"Power Basics" Work Out
My inbox is continually flooded with emails wanting to know which workouts are best. My answer is always the same: “It depends, as there are so many variables to consider. However, if you go back to the basics, you can't go wrong.” This article is just about that . . . training the basics of power. No fancy words, no encyclopedia talk, just basic and simple.
The basics of power….. On the bike, power is the amount of turning force (torque) generated multiplied by speed (angular velocity). Simply stated, it is how hard you push on the pedals and how fast you are pedaling. Therefore, the basics to boosting power are to train to push harder and train to push faster. Simple!
Last week, at the CycleOps Power Certification held at Tempo Cycling in Portland, Oregon, I coached the participants through a workout that addressed those power basics. While simple in structure and not requiring max efforts, the workout is challenging as it overloads the basics.
Before doing any workout, it is best to understand the benefits. One the education side, the participants in my class discovered that strength is the ability of the muscle to push harder or to exert force. Strength in the gym is based on a 1 repetition maximum, meaning ultimate strength is gained during very slow concentric muscle actions. Although cycling is not a 1 repetition activity, you can incorporate slow strenuous efforts to boost the force to move the pedals. Lower cadences give opportunity to use bigger gears and higher resistance to apply more force per pedal stroke. Not only will this develop muscular strength, but exerting torque over and over again also develops the strength of the cardiovascular and pulmonary system. This results in the ability to push harder for longer periods of time.
To gain strength, muscles must be gradually stressed by working against a load greater than it is used to. On the bike, this can be trained by repeatedly loading up resistance. Outdoors, this can be done by riding hilly terrain. Indoors, an athlete can complete a training session of repeated efforts of slow, strenuous work. After a solid warm up, the Tempo Cycling group started with repeated 5:00 efforts, dialing in a gear, slope or resistance load that supported a cadence around 60 rpm. This means chunk up the gears/resistance until it forces the cadence to drop to 60 rpm and then battle to sustain the continuous turnover without dialing back the load. You'll really feel the fatigue in the legs. For that reason, a 3 to 5 minute easy noodling of the legs in between is necessary to clean out the sludge before repeating. Since it is a sustained 5:00 effort, you'll be using the high end of your aerobic system. Therefore, not only developing brute strength, but also boosting aerobic capacity. Bonus!
In general, cadences above 80 RPM rely more on the cardio-respiratory system. While fast feet produce speed, it can also tax the cardio-respiratory system's ability to deliver oxygen, resulting in heart rate acceleration and some energy loss. While applying slow strenuous strokes promotes leg fatigue, a faster cadence puts less fatigue on the legs and more demand on pedaling with your lungs. To assist with efficiency, train at high cadences with the control required to maintain the proper pedaling technique. Eliminate the slop and chop in the pedal stroke at fast revolutions, and you've mastered an efficient application of force at a quicker cadence. The result is that you will harness more power, higher efficiency and less leg fatigue.
After the Tempo Cycling group repeated the 5:00 force efforts, the duration was increased to 10:00 efforts. The added time will boost stamina as you are working longer without recovery and will also build mental toughness as you talk your way through finishing the extended time. To focus on "pushing faster," work at rpm above 90 in the biggest gear you can sustain for the duration. While you'll feel less leg fatigue than the force efforts, you'll notice more rapid breathing and likely a higher heart rate. Since you are working the biggest gear you can sustain for an extended time, you're also boosting strength and aerobic capacity. BONUS. Since no two people are alike, their strengths/weaknesses vary as well. To assist with balancing that, the group performed one of their 10:00 efforts alternating between the force (low cadence) and velocity (fast cadence) goals.
The Power Basics Workout
(shown as an indoor session)
10:00 Warm Up
Repeated 5:00 efforts @ 60 rpm in biggest gear/resistance/slope to support/challenge the cadence 3:00-5:00 recovery in between. The sample below shows 2 repeats. NOTE: Make note of your average power during the first effort and battle to use that effort throughout the repeats.
Repeated 10:00 efforts @ 90+ rpm in biggest gear/resistance/slope to support/challenge cadence 3:00-5:00 recovery in between. NOTE: Make note of your average power during the first effort and battle to use that effort throughout the repeats.
Repeated 10:00 efforts alternating 60 rpm / 90+ rpm in biggest gear/resistance/slope to support/challenge cadence with 3:00-5:00 recovery in between. NOTE: The Tempo Cycling group did one of each 10:00 focus