Training benefit from unstructured rides

I hope I’m not opening too many topics. But I think this is different enough from my others.
Essentially, I’ve been reading a lot regarding structured training, and there’s one question that’s bugging me. I kind of understood that structured workouts provide better benefit than unstructured ones.

But do unstructured rides provide any training benefit?

When I have the choice should I replace an unstructured outdoor ride with an indoor structured workout?

Yeah you’ve got a lot of topics and seem to be getting around to the same thing lol

Unstructured rides are ok, but i suspect in many cases create fatigue without actually doing enough in any particular area to provide really good training benefit. If you’re doing tempo, threshold, vo2, anaerobic all in one ride, you’re not really working any one thing for enough. It’s better than nothing when starting off, but they’re not really a way to push specific improvements.

I don’t know why it has to be either inside structured or outside unstructured, I do structured stuff outside. With a good loop, I do stuff like 3x50 sweet spot.

More isn’t more, it’s ok to ride endurance pace


So have a look at the question a bit closer and you’ll be able to answer it yourself.

Are you after “any benefit” or are you after specific benefit?

Are you after optimal adaptations, recovery and consistent training or are you merely “going for a ride”?

I was listening to the podcast someone with a similar style of question and I think it boils down to this:

Do you actually want to train towards a goal, or do you want someone to tell you that randomness is okay so you feel good about not training?

If you actually want to train, then start by understanding the basic principles of consistency, structure, recovery and progressive overload. They work, honest :slight_smile:


I find it hard to do structured outside due to the succession of short climbs and descents I encounter every few minutes regardless of the route.

1 Like

I actually want to train :wink: so I got my answer. Thanks.

1 Like

Time on the bike is time on the bike

Whether an unstructured ride is as beneficial to your training plan as a structured workout would be… well that depends.

Swapping out your only indoor 1 hour VO2 workout of the week for 1 hour bimble is very different from swapping out a 1 hour threshold workout for a 1.5 hour hard chaingang session.

If you are training, then doing outdoor rides in addition to the key workouts of your training plan on the trainer is one way to approach it. But when the weather is nice & a good group is out riding, I’d prefer to join that than sit in the garage on the trainer…

(Once again, I sense the pernicious influence of the mistaken belief in tightly defined training “zones”.)

Absolutely nothing wrong whatsoever with what Hunter Allen has referred to as “kitchen sink” rides.

In fact, they are often the perfect weekend antidote to trainer drone/triathlete syndrome.

Of course, if you toast yourself on Sunday such that you can’t answer the call for high intensity intervals on Tuesday despite doing a recovery ride on Monday, maybe you made a mistake. Alternatively, however, maybe that Sunday ride is really what you need, and if you can’t recover by Tuesday, you need to rethink your priorities.

TL,DR: Don’t get caught up in the weeds…think big picture, find a training pattern/load that is repeatable, and apply general principles like overload, reversibility, etc. There is no magic in training at particular intensities, specific interval sessions, etc.



I mean CLEARLY just riding around outside unstructured makes you faster. Anyone that rides consistently will be significantly faster than someone off the couch…it’s not even close.

Hell take someone that bike commutes 10 miles each way through the city to work, and put them up against a sedentary person of the same size and weight. They’ll get blown out of the water. So clearly unstructured rides accomplish something and are meaningful. They’re creating a training stimulus and adaptation.

The better question is how much better structured work is relative to unstructured work. I’m probably just missing it, but I havent seen anything showing or quantifying that difference.



Volume is one of the key drivers of endurance adaptations.

You should probably just start at the beginning and listen to all of the episodes. They will explain a lot.

And just ride. Do it consistently week after week. Take easy weeks when the legs are heavy and keep fatigue in check. Don’t be the rider that disappears in the winter and lets their bike get dusty. Those guys never get faster year over year.

Since it’s almost July and there is only a few months left of the riding season, @dave76 should just ride outside as much as he can and enjoy the bike. Once, maybe twice a week, use TrainNow and do a workout. It’s very late in the season to do a plan unless you have specific events in September / October. TrainNow is actually great for those that just want to be fit and don’t have events or races.

This fall you can take a little break and plan your structured base and build season so you can be a monster next spring.

1 Like

I’m burned out on blue blocks right now. I’m going to be trying a semi-structured approach for a bit. I’ll be cognisant of daily and weekly load as best I can and still try to spend decent time on the higher end of endurance because I don’t magically have more hours to train and the sweet spot concept has worked for me. My main concern isn’t getting enough load but ensuring I don’t overdo it and realise that when I’ve already dug a hole.

So, I’ll keep a similar rhythm going and I’ll have things I want to target each day, but precision is going out the window.

Found a work around…


Well there you go, probably reading too much about one aspect of training principles.

Structure is oversold by training companies. I really have no context about you, in the context of the question. For example if you only have 3-4 hours a week to ride, the answer might be different than if you had 6-8 hours/week. And again if you have 14-20 hours a week. And a lot of it comes back to you, and where you are on fitness journey.

1 Like

Ive not saw figures on it but I saw (I think on GCN video) the adage of train the old fashioned way like a Belgian Hardman which will get you strong through volume, or train clever like a Slovenian (eg 80/20) which will get you stronger than anyone else. Makes sense to me without seeing actual numbers :slight_smile:

Yea it makes sense to me as well.

That said…I still think quantifying it is important. I mean if you’re training 10hrs a week…but refusing to go on group rides ever because following structure yields a 5% gain year over year compared to 4.2% gain…does that really make any sense?

And clearly I’m just making up those numbers. But whatever the numbers might be they’re important.


Definitely. For me whilst I see the benefits of structured training I fit it around my group rides (thats one of the reasons I dropped to a LV plan) maybe if I saw it was 10% (for the sake of an invented number) more efficient, I might step up again to an MV plan but in honesty I’d probably still do the group rides :joy:

Edit For me the mental health benefits far outweigh at this stage of my life the extra benefit of extra training.

1 Like

I read once that Phillipe Gilbert, world champion, trained like a Belgium hardman fartlek style all his career. He’d go out on long super easy rides and once in a while bust out an effort on a hill that presented itself. Of course, he also raced a lot on top of that.

Back in the day when I raced and nobody knew about intervals, we did similar. We’d ride at a Z2 chit chat pace mostly, occasionally try to drop each other on hills, do a training crit on Wednesday night, and race or group ride on the weekend. I got better and better year over year for five years straight doing that.

1 Like

For context, in the first 5.5 months of 2023, @HLaB has already done 338 hours. Or averaging about 14 hours/week.

Last year I hit 400 hours for the entire year. This year I’m at 176 hours for the first 5.5 months, or averaging about 7.3 hours/week.

That’s a good place to start the context conversation.

1 Like

Err, and literally all coaches.

So from couch to Olympics they’re ‘overselling’ are they?

I’d say ‘maybe.’

Something can be ‘better,’ and more effective, while also being oversold.

Again…quantification matters.

Is structure the beet juice or EPO of cycling? I personally have no idea.