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Can you get fit by cramming all of your riding into the weekend?

Find out whether it’s best to ride full-on over the weekend or to spread your exercise throughout the week

Is a big burst of exercise at the weekend as good as spreading the hours out across the week? Exercising just once or twice per week appears to be enough to significantly reduce all-cause mortality risk, according to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine earlier this year. While cautioning that more research is needed, particularly in terms of cycling, we spoke to some coaches to try and answer this question. 

Richmond Park road cyclists in winter - via Flickr Creative Commons

Many of us have commitments that prevent us from being able to ride during the week, especially during the winter with limited daylight and poor weather conditions, so let's find out whether weekend bursts of exercise can be enough to stay fit and delve into what this would look like in terms of performing at your best on a bike. 

What does the research say?

The JAMA Internal Medicine journal article looking at how best to spread exercise out across a week is called Association of the “Weekend Warrior” and Other Leisure-time Physical Activity Patterns With All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality

This study (and one posted by the BBC) concluded that individuals who engage in active patterns of physical activity  – "weekend warriors" or regularly active –experience lower mortality than inactive individuals. That's not surprising, is it?

spin_cycle_indoor_cycling_class_at_a_gym.jpg

Engaging in the recommended levels of physical activity (150 minutes per week) may provide the same benefit whether the sessions are performed throughout the week or concentrated into fewer days. "The most important thing is that physical activity is undertaken in the first place," says the British Heart Foundation. 

These articles look at mortality rates and low levels of exercise and we appreciate that there is a big distinction between this and performing at your very best on a bike. However, can the same principles be applied specifically to training for cyclists?

We spoke to some coaches to see if you can stay fit by cramming all of your riding into the weekend.

What level can riders get to by just riding at weekends?

2022 jamie riding shot lanzarote

With limited hours of daylight during the winter in the UK and family/work commitments, some of us can get out on our bikes only at the weekend. So, what sort of level can you expect to get to by just riding at weekends?

Paddy Harrison, Doctoral Researcher and Cycling Coach at Loughborough University says, "Cyclists can certainly make progress in their fitness by riding only on the weekends. However, there may come a point where additional rides during the week may be needed to progress further." 

Dan Coombe, Raceline Coaching, says that "consistency is extremely important for athletic performance," and he sees riding over the weekend as more of a mental benefit over a physical benefit – getting out and enjoying your bike away from the kids for a couple of hours. 

Henry Latimer, Head Coach at 2020cycling.cc, says that "you can certainly get fit by riding on the weekends," but you need to ask yourself if you're making the most out of the riding that you're doing in this available time. 

Harrison says that it depends on the individual as to whether or not you'll continue to make progress only riding on the weekend, but all coaches agree that additional rides during the week may be needed to take your fitness higher, particularly if you're looking for a challenge. 

Overall, riding at the weekends seems to be adequate for a general level of fitness, but if you're looking to perform at your best on a bike, spreading sessions out across the week will be more beneficial. 

How can riders get the most out of weekend riding?

Bikmo partners with Quotezone/cyclists Cheddar Gorge(via Bikmo)

Long Sunday rides are a staple for many cyclists but training intensity and duration are both important for making improvements in fitness. Incorporating a range of intensities and durations is key, so how should you structure your weekend?

Harrison suggests avoiding making both Saturday and Sunday sessions hard as this will accumulate a lot of fatigue, and instead having one day as a shorter, high-intensity ride (1-2 hours) and the other as a longer, low-intensity ride (2-4 hours). 

Weekend rides can be done outside – make sure you have some of the best bike lights – but the turbo is a great way to incorporate high-intensity sessions indoors (check out our guide to the best turbo trainers).  

Harrison says, "Zwift have lots of structured workouts to choose from which takes a lot of the guesswork out of designing interval sessions." 

Zwift Hub lifestyle 5.jpg

> How to get started with Zwift 

Coombe says that it's most important to enjoy your cycling and that choosing routes with ranging terrain will naturally push you into different zones. 

For more structure and for those with that natural desire to improve, he suggests completing split sessions on Saturday, with a morning focus on tempo/Z3 and an evening high-intensity session. 

> How training zones can help you get your greatest cycling fitness gains

Sunday then targets endurance of 3-4 hours with the option of including tempo and repeated sprints towards the end of the ride. 

> Cycling fitness: How to get the most from your indoor training sessions

Like Coombe, Latimer says if you're constrained to just riding on weekends your rides need to both excite and push you. He suggests going on local group rides as they can be really useful for helping you push yourself further than normal. They also hold you accountable which means you're more likely to get out even when the weather takes a turn for the worse!

Overall, to make sure you're getting the most out of weekend riding, make sure you incorporate some high-intensity work as well as an endurance ride. 

What would 5-6 hours of riding look like spread across the week?

Coaches agree that riding only on weekends will help you improve up to a point, but additional sessions throughout the week will be needed to take you further. Coombe says, "There is more benefit to riding for a total of 5-6 hours spread over the week than completing the same time over the weekend."

Latimer says that if you're able to spread your riding time across four days rather than two, "you're able to put more structure into your riding and target your training." 

2022 jamie riding shot lanzarote

> How to get the most from your limited training time

Below are two ideal training scenarios for riding throughout the week for those of you who can fit in those extra sessions. 

