Training Volume for Endurance Sports

June 7, 2010

Training volume is the amount of work that is performed. Many coaches and athletes use the number of miles or kilometers covered as the measure of training volume. While this is an acceptable measure it does not always give the full picture of training. For example if athlete A does a 20 km workout in 90 minutes and athlete B covers the same 20 km in 60 minutes they are not doing the same workout and won’t get the same training effect even though the volume as measured by distance is the same. Time is a better measure of training volume as it is allows athletes of varying level to be compared on an equal level.

Annual training volume has a direct effect on performance. For many athletes work, school, and family commitments influence their training volume, limiting them to four or five hours of training per week. As in almost every sport you get out of rowing what you put in, your training goals and time commitment need to be compatible; expecting to win an Olympic medal by training six hours per week is unrealistic as is winning a national championship on three hours per week of training. Table 1 shows the desired training volume by competitive level. In order to continue to improve within your competition level or move to a higher level you must increase training volume from year to year. Even at the elite level there has been a steady increase in total training volume over the past 30 years, increasing from and average of 924 hours per year in the 1970’s to 1128 hours per year in the late 1990’s, a 20% increase.

Increasing training volume must be done gradually, rapid increases in training volume can quickly lead to overtraining and injuries; this is very common when an athlete makes the jump from one competitive level to another without having planned for the transition the previous year. High school students who jump to top college programs may experience a doubling of their training volume without being adequately prepared. A college student who makes the jump to a national team often finds himself or herself in the same situation particularly if they make the jump in an Olympic year when training volume tends to be the highest. As a rule of thumb annual increases in training volume should not exceed 5-10% of the previous year’s volume. If you are currently a high school athlete who eventually wants to row at national level it is going to take at least five years of progressive volume increases to get there.

Competitive Level Training Volume for Men (hrs/year) Training Volume for Women (hrs/year) Training

Weeks per year

Hours per week Days per week Sessions per day
Elite International 1000-1200 850-1000 48 21-25 6 1-4
National 800-1000 700-850 48 17-21 6 1-4
Provincial 600-800 600-700 44-46 13-18 5-6 1-3
Club 500-600 500-600 42-44 10-15 4-6 1
High School 300-500 300-500 10-30 2-10 3-4 1
Novice High School 100-300 100-300 2-10 1-4 1-2 1

Beta Alanine – A Cyclists Best Friend

March 18, 2009

Ed McNeely

 Cycling, particularly road racing, crits, and time trials are endurance sports where the training focus is long distance training. Despite the endurance requirements many races come down to a final sprint that is dependant on very short term peak power. Strength training and cycling specific sprint training can improve this ability but the fastest way to bump up your short term power may be a nutritional supplement called Beta Alanine.

 Beta alanine is an amino acid the is converted to carnosine in the body. Carnosine is an intramuscular buffer which accounts for about 10% of a muscle’s buffering capacity. During intense exercise there is a build up of H+ from lactic acid and other sources which can negatively affect muscle contraction and contribute to fatigue. Increasing carnosine concentration in the muscle can delay fatigue caused by H+.

 A recent study published in the American College of Sports Medicine Journal (Med Sci Sports. Vol 41 pp 898-903) examined the effects of beta alanine supplementation on sprint ability at the end of a 110 min cycling performance. The subjects were 21 male recreationally competitive cyclists divided into a placebo and Beta Alanine group in a double blind fashion so that neither the researchers or the participants knew who was in which group. The Beta Alanine group used 2g per day for the first 2 weeks, 3g per day for the next two weeks and 4g per day from week 5 to the end of the eight- week study. Both groups kept to their normal training routines throughout the study.

 Before and after the supplementation was started all subjects completed a simulated 110min time trial immediately followed by a 30s all out sprint. Following the treatment the Beta Alanine group improved their average power over the 30s by 5%; there was no change for the placebo group. Peak power, during the sprint, improved by 11.4% for the beta Alanine group with no change for the placebo group. Interestingly, all of the subjects in the Beta Alanine group saw improvement in both Peak and mean power while many of the placebo group decreased both peak and mean power during the sprint.

 Beta alanine has been around for a few years and the research clearly supports it’s use for improving short- term sprint performance in both endurance and speed and power sports. There have been no reported side effects of Beat alanine supplementation.

Focusing Your Cycling Training

January 16, 2009

Every year you spend countless hours cycling, swimming, running and lifting weights. You read all the articles and books you can get your hands on, you consult with coaches and other athletes on the best type of training and yet you are probably missing the most important piece of the puzzle. What do you as an individual need to train and how do you know if you are focusing your training properly.

