Structured Training vs. Group Rides

A short back story: the past two years I have been a Sports Director at a YMCA, which meant all of my Saturdays were spoken for and most evenings. As a result I was unable to join in pretty much any group rides in my area. I got used to riding solo and started using trainer road about a month or two ago when outdoor work outs came around.

I Start a new job in two weeks which will free up the group ride times. How do you balance structured training with community/group rides?

Currently I’m just doing low volume plans: 3 rides about 3-5 hours a week. There are 3 group rides through out the week I could be a part of. Currently I’m thinking I will keep all 3 work outs, ride easy with the B group 2 days and on Saturdays try and hit it hard with the A group?

I live in central Florida and despite wanting to race, the race options around me are pretty minimal as far as I can tell. So for the most part I am just training for fitness and to be a part of community.


Following… In a similar dilemma.

I never do group rides.

It really depends on your purpose of riding group rides and the rides available. Our club, for example, offers 4 weekly group rides. I like to do two of them:

Our Tue eve right is a hill sufferfest consisting of 8-12 VO2max hills of 0.25 to 0.75mi long. For me, they replace TR VO2max intervals.

Our Sat and Sun rides are very hard paced rides, and include a broad mix of endurance/tempo (on the flats) and tempo/threshold on the climbs (although many do PR efforts on some of the climbs). They could replace TR sweet spot and/or threshold rides. They also are fantastic for bike handling skills - single/double pacelines, rotations, technical descending, and more.

We also have a 2nd Sat ride that is more at a social pace. It tends to be newer riders or riders with less than 3.5WpKg (minimum practically to hang with Sat ride; 4.0 for the Sun ride). Social pace (16-18 on the flats). Some skills learned, but not at the level of the other rides.

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You pick what you want more, success or fun. I get three trainer sessions per week, and ride outside usually 2-3 times. I like to do VO2 work early in the morning and then go out for an easy group ride or ride with the girlfriend immediately afterward. Works well for both of us.


I follow a similar schedule once the group ride season picks up. I’ll transition over to the LV plan and add in 2 group rides during the week, they’re drop rides but aren’t super hard, usually between .65 and .8 IF for an hour to 2 hours, and go for a longer ride (usually 100km) with some friends on Saturday. It’s worked out well for me, I get a lot of training load and also keep my excitement level up from the socializing aspect.

If your group rides are drop rides with strong riders, they can definitely slot in for a training session, it won’t be as targeted but it’s still good use of your time.

Depending on what you want to get out of the ride, then group rides can be fun and benefit fitness depending on how hard you push.
If the group ride pushes you then think of it as a good training session or if it’s easy, an enjoyable recovery ride.
Cycling is supposed to be fun, so mix it up and see what works for you. There’s little point sitting on a turbo all year and either never riding with others or racing, get outside and have some fun.


For me it depends on what phase of training I’m in. Most of the group rides around me are hammerfests with the rare exception here and there. If I’m in base training and build training, I usually stick to my plan more strictly and stay inside (unless I’m racing). If I’m feeling some mental fatigue coming on, I’ll take a break from the trainer and hit up a group ride or two. This helps me reset and also helps me validate my training to see that it’s working. During the specialty phase I’m much more open to an outdoor ride or two to get used to the more dynamic and outdoor elements that a hard group ride can provide. I feel like this helps me prep for my target events. After my run through a whole phase, I’ll usually take a week or two off anything specific and mostly do some easy stuff with some fun fast group rides mixed in to help regroup and reset. This is usually the end of the summer timing wise. I’ll try and mix in some cx workouts at this point for 2-3 months for cyclocross. Once November rolls around, it’s back to total structure for road season for me.

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Most regular group rides tend to be similar from week to week in terms of the effort level, where and how long the hard parts are, etc. and in how much control you have over your own effort level. for example, a group may be fast enough that you are lucky to just hang on at the back or with a slower group, you may be able to take hard pulls at the front.

So, to answer your question, you’re on the right track recognizing the A and B rides and how to use them. After a bit you can figure out how the group rides “fit” into your weekly workout plan in terms of what type of particular training they might provide, (or how you can make them fit) and then just mix and match accordingly.

What you want to watch out for is doing too much work in the group ride setting, generating alot of fatigue but that work is not really productive. That ends up affecting your structured workouts and you end up being really tired but having not accomplished as much training wise as the plan would have gotten you.

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I typically prioritize group rides over indoor; so long as its pushes my ability. The Monday recovery ride does nothing for me but the Tuesday Night Worlds is usually a great vo2 effort and a great way to learn racing; same with the Thursday Crit Practice. Saturday is a mixed bag but I have to work often.

Even with all that I still get beat by guys that know how to race their bikes. They descend better, corner smoother, and ride smarter. A lot goes into riding your bike and there’s a learning curve; we all know how to do it but optimizing it to match your skill set is an art.

Even though you wont race much, its always a race with other people. Winning a stop sign sprint or getting compliments for your effort up front feels just as good as doing well in a race.

I schedule the group rides first (normally 2 per week, sometimes 3 when the weather is good) and then fit the plan around them. Riding with other people is what I love about cycling, and they’re the rides I look forward to most each week. When I’ve tried doing more structured riding at the expense of group rides it rarely lasts long before I lose motivation and find that I’m actually cycling less overall and enjoying it less. Would I be stronger doing 12 hours/week of structured TR rides instead of 6 hours of TR and 6 hours group rides? In theory I might, but in practice I couldn’t handle even 8 hours/week of TR rides without group rides to break it up.

