Answering The Age Old Question: How long should my “long” rides be?

As coaches we often get asked some seemingly simple questions from many people and often have a hard time giving a straight answer.  Most people expect a short simple answer.  Something along the lines of “oh, they should be the same length as your longest event”.  That certainly is a nice cut and dry answer that fits into many peoples “ideas” of training.  It was an idea that was even promoted by author Joe Friel who wrote the Cyclist Training Bible, which many have read.  Luckily, for him and for us, things are getting a bit more scientific and people are actually looking at real data to reinforce their training protocols and ideas.  So much so, that even Joe Friel himself has completely revised his idea in regards to this question.

Recently, in Cycling Performance Conditioning, a journal published by USAC for USAC coaches, Joe Friel explain his turn from this “old school” concept and looks at training in a bit more scientific and modern way.

PC: How does TSS periodization differ from the work on periodization you have done in the past?

JF: The only thing that differs is that it’s more precise. In the Training Bible we might ask the question: if I’m training for a three hour race, how long should the longest ride be in the base period? We could all assume that the answer is at least three hours. However, it may be four hours, five hours or even six hours on the upper end. Using the TSS periodization answers that question. We know the race is three hours and the TSS is going to be 280 points. Based on this we can see that the duration to achieve this score in the base period would be something in the four hour range and provide the same stress that a three hour race would produce as the season progresses. Over the course of the year, workouts become more racelike. In my definition of periodization the key is to get more race like as we go along and the shift is to higher intensity so that one workout per week will be at TSS in the build period. It takes out the guess work of how long the workout should be and at what intensity in order to give an athlete the proper dosage of training.

So what is TSS exactly? The short answer is that TSS (Training Stress Score) is a measure based upon the atheletes threshold power of the amount of stress a workout is putting on the atheletes system.  While having a power meter would seem essential to utilizing this metric it is a principle that can also be applied without one as long as we have a good idea of an atheletes zones.  So even if you don’t train with power, you can still apply this  concept to your training.

Lets look at a bit of data from some of my own personal workouts and races to give us an idea of what I am talking about. First lets take a look at some data from a race.  While I hardly ever race with a power meter, I did race a few early season races with one just for the sake of data collection.

Sequim Road Race – Duration 2:47
Work 2663 KJ
TSS – 227.8
Norm Power – 317W

So using the old Joe Friel answer, if this was my longest event,  my longer rides should be in the three hour range.  So during the base phase of training, my endurance rides could look something like this one.

Duration 3:37
Work 2579 KJ
TSS 119
Norm Power 216W

While this was a very “easy” endurance paced ride, you can see that my TSS is very short of the desired training stimulus appropriate to match the demands of the road race from above.  Here is another ride that may be better off season preparation for the road race.

Duration 5:47
Work 4181 KJ
TSS 221.6
Norm Power 232W

While the average power for this ride is a bit higher, the main thing that allows the TSS to more closely match is the duration.  So am I saying that if you want to race the local Cat 1-2 road race you need to put in a 5+ hour ride every weekend?  No, absolutely not.  However, I am saying it is time to start taking a look at your training and your goals and learn ways to make sure you are getting the training stimulus you need to be competitive.  If you aren’t sure what that is going to take, start talking to us.  That is what we are here for!


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