The Impact of Training Volume on Endurance Performance

Together with training intensity distribution, training volume is the main determinant of an athlete’s endurance performance. The role of training volume differs widely depending on the type of endurance sport; however, no matter the sport, endurance athletes invariably track distance covered or hours spent exercising. This can be converted to an annual workout log to better calculate training duration and intensity levels and compare the effectiveness of various activities to one another.

Factors Affecting Training Volume

When different endurance sports such as cycling, swimming, and skiing are compared, it becomes clear that training volumes vary depending upon the sport; age is also relevant. These factors are borne out when comparing athletes at the highest level of their chosen sport. For example, Seiler of the University of Agder notes that former world record holder Ingrid Kristiansen would spend 550 hours per year training when competing as a runner, but as much as 700 hours per year when she was younger and was competing as a cross country skier.

There is a strong inverse relationship between tolerated training volume and degree of eccentric or ballistic stress of a sport, Seiler concludes from these statistics. One explanation for this is that muscle, joint and tendon load stress are highly dissimilar for different types of movement. For example, sports involving running produce severe ballistic loading stress that is not present in cycling or swimming. Other sports such as rowing, swimming, and cross country skiing are highly technical with regard to movement patterns and do not use innate motor skills as in running.

In endurance activities that involve learning movement that is not genetically mapped out in motor pathways, high volumes of training may be as important as technical mastery to allow for physiological adaptation. This is exemplified through the statistics of the hours spent training per year for rowers and speed skaters. Data shows that these athletes typically spend many more hours in strength workouts and other endurance exercises than athletes of any other sport, but focus less time on movement-specific training.

Training volume also tends to increase in top level athletes with years spent training. While the biggest increase is seen in overall training frequency, there also tends to be a growth in average session duration. Seiler found that athletes who have already established an endurance base and built up a tolerance for higher volumes of training experience small improvements in endurance performance when boosting training intensity. This suggests that an established endurance base using reasonably high volumes of training may be an important prerequisite for tolerating an increase in training intensity over the short term.

The Bottom Line

Given its pivotal role in endurance performance, every athlete should try to accurately measure duration, intensity, and frequency to gain a three dimensional picture of training volume over time. Doing so gives the athlete a chance to cross-reference training regimens to specific outcomes, such as time trails, race times, or competition performance.

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