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I have long been interested in understanding the training that professional athletes undertake and I took the opportunity to ask 12-year professional cyclist Luke Rowe, some fundamental questions to gain an insight into how the training professional cyclists do compares to that undertaken by amateur and what advice can be provided. 

Luke rides for INEOS Grenadiers and has ridden the Tour de France multiple times, and has just announced his retirement from racing, at the end of the 2024 cycling season.

Like training itself, this article will be split into bitesize pieces.

How does training that non-professional athletes undertake differ to that what the professionals do? E.g., is it duration, volume, intensity, structure.

Luke Rowe: “It’s the full package. I think the four things, duration, volume, intensity and structure, I think are the four big things.  Obviously, duration I would say is significant, more time on the bike, but then you know as a professional you haven’t got the life distractions i.e. work.  That is the biggest thing, that is the reality of it.  You wake up and your sole objective, amongst other things, is to pretty much just to get out, train and get the job done.  Duration and volume, on a weekly basis you are doing more hours on the bike.  Intensity and structure, simply put, as a professional athlete it’s your job to race hard and the only way is to train hard.  It’s that level up.”

Editor’s analysis:  I find “duration” to be the biggest challenge, particularly during the winter months, where unless you are fortunate to live in warmer and drier climates like Spain, riding outside is a difficulty due to the elements.  Longer rides are limited to the weekends, which tend to be done on Zwift.  Using TrainingPeaks allows for accurate tracking of the volume of training, and I have concluded that an average of 250km to 300km is achievable with the time that I have available.  Intensity of the training is obtained through interval training, with a race thrown in to develop the sharpness and to ensure the training does not become monotonous.

How many hours a week does a pro cyclist train?

Luke Rowe: “This varies a lot.  I have met pros who, maybe more in the past and less so than now, do less than 20 hours per week, 18-20 hours and focus on intensity and recovery, over what they consider “junk miles.”  Then on the flip side there are pros now who week in, week out do 30 hours.  It’s just a standard week.  I am somewhere in the middle and do between 20 and 25 hours, 23, 24, 25, I’d say is my average.”

Editor’s analysis:  During the winter period, I have noticed that I have been able to accumulate between 8-12 hours of training a week.  Probably on average, 10 hours.  There are no “junk miles” either.  Following a structured training programme, means that I utilise my available time.  As we transition to lighter days and road conditions become safer, I would like to see this increase as evening rides can be more easily incorporated into my schedule.  To learn that pro cyclists are training around 20-hour hours a week is reassuring as it indicates that amateur cyclists can reach a respectable level of fitness on half the amount of training, if the correct approach is followed, where the appropriate blend of training is undertaken.

How many hours a week can an amateur train and still be at a good level? Appreciate everyone is different but there has to be a base number, at least.

Luke Rowe: “The main part of performance is simply how good you are, and how naturally talented you are. That is a big piece of the puzzle.  Take the best rider in world, I think if they do a few less hours or a few more hours, I still think they are going to be the best rider in the world.  That little bit extra is like the cherry on the top of the cake.  Let’s take a domestic rider racing in the UK, I would prioritise intensity over duration.  This is because most of the races would be hour long criteriums, the shorter road races would be 100km, so intensity would be key. You can get into good form on 8 to 10 hours if there is good intensity in the training.”

Editor’s analysis: Luke’s observation about your own talent can be expanded.  Cycling is such a wide discipline, and it is important to identifying your strengths and maximise those to the fullest by undertaking the most appropriate training.  Conversely, you could work on those identified weaknesses.  Historically, Zwift’s training programme, “Zwift Academy” have facilitated rides which identify your skillsets.  We naturally tend to enjoy what we are good at, so if you hate riding up hills, chances are you are more of a sprinter and likewise, if you struggle to produce high bursts of speed but excel as the road kicks up, the reality is that you probably better suited to climbing.  I think the key message is to understand what type of rider you are and utilise your available time, appropriately.   

Check back for Parts 2 and 3 later……