Volume vs intensity responders?

Time and time again, I hear people saying that they respond better to volume while others say intensity. So is this a thing?

How does one come to that conclusion? Is it even possible to figure this out while following a TR plan? What can I do to figure out what I respond to the best?

Or are these people just getting the needs of their chosen discipline confounded with their phenotype? For example a cyclocrosser will be more likely to claim that he responds better to intensity while someone doing long events will be more likely to claim that he responds better to volume.


It’s a good question, and lately I’m noticing folks favoring a more traditional high volume z2 base vs sweet spot. While I don’t disagree with z2 base training, I personally don’t know how much I’d get out of it if I were limited to 10-12hrs per week. So for me, I like the intensity of SSB and a reasonably good volume around 10hrs. I’d love to do a high volume z2 base to compare to myself though!

Testing, testing, and more testing. If you are familiar with structuring a training block, try different loading cycles of 3 weeks on 1 week off. Do a polarized, sweetspot, and high volume Z2 blocks with recovery weeks and a ramp test after each one and just see how you feel during the weeks and then look at your ftp gains. If you feel like garbage doing polarized or super high intensity and your ftp went up the same as when you did all Z2, then you respond better to volume. I HATE sweetspot but it gives me the biggest gains for example. Its a perfect time to test your body right now and gives some freshness to your training.


Even in controlled experiments with multiple subjects, scientists can’t clearly demonstrate that people are responders or non-responders to exercise training at all. What are the odds, then, that any individual athlete or coach will truly be able to determine for themselves what type of training is best for them?

What can be said is that if something is not working, there’s no point in continuing to beat your head against the wall.


I think one issue with this is that many people - due to jobs, relationships, kids etc - simply do not have the time to adopt a truly high volume approach, so to a greater or lesser extent are forced to use intensity.

It’s not merely what you respond to, it’s what you can actually do. For example, if a scientist could somehow test me and tell me that I’d actually respond best to 20 hours a week on the bike, it wouldn’t be of much use: I just don’t have that kind of time more than a few weeks a year.


After 40 years of this junk, I can say that I respond much better to high volume than to mid or low volume + intensity.

Feb, after 12 weeks of 15hrs/300mi a week and two sweet spot days: 5min power of 420w

July, after a first “peak” in April, then some base, then 8 weeks of VO2 intervals: 5 min power, 420w.

Much of this is that I’m 54 and not getting any better. But I went just as well off of a crap ton of volume as I did off of less volume, more recovery days, and two days a week of high intensity.

My power profile is also pretty flat, with absolutely terrible 5sec and 1min, so there’s that…my phenotype is going to love lots of low intensity.


@Nate_Pearson If there is some more research to back this up, the volume v intensity metrics seem to be exactly in the TR wheel house.
You guys have long talked about how TSS is a useful metric but has major limitations.
You have the actual intensity and volume metrics. You could do this with IF directly and not just tss/hr?
This has a clear “Does this make people faster” if it holds up under testing.

How cool would it be to be able to put a number on questions like should I do more? More easy stuff? More hard stuff? Should i actually be doing more/less harder/easier?

If you actually see this and are not already hacking together a python script to see if holds water with a few 1000 users real data I am going to need to take your nerd card. Even if it would take more resources than you currently have to build it into the product it feels like it would just be an afternoon of hacking to find a bunch of users who changed volume/intensity/didnt change year over year and do a back testing on this as a valid theory? Seriously, the number of studies that could be done with your dataset…

Can you build us an A/B test platform that lets Chad modify existing workouts and give the changed version to a BUNCH of people and see if its better or worse? Swap slightly different workouts into SSB and A/B test to find the one that works 5% better on average over 1,000 runs? I am sure lots of us here would be more than happy to be test subjects on this sort of thing.


Found this article, though I’m sure there are many contradictory ones that make good arguments too. If you took that at face value you’d probably think that type of base training was obsolete for anyone but a GC rider. I’m debating on trying traditional base, just don’t have the time to commit to HV and unsure if MV will benefit me as much as SSB MV

In many fields the debate between academics and practitioners is never ending.

The academic results may indicate high doses of VO2 max work yields the best response to test subjects. For me, in practice, too much VO2 max work leads me to skip workouts and eventually my FTP falls.