So having decided that I’m including the group rides regardless, the question then moves on to getting the most benefit from them and/or fitting them in well around the plan. There is a long Saturday ride (~4 hours) which is easy as it’s mostly endurance with some tempo and sweetspot when I’m on the front, so I just sub it for a 2 hour SS session. Midweek smash fest ride is harder as if I get in a small break group it tends to be threshold and over/under work, but if I stay in the bigger pack it tends to be more VO2Max and anaerobic work with longer periods of recovery in between. I try to have a plan as to how I’m going to ride it each week, but also a case of looking at the data afterwards and then adapting the rest of the week accordingly.

The ride I haven’t figured out how to accommodate consistently is a weekend ride I occasionally do which is basically a race. 3.5-4 hours with some super strong riders, typically gives me TSS of something like 250-300 and leaves me needing 2 days of easy rides to recover (and need an easy day beforehand as well). Enjoy doing it and huge training benefit but don’t want 3 enforced easy days so I’ve either got to get strong enough to do it without it taking so much out of me, or just stick to doing it once a month or so (normally as last workout before a recovery week).

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@Mdevore, if my maths is correct, thats six workouts you’ll be doing so its doesnt leave a lot of recovery, unless you treat the B group rides as such. For the A ride, I suggest you schedule the hardest TR workout 4 days before on a Tuesday, so you can have a B ride on Wednesday, rest Thursday, easiest TR workout on the Friday morning then the A ride the next day. The Friday workout will be an opener and give 24 hours before the A ride. All of the above is assuming the B ride is on a Wednesday and relatively easy.

I’ve found that I typically plateau when I start hitting up group rides regularly.

My team ride is a real hammerfest with strong guys, stronger than me. The problem is that I typically got dropped 1/3rd of the way into the ride. So then I was riding z1/z2 for the rest of the ride since I lost motivation and was tired from getting a spanking in the first and hardest third of the ride.

As a TR user I was substituting my really hard Tuesday night ride for a really hard group ride. But, I couldn’t hang on long enough to get the same benefit that I would get on the trainer.

It is good to get a hard group ride in before you go to spend money on a race. You might be able to get the fitness quick from the trainer, but you’re not working on your racing skills.

So, I’d say that I typically lean to just doing a trainer workout if I want to increase my fitness. But if I’m just trying to get in some long rides, or get my skills sharpened than I’ll go to a group ride.

I also believe that a lot of people plateau fitness wise because they get pretty strong and then ride with the same people in group rides. And a lot of these group rides have a ‘dynamic’ which I think holds some intermediate people back from their full potential.


Thank you all! I guess part of my question is : how many hard or even just solid training days do you do or is too much for you? I recognize this is different for each person.

I find that I can do 2-3 workouts during the week and still have enough in me for a good solid group ride on Saturday. I find that I respond really well to sweet spot workouts on Friday evenings, they just seem to wake me up for the group the next day

I normally do 2 outdoor rides and 2-3 TR rides a week. following a low volume plan is very useful in terms of flexbility.

my two outdoor rides are normally:

  • a quasi team time trial, normally IF of 0.96
  • a group ride, usually a bit longer (100km+) with an IF of 0.86+

I will use group rides as validation for the training I have done on TR, i.e go for strava PBs or take more pulls.

In my experience, only following a low volume structured plan, you will miss some of the benefits of doing the longer group rides, where fatigue/time in saddle/responding to attacks and digging deep to just hang on are all present.

You could always follow the mid-volume plans strictly, but you will miss out on all the fun of riding outdoors with your friends!

The people I see plateauing in group rides are the ones that are just doing the same thing every week, which is a recipe for plateauing. But you could do the same thing if you just followed the same training plan every week on your own.

I also see a lot of people progressing through group rides. Riding with stronger people is great motivation both during the ride itself, but also in motivating you to train more or smarter so you can be one of the stronger guys in that group, not the one hanging on. Of course group ride selection plays a big part in this - no point in going with a ride where you get dropped so early you miss the benefit, you need to find something closer to your level. Equally if you progress to the point where you’re one of the strongest riders in a group then you either need to ride it differently and be the guy who is animating the ride with breaks and attacks (if that’s acceptable etiquette for that ride), or you need to accept that that ride is now providing a different training stimulus to when you were a weaker rider, or you need to find a different ride. I’m lucky enough to have a whole range of local group rides to choose from, and have done most of them regularly enough that I have a pretty good idea what to expect. So I can pick and choose what to do each week depending on my fitness and plan. And even to some extent can choose how I ride them.


This could be of interest:


For me - this last sentence is the whole crux of what the ‘right’ answer is for you. If you want to focus on being part of the cycling community then group rides are likely your A priority on a day to day basis and you should make time for them at the expense of more structured training.

If, however, getting faster is your A priority then you should try to sacrifice your group rides for more structure and only do group rides that are either recovery paced for you or are going to get you consistent intervals that can replace one of your structured workouts

Basically - decide what you want to get out of your time on the bike and that should point you to the best answer for your situation

Along with the group ride/no group ride choice, there is a middle way that still gets you the skills benefits and social aspects of the group ride but keeping you closer to your training plan. I frequently will either turn back early which either lets me cruise home easy or do a set of focused intervals. Sometimes i’ll do intervals before the ride then do the whole ride if I really want to work. I see alot of the serious racers doing the same type of things so this must be good :wink: