A question that often comes up is, Should I cycle more or less when building fitness?
Beginners improve simply by increasing the frequency and duration cycling exercises. However, a seasoned cyclist gains very little from increasing volume and frequency. In order to gain those last few percent of fitness they need to increase intensity.
The argument that seems to be gaining in popularity is that high intensity and short duration exercises is more vital to maintaining fitness for a seasoned cyclist. The issue with increasing duration is that it also increases fatigue and interferes with recover. Increases in fitness come from stressing the body which forces adaption. If all one did was to add more exercise stress one would end up over-training and becoming less fit. For this reason, it becomes more and more essential for seasoned cyclists to reduce duration and increase recovery time because it is during recovery that fitness gains are made. All the extra exercise in the world will not make up for a lack of proper recovery.
The reverse situation also causes issues for seasoned cyclists. If a seasoned cyclist were to reduce exercise and allow too much recovery time, he or she would lose fitness because of a lack of sufficient stress to force adaption. The key to sustaining fitness and gaining fitness is the effective use of one's training time. It is also interesting to note that as we age, high intensity and short duration exercise helps us keep our fitness during the senior years when our body is desperately trying to rid itself of extra muscle mass and fitness. If you've ever run into the brick wall as a senior cyclist where no matter how much time/exercise you do, you end up losing fitness and getting slower with every passing year, increasing intensity and reducing duration can help. It has worked wonders for me because in the last 2 years I have gone from a rank beginner to being called a strong cyclist by the same club members who only a year ago grew tired of me always being the slowest cyclist on their group rides.
So exactly how much training time is effective?
Experts seem to agree that 3 to 5 times a week is the most efficient use of training time. For seasoned cyclists who require a few more percent of fitness gains, they will of course increase their frequency and duration to gain just a little bit more fitness in the land of diminishing returns. Just getting that little bit more fitness starts to cost a great deal to seasoned cyclists who often ride with peers who are just as competitive as they are and just as fit.