Why Train With Power?
I've said it before and I'll
say it again; In my opinion in the next
five years or so, power measuring devices will be as prevalent as
heart rate monitors (HRM) are today. In other words, everyone will have
them. And as with HRM's, not everyone will fully understand how to
get the best from them, but
that's a story for another day.
I'm sure it won't be long before the big groupset manufacturers
start building power meters in to their standard crank sets or wheels.
With decent turbo trainers coming with power measurement as standard, it
may be of help to gather an understanding of how power
measuring can help you train more efficiently and effectively.
Understanding power can help you make
a more informed decision on how you spend your hard earned money in the
future. In fact I'd go as far to say, that if you're
thinking of upgrading your bike this winter, forget the sexy frame or fancy wheels, buy a
power meter. You'll never regret it.
In other articles listed to
the left, it's explained why
power is important,
what the options are, and why you could benefit from training with
power. Here we'll discuss how for your normal, family and
full-time job athlete, power measuring can be used to create
training sessions, interval intensities and determine thresholds.
Using this approach it's
possible to create a training schedule to produce a year on year
improvement in your sustainable power at almost any level. You can
train smarter for shorter, rather than bash your brains out for longer
and hope you'll improve.
Before we start, once
again I must apologise for using my own data within this article.
As you know I never use client's data within my articles as that's a
secret between them and me! If they want to tell you that's fine
but from me, you'll never find out who's a client (unless they say it's okay) and
you'll never see their data used in an attributable way.
In the late summer of 2003 I started using an SRM on
my road bike. Before then (from 2000) I'd used power measurement only on my turbo
Once I started to use power on the road it opened up a whole new world of
opportunities and challenges.
It's one thing having a "high" power
output on a turbo, but it's not until you get a power profile from a
road race, time trial or sportive, that you get a true benchmark of what
you have, what you need and how much of a gap you have to close.
The profile below was drawn up from my 2004 local race and training
rides. During 2004 I also rode the whole of the
European UCI Golden Bike Series,
the UCI even gave me a UCI jersey as a memento! But, if I was on
my bike in Jersey I was using my power meter. Every single pedal
stroke was recorded in Cycling Peaks software and used to produce the
nice, clean, easily assimilated chart below.
You can see that the above chart
has a logarithmic time scale along the bottom and a sequential power
scale up the side.
You get a profile like this from each
ride which in itself isn't of earth shattering use. However, put a
few of these profiles together, then overlay them from your previous
personal bests and you now have a tool that tells you exactly what
you've done and what you need to do. All you have to do is work
out a way of closing the gap.
It's how you interpret the
analysis and what you do with the information your given that improves
your cycling. Rather than dwell on individual rides, I'm just
going to cover big picture stuff here to give you a conceptual idea of
what we are trying to achieve.
Once you have the information, and a profile like that above,
your whole reason for being out on the bike should now concentrate on moving the yellow
line upwards and to the right.
You can see from the figures
above that in 2004 I maxed out at a peak power of 871 watts, drifted to 833w at
eight seconds and in a typical 20 second sprint I was ending up with 685
watts. For the longer durations I had the following outputs
1 minute ~ 435 watts
▼ 2 minute ~ 365 watts
▼ 4 minute ~ 261 watts
▼ 10 minute ~ 242 watts
▼ 20 minute ~ 213 watts
You can see the dips in the
line as the power decays away with fatigue, lack of natural ability and
general slackness around the 1 to 2:25 minute mark. This profile
tells me that I need to work on smoothing the big drop before the ledge
at 55 seconds and filling the dip from 2:55 to 6:25.
If I can smooth that
three-to-six minute dip it would be a worthwhile power increase and of
great benefit especially when
climbing the 1k hills we have here in Jersey. It would also help
raise my efficiency at cruising speeds as working in this specific area
would improve my VO2max.
In respect of the peak
power, as I was still winning sprints in vets races with this power output, I
was happy with the top end but like any boy racer I wanted to see how
hard I could go. So a winter training plan was drawn up with the
objective of targeting my very obvious weaknesses.
