The time crunched athlete (TCA), to me, isn’t defined by how many hours they have available to train per week, but rather how many responsibilities they carry and how many balls they need to keep in the air at one time or another. Being time-crunched can also be daily, weekly, monthly, seasonal, or even a yearly occurrence with some aspects of life progressing quickly at certain times which leads to less consistency and training availability. I myself have recently gone through a major life transition with having a Son and buying a house within the past year. This has meant my training time has been reduced by >50%, but I am at the same level of fitness (used loosely) that I was last year. How is that possible, and what did I change to maintain it?
As Time Decreases, Intensity MUST Increase
There are 3 main aspects to training: frequency, duration, and intensity. If 1 of the 3 changes, the other 2 will also change accordingly…
Frequency is how many days per week or how many times per week you train. The TCA can very rarely modify how many days per week they can train, BUT they can increase the amount of times per week they train. The easiest way to do this is doing a morning and evening double session. I suggest making the morning workout supra-threshold based (VO2 Max or higher) and the evening session Threshold or sub-Threshold based.
Duration is how long the workout is. This is also another hard aspect to change for the TCA, but even I can sneak in a 2+ hour workout over the weekend when my wife is home and if I get up early enough in the day. Fortunately, endurance losses are much slower than top-end form losses, so getting out for a 2-3+ hour ride every 2 weeks is sufficient to maintain your endurance. Now, this doesn’t mean you will be a Tour contender on just one 3 hour ride every 2 weeks, but this is better than nothing.
Intensity is how hard a workout is and is the MOST IMPORTANT aspect to consider for the TCA. Intensity can be modified easily during a workout, training week, training block, etc. and should be the first thing to increase as time decreases. I want to repeat that, as time decreases intensity MUST increase! This is due to the fact that the body responds to stressful stimuli. A stressful stimuli can be a 30 minute easy spin for a de-conditioned athlete, or a 6 hour Alpine slog for a professional cyclist. Both of their bodies will respond accordingly to that stimulus, and once allowed time to recover, they will supercompensate which will make the same ride feel easier if repeated.
So, the first thing you need to do is find a way to judge training stress (TSS)
What the heck is TSS?
TSS is how stressful (to the body) a workout is. It can be manipulated by changing a workout duration and intensity. Now, the TCA has a super finite amount of time to work with, so we must increase the intensity of the workout to increase its TSS.
Workout #1 is a 2.5 hour Endurance Zone workout:
Notice that the TSS is 141.8 and the Intensity (IF) is .77
Workout #2 is an 80 minute Threshold / Anaerobic based workout:
Notice that the workout is over 1 hour shorter, the IF is up to .9, and the TSS is ~30 less. So, a very similar TSS and workload, but in over 1 hour less time. Win, win for the TCA! You can get even shorter and even more intense, but you get the idea here.
So, what is the best way to train for the time crunched athlete? Ramp-up the INTENSITY!