Updated: Feb 12, 2020
Hi there, my friends!! Welcome to Coach Tip Tuesday!!
We’re full-steam ahead into the main racing season for Northern Hemisphere athletes, so this is a wonderful opportunity to discuss overall volume and training load. I can’t even begin to count the number of athletes who I have worked for over the years who have thought that working out more will make them faster and stronger. I understand this “more is better” line of thinking; at face value, it seems like a logical way to build endurance, and to a certain extent, that is how things work.
What most self-coached athletes tend to fail to consider is the overall volume in a given week. In their quest to add volume and gain endurance, they don’t strike a balance between increasing endurance but still maintaining a safe overall training load. I’ve seen many, many athletes add too much volume and suffer negative consequences for it, including overuse injuries, mental fatigue, and burnout.
I like to explain overall volume to athletes this way: imagine that the total amount of volume that you can safely tolerate equals a dollar. There are many, many ways that you can get to that total of a dollar over the course of a microcycle (generally a seven-day period of time). It could be a one-dollar bill all on one day (though this is the least likely formula ;) ). It could be four quarters, each on a different day. It could be a half dollar on one day, and then a quarter, dime, and nickel on three other days. When considering the safe volume load for an athlete, there are many ways that that overall volume can be dispersed, and they all might add up to that dollar. Effectively, there are many formulas that may be correct for an athlete when planning workouts that cumulatively add up to that training load.
When building endurance, the total number of hours spent training in a week might actually not change, but the way that those allocated very well might. For instance, when weekend long rides start adding duration, some duration might be subtracted from a weekday workout. The weekday workout might also change so that it’s skill or speed-specific, so the athlete is getting a lot of value out of the session, even though it is shorter.
To sum this all up: more is not better; better is better. It is not necessary to pile on volume for the sake of piling on volume. The most effective training plans will strike a balance between developing sport-specific skills, speed, and endurance, and the total amount of volume that they add up to will be the least amount of volume that enables the athlete to train and perform their best. When considering your plans, make sure that they are smart and setting YOU up for success. If you are unsure if your plan is the very best for you, I strongly encourage you to talk to an experienced coach who can help you decipher and navigate that process for you. Remember: more is not better. Better is better. Strive for better. :)