Balancing Outside Rides with TR Workouts for Lower FTP People

I know some version of this question gets asked a lot (I’ve done multiple searches). The responses vary, but seem to center around moving workouts around being the best idea if it’s a consistent problem (lots of outside rides) or skipping workouts if it’s an intermittent problem (only occasional outside rides). Because of my lower FTP (tons of respect to you guys; I can’t imagine getting mine to where most of what I see here is), I’m not sure the advice works for me.

My FTP is only 160. That means on a normal bike ride, just getting up hills requires spending time well above that. Combine that with the fact that I live in an area of rolling hills, and any outside ride is a decent challenge for me, I think that means I need to build in recovery.

For example, yesterday was on “off day” on TR (I am doing SSBMV), I went on a 1.5 hour / 21 mile ride. Power numbers were:

AVG Power: 135;
Max Power: 444;
Max Avg Power (20 min): 147;
NP: 158;
IF: .983;
TSS: 148.

Here are some charts (in case it helps):

On Wednesday, I did Carson (TSS 67). Today, I’m scheduled to do Tunemah (TSS 103). Saturday, I’m supposed to do Leavitt +2 (TSS 96) but was thinking of going on a longer outside ride (~35 miles / 2.5ish hours). Sunday and Wednesday are my off days on TR.

Should I just do Tunemah today or would I be better off “recovering?” Also, if I ride outside Saturday, should I move Leavitt +2 to Sunday or just skip it?

Is doing these “unstructured” outside rides hurting my ability to realize TR gains? The TSS numbers are always higher than the TR TSS workout numbers, but there is no structure to how I’m getting there.

Sorry for such a long post with so many questions. I appreciate all of you on here for sharing info with us less knowledgeable types.

Will

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It depends.

If you get on the trainer today and your legs just aren’t turning the pedals and you’re really struggling, probably best to bag it. Moving workouts in theory is a good idea but. can be tricky until you’ve gotten some experience with the whole thing.

I think the general recommendation from people will be if you want to ride (unstructured) outside with some regularity you’re probably best swapping to the low volume plan, and not having to worry about skipping or moving workouts. Unless you’ve been structured training for a while, you’ll see gains on low volume, potentially not as much as mid volume, especially sprinkling in outdoor riding. I would caution that if your outdoor rides are regularly this hard, you might need more recovery time, and just listen to your body.

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A couple of things come to mind. First & most importantly, what is your goal cycling? For me, it’s being outside & riding in the woods for fun first. Second is being outside & riding as fast as I can for as long as I can. Lastly, I enjoy racing bikes in the woods. So you ask if riding unstructured outside is hurting your potential TR gains -maybe, but for me, I put those gains 2nd to riding outside. Your question come down to prioritizing what is most important to you.

The next thing is that outside ride you referenced. You’ve got an IF of .98 -that should be a very hard ride. Did you feel like you went out & hammered about as hard as you could for 1.5 hours? That seems unlikely to me & something is off here. Most likely, your outside ftp is a good bit higher than your indoor ftp. I just put a power meter on my mtb & on my first ride, based on my indoor ftp of 225 ish, the IF was well over 1 for roughly an hour ride. Based on how hard I felt I went, I manually entered the ftp for that ride in TR & it gave me more appropriate TSS/IF. I’ve been using that number for my outside ride ftp & think I’m pretty darn close to where it should be which is about 12% higher than what I can do inside. Going to test soon but weather has been spotty here & im riding for fun outside when I can.

Hope my rambling helps you out a bit!

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I also live in a fairly hilly area and have taken a different approach to the traditional bike riding ethos of getting out on the open road - I scouted out a fairly flat 6 mile circuit near my house that has minimal stop signs or traffic interruptions and ride my fixed gear bike or my geared bike depending on what I’m doing and do laps. I recognize this isn’t possible for many (most?), but, if it’s possible, I highly recommend it.

Alternatively, if you can’t find that situation, you could find a route that is fairly flat compared to others. Your gearing should allow you to just slowly wind up hills. Watts is expressed in terms of force. x cadence. Put it in your lowest gear and just go slow.

Also, check your heart rate zones against your power zones in the ride you showed above. In your easy days, you could just ride to heart rate - keeping it in Z2 as best as you can.

This was my original plan. I don’t feel as fresh as I normally do, but I feel like I could get through the workout. Then I started wondering about over training. My HRV is a good bit lower than normal today . I don’t know how to measure the “over training line.” Is it just, if you can get through the workout, you’re good? If so, I’m all for hopping on TR and going for it.

I do not race. I have two goals: 1) general physical conditioning; and 2) keep up with the guy I ride with most. The first, I’ll be good without “significant” gains. As to the second, I need some gains. I currently average 13.5-14.5 mph (if I’m pushing). He currently rides closer to 17.5 mph. I’d love to bridge that gap. I don’t know enough to know how that translates into watts (and am not great at math), but it seems like it will be significant.

A secondary goal is to get a high enough FTP to be able to ride a ride like this without having to feel like I’m going all out. In other words, it would be great if I could ride yesterday’s ride as a “tempo” / recovery ride. As it is, just getting up the hills requires full effort.

I don’t know enough to know the answer to this. I will say that I felt like I was going hard the vast majority of the time (just trying to keep up with the rider referenced above). Average heart rate was 88% of max.

Also, if it helps, here is the elevation profile of the ride.

Thank you both for the answers! I appreciate it.

I am missing another option: doing the ride as an outside workout (you can push the TR workouts to your head unit), or replacing an indoor session with an outside workout.

Anyways, a low volume plan will probably give you good gains and leave more room for outside stuff, so don’t forget that as a viable alternative. Better to keep the workload manageable than to bury yourself

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Another question that would be relevant to how much recovery you need and how much intensity you can do, how long have you been riding and how long have you been using TrainerRoad?

