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To split, or not to split. That is the question.

It’s one of the most common questioned asked in cycling forums and to coaches worldwide.  Is there any from benefit or problem if I split my days training into two rides?

This question is of significant importance to the vast majority of cyclists, most of whom complete training sessions on their way to work and then when they commute home afterwards.  Seldom does the ‘commuting’ cyclist have time for ultra long training session in the morning and anything before a 5am wake up call for many would be deemed hazardous to your health.

But, where does that leave your training?   Can you get by with shorter morning rides or by splitting the days training into two sessions?  It probably won’t surprise you that there is no single answer to this question other than the classic ‘it all depends’.

Training Stress vs Recovery

Before being able to answer this question it’s important to understand the implications of split training vs a single session.

The training effect for any session is a combination of the stress (intensity and volume) applied during the session and the duration and quality of the post session recovery.  The link between these is that the training stress accumulated during a session also needs to be compared to the current fitness level.   This is where software such as Golden Cheetah and WKO+ (or training peaks) comes into play.  Each of these apps provides details on the training stress of each session as well as the accumulated fitness from previous training.  In ‘cycling lingo’ terms these are often referred to as TSS (Training Stress Score) and CTL (Chronic Training Load), with TSS representing the stress from an individual session and CTL being the ‘fitness’ score.

If we use these in a quick example, a training session that accumulated a TSS of 100, with a current CTL of 80, would obviously generate more fatigue than the same session for a rider with a CTL of 130. In these cases the first rider (CTL of 80) is likely to require more recovery time than the second rider (CTL of 130).

But, why is this important for our split vs non-split question?   Quite simply, if you split your training sessions there are two key training outcomes:

  1. The training stress for each session will be lower and therefore less recovery time is needed before another session can be completed.
  2. As the training time is reduced it is harder to accumulate higher stress scores and therefore it reduces the potential to induce sufficient training stress to force an adaptation.  (nb: In part this is due to the time taken to warm up for each session.)

 

Pros and Cons

In boiling it all down here is a quick list of pros and cons for split training

Pros

  1. When done correctly, splitting your days training into two sessions can lead to higher overall training quality.
  2. Split sessions can enable riders to achieve higher training time than they would otherwise get with only one session a day.
  3. The training load for each individual session is lower and therefore requires less recovery time before a subsequent session can be completed.  This leads to slightly lower gains per session but possibly on a more consistent basis.

Cons

  1. Fitness is likely to plateau a little sooner as there is a limit on how high the training load can be with shorter sessions. However, this is primarily limited to the overall training time available (i.e. 2 x 45min vs 2 x 2hr sessions per day)
  2. Daily activities and nutrition play a much larger part in the quality of the second training session.  Where morning energy stores may be sufficient to cover a 1.5hr training session the daily activities and nutrition may compromise an evening session and thus effectively transform it into junk miles.
  3. Losses of efficiency.  Both sessions need a warm up and if the evening session is quite short (20-30mins is typical for most evening commute style sessions) then they ability to complete a beneficial training session in the available time.

 

Summary

For a rider who is looking to split their days training across two sessions it should now be clear that there are both benefits and disadvantages.  In general, where the training hours are lower (say 1-1.5hrs per day) a split session approach can lead to more productive training as the quality of the second session may be improved with the recovery time between each session.  However, this does depend on what the other daily activities are, for example someone with a physically demanding job vs a desk job.  Additionally it depends on the nutritional practises between the sessions.  It’s not uncommon for ‘desk jockeys’ to go prolonged periods without anything to eat or drink.  Late lunches and quick snacks at 2pm may get you through until home time but they will not aid recovery from a hard morning session, nor leave you with enough energy for a quality evening session either.

For a significant number of riders the overall ride time per week is not excessive and any additional time on the bike can usually be put to good use, even if it’s a short 20 minute sprint session.  However, once your fitness reaches a certain point then longer training sessions and higher hours may be the only way to increase your fitness any further.   This will then dictate how you structure your days training.  In some instances this means split training sessions for most of the season but during key phases some extra training time is required to get the desired fitness and performance gains.

Finally, for competitors who have full time jobs and families, cycling time is usually balanced against other obligations.   It’s hard to achieve absolute peak performances on only a few hours of training per week and this should be taken into account when selecting race and performance goals.

 

Jason Mahoney Monday 02 December 2013 at 2:22 pm | | Tips




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