Coombe's training week (total 5-6.5 hours): 

  • Monday - Day off
  • Tuesday - Tempo session (45 mins - 1 hour)
  • Wednesday - High-intensity session (45 mins - 1 hour)
  • Thursday - Day off 
  • Friday - General endurance/tempo (1 hour)
  • Saturday - High intensity (1.5 - 2 hours)
  • Sunday - Mixed session (1 - 1.5 hours)

Latimer's training week (total 4.5+ hours):

  • Monday - Day off
  • Tuesday - High-intensity interval workout (45 mins)
  • Wednesday - Day off
  • Thursday - Low-intensity technical session e.g., high cadence drills (45 mins)
  • Friday - Day off
  • Saturday - Hard group ride (2+ hours)
  • Sunday - Steady endurance ride (1+ hours)

Latimer says that moving from weekend riding only to a structured week "will very quickly elevate your fitness due to a more regular training stimulus and the ability to progress your training from week to week." 

So, can you just ride at weekends? 

Winter group cycling CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 reid.neureiter https://www.flickr.com/photos/21085902@N08/

Of course! For the enjoyment of cycling, weekend riding is great, but if you want to improve your fitness, be competitive in local races or complete longer sportives, there may come a point where additional rides during the week are needed. 

Harrison says that one way to see if you’re continuing to make progress with your fitness by riding at the weekend is to complete a Zwift testing protocol (an FTP test, for example) and then re-testing every 4-8 weeks. If you’re struggling to make improvements, then you can look at adding another ride during the week or getting more out of your weekend rides.

> What is FTP? 7 key facts to learn about functional threshold power, a major training metric

The training examples from Harrison, Coombe and Latimer (above) can be used to help you get more out of your weekend riding but also provide the scope to add sessions throughout the week.

Have you managed to get a good level of fitness through weekend riding, or do you spread your time on the bike throughout the week? Let us know in the comments section below...

Emily is our track and road racing specialist, having represented Great Britain at the World and European Track Championships. With a National Title up her sleeve, Emily has just completed her Master’s in Sports Psychology at Loughborough University where she raced for Elite Development Team, Loughborough Lightning.

Emily is our go-to for all things training and when not riding or racing bikes, you can find her online shopping or booking flights…the rest of the office is now considering painting their nails to see if that’s the secret to going fast…

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9 comments

Avatar
JustTryingToGet... | 1 year ago
0 likes

I might have an unpopular opinion here, but I don't think you can meet all your fitness needs through cycling alone regardless of when you do it. I think the best fitness regimes combine different exercise models.... cycling, swimming, running... all great but would also hugely benefit from stretches, weights and body resistance.

If you're struggling for time chuck in a plank whilst making a coffee... do not wear your coffee.

Avatar
Cycloid | 1 year ago
1 like

Can you get fit by cramming all of your riding into the weekend?

Yes if you are 18

No if to are 58

Avatar
hawkinspeter replied to Cycloid | 1 year ago
0 likes
Cycloid wrote:

Can you get fit by cramming all of your riding into the weekend?

Yes if you are 18

No if to are 58

I would guess that to be the other way round. When you're 18, you can recover much quicker and thus gain maximum benefit from training during the week, but older people need longer to recover and so might benefit from only training at weekends.

Avatar
Xenophon2 | 1 year ago
2 likes

Can only speak for myself but after changing jobs 5 years ago I went from only weekend rides to a daily commute of 25 km one-way, 5 days/week, rain or shine.  Condition improved dramatically even though i'm not usually pushing hard during the commute.  The weekend riding went down by half but still...

Also:  I believe that a healthy part of base condition is simply racking up consistent miles.  As a weekend rider you'll be hard pressed to beat a daily commuter in that area.

 

Avatar
piperfw replied to Xenophon2 | 1 year ago
0 likes

In my experience high weekly mileage is far easier when done on one or two big rides rather than many small commutes. It must be in part physiological, but 5 days of 25km commutes would make me feel like I'd be working all week (combined with work itself). But 125km? That's just a Saturday morning job.

Avatar
Flintshire Boy | 1 year ago
0 likes

.

Seems that the answer to the posted question is 'no'.

.

Guess that wouldn't have made quite such an interesting article, though, eh?!

.

Avatar
piperfw replied to Flintshire Boy | 1 year ago
0 likes

Betteridge's law...

Avatar
ShutTheFrontDawes replied to piperfw | 1 year ago
0 likes
piperfw wrote:

Betteridge's law...

Except in this case, the law does not apply.

Avatar
ShutTheFrontDawes replied to Flintshire Boy | 1 year ago
3 likes
Flintshire Boy wrote:

.

Seems that the answer to the posted question is 'no'.

.

Guess that wouldn't have made quite such an interesting article, though, eh?!

.

Did you even read the article? The answer to the question (which was "Can you get fit by cramming all of your riding into the weekend?") is a resounding "yes, you can".

It's summed up by this quote:
"Engaging in the recommended levels of physical activity (150 minutes per week) may provide the same benefit whether the sessions are performed throughout the week or concentrated into fewer days".

Paddy Harrison, Dan Coombe and Henry Latimer all said that yes, you can get fit by cycling at the weekend.

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