Theoretically - how much training per week is optimal...

If you had all the time in the world, in which you had nothing to do but train, sleep and eat, and that you have the talent of a professional athlete, the law of diminishing returns states that there would still be a point at which you stop getting returns from the training and instead suffer ill-effects.

If you factor in a job and family demands, thus tiredness, plus a lower level of talent, but still talking theoretically (ie, don't worry about how much time you actually have available), what would that threshold be and how many hours would the average person have to devote to optimise performance?

I am supposing that with cross-training, as opposed to single discipline training, the threshold would be higher because you can have active recovery sessions, or train different muscle groups.

I guess maybe the best people to answer this question would be the Ironman guys with all their training... but there are enough people on here who do shedloads without tri training, so I'd really like to know what people think about total hours and optimising performance!


  • Don't forget there are only 24hrs in a day. Assuming 8hrs sleep (min for recovery, preferably more), 8hrs at work (based on 40hr week), as well as eating/drinking (90mins), showering (30mins), changing (30mins), as well as allowing the body time to readjust following a session, the maximum on a weekday would probably be 1-2hrs of training.
    It is possible to do a easy 30min run in the morning, and then a quality session in the evening. Main thing to remember is quality and recovery.
    Different people also react to different volumes of training.
    As a triathlete (olympic / half-ironman), I have done up to 15hrs in a week, but that is on shift work.
    Any other ideas people??
  • How long is a piece of string?

    Biomechanics of each person will vary in what they can cope with, what point in the season will change volume/intensity emphasis, and even with all the recovery time in the world, there still must be an element of progression in the build up of training volume.
  • Most people will try and build up towards a big goal or race. At the beginning the is the main base of endurance work, followed by more speed work as the event approaches. Ideally you should work in 2-6week blocks, allowing an easy week inbetween.
    Snail - are you trying to work out your full potential, without the hard work needed? If so let me know how, would be interested :)
  • popsiderpopsider ✭✭✭
    Agree with HC - it depends on the individual and what they are training for. I could easily knock out 3 hour rides every day on the bike so about 21 hours 400 miles no problem. I don't think I could ever build up to 3 hours running a day without injury or just suffering exhaustion - though some elites do and I've never tried it so maybe I could.

    I don't think you'd necessarily get diminishing returns to the point more training had a negative impact though at some point you might need to do less but increase intensity to maximise fitness - depends on what phase of training you are in.
  • I know a pro Triathlete. He trains around 35hrs+ for many years. The result was a world best and several IM wins around the world. Typical sessions include swimming a few km early morning, breakfast, then 160km bike ride, followed by hard 20k run. Then sports massage or another swim.

    The there is the other extreme. One of my former club mate was double world junior champion on the cycling track (1000m/Sprint). He did this is on very limited training, maybe 2hrs a day.

    Training is not everything you need a lot of talent as well.
  • I agree - which is why I suggested going for scenario 2, ie no talent, cos I've got none whatsoever! :-)

    Yes, everyone's different and yes it depends on number of hours in a day - but surely there's a range of hours that would be optimal for Mr (or Ms) Average who works 8 hours a day? Or some kind of ratio of training:work:sleep:other if work is a non-variable factor?

    Tri guy - yes, I am trying to work out my full potential, based on zero talent but a willingness for hard work... But last year I shot myself in the foot by overtraining and causing shin splints (70 miles/week then a race on a camber and strong side wind and my tired leg just gave up on me). So what I'm wondering is how to push myself to the limit in order to maximise results, but without leaving myself vulnerable to injury.

    The real experiment here is not the maximum training, but what my body is actually capable of, not being naturally athletic, and I thought I'd try to find out over the summer.

    At the moment I'm 'training' about 25 hours per week. It's not all running - I'm doing about 50 mpw, including 2 long runs of 12 miles or more - but bizarrely it feels like a lot less. I'm also cycling, swimming and doing 2 hours of weights per week. Plus two yoga sessions which I'm using as recovery sessions. I'm not scheduling days off, though I will take one if I feel I need to.

    I was just wondering whether there's some kind of scale of returns or formula that would guide training though. I could do an extra session on top of the 2-3 hours per day - but in order to do so, I would lose sleep by the same amount of time because I have no more daytime hours to use up - they're accounted for by work and food. Therefore I guess the question is - at what point does training become overtraining? And - where's the balance between the benefits of training and sleep?

    This probably sounds incredibly confused - but that's because I am... sorry!
  • Resting Heart Rate is important to take in the morning to monitor overtraining, by all means steadily progress and seek to be ambitious in the volume you can eventually reach, but your resting HR shooting up should entail a break, and being just slightly above normal should entail an easy day.
  • I find with a relatively non-stressful job, short commute and settled lifestyle I can run 80mpw no problem (about 10 hours running). 90 is sustainable for a couple of months but any more than 3 weeks at 100mpw and I feel I'm doing more harm than good.

    I can push the margins by getting extra sleep, being careful with diet etc., but with the family lifestyle I have now I would say around 11-12 hours worth of running is optimal for me.
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