Cycling to work can be a great way to get in some extra training miles. Your training volume – essentially the number of hours you spend on the bike - is a highly important factor in maximising your fitness. Swapping the car or public transport for your bike is a excellent, time-efficient way to increase the amount of training time you can fit into a week.
But what is a reasonable distance to cover in your daily commute? How far is too far to cycle to work? Cycling coach James Spragg explains what's best for those who are looking to start commuting to work as part of their weekly riding.
Sports scientist and coach James Spragg is one of the experts who will be answering your questions in Cycling Weekly's ASK A CYCLING COACH series which comes out every Wednesday. Working both in research and applied settings, he currently runs Intercept Performance Consultancy.
First, it makes sense to look at duration rather than distance. 5km along a nice flat bike path is very different to 5km up a big hill. However, how hard you ride on your commute will clearly influence how long it takes. If the goal of commuting is to add some volume to your cycling training plan, then the intensity should be relatively easy – similar to a normal endurance ride. This will reduce the risk of overtraining. Added benefits are that you won’t arrive at work too sweaty (if you don’t have showers at work) and you can always go a little harder to make that early morning meeting should you be a little too enthusiastic with the snooze button.
Secondly, it all depends on how much training you are already doing and how much capacity you have to add more training. There is no one-size fits all answer. My advice would be to start off slowly, you don’t need to go from commuting zero days a week to 5 days a week in one go. However, below is some general advice that might help you with where to pitch those first few weeks when you introduce commuting into your training plan.
<30 mins each way
If riding at an easy intensity, you can get from your front door to the office in less than 30 mins each way then I would say just crack on and start commuting to and from work. You will get an extra ~5hrs of training a week but as that is broken up into smaller chunks you should be fine. However, after a couple of weeks, I would recommend assessing things and seeing how you are coping with the extra riding. You can then increase or decrease based on that.
30-45mins each way
Once your commute extends to over 30 mins you need to be a little careful as the amount of riding will really start to add up. A 45 mins commute each way 5 days a week is an extra 7.5hrs of training. If you are also getting out for a couple of rides during the week and over the weekend, then you will start getting to a point whereby the training load will be quite significant. Typically, it's not a good idea to increase your training volume by more than a few hours at a time. If your commute is this long, and you want to do it daily, I would suggest reducing your training load outside of your commute for a while. At least until you get used to the extra 1.5hrs a day. As I mentioned earlier there is no need to jump from zero to 5 days a week.
If you have good aerobic fitness, then this might not be a problem. But for someone looking to start commuting, and having this length of commute I wouldn’t recommend doing this daily, at least not at first. Doing 1.5-2 hours a day is already a good training session. If your commute is this long I would avoid doing any other training on the same day – especially in the first few weeks. This sort of duration is where I would recommend that riders, once they are used to their commute, incorporate any harder intervals they have into their commute rather than doing them separately.
Hopefully, that provides a good guide in terms of what is too much when introducing a commute into your training plan. Remember there is no need to jump from zero days of commuting to 5 days a week in one go. When you start to add commuting it might be worth reducing the intensity and duration of other sessions. Give yourself a couple of weeks of commuting and then see how you feel. Are you coping just fine and getting stronger or are you feeling more tired than normal?
Finally, commuting can be periodised just like any other element of training. You can commute for a few weeks and then possibly reduce the commuting by bike in your easy weeks to help with your recovery. Likewise, when you intensify your training it might be worth cutting back on commuting.
Commuting is a great way to get in some extra training volume but it needs to be considered in terms of your overall training plan.
If you're wondering how fit you can get on just a 10-mile commute to work, I've answered that question over here.
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