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Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should

FIVE REASONS WHY YOU SHOULDN’T I’m in the middle of a trip down under to visit family and friends. At the last minute I decided to bring my bike and enjoy some warm weather riding versus the snow back in Colorado. To say the cycling scene in Melbourne our chosen base this time is vibrant is an understatement. Such a passionate city of cyclists in all shapes and sizes, disciplines and fitness levels. Searching the web for group ride options so I wasn’t forced to ride alone, the internet literally blew up with group ride options every day and for everyone.

I was optimistic that current fitness levels would allow me to hold my own during these group rides. Wrong! What I noticed was they all start terribly early, think 5:30am and in the dark. Day 1 was an all out suffer fest where we essentially sprinted up these short climbs with a rapid recovery repeated over and over. It was bloody hard! I thought to myself well maybe I just caught them on a hard day and tomorrow will be easier. Wrong! Tomorrow, the next day and every day since has been a similar version of this smash fest where I am literally getting my legs ripped off. I began to ask around amongst the groups about this approach to training with no real sense of why, It’s just what we do. It got me thinking about the limitations of this approach.

Below are my top five reasons for why choosing to push all the time comes back to haunt your fitness gains.


Muscles experience micro tears when an athlete chooses to push them harder than they are prepared for. With sufficient recovery these tears heal forming new lean tissue improving both the type, the function and the amount of fibers you have. This in turn improves tensile strength and force you can apply to the pedals. More tensile strength equals more power and for longer. Going hard too often doesn’t provide the necessary recovery time for new tissue leaving them in a constant state of disrepair.


Training hard too often has a mental and psychological cost attached to it. Prolonged bouts of hard training add up and soon enough you simply don’t want to do the work. Mental recovery from intervals especially for athletes with long training and race seasons can be costly. Dosing the suffering so you can consistently measure the hard work throughout your season and stay motivated is a smarter approach. Pro athletes know the minimum required to force adaptations within their systems to reach the level required to race as an elite. You should do this also to help avoid mental burn out.


The stress hormones cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine are secreted when arousal levels are heightened during hard training and riding. Prolonged periods of high stress training load have been shown to put the hormone scale out of whack leading to things like depression, over training and adrenal fatigue. Stress hormones must be balanced against the happy hormones like dopamine and serotonin to maintain a balanced mental state.


Professional athletes who achieve high levels for a living know the dose response required to achieve these levels. Let’s face it if you can suffer less to achieve the same level then why wouldn’t you. There are key workouts, interval durations, total number of minutes at varying intensities which force the changes required to perform at your chosen level. The old adage “no pain, no gain” is dated and un-necessary. Smart athletes understand what efforts work for them, how many they need to do and the minimum intensity required to force changes in fitness..


The adaptations we seek for improving performance are numerous. Increases in mitochondria and capillary density, stroke volume, blood plasma and red blood cell count, muscle fiber size and amount, muscle glycogen storage, fat oxidation and increased VO2 max all contribute to increases in performance. Adaptations are triggered by workout intensities across the range from easy to hard. When designing workouts consider how hard you have to work and how much total work can be completing at a given intensity. Can I perform a slightly longer session at endurance, tempo or sweet spot and accumulate more total minutes of quality work compared to the high cost and shorter total minutes of threshold and above work. Work that can be costly to complete and with adaptations that don’t stick around that long.

To be clear if you are a rider who only has time for 1-2 short session per week of 60-90 minutes and then a longer weekend ride greater than 2 1/2 hours then yes your short sessions should be of high intensity. The problem occurs when riders are completing more than 3 hard session per week and even their weekend endurance work turns into a tempo, threshold ride. This when all you really need is some steady, easy, endurance. to balance out the overall workload.