How long should my endurance rides be outdoors?

I ride XC MTB. When I go for a real MTB ride, my rides are somewhere between 35 and 45 miles of actual MTB, so that means mainly off road and some seriously steep climbs with rocks and roots. Pretty intensive anaerobic efforts, with anywhere from 2500 to 5000ft of climbing.
This takes anywhere from 3 to 4.5h depending on the terrain, how fast I want to ride etc etc.

I don’t do those rides several times a week because it would be too taxing for my body (I’m sensitive to overuse injuries). What I do is combine them with easier rides, zone 2/3 range, without serious climbs (and sometimes I do a 1.5h all out effort).

Now the question is: if I am already used to riding for 4hours on a steep, technical course, how long do my zone 2 rides need to be in order for them to still have a training effect (meaning that they actually make me progress, and not simply for a status quo)? Would seem like 4 hours at zone 2 is a lot easier for me than 4 hours of XC MTB, so I would make sense that there is not a lot of progress to be found there?

I also can’t afford to start riding for 6+ hours on those rides, due to lack of time. Is the solution then to start riding in zone 3 for multiple hours?

@TheBelgian I race XC and generally train in the 2 to 4 hour range for endurance and my A event race is 6 to 7 hours, 50 miles with about 6k feet of climbing.

Generally I will do some sub-threshold work on one weekend day and a longer Z2 ride on the other. The rest of the week I do shorter workouts on the trainer that range in focus - sometimes MAP, sometimes FTP. Right now I am on the XC marathon plan although I have had to modify some parts due to travel.

I also find regular yoga, mobility, core work and some lighter upper and lower body work to be critical both in and out of season. Further I try to work in some cadence builds and also sprint training fairly frequently to keep those pathways sharp.

So far this routine has worked for me and I continue to hit race PRs.

Ah but I didn’t mention all the rest I do :slight_smile:
I hit the gym 4 times a week, 2 lower body and 2 upper body days + I go to a PT twice a week for core/abs/stability training.
I think that part is covered :slight_smile:

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I’m not a coach, but I’d be wary of this, as it has potential to introduce a lot of fatigue, possibly without getting the training benefit you’re looking for. I’d suggest getting in touch with a coach to give you some specific advice.

One thing with a longer endurance ride is that you’re riding at a more consistent pace, whereas a MTB trail ride has lots of harder efforts followed by recoveries.

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For general training (as opposed to preparing for an event), it is better to separate your Zone 2 HR rides from your VO2 max /MAP interval training.

If you mix the two, your body preferentially uses the lactic acid from the MAP efforts as fuel, and you will not develop your mitochondrial efficiency.

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@Heretic Yes - that is generally what I do. I generally limit intervals to 2 sessions a week and then do longer endurance on weekends. The exception might be a practice race but I am definitely dialing any interval work back before I do that.

For strength days I might do a split day with some modest endurance, high cadence builds or low cadence work often separated by a few hours before or after I do strength.

While I do race most of my training is just to stay fit so I can ride more and do other stuff like hiking and skiing.

Do you actually need to make aerobic endurance gains in order to be successful in what you are trying to achieve?

It seems to me that you have reached the maximum amount of volume that your schedule / life style allows for. If you want to be a professional rider and train 40 hours a week, then that is an entirely different matter. However, from the sounds of it, you have no problem exerting yourself for 4 hours.

My advice would be to test on the Full Frontal, determine what your metabolic weakness is, and then target that weakness. The beauty of the 4DP Model is that as you increase your weakness you also raise the efficiency on the other energy systems, and thus you should be able to put out more watts at the same or lower heart rate for your aerobic endurance rides.

Hope that helps!


Actually I have no interest in riding longer or farther, that’s true. The only thing interesting to me is to ride those same distances/types of rides faster.
So the question is more about how to do that. Training my Z2 endurance so I can ride for 10 hours at a decent pace seems a bit useless for this.

Correct. So, train your weakness and the adjacent Energy Systems, ie Tempo, Sub Threshold, and FTP.

Go get 'em bud!


But “the smart people on the internet” always told me I should train black or white, not grey!
Black = VO2 max intervals
White = zone 2

All the rest is a waste of time and junk miles! Apparently :rofl:


Those “smart people” include Iñigo San Millán, a sports scientist and Tadej Pogačar’s coach. He does point out, however, that does not apply to event specific training.


Yeah, but if you take that advice as gospel, doing any form of tempo / sub-threshold work is a pure waste of time and should be replaced by either zone 2 or VO2 max intervals.

I think this is only true for people whose job it is to ride a bike. The clue of all that zone 2 work is to get adaptations without accumulating fatigue. I don’t know about you but I don’t have time to sit on my bike every day of the week for hours and hours, so accumulating fatigue isn’t an issue, as there is always room for recovery. I’m not going to jeopardise my rides later in the week because I rode in zone 3/4 on Monday, instead of sticking to zone 2.

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As an older rider it does not take much to accumulate fatigue. I need to be as efficient as possible.

If you ride too much in Z3, Z4, etc. you will not develop your fat-burning zone.

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Conversely, if you spend too much time in Z2, your Z3-5 go away.


Beginning to sound like “All things in moderation” to me.


The problem is that if you do not ride in HR Zone 2, you will not get the benefits of mitochondrial efficiency which is necessary for long term health as well as improving your fat burning system. Riding higher than Zone 2 produces lactic acid which the body uses preferentially for fuel, and will prevent the mitochondrial effects you need.


Also, make sure you have sufficient quantities of coenzyme Q-10. As we age, we have less and less. Im supplementing and seeing if this helps with energy issues on long rides.

You get mitochondrial adaptations in zone 3 too


Not very efficiently, and if you do not have a lot of time to ride, it does not amount to much.

Not efficiently? Says who?

Check page 17

As I stated, the reason not to go into zone 3 or above all the time is fatigue accumulation, but if you have time to recover (or simply lack of time to ride your bike) this is not an issue. If you are a pro or want to ride all the time or need a lot of recovery, then it is an issue.

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