Something else that might be a consideration, my outdoor and indoor FTP’s are quite a bit different, I’ve heard a few explanations for why that is (different power meter, better airflow outside, less static position, etc.) but if you haven’t tried doing an outdoor FTP test I would recommend trying one sometime to see if your power zones are correct on your Garmin for when you’re riding outdoors.

I am 84kgs and on 34/28 i can go slowly uphill at 160-170w (at about 7-8% gradient) , so unless you are a lot heavier than me, I think, as @BMAC615 is saying that you just need to be more patient when going uphill.

That’s correct. The other thing is maybe the calibration is off on the trainer or the PM. Check HR zones to confirm similar HR at like efforts.

I wanted to do this. But the terrain doesn’t really allow it. So much of each ride is spent just trying to make it up hills, I can’t imagine trying to get that to sync up with a workout. I did find about a 2 mile stretch that is pretty flat. I imagine I could go out and back a bunch of times while doing an outdoor workout.

I never knew the answer to this question, but I have an idea now. I did the TR workout on Thursday. I got through it, but I was spent. I did another outdoor ride Saturday, another tough one, and I barely got through it. Turns out, I need more recovery than I gave myself.

I’m going to do that this week. I tend to agree with the idea that my outdoor FTP must be higher. I will say that I’ve done indoor TR workouts with both power meters recording, and they are always within 4 watts of each other.

The grade must be higher. I paid a lot of attention to numbers on the outdoor ride Saturday. On hills, I was spinning the pedals at 77-82 RPM, and the wattage was never lower than 230 and got as high as 460. I was going between 6-7.5 mph. I weight about 68 kgs.

Compared several outdoor rides, and my HR seems to be pretty uniform across them all.

Here are some pics from the Saturday ride outside (it’s a single-sided power meter, so you can disregard those numbers):

The answer seems to be to either switch from MV to LV or to make some decisions on riding outside less.

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Show the HR vs power pics.

Of course.

Yeah, looks like you’re going to have to just shift into lower gears and slow your cadence to match your target power.

Uh oh. On the hills, I’m already in the lowest gear. I’ll try slowing my cadence.

Thanks for all the advice and the back and forth. I really appreciate it.

I have to do 40-60rpm (or even slower) sometimes if i’m firm on maintaining a steady power output throughout a ride.

Hi Will,

I know the mantra is that ‘not all TSS is made equal’ but a 1.5hr ride outside being 148 TSS should be a signal that it’s a pretty tough one for you.

Getting the balance right will be hard but in the end it comes down to your priorities.

If your main goal is to improve your ability to put out power then you probably get the most bang for your buck from doing TR rides first and foremost. You could think about doing them outside too but that is a more complicated procedure (workout dependent) given your local terrain.

However, if you aren’t that laser focused and get more from your outside rides than just a workout, keep doing what you are doing. With the caveat that it’s probably not optimal training wise and might have an impact on your ability to give your best on the TR workout days.

What’s your regular riding/training load? If you’re relatively new to it you might want to consider a bit less volume to compensate. Maybe swapping the weekend workout for your outside ride and dropping one of the lower intensity midweek rides?

All the best,
Will

In terms of FTP/progress, etc. I’m in a similar boat to you.
I decided to go with the LV plan, and to sprinkle some more rides here and there.

What is important, if you want to progress, is to make the hard days hard and keep the easy days easy.

Doing too much too quick will result in overtraining. So, try to keep to the plan, maybe LV would be better to start with, so that you can have your outdoor ride on top?

For the hills, change your cassette. Get something that suits your profile, so that you can ride in your 'hood.

I don’t know if it’s just psychological, but TSS outside always seems way easier. Which I guess plays into the saying that “not all TSS is created equal.” I’ve had weeks of 800-900 TSS of all outside rides (*over a year ago, my FTP could have been way off) that have felt way easier than weeks of 300-400 TSS of TR structured workouts. Like, yesterday I went out for a 1:45 ride at 178 TSS, and had a 100 TSS ride the day before, and feel fine. My TSS for the week was 539 and my legs this morning aren’t bad. A week prior I did Tunnabora (67 TSS) and McAdie (112 TSS) with a rest day in between and I was destroyed. Made finishing Monitor +1 on Saturday a struggle. 378 TSS for the week and in my notes on Sunday it says that my legs feel like sh!$. I know McAdie is a tough over/under workout, but still way harder RPE than the 178 TSS outdoor ride. Maybe my sleep and/or nutrition were off.

I guess my point is that for me, when I’m looking at TSS, I usually consider TSS from outdoor rides to be slightly inflated. Or maybe I just really dislike indoor training which raises my RPE.

Edit: *Added a caveat for the 800-900 TSS week.

Absolutely, this is something I wanted to get across in my post. As well as pointing out that if FTP were correct then a 1.5hr ride at a consistent max effort would be 150*.

Even taking outside inflation into account, it would still be a really taxing ride and, if unstructured, isn’t likely to be as beneficial as a TR workout.

*plenty of caveats here.

Bikecalculator.com gives an answer of at least 9.5% when presented with this data (assuming worst case on most factors):

I’d second the suggestion to change gearing if this is the case, but if 10% is the biggest gradient you encounter I’d just change cadence - 34-28 at 60 cadence is 5.7 mph**, at 50 cadence it’s 4.7. 50 is a reasonable cadence when standing and referring back to bikecalculator, that pace requires 175w.

I also feel like there’s something missing about the power data that’s throwing a wrench in somewhere, as mentioned above differences in power meters or indoor/outdoor FTP could be making things look more confusing than they are.

** this data from the confusingly similarly named bikecalc.com, speed at cadence chart assuming 25mm tyres.