To cut a three year long story
very short; I would analyse the data, undertake a performance test, then
from that information I would constantly draw up, modify and reset interval training
plans to increase my power output in the specific areas where I realized
I was lacking. After a suitable period of time I'd take another
performance test, monitor the difference and repeat the cycle.
In 2005 I made a conscious
effort to move away from
competing in local races to take on the classic European sportives.
We've now gone from a max of 4 minute hills to 2 hour monster climbs in
the Alps and Pyrenees. I knew my main aim was to increase my power
to weight ratio but I also wanted to see where I could take my peak and sprint power
outputs. This is what I ended up with in 2007:
I'm now three years older
(47) and have the following profiles and increases from 2004:
1 minute ~ 435w to
454w - 4% increase
▼ 2 minute ~ 365w to 403w - 10%
▼ 4 minute ~ 261w to 310w -
▼ 10 minute ~ 242w to 267w - 10%
▼ 20 minute ~ 213 watts - 244w -
The stats above suggest my
endurance power is enhanced at a greater rate than my short burst power.
But as you can see from the graph above, my sprinting power has exploded
and my mid-range power has got better but not by such a great amount.
My top end stats have moved
Peak Power ~ 871w to 1008w - 16% increase
▼ 8 second ~ 833w to 934w - 12%
▼ 20 second ~ 685w to 828w -
These are healthy increases
in anyone's book! What's more remarkable is the time I can now
hold my power for. What was my peak, 1 second max power three
years ago, I can now sustain for 11 seconds; a time increase of 1000%!
The 685w I could hold for 20 seconds has now increased to 30 seconds
giving a 50% improvement.
If a talent-less, 47 year old
slacker like myself can do this, imagine how it could help you?
Obviously the figures will
be different for everyone. The less effective and structured your
current training, the more progress you can make and the higher
potential you can realise from undertaking a critical analysis of what
you do and applying a structure to your future training.
Recording your work rate
Using the reporting features within the analysis software you
can track your current training against preset benchmarks. Cycling
Peaks can tell you how your last 28 days training compares against the
whole of your previous years efforts, or more importantly the same 28
day period at this time last year.
This is good because it
ensures you don't waste a single session of your valuable training time
by riding junk miles. Every session now counts towards something.
If it doesn't, your solid line drops below your dotted line and you can
physically see that you haven't made progress in a specific area.
It can tell you before you've even got out the post-ride shower!
In the graph below you can
see my dotted line training profile for the whole of 2006.
The solid yellow line
represents the training period of the previous 28 days (from when the
snapshot was taken). Each day it moves forward to allow you to
monitor and plot your "rolling progress" in the specific areas you have
In this specific 28 day
period (April) I concentrated on 10 second intervals, 90 second
intervals and 8 minute intervals. In all other areas the yellow
line is below or marginally above the previous years maximums.
Using this feature I can make sure I don't let myself train below a
standard I've already achieved. It lets me know when I've been
slacking and is a fantastic motivator to get out there and do some hard
work! It also tells me when I've hit a plateau and should change
to something else. Why keep doing something you can already do and
are now not progressing in?
Another fantastic feature of the
software is a
pictorial cumulative record of how much time, and percentage of effort, spent in
each power zone.
The chart above shows my
whole riding year from a chilly first weekend in November 2006, the first
session of my training programme, and a 3 hour endurance ride; to the
2nd September 2007, La Lapabie sportive and an 8 hour 18 minute, 5 col
grueller, in 30 degree heat.
The graph above translates
to riding within the following power zones:
Active Recovery ~ 73 hours 35%
▼ Endurance ~ 52hours - 25%
▼ Tempo ~ 28 hours - 13.5%
▼ Threshold ~ 22 hours - 10%
▼ VO2max ~ 13 hours 6%
Anaerobic Capacity ~ 21 hours 9.9%
Not all of my rides,
especially my mid week turbo work, are recorded in these figures.
