How many hours a week should you train?
This is obviously a loaded question and there is no universal right answer. It depends on your schedule, goal distance, how competitive you wish to be, etc. Consider the following four questions to get a sense of how much you should or could be training.
What are your priorities/responsibilities? Everyone’s priorities are different, though in no particular order, most would consider their marriage, children and career as the three most important pillars in their lives. The whole philosophy of the Working Triathlete is that you need to be real with yourself. If you’re a parent working 70 hour weeks and you want to spend time with your children and not be exhausted all the time, perhaps racing sprint or Olympic distance triathlons off of a balanced 7-hour-per-week plan makes the most sense. If you’re a single guy or gal with a 40-hour per week job and no other time-consuming aspirations AND you’re looking to reach your absolute potential, you should be averaging over double this for a large chunk of the season. Regardless of your goals, the main focus should be maximizing the hours you have available in the most efficient manner possible.
How good do you want to be? There is no way around it. If you want to be at the front of the front of the pack (FFOP) you need to put in the time. There are likely no competitive professionals who are training less than 20 hours per week. Most are averaging WELL over that. Check out the Stravas of some pros to see what it takes to get under 8 hours in an Ironman. There are, however, very fast age groupers averaging 10 hours per week or under and laying down great times. With a well-balanced plan, you can get pretty darn close to your genetic potential off 10 hours per week for most distances.
What is the sweetspot? At the risk of making rash overgeneralizations, I have found that most athletes can perform very well on consistent ~10 hours per week. There are certainly returns above 1.5 hours each day, but they are marginal. Certainly there are gains to be had by intelligently increasing volume above this, but the return on time invested becomes much smaller.
What distance are you training for? For distances that aren’t the Ironman, you can get away with less overall volume—under 10 hours per week. You won’t reach your absolute potential, but you can get close. To perform well at an IM, you need a build block of (6-8 weeks) where you extend your long rides and runs; however, most cookie cutter training plans overdo it. If you efficiently structure your workouts, you can probably perform well at an Ironman on 10 hours per week assuming your body composition and base fitness is solid. It’s not ideal, but with a balanced program, it’s more than possible to do well on less volume than you might think.
Everyone’s lives and priorities are different. The beautiful thing about triathlon is that you can commit as much or as little time as you like. By answering the above four questions, hopefully you can find your own personal training-life balance.
Conrad Goeringer is an Ironman Certified Coach based out of Nashville, TN. He is the founder of Working Triathlete and author of the book The Working Triathlete. His passion is helping athletes of all levels and with all schedules achieve their endurance goals. Reach out to learn more about coaching packages and for a free consultation.