The Benefits of Training with Power for Time-Crunched Athletes
Guest Post by Nick Traggis, Director of the Horizon Organic / Einstein Bros Cycling Team
Whether you are a fulltime professional who trains 30 hours a week, or an age-group competitor balancing family and work commitments, we all want to use our training time as effectively as possible. In my experience as a competitor and coach, the best way to accomplish this is to move away from training by 'feel' and utilize a more data driven approach with specifically targeted efforts. The end result is less time wasted 'just riding bikes' and more return on the time invested.
There is plenty of information available on training theory, but at the macro level I feel it all amounts to riding either really slow, or really fast. This is obviously a gross over-simplification but it addresses the biggest mistake I see new riders make: riding too hard on their recovery days/periods and then not having enough left in the tank to ride truly hard when it matters. With the widespread availability and decreasing price point of power feedback tools such as the PowerTap G3 hub and Joule, there is no longer an excuse not to take advantage!
Chris Baldwin, former professional cyclist, 2x National Champion and coach with DaybyDay Coaching, had this to say:
Now with the advantage of output data, we can work training around life instead of the other way around. I like to "distill" training down by stressing the most intense energy system that still leads to the adaptation we desire. I call this a "trickle down" approach.
The devil is in the details, as success hinges on prescribing specific workouts, sensations and outputs that sync up with the training phase. This bears no resemblance to the "you don't have much time, so go as hard as you can, when you can" approach. Rather, it is a methodical progression towards killer form, focused into less time!
In order to use your power meter correctly, the first thing you need to do is a proper lactate threshold test. This will determine your training zones for power and heart rate. This is best administered by a coach in a lab setting, but you can get a good approximation by following those prescribed with your device (usually based around a 20 minute average power test). Once you have your baseline training zones determined you have some great feedback available to you during your ride and for analysis afterwards.
I personally find the biggest benefit to training with power is keeping myself from going too hard when I shouldn't be. If I have a recovery day on tap then I know I should be keeping my power and heart rate in Zone 1 or 2. If my buddy starts pushing the pace then I have instant feedback that says I need to stay disciplined and slow down. This also applies when doing intervals and making sure that I am truly recovering between sets.
On the other end of spectrum, you also can use your power meter to ensure you are hitting your prescribed efforts as intended. Perceived exertion can vary tremendously based on things as simple as the temperature outside and more indirect influences like the daily stresses of career, school, and life in general; but with instant heart rate and power feedback you know you exactly how hard your body is working. I especially like having the combination of power and heart rate data when training hard as having one out of sync with the other may tell me my body needs additional rest. For instance, if your heart rate is high but you are unable to get your power into the same levels you can usually achieve, it might indicate you are getting sick or just need additional rest.
I also asked Colby Pearce, Olympian and former professional cyclist, coach, bike fit specialist, and sports scientist with Garmin-Sharp Pro Cycling Team, for his favorite tips for maximizing your time on the bike when every minute counts:
- Use a proper warm-up: Busy riders may be tempted to skip this step and hammer right out of the driveway, especially when you are trying to get as much as possible out of your workout. But taking even 10 minutes to ramp up your riding pace gradually can make a difference both within your workout and day to day. Progress into tempo pace and use your power meter and HR as feedback to know when your body is ready. If you jump right into it, after the first effort your lungs can feel 'gassed' and high power anaerobic efforts will not be sustainable.
- Use your power meter to target specific output: Power is a measure of your body's output, and if you have been doing your homework, you have an idea of how much power you need to make and for how long in order to succeed in your target race or races. After your warm up, get to work right away and make your quality time in these zones count. Preparing for a brutal criterium with a long hard straightaway? Then try 3 sets of 6 reps of 40 second efforts with a target power that matches what you expect to see in the race (probably zone 4-5), with 60 seconds recovery, and 5 minutes easy between sets. With warm up and warm down you can get about 15 minutes of high quality anaerobic work done in a one hour workout, which is enough load to push even a well-trained athlete if the intensity is high enough. After a few weeks of these intervals, you can shorten the recovery period to make them more challenging.
- Use your software to analyze the forest: Training with a power meter and HR strap every day (even on your easy days) allows you to track ongoing metrics such as weekly time, total work, etc. When you consistently upload and review your power and heart rate data, you can have a big picture perspective of how your training load and fitness are changing. By taking a step back and looking at larger view of your season, you can avoid getting lost in the trees and see the entire forest. This will keep you on track over months of preparation for your peak event.
While you still have to do the work, with proper tools you can work smarter and get a bigger return on your available time to train. And remember: Ride really hard when you are supposed to be riding hard, and really slow when you are supposed to be riding slow!
See you on the road!
About the Author:
A category 1 cyclist and the owner/Director of the Horizon Organic / Einstein Bros Cycling Team, Nick has been racing at the elite level on the road and track for over 15 years. Nick enjoys working with professional riders/teams as well as riders looking to balance school, career, and family commitments with their cycling goals – as he has had to do the same for his entire career!