The controlled experiments are great to read but at the end of the day I do think that you as an athlete should be able to determine what does or does not work for you with enough time and analysis. I’m not saying you have to try every form of training to find what works “the best” for you. But I do think athletes are capable of determining that some things work better than others for their bodies and subsequent results.


And how are you supposed to do that, when it has been shown that a given individual doesn’t respond consistently to the exact same training program?

I’d think it’s partly genetic and depends on your muscle fibre type, but also on your training history. Wouldn’t rule out a nutrition/digestion factor too (which also could be partly genetic).

It has been shown by whom?

It’s an interesting thought, but I don’t know if it’s productive to label yourself as one or the other. Likely most of us will respond differently to volume and intensity at different points in the season and through our athletic career, and ‘responding’ is for most people defined in regards to a specific event/goal, so that in itself is subjective.
Then you’ve also got to account for a tendency to push a little harder and maintain a higher level of consistency with an approach you enjoy more, or believe you’re better at. My initial response was to say I respond better to intensity, but they also happen to be the kind of sessions I prefer and that I find easier to fit into my lifestyle, so I can do more work overall. However, I think if I applied the same consistency and motivation to a high-volume block I’d probably see big gains too, and I think for most amateurs that makes a bigger difference.

Ideally speaking, I think it’s best to avoid generic distinctions (unless it’s an actual physical limiter) and look at the whole picture- your history, circumstances, goals etc.

For me, it came from doing a decade+ of volume with no real structure before moving to a much lower hour, much higher intensity TR plan. Speaking as N=1, my FTP went up quite a lot from two cycles of SSB even after coming off quite a lot of ‘just ride your bike a lot.’


I keep writing wanting to answer a question you didn’t ask. :smiley: “dudes”, amiright? So after starting over for the third time. hahahahaha. I hope my opinion here sort of addresses the actual question.

Anyway. I think there is an argument that there are some genotypes that would naturally prefer higher intensity work. But one can shift their phenotype. If you think of fitness as accretive you can imagine that a longstanding phenotype could create a sense of ‘the kind of work I’m good at’. But phenotype can be changed through consistent effort.

Even subtle differences in previous fitness regimes can shift your bodies ability to withstand and maintain particular efforts. When an ancillary skill/system is relatively weaker (so far as to possibly be a limiter) then the work itself can create an imbalance whose output feels like ‘non-optimal’ gains, or injury can ensue.

I’d say the general, “I respond to this better” idea is more based around their bodies natural reaction to that type of work based upon the existing physical system in place.

I’m going to take a wild swing and say, That is why these plans are as focused on progressive overload and even the internal text for form sprints, posture, etc.

I’d guess that if you follow the plan through, by the end, if you are consistent your body will be better able to withstand that type of effort. I have no science to prove any of this. :roll_eyes:

However one thing is pretty plainly true, there is a limit to intensity, volume (in humans) is mostly limited by available time.

We’re approaching this in a few different ways and it gets pretty complicated pretty fast.

I can tell you that we definitely want to crack this nut and put it into the platform.


@JustinDoesTriathlon so you did 10 years of base training, then moved to the build phase. :smiley:

I’m pretty fascinated by this and I’m currently executing a similar test with a lot fewer years of riding behind me. Going from 9-12 hours a week without a plan to 5-6 sweet-spot mid-volume. So far I’ve found the gains consistent if a bit slower than I expected. But I am just finishing my first build block, so next week! we shall see!

It definitely feels very different. I find my legs have more fatigue than when I rode ‘wild’, but also it feels a bit like I’m able to recover my heart rate more quickly between intervals. So maybe improved aerobic fitness allowing me to push my legs harder.

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:smiley: Basically. My riding essentially consisted of “Just below threshold for 60-90min” and “Super slow for 3-5 hours.” It wasn’t useless by any means, but I definitely was at that point of “I’m kinda just ‘here’ and nothing’s really changing.”

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Gotta machine learn this :poop: with heart rate, power and tss across different predicted energy systems from within the training data set and find classifications of riders by predicted phenotype. :exploding_head:

easy peasy AI squeezy.

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