Intensify or Extend?

Key questions

  • How should I make my programme progressive?
  • What do I do when extending is no longer an option?
  • When do I increase the intensity?
  • How can I best create the adaptive signal?

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Intensify or Extend?

When should I go harder? When should I go longer? This is a great question! For those following/writing a progressive programme you are trying to find the balance of the two. There will be times when it’s best to extend and times when it’s best to intensify. They are two ways of trying to create a progression in your training programme to try and achieve the desired adaptations.

Where to Start?

This was a phrase I first heard first put in those explicit terms on a podcast with Stephen Seiler. It’s a concept I was familiar with, even though I hadn’t put it into those exact words. As amateur athletes, we all have to look at these two variables when writing our programmes, particularly if we are time-crunched!


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When I was using the more intensity appraoch, I was using a sweetspot/threshold approach to training. All sessions moved towards the middle and  it led to illness and burnout!

So What’s the Answer?

A mistake I made when I was younger (and for many years!) was to intensify the same workouts week after week as my version of progression. I think this is a mistake a lot of people make!

That’s what the podcast with Stephen Seiler was getting at. Just because you are time-crunched doesn’t mean you just keep making everything more intense.

Before training with Joe Beer I used to complete sessions with the aim of doing them a bit harder than last week. Squeeze out a few more watts!! This intensify approach is limited. There are only so many times you can force more watts out of the same session before you fail.

If you listen to Kolie Moore on the Empirical Cycling Podcast it is a concept he also talks about a lot. Around the time I started listening to his podcasts I had just started using the WKO5 software and that has this concept built-in.

The software will give you an estimated FTP and also a TTE (time to exhaustion). Basically how long the software thinks you can maintain the estimated FTP. This concept makes a lot more sense to me than just an FTP number.

When and Why to Extend

If in the WKO5 example the TTE is on the lower side (30-40 minutes) it is well worth working to extend the FTP. This can be done by continuing to work with your established zones and in your sessions with high intensity don’t increase the target watts, look to gradually increase the accumulated time in the intervals. For example, if you are doing a sweet spot session make sure you are getting enough of a stimulus to be of benefit and each week either add an extra interval or add a minute or two to each interval (eg. if you did 6×10 minutes one week, maybe it’s 7×10 the next week or maybe 6×12 minutes).

In this example FTP = 298 and TTE = 41:08


When Do You Choose to Intensify?


I think for most people, particularly those that are time-crunched, the time to intensify and move the watts on comes when you have extended the TTE to 50-60 minutes and that often means sessions are getting too long to be fitted in and perhaps they are less effective too. So in this situation, it is time to re-test and set new zones.

I love the new metabolic testing I’ve been doing this year and it will show you clear changes in your performance and gives you clear zones to begin your next block at a higher level of intensity.

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I think the key is that as a general rule you will get far greater long term gains from focussing more of your progression around extending your training efforts and then occasionally re-testing and adding a little more intensity.

This is a far more sustainable training approach, which in endurance performance is crucial. The gains don’t come from a magic set of intervals or a massive weekend, a much longer-term view is needed and a great focus on progression through extending will help succeed in this.

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