How Short and Easy Workouts Make You Faster (And Why You Usually Shouldn’t Skip Them)
Every workout in a training plan is there for a reason. Sometimes, the purpose is obvious— long threshold workouts prepare you for a time trial, while criterium racers benefit from high-intensity repeats. But some plans also include relatively easy, hour-long endurance spins between harder days. What’s the point of these workouts, and is it ok to skip them?
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Mid-Week Endurance Workouts
If you’ve ever followed a mid- or high-volume TrainerRoad training plan, you know them well: mid-week endurance workouts. Exemplified by workouts like Pettit, these sessions can offer a welcome relief from the hard efforts of the day before. But at an hour long and an intensity ranging up to 60% or 70% of FTP, these workouts certainly aren’t true recovery rides. They can often feel unexpectedly challenging, especially if your legs are already tired.
The seemingly ambiguous purpose and deceptive difficulty of these workouts mean some athletes tend to skip them. And while it’s true that they aren’t quite as important to your plan’s outcome as more intense discipline-specific sessions, they’re still included in your plan for a reason, and completing them regularly can help make you faster. Let’s take a look at how.
- Every workout in your training plan is there for a reason, but some workouts are more important than others.
- Midweek endurance workouts add beneficial volume without adding much additional fatigue.
- Completing these workouts regularly helps reinforce consistency, and consistency makes you faster.
- Endurance workouts benefit your aerobic fitness and are great opportunities for experimentation.
- If your schedule changes or you’re feeling extra tired, skip midweek endurance workouts before skipping your plan’s discipline-specific, high-intensity workouts.
Balancing Volume and Intensity
At the most basic level, every training plan balances volume– the total time you spend training, with intensity– how hard you’re working as you train. The right mix stimulates productive adaptations that make you faster without leaving you overly fatigued.
Broadly speaking, volume and intensity are inversely related in training. As you add more time on the bike, you’ll need to dial down the intensity to avoid overdoing it. Conversely, if you reduce your training volume, you’ll need to increase the intensity of your workouts to achieve a meaningful improvement in your fitness.
The physiological effects on your body from high- and low-intensity training aren’t exactly the same, but studies show that when used strategically the two approaches can lead to comparable results for your real-world performance. This is why low-volume training plans include lots of intense workouts, which maximize the impact of less training time. Mid- and high-volume plans have more time to work with, but since your body can only tolerate so much hard training, that additional time is mostly occupied with the type of low-intensity endurance workouts this article is focused on.
Consistency, Aerobic Improvements, and More
Minute-for-minute, endurance workouts don’t affect your fitness as much as high-intensity training, but they’re significantly more impactful than not riding at all. Completing these workouts as scheduled in your training plan adds up to several additional hours of low-intensity volume each week. Over time, this can have a considerable positive impact on your aerobic fitness and performance.
Perhaps most importantly, endurance workouts help to reinforce a crucial subjective aspect of training: consistency. Our data shows that regardless of experience level, the biggest factor in athlete improvement is consistent training. And if you think about it, this makes sense—fitness is never static, and regular workouts (even easy ones) sustain the adaptations that make you faster. There’s also a powerful psychological component that comes with making consistent training a part of your routine; completing as many of your scheduled workouts as possible maintains a feeling of positive forward momentum throughout the season.
There are also other numerous smaller benefits that come with endurance training. Improvements in muscular capillarization, aerobic enzymes, and fat metabolism can occur as a result of even relatively short endurance rides. These workouts aid with lymph removal, helping to clear the waste products of muscular activity and repair necessitated by higher-intensity training. They enhance nutrient delivery to the muscles and aid the repair and resilience of connective tissues. And for athletes who experience sluggishness and a decline in endorphins from taking days off, the muscle priming effect of endurance workouts can help to stave off these unpleasant feelings.
Finally, endurance workouts offer a low-stakes chance to experiment. If you’re interested in incorporating some morning fasted rides into your training routine, these workouts are the ideal candidates because they generally don’t require significant fueling. Low-intensity rides are also great for verifying and fine-tuning your bike fit; with reduced tension in your legs more weight shifts to your undercarriage, quickly revealing underlying discomfort or fit issues.
Get the right workout, every time
with training that adapts to you.
Skipping Endurance Workouts
We’ve spent this entire blog post explaining how midweek endurance workouts can benefit your fitness, why they’re included in your training plan, and why it is a good idea to consistently complete them. But with all that in mind, there actually is a compelling reason why you might choose to skip these workouts from time to time.
That reason relates to the relative importance of workouts within your training plan. Endurance workouts add up to help make you faster over time, but individual low-intensity rides aren’t going to make or break your fitness. The tougher discipline-specific workouts included in your training plan each week are the most important component of your training, and you should always make completing these workouts your first priority. If real life forces you to temporarily reduce your training schedule, skip your midweek endurance workouts before eliminating your more consequential sessions.
The same holds true if you find yourself unexpectedly tired. Endurance workouts aren’t as easy as true recovery rides, and they can be enough to run you down when you’re already on the brink. If skipping a planned endurance ride and getting some extra rest leaves you better prepared for your next high-intensity workout, feel free to do so. Ample rest can improve the overall quality of your training, and a midweek endurance session is ok to skip when you need to recover.
Midweek endurance workouts are not as individually important as other high-intensity or discipline-specific workouts in your training plan. If your schedule changes or you’re feeling fatigued, don’t feel bad about occasionally skipping an endurance workout in favor of more successfully completing a higher-priority workout in the coming days. But remember that if your training plan includes midweek endurance workouts, it does so for a host of good reasons. These rides reinforce consistency, add to your aerobic conditioning, and build beneficial volume on top of your scheduled intensity. Completing them regularly can help make you a faster, more well-rounded cyclist.