Thanks for the question, I’m sure you’re not the only one who’s wondered this.
There are a few reasons why the cycling volume is low on the pre-season low and moderate volume triathlon plans. There are a lot of ways you can design a training plan and maybe the way we’ve done ours is non-traditional, but here’s the reasoning behind it.
1- The overall volume of the low and medium volume plans are relatively low and to train 3 disciplines within 4-10 hours/week is a balancing act and can be tricky.
2- The cycling sessions on the season prep plans are 100% indoor. When riding indoors, your time under tension (and resulting fatigue and strain on the body) is much higher than compared to the same amount of time riding outdoors because there is no coasting, stopping for traffic signals, waiting for your buddies, etc. This is a big driving force behind the shorter durations of each session. What each session lacks in volume is made up for with intensity or neuromuscular training.
3- When deciding which cycling sessions we use, we go to our training philosophy: Initiate, Recruit, Sustain, Repeat. What does this mean? Basically, we feel that it’s important to maintain all aspects of our fitness, starting with the neuromuscular ability to contract and relax the right muscles at the right times and develop pedaling efficiently. Hence Elements of Style, cadence builds, big gear/low cadence workouts, etc in the early weeks of the plans. Even though these aren’t high intensity sessions, the nervous system is getting a heavy dose of stimulus and doesn’t need a lot of intensity as well. But, we do of course keep intensity in the program by bringing in sustained and repeated efforts. And because we have 2-3 moderate to high intensity cycling sessions/week, we feel that is more beneficial than higher volume and lower intensity for users who have time limitations.
4- This higher frequency of cycling with moderate to high intensity brings about faster adaptations than high volume at low intensity. So for people on time constraints, it makes more sense because they just wouldn’t get very much out of a low/mod volume, low/mod intensity plan.
5- The running volume is fairly high compared to cycling because it’s mostly moderate intensity. Running is much more stressful on the body than cycling, and the amount of stress on the body from riding indoor is fairly high, so having mostly low-mod intensity running on the plan with one high intensity running session reduces injury potential, especially when most people will be running outdoors in less than optimal conditions (or on a treadmill) as pre-season typically falls in the winter/early spring seasons for most of our users. But this is also why frequency of running is high and volume per session and intensity is low-moderate. Most people develop their fitness, strength and durability (strength of connective tissues and ability to tolerate the stress of running) faster by running more frequently with not a lot of volume. So by pairing running and cycling sessions on the same days (Tue, Thurs and Sat) we hit your legs hard on those days and then give them a chance to “rest” on Monday, Wednesday and Friday when you’re only swimming. There is also the assumption that upon finishing the pre-season plan, the user will proceed to the event based plan, in which the running intensity comes up. We know you’re ready for the increased stress of running faster and most of the weekend riding you’ll do is outdoors which will help balance out the increase in physical stress from the hard running.
I know this turned out to be a very lengthy response, so I do apologize, but I hope it helps everyone understand the methods to our madness a little more.