 Cycling in triathlon is roughly 90% aerobic and 10% anaerobic, with some variation on these proportions depending on the distance of the event. So it would seem logical that you need to improve aerobic fitness to improve your performance but what type of aerobic training should you do? In a standard program you will focus on low intensity base work first and then add higher intensity work later in the year. But is this right for you? It is possible that you need a different approach to your training. Determining where you as an individual need to focus is a matter of something called proportional fitness.

 Proportional fitness is an examination of how peak anaerobic power, VO2 max, anaerobic threshold, and aerobic threshold compare to each other. In an ideal situation you would expect to see the following relationships: Power at anaerobic threshold should be 80-85% of VO2 max power, aerobic threshold power should be 65-70% of VO2 max power and VO2 max power should be 40-45% of peak power.

 The ideal way to determine these relationships is with a fitness test that includes both lactate and oxygen analysis. A standard VO2 max test with lactate measures can give you the scores you will need for VO2 max, anaerobic threshold and aerobic threshold. A Wingate bike test, which is a 30s all out sprint with a predetermined load, usually done on a Monark bike will give you your peak power score.

 If you went to an exercise physiology lab and had all these variables measured you could get a very accurate picture of where you stand but this isn’t possible for everyone. Instead several simple tests you can perform on your own will give you a start at estimating your proportional fitness. You will need to determine all your data in watts so you will need access to a computrainer or another type of bike that can provide wattage scores.

 VO2 max can be estimated as the average watts from a three minute time trial. Anaerobic threshold is close to the average watts used during a 30 minute time trial. Peak power is the maximum wattage you see during a 30 second all out sprint. Unfortunately there is not a good field test to determine aerobic threshold so you will not be able to get a complete picture unless you get some professional testing done. Do each of these tests on a separate day so that fatigue from one test does not interfere with the results of another test. Let’s assume you do all the tests and come up with the following data:

 Table 1. Sample Data



VO2 max power 400 watts
Anaerobic threshold power 295 watts
Aerobic threshold Power 180 watts
Peak Power 750 watts

 From this data we can calculate:

 Table 2. Comparing the Sample to the Ideal




VO2 vs peak power



Anaerobic threshold vs VO2



Aerobic threshold vs VO2




 Interpreting the Data

To understand the data we need to understand the relationship between the physiological points we are discussing and the concept of ceilings. Figure 1 shows the relationship between the physiological points. Each of these physiological points can only get so close to the point above before you stop seeing progress. For instance if your anaerobic threshold gets to 85% of your VO2 max it becomes very difficult to move it any higher, this is not to say that you couldn’t get it to 90% but it may take years to get it to do so. You would probably get better race results by focusing your training elsewhere. Table 2 shows the results of our example and the ideal relationships between the physiological variables.

 Looking at the results we see that VO2 max is a higher percentage of peak power than it should be, 53% versus the 45% ideal, suggesting that this person needs to improve their peak power or they will have difficulty improving their VO2 max any further.

 Anaerobic threshold is 74% of VO2 max as opposed to the 85% ideal. This means the person in our example also needs to raise their anaerobic threshold.

 Finally we can also see that aerobic threshold, as measured by the 75- 90 minute test is 45% of VO2 max instead of the 70% ideal, indicating a need for more low intensity long duration work.

 Setting Your Training Focus

Now that you have the data and have determined what needs to be trained you can now set training priorities. Your first priority is to train the area with the biggest percentage difference between your score and the ideal. In the case of our example this would be aerobic threshold, which is 25% away from where it should be. Second priority will be anaerobic threshold and third is peak power. Fortunately training at low intensity, to improve aerobic threshold will have some carry over affect to anaerobic threshold, improving it as well.

 If all the variables are close to the same percentage away from the ideal use the following guidelines:

  1.  Work aerobic threshold first, particularly during the winter months. This will help get you ready for the higher intensity work to follow.
  2. Peak power is the second priority since it will limit everything below it. Raising peak power gives more room for everything else to move up. Keep in mind that it doesn’t take long to see improvements in peak power, 4-6 weeks of short sprint training combined with a year round strength program.
  3. Anaerobic threshold will be improved through the low intensity long duration work and only needs to be trained 1-2 times per week for everyone below an elite level.
  4. VO2 max will be improved through all of the training methods above and therefore doesn’t need a lot of focused training. Most research suggest that dedicating more than 5% of your yearly training hours to VO2 max level training may hinder your performance more than help.


It is difficult for anyone to admit to weaknesses but in sport it is the only way to improve and reach your full potential. Identifying your training priorities through proper testing and data interpretation will help you focus your training on those areas that are going to give you the biggest return on your training time investment.