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Training volume in endurance sports

We discuss how much and how often you need to train during your endurance training season, by focusing on the frequency and duration of your workouts.

We all have an unfortunate habit of assuming that more is always better – more knowledge is better than less knowledge, more money is better than less money, a faster car is better than a slower car. This problem is often more pronounced in successful people, who have spent their entire lives doing more and getting more out of the world. However, despite working in many situations, more isn’t always better. More has the potential to lead to a reduction in quality while doing things to excess can also lead to problems such as addiction.


This is the fourth in our series of articles on our training philosophy, check out the others here –

  1. Our philosophy
  2. How to start endurance training – define your baseline
  3. Endurance training and racing – finding your goal
  4. Training volume in endurance sports
  5. Endurance training zones – intensity in endurance racing
  6. Endurance training plan – how to periodize training

Endurance athletes are particularly prone to such thinking – planning to run for 26 miles, swim for 2.4 miles, and cycle for 112 miles, clearly shows that a person sees some value in the concept of more! This often extends to the volume of training an athlete does – it’s only natural to assume that 12 hours training is better than 11 hours training because 12 is more than 11. However, that fails to take a holistic approach to a training schedule – focussing on the quantity of training, rather than the quality of training.

Quantity vs quality

This debate between quantity and quality occurs in numerous other aspects of our lives. We usually come down on the side of quantity, because it’s much easier to identify quantity than it is quality. Imagine that you are working as a manager in a company and you have a choice between two prospective employees – one will do 40 hours of average work a week, while the other will do 2 hours of exceptional work each week and sit around doing nothing for the other 38 hours.

Every instinct in your body will probably tell you to hire, the worker who will do 40 hours each week because that is a greater quantity and thus, sounds better. However, in many cases, you may actually be better off getting the 2 hours of exceptional work, illustrating the difficulty that we have of selecting high-quality over, high quantity.

Volume vs intensity

The debate between quality and quantity in endurance sports can be simply expressed as – training volume (how much and how often) vs training intensity (how hard). Clearly, both are important, and you will never be able to complete an endurance race without some training volume. However, we believe that the intensity of your training is more important than how much you train. We think that you should judge success according to the quality of the training that you do, as opposed to the amount that you do.

So, instead of seeking to increase the amount that you train each week, we believe that you should seek to improve the quality of your training over time. This is why a periodized training plan is so vital, it allows you to improve the quality of your training in a coherent way and gives structure to your overall schedule. Endurance sports are all about doing the right things, doing them right, and doing them right consistently!

Enjoy the journey

This approach will save you time because you won’t have to keep adding volume to your training schedule each week; ensure that you don’t over-train; and allow you to stay motivated for your training each week. Endurance training is a journey, and you have to enjoy the journey because racing is a very small part of your overall commitment to endurance sports.

Every athlete has training they enjoy and training they do because they have to, and they don’t enjoy so much. Do the training you love, remind yourself why you do it and hopefully, it’ll all come good for you.

Alistair Brownlee, double Olympic champion in triathlon

In this article, we will explain the different parameters that you build your training plan around. Examining two of the following ideas in more detail –

  • How much should I train? – Training duration
  • How often should I train? – Training frequency
  • How hard should I train? – Training intensity

So, if we leave the last variable out for now (more about intensity here), and focus on duration and frequency…

Duration

Duration refers to how many hours you can commit to training. This is usually a highly personal decision, which is impacted by your friends, family and work commitments. Only you can know how many hours that you can commit, however, it’s important to be consistent – there’s no point in training 20 hours one week and 0 the next. 

As we saw in the article on goals, you generally need to commit the following numbers of hours a week to training to prepare for a race –

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  • 6-10 Supersprint/sprint
  • 8-12 Sprint/Olympic/Middle distance
  • 10-12 Middle and long distance
  • 10-14 Long distance

However, this needs to be divided over the sports. Typically, for a triathlon, you’ll need to do double the amount of cycling than the other sports – so, if you plan to train for 8 hours a week, then you need to commit 4 hours to cycling, 2 hours to running and 2 hours to swimming.

Frequency

As a general rule, it’s better to train for a short time and often, than for a long time and seldom. As we said earlier, endurance training is consistent work overtime. You have to gradually build your skills and fitness levels to do well in endurance sports.

Thus, your workouts should reflect this – even if you have scheduled your workouts a certain way that is not possible on a particular day – switch it to another day or shorten it so it can fit into your life.

Volume – the combination of frequency and duration

The training volume is what it is. If you have committed to training a certain number of hours on average, that is your base. Try to stick to this base as much as possible, to avoid the damage that can be done by overtraining or undertraining.  After that, you portion it out during your week to work out training frequency. Remember, when you are short on time, the recipe is to train more often (frequency) with a shorter duration, than to save everything until the weekend (less frequent with a high duration).

Finally, you have to take into account the intensity of the workout. Imagine that you are doing a really tough running session on Tuesday morning. Then, we do not recommend that you do another hard session in the evening. If you are doing two sessions close to each other, see to it that they match so that you can get as much out of it as possible. Training volume in endurance sports is very important. Regardless of if you are training for a sprint distance or a long distance, all endurance sports are built around training in higher volumes at a lower intensity.

Start training smarter

Our digital service will help develop a highly individualized training program. It seeks to understand you as an athlete and then help you find the right duration, frequency and intensity for your endurance training journey. If you’re interested in finding out more, then fill in the form below, or sign up and start training smarter.

If you are a swimrunner, use this form instead.

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  • In case we need to contact you for follow up questions.
  • Training

  • Enter the date you think you are ready to start with structured training.
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  • Racing

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