When cyclists start training toward a goal, they suddenly have to balance ride time with structured and group rides. Group rides, smart-trainers, spin classes and weekly races can be a great stimulus and are certainly fun, but too often they don’t address the endurance and intensity you need to progress your cycling fitness.
How you weave in fun rides depends on your goals: an Olympic athlete has less leeway than a weekend warrior, but both athletes have room for these rides. Planning and focusing on the timing of your hard, long and easy days helps you balance your training goals with your group rides.
1. PLAN AHEAD
If you are working with a coach, any group rides you want to do should be discussed and planned as part of your preparation strategy. Expect to reduce the number of group rides in your week, or when you’re planning a group ride, add extra time or sit in the pack. In the last few weeks before an event, skip the ride to focus on very specific work and sufficient recovery.
Plan your training into a weekly calendar to maximize your limited training time and ensure you optimize your plan around family and work obligations. Once you have the confines of your calendar outlined, you will see a good day or weekend for long rides. Group ride intensity can range from easy-social rides to short, hard hill reps, so consider the timing of these to optimize your other days. If the group rides are hard, take days off before and do a longer endurance ride the day after.
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2. BE OK WITH IRREGULAR WEEKS
Because your life and group ride schedule is specific to you, it’s worth letting go of the standard Monday and Friday off-days to optimize your calendar. Step away from a 7-day week and think in 2–4 day blocks of training. If you have a Wednesday group ride, then you should take Tuesday off and ride on Monday. Ensure these blocks follow a ‘hard-easy-off’ pattern. It’s rare for athletes to thrive on back-to-back hard days, so avoid doing intervals the day after your group ride.
3. RIDE BEFORE OR AFTER
If you attend a more social ride, consider adding time before or after to get a targeted workout before adding endurance time with the group. Riding to and from a generally easy group ride makes a long day in the saddle much easier to motivate. Adding intervals before or after a group ride helps an experienced athlete get the workout they need and some social time. Build up to this and make sure you are able to thrive on the group ride (not just survive) before adding stress to the day. I often have mountain bike athletes do sprints or hill repetitions before a 20–40 minute weekly race. For road cyclists, the weekly crit or group ride is a great chance to add endurance by simply riding to and from the ride, as a bonus this can decrease time in the car if you ride from home to the event or just park further away.
4. HAVE A GOAL FOR THE RIDE
Just like you are following a plan to achieve success in a future race, it is important to have a goal for each group ride. Each day, we can work to experience a portion of our race, improve a certain skill or improve our fitness. The ride goal may be to have fun, but could also include tactics like staying in the lead group for the first lap, sitting in for the first hour of a crit or hitting a certain wattage in a workout. They are little goals, which can be incorporated in fun group rides. To boost your goal-setting, make sure you assess how your days and weeks are going. This could be done daily in your training log or simply on a Sunday as you plan your week ahead in your calendar.