As a coach I am often asked by athletes whether they are better off to go and do structured efforts on a solo ride or to join a local fast group ride instead? It is a good question which has a multifaceted answer and one in which I enjoy exploring with different athletes. As with every situation a coach must juggle and calculate all the factors involved. From an athlete’s goals, motivation, life situation, personality and of course their fitness level which can be the biggest determining factor in giving the best answer. Outside of current restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, to make the decision on whether to say yes to your mates and go smash the local group ride or to clip in for a few soul searching solo miles a bit more informed we at Mind Matters Athlete Coaching have outlined some of the key training points associated with each option.
It is easier to hold a structured power or heart rate effort when riding solo. This can be helpful if you are a rider motivated by quantifiable goals like a ride in FTP. The timing/ intensity of structured efforts can be a big factor in achieving those data driven goals. Check out Ben Thomas’ recent post on winter training.
Riding solo engages more intrinsic motivation. If you are not meeting anyone for a ride the motivation has to come solely from your own mind. So essentially it stimulates more will power. This applies from the actual motivation to get out of bed and clip in right to the motivation of putting some suffering down into those pedals.
Heading out on your own also allows mental processing time. Having a hard time at work? Family stressors? General life stress getting the better of you? Had a gutful of conversation? Exercise in general stimulates those ‘feel good’ endorphins in your brain and can foster sharper/ more positive thoughts. A solo ride can let the mind explore the facets of your own soul without the distraction of listening to someone elses issues on the local group ride.
Catharsis is a real thing in sport. Letting negative thoughts/ emotions flow through your body and exit through the cleats of your shoes can be very therapeutic and far easier to stimulate whilst riding solo.
Riding with the gang
From a performance perspective, riding with others will ALWAYS trump the solo miles. The speed, sensations and power of riding with other riders whom are faster than you will pull the best performances out of you. Psychology researcher Norman Triplett in the late 1800s undertook research comparing a cyclists times racing against a clock to racing against other cyclists. the research found that the cyclists would perform significantly better when riding with others. This is now known in psychology as the Audience Effect where we perform basic tasks better in the company of others than solo. At the moment, you will need to jump onto an online platform like Zwift to train in a group in most parts of the world.
For many a big reason for getting into cycling is for the social benefits the sport offers. Cycling offers the opportunity to meet other like minded folk and being able to enjoy a healthy activity together. The nature of our sport is it encourages positive friendships. Riding with ya mates will provide some cool stories and shared experiences that foster the bonds of healthy, long lasting relationships.
Race simulation is a key benefit of riding with your group. If your goal is to win the next local XCO race or duke it out for a podium at the Cape Epic you need to be comfortable and experienced riding with others. That bar to bar action is impossible to train for by yourself.
A fast group ride or club race is near impossible to simulate solo, so from a riding benefit perspective if you are to make a decision between solo 4minute efforts or the fast local ride, it might be worth moving the 4minute efforts to another day and capitalising on the fast group ride. The key word here is fast.
At the end of the day a mix of both solo and group riding is the best formula for training. The old trick of ‘sneaky extra miles’ (or ‘extra’’) after the local group ride can allow you to get the benefits of both styles in 1 ride. This also emphasises the benefit of a coach or someone in your corner to help advise and encourage how your training can best be aligned with your goals at any given time.
Either way see you out on the road or trail whether you are in a group in the future, or on your Pat Malone!