Plan Builder and unstructured rides

I’ve been with Trainerroad for about 3 months so far, and most of my training has been indoors. So far, I’ve moved from FTP of 278 to 293, hoping to soon get to where I was in 2020 (lockdown fit) at about 315w. I’m about 78kg and 48yo, main sport is mountain bike marathon racing.

My question is about incorporating unstructured outdoor rides into a plan.

Outdoor workouts seem impossible to me. I cannot see how I can do structured interval training while riding on the roads. If the workout calls for a recovery period at say 150w, but the road is 25% uphill , what do I do? I don’t have a gear low enough for that. Equally, if the workout calls for a 400w effort, but I’m going down a steep hill with tight bends, that’s not possible either. I just don’t think i have the roads for outdoor workouts. However, more importantly, i want to be able to do a 3-4 hour road ride with friends; I want to be able to go mountain biking and not worry about intervals.

So the question is this: I know I’ll be doing about 200-250 TSS of unstructured work every week; that this will be outside; and will be at the weekend. How do I build this into a plan, so that Adaptive Training will adjust my workouts to take account of it?

I am concerned that this isn’t actually possible; that TR’s ethos is structure above all, and at all times. That if I want to follow a plan and use adaptive training, then i must give up unstructured riding, give up riding for fun, with friends, and do nothing but train, but that can’t be right can it?

Do I set a three weekday low volume plan, and just do the unstructured weekend riding on top, accepting that Adaptive Training will ignore it? But doesn’t that lose the main benefit of Adaptive Training, that it pays attention to what I’m doing and adjusts my workload accordingly?

Many thanks in advance of your advice.


I’ll somehow answer and piggyback in our question, as I also have a Wednesday spicy (very spicy) ride which I like to fit into my plan.

The first part of your question about being able to handle deferent efforts with terrain/traffic/etc it’s ok. If you’re using a Garmin head unit (maybe that’s for all of them, I’m talking about Garmin as it’s the one I have) the effort is usually preceded by a “lap button press” so that you can either advance or postpone it in order to “fit” in your terrain.

The second part, what I’m doing/did was, I selected the Wednesdays as a tough ride with the workout TSS matching the average for my rides, then I just match that ride with the workout, if that is the right approach, I’m not 100% sure and eager to hear from more people on this.

Thanks. So would you suggest I try to create a plan that incorporates a c250TSS workout at the weekend and then just match my unstructured ride to that workout?

How would I get the plan builder to give me such a workout every week?

Basically yes, just put the harder workout you have on that free ride day, not sure if this would be the correct approach though, I’ve been doing this and worked for me, including the progression levels. It wasn’t “fair” in my mind that a high intense effort wasn’t couting to my progression and then the system kept sending me “easy” workouts. Now I believe my carrer reflects better my fit and the workouts look more suitable.

As far as plan builder, having this very high TSS and given the feedback, the adaptation plan will play its role and make changes based on it.

I can’t tell if you’re over or under thinking it.

Outdoor workouts: If you’re trying to recover, and it’s 25%, turn around. -25% is easy to go down (I mean, if you aren’t exaggerating, I’m pretty sure that’s a free fall…) Don’t try to do 400w down a hill. Go up the hill instead.

Adaptive training: your structured rides will adapt relative to each other (do a vo2? great, next one will be harder. Skip a couple weeks of vo2 or fail one and your next one will be easier). What you need to manage with additional rides is recovery. I do 2 sets of intervals during most weeks through adaptive training, plus a hard ride most Thursday nights, and a very hard ride most Saturdays. Sometimes I do another hard ride on Sundays or Wednesdays. Whether and to what extent those hard group rides change my interval plan is up to me to assess based on my ability to recover. I wanted to do a lot of fun unstructured stuff last week, so I didn’t do my intervals at all. Adaptive training lowered my PLs during that time, so my vo2 today may be on the easy side and I’ll build it back up. Works fine for me.

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Thanks for the replies.

“Outdoor workouts: If you’re trying to recover, and it’s 25%, turn around. -25% is easy to go down (I mean, if you aren’t exaggerating, I’m pretty sure that’s a free fall…) Don’t try to do 400w down a hill. Go up the hill instead.”

It’s not an exaggeration. Most of my riding is in the Yorkshire Dales (England) and lots of the hills are over 20%, with terrible surfaces too. You just can’t go easy up them. When mountain biking, gradients of over 20% are very common.

I can see how hills can be used for intervals when I’m on my own, but I can’t really expect the rest of my riding group to do hill reps with me instead of the 80 mile loop they had planned.

Regarding Adaptive Training, it seems your answer removes the adaptive element from it altogether. Instead, you’re the one deciding what workout to do when, when to go hard and when to take it easy. I can do that using TrainNow, but my question is whether (and if so how) I can have TrainerRoad adapt my workouts to the work I’ve done, when a lot of that work is unstructured.

Nope, I’m not disregarding the adaptive training, that’s exactly why I put a hard workout on the same day as my spicy ride, as the system will understand that hard ride as a hard workout, not necessarily having a perfect correlation with zones, but still understanding that some work was done at that level and TSS.

Look at this:

I didn’t have an anaerobic activity schedule for this day, but I knew it’d be hard with lots of time in this zone. So I scheduled this workout on my own, rode outside and associated the ride, my anaerobic level went up to 4.1. If I hadn’t done this, my level would be underestimated and TR would not suggest me hard workouts at that level.

