150 minutes for your health
Let’s make one thing clear right from the start. We are all different so it’s impossible to give a number that’s going to guarantee results for everybody. But there has been a lot of research on this topic so we can estimate a number that should be pretty close for most people.
If the goal is general cardiovascular fitness, then we can look at recommendations from the World Health Organization. They say we should spend 150-300 minutes per week doing a moderate-intensity activity or 75-150 minutes doing a high-intensity activity – or a proportional mix of both.
Around 3 hours of cycling per week
Cycling is most often a mixed-intensity activity so we can estimate something like 2-4 hours of cycling per week to hit the recommendations from WHO. This should be enough to enjoy the basic cardiovascular and metabolic benefits that aerobic exercise offers.
This is good news for all cycling enthusiasts and even non-cyclists. Spending around 3 hours per week in the saddle is not that much even for someone new to cycling. It could be tempting to just do one long weekend ride and be done with it. But before you rush into any decisions, if you really want to get the most out of your 3 hours, you should consider two things – frequency and intensity.
Doing several shorter rides is better
You will be able to improve your fitness better with 3 one-hour sessions than 1 three-hour-long ride per week. When you ride just once a week, there are 6 days in a row where your body gets no input and the training adaptations simply don’t accumulate fast enough. If you split that one long ride into several shorter sessions, you will minimise the number of days with no input. Try to aim for three rides per week even if one or two of them are just 30 minutes long.
Include different levels of intensity
Another way to get more out of those 3 hours per week is to introduce rides that focus on a different intensity. To make things simple, there are three basic levels of intensity you should include – talking pace, breathing heavy pace, and sprinting pace. This is what it could look like:
- Shorter ride with sprints (30 minutes). Use about 10 minutes for a warm-up and then follow it up with 5 hard minutes. During these 5 minutes, alternate between 30 seconds of all-out sprinting and 30 seconds of recovery spinning. After some easy riding, do another 5-minute segment and then some cooldown spinning at the end.
- Hilly ride (30-60 minutes). Try to find a route with a hill that is not too steep and feels manageable. The goal is to spend a good portion of the ride breathing hard.
- Longer ride (60+ minutes). Plan a longer ride for the weekend. You should ride at a pace where you can comfortably keep a conversation going. Flat routes are ideal.
If you make good use of your time, just 3 hours per week of cycling can give you a solid foundation. Next time, we will look at how this number of hours changes if you want to ride for performance.