being a long zone2 ride with or without 5-sec all-out sprints every 6-8 minutes. Just like in your original post. You can play around with different intervals for the vo2 workouts.

So one could get away with the 2 x 30 min VO2 max sessions + 1 x 1 hr sweet spot ride then 4 full rest days a week for a max bang-for-the-buck 2 hours of cardio/week. Intuitively makes more sense than z2 but who knows…

Have some way to go, currently at 1500w 5s, 745w 1 min (but did 901w on a stationary bike with the help of sodium bicarbonate :>) and 407 watt 5 minutes (stationary bike, never tested it properly outside). Nothing too impressive for my BW but enough to snatch some flatish KOMs :stuck_out_tongue:

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Have you looked at the pre-defined plans? The SSBLV2 would probably be a good predessesor to Short Power Build Low Volume.

You probably do want a polarized plan for your purposes. Sweetspot and threshold will detract from your sprinting abilities.

You know that’s what my low key hero Callum Brown says too “I was close to doing it last year but honestly the training to add an extra 100w was doing loads of zone 2 (5 zone model).” He hits >1000w for 1 minute 10 kg under my bodyweight 1000 watts for 1min proof

Yeah seems a bit counter-intuitive but might turn out to be correct. So basically 2 x strength workouts a week with heavy squats and lunges followed by 2x VO2 max workouts and 1 x 2 hour zone 2 ride for a total of 4 hours of training pr week incl strength. 4 full rest days.

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I’ve heard the same, I’d like to get to 1500W 5-sec sprint as I’ve got decent leg speed and raw power but its going to take time. My numbers pale in comparison LOL, hoping to see some progression on my own 1-min (540W best) and 4-min (340W best). Those durations are really three different systems - neuromuscular for the sprinting, anaerobic capacity for the 1-min, and power at aerobic capacity for the 4-6 minute vo2max duration.

Best wishes for your training!

Thanks likewise! Here’s an article on energy systems you might find interesting

The way I read it is that you need more fast twitch muscle to excel at up to 15 second sprints (bigger stronger legs), up to 1 minute more legs will also do the trick work (higher capacity for glycolysis) then from 1 - 5 minutes VO2 max becomes critical and you need bigger lungs, here too big legs can slow you down… Lastly after 90 min or so glycogen stores come into play.

I’m flattered haha, this has made my week ! (*Calum not Callum btw)

Those numbers are incredible, you must have been training far more than 3h per week before performing them ??

To talk about your original question… 3h per week is some serious time constraint. Your original 3 workouts per week in your question could perhaps work if the Z2 ride was longer. Can you fit in a couple 60-90min supra-threshold workouts during the week but then manage a 3-5h Z2 ride on the weekend ? It would be hugely more beneficial !


No not been training more than that but used to do some weightlifting before corona, biked everywhere and erged too (Jason Osborne seems to be doing well on Zwift!) - keep in mind I’m 86 kg and my FTP is trash.

Why do you think Z2 rides need to be long? Could they be spread out say 30 min Z2 pr day plus the two intervall sessions?

I’m wondering if with 3 hours whether 2 hours sweet spot Z3/4 + 2x30 min intervall workouts would outperform 2 hours of Z2 + the same intervalls since the total TSS is relatively low?

Good news though, I may have more time in march and could do a 3 hour Z2 ride pr week then, that said, I train to live and don’t live to train so I’m after time-efficiency :slight_smile:

Even at 86kg your numbers are really big. You FTP cant be THAT low if your doing 407w for 5min haha.

Look up the podcast by That Triathlon Show

Q&A #51 - What are the benefits of long rides? Can you get the same effects by pre-fatiguing the muscles with intensity?

Its a good overview of why you might want to do a long ride instead of multiple short rides.

To be honest while you might be able to maintain your fitness I doubt you’ll be able to increase it on only 3h per week. Not that you shouldn’t try, I’d love to be wrong!

Your clearly super anaerobic so much like myself, if you want to improve, your low hanging fruit will come from aerobic training. So sweetspot and Z2, not things over threshold.

You are clearly talented but like you said “I train to live and dont live to train”, so dont chase it if you dont want to. Lifes too short and cycling can be a serious time sink.

Think you’re right and thanks for the tips - aerobic training will be best, I get the feeling that if time constrained sweet spot will give the most bang for the buck combined with strength training (squats + lunges) given the ample amount of rest (days) in between workouts and low overall TSS. 30 min steady sweet spot make me a lot sorer the next day than 30 min of 3 min intervalls and I like the way SS makes me feel mentally a bit better too.

Full disclosure the 407 watts was on an echo bike where you also use your arms, the echo bike is famous for having the hardest watts of all the fanbikes (assbike, schwinn AD4) so they’re not easy watts making me belive it’s a fair reflection of my VO2 max, but using that bike I didn’t build a lot of muscular endurance in my legs which is what I have to fix now on a turbo with my legs crapping out before my lungs (got the tacx boost after destroying my lifeline TT 02 in a sprint - so far so good although it smells a bit burnt at times lol).

Full full disclosure: also to take some sprint KOMs… Need to maximize my 1 to 2 minute power hear 1 minute is 50% aerobic already, to get to 1000W for 1 minute I need both bigger stronger legs and lactate treshold…

Ultimately I think you’re going to have to find a compromise between the resistance training and the on-bike training.

I also agree that the real stretch goal for you is going to be 500 W for 5 minutes. Even at 86 kg, that’s massive, and not aligned with your other targets.

Many, that’s a lousy chart. 100% of VO2max for 100 minutes??

When I look at your numbers and the time you spend riding the question is do you have any fatigue. Doing three rides a week…is intensity of your rides a problem? If we have very limited time…we end up with a lot of recovery off bike. This would be impacted by what you do off bike. We grow by stressing systems creating muscle etc. I think there is more benefit from more stress on the bike if you only have three hours. I dont think the 2 hour Z2 ride, while useful, would be the best use of your time. If you had more time more Z2 would help but there has to be a tradeoff with intensity and volume. Is this volume too low unless we up the intensity?