I might be completely wrong though, but it makes sense for me “to show” the system that I can handle those kind of workouts and the level I want to improve has a correct baseline. Other than that I’d be stuck on level 1 workouts.

These are two different things. I am still using adaptive training. I did a Vo2 6.2 yesterday and marked it hard, so next week’s vo2 adapted to be a small step up (6.4), and it pushed up my anaerobic PL too, which may come into play when I hit specialty. I will do a Threshold 6.0 tomorrow, so next week’s scheduled threshold workout will adapt depending on how I do and how I respond to the survey. I am not going through and having to hand-pick my next intervals.

But that doesn’t mean I can do all those, plus group rides, and not monitor my own fatigue. If I do hill repeats with teammates this Sunday, I will have to move my (adaptively selected) vo2 intervals scheduled for Monday to Tuesday to give myself a rest day. Adaptive training doesn’t do that part (currently, and maybe never will).

Hey @Gingerflash1975! Good questions, let’s dive into them.

Tips on planning and successfully executing Outside Workouts

As @alexsandrosantin mentioned, we’d recommend using the lap button to pause your head unit so you can get to where you’d like to be starting your interval – or even waiting until you arrive at the location you’d like to do your efforts and then loading up your workout there.

Here’s a good article that goes over planning routes for Outside Workouts:

In short, choose routes that match your workout structure. For steady-state workouts, look for consistent terrain like flat roads, gradual climbs, or gentle rolling courses. High-variability workouts may require a mix of strategies, such as using repeatable segments or hills. Prioritize safety by avoiding heavily trafficked or hazardous roads, and pause your workout if necessary to navigate challenges.

As an example, here’s a recent VO2 session I did outdoors recently – it was a simple out-and-back route where I could ride out to the hill where I wanted to do the intervals, do my workout on the hill (pedal hard going up, recover descending back down), and then ride back home:

It’s also important to be mindful of what workouts you’re taking outside. For example, Endurance rides can be a great option to get outdoors with a type of workout that’s easier to execute. We understand that some athletes don’t have ideal roads/trails to train on, which may mean saving workouts with more structure for the trainer if you’re looking to maximize your training to the fullest.

How to balance unstructured riding with your plan and Adaptive Training

For clarity’s sake – we do 100% encourage unstructured riding, like 3-4 hour road rides with friends or going out on your MTB bike. It’s good for the soul and keeps things fun!

Regarding your unstructured weekend riding: you’re on the right track leaning toward a Low-Volume plan. That will give you a solid frame of structure to work around each week while still providing enough room to add in your unstructured rides without compromising your structured sessions and, most importantly, your recovery in between. Make sure to pay attention to your fatigue level when adding extra volume and note how it might affect your subsequent workouts.

If your unstructured rides are intense, we’d recommend replacing a structured workout with that ride. Too much intensity is often counterproductive and leads to excess fatigue. Adaptive Training will keep you dialed in with your TR sessions, and while your unstructured rides won’t impact your Progression Levels at this time (they will in the future!), all of your ride data will still be used for your AI FTP Detections.

While your unstructured rides are not taken into account by your PLs, Adaptive Training can capture the benefit/fatigue from the extra riding. For example, if you are consistently doing a group ride on the weekends outside of your LV plan, the training effects (both fitness increases and fatigue) will be captured when you complete future TR workouts and through AI FTP Detection. For example, if a weekend group ride starts to make your Monday workout harder than we’d expect, you’ll be moved forward more slowly in that zone.

Lastly, we DO NOT recommend matching unstructured workouts with TR Workouts unless you have actually executed the workout itself. If you try to pair a structured workout with an unstructured ride, they are not likely to match up well, which may inaccurately change your Progression Levels, which may then cause AT to serve you inappropriate workouts for your actual fitness capabilities.

Hope this helps! Feel free to let me know if you have any other questions. :slight_smile:


Thank you.
So would you recommend that I set up a weekday low volume plan with no workouts on the weekend, and just do the unstructured weekend riding in addition to the LV plan?
That seems easy enough.

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That’s sounds correct, and I know my approach was’t the appropriate.

Question though: My anaerobic PL was 1.0, and I rode 97 min being 19.4% of it on anaerobic level, this means, at least for me, I can handle more than level 1 activities. I also know that after doing some anaerobic efforts and rating them as easy (if they really were), the AI will adjust my PL and everything should works out. Problem is, it might take 3, 4, 5 weeks to happen, in a 8 weeks block I just didn’t work the level I should.

In this context, PL are a bit useless, over/understated. How should I handle this?

@Gingerflash1975 That’s what we’d go with! I think trying to do 2 structured sessions during the week would be a good starting point, then leave the 3rd structured session on the weekend. That way, you can either choose to do the weekend workout if you can’t meet up with riding buddies, or you can skip it and get out for some unstructured riding. We’d advise trying to cap your intensity days to 3 per week max to avoid too much fatigue, so you can switch around your intense/easy days as you see fit.

TrainNow could also be a good tool to use if you want to fill in some gaps or days off in your plan. If you’re looking to add some volume to a Low Volume plan, check out this article for some tips:

@alexsandrosantin It definitely sounds like you’d be above Level 1 for Anaerobic, so I think it would be safe to look into workouts at about Level 3. You could use Workout Alternates for that, or manually search the TR Workout Library and use the search filters to find an appropriate workout.

Adaptive Training will also recognize when your workouts are too easy, particularly when paired up with your Post-Workout Surveys, and bump up your Progression Levels more quickly to get you dialed into the right workouts for your current fitness levels.