But it does build up a picture of how I've trained and competed
throughout the year. I know I've trained at or above my Anaerobic
Threshold for a minimum of 21 hours in 2007.
The same graph is also
presented for each individual ride. Here's one for the 4 hour 16
minute, 156k, Bernard Borreau Sportive. As you can see it was a
leg stinger with 19% at anaerobic capacity or above!
This one is from that first
3 hour ride of the season. You'll see how the boxes on the right
are very small!
These graphs are here to
show you how you can check you are training within the correct power
training zones (measured against your individual threshold power).
As the season gets nearer you need to make sure you start targeting the
two boxes (VM: VO2max & AC: Anaerobic Threshold) on the right.
Power meters also record information from competitions. In each
event I undertake, I can now see when I dipped, why I dipped and what
power I was sustaining for what period of time when I dipped!
With this information I now
trot off to the lab and create some power-and time specific interval
sessions to increase the thresholds that caused me the problem.
Absolutely 100% targeted training. Training that directly
addresses identified weaknesses.
Each event now gives me a
total breakdown of what I was good at and where I am lacking. So
once it's identified I train my weakness and for now, ignore my
strengths. How good is that? Now I don't go out and do what
I like doing because I'm good at it. I'm now forced to confront my
weaknesses and have become a better rider for it.
Doing high intensity interval training with a HRM is, to be blunt, a bit hit
and miss. One you've used a power meter you'll never even look at
your heart rate ever again; it doesn't matter.
If you were to carry out
six, two minute intervals at 80% max heart rate in November, and again
the following September what have you measured? Not a lot, because
the figures will probably be the same; it's 80% of max heart rate!
Sure, there'll be improvement, but how much?
For super high
intensity intervals it doesn't matter what your heart rate says, you get in the
right power zone and hammer it. You recover then hammer it again.
When you get to a point where you can't hit the figures you stop.
Training by heart rate alone will not give you the same results.
It's a fact!
The graph below shows my
maximum two minute power outputs, mainly from my "secret" St Saviour two
minute interval test hill. If you
come out on our weekend training rides you'll know where it is and you'll know
that we always attack it with gusto.
You can see that the first
ride of the season brings in a lung-busting 278 watts which quickly
rises (with the gears) to 298w at the end of the month. For the
rest of the winter we mix big gear climbs with high cadence climbs of
the same hill and hit 380w in February.
We then go off and do other
stuff, because we don't do 2 minute intervals on every ride, then come
back in May to hit 403w as we do in July and August. This is
probably as good as it will get for myself.
Personally, I don't think I
would get the same results by training with a heart rate monitor.
When I do a 300 watt interval, I know from the very first pedal rev that
I'm doing 300 watts. When I can't hold 300 watts I stop my
intervals. It really is that simple.
If I only had a heart rate
monitor to guide me through my interval sessions, my power would be dropping for
the same heart rate and the quality of my intervals would be slowly
Heart rate doesn't allow you
to measure intensity and effort. Let me explain with a diagram;
here's an output chart from a session I use that's based on rapid
Stripped of data, you'll see
that the green power line and pink cadence lines are constantly moving
up or down. The brown heart rate line hardly moves! This
session, along with the benefits it brings, would be impossible to
achieve using heart rate as a measuring parameter.
In my opinion power meters will
come down in price and availability over the next few years to make
their training potential available to all riders.
If you are thinking of
spending a few bob over the winter on a bike upgrade you could, and
probably will, do a lot worse than spend it on a power measuring device.
I know Merckx and Hinault never had these contraptions, but they never
had heart monitors either! I can guarantee they will, if used
correctly, make you a faster, more efficient and more effective rider.
If you're unsure about the
benefits they can bring why not take a half-way house and upgrade your
turbo to a power measuring type. Set yourself some indoor workouts
for a month just to see how much you improve. It takes very little
time to measure a substantial increase if you structure your training
around power thresholds. Once you have you'll never look back.
In the immortal words of
Wolfie Smith, "Power to the people!"