Pow Pow Power Training: Coming to a Bike Near You
On Going to the Dark Side
Power training? Really?
There are forces at battle within me. The emotional side of me loves the uncalculated, un-analyzed raw execution of sport: we are not equations and we should not be reduced to a set of numbers laid out on charts, mapped in graphs, and pored over for hours on end. We should go ride until we see Jesus and know that we have done our best.
But cycling is brutal. Cycling is not the game-saving, diving center field catch in the bottom of the seventh inning. It’s not the clutch opposite field line-drive with a man on third. It’s an unforgiving and calculated refinement and training of the body. Teach yourself to suffer more. Ride faster. Train. Train harder. Train more. Ride ride ride ride.
All this crap for what? I may never win a bike race so it’s not for glory.
What is left is that there is some personal satisfaction in finding your limits and pushing on them. There is some value in the challenge of asking yourself to be better. To see what you can do. Within your own little world.
To that end, having an objective measure of progress is invaluable. Progress in cycling is so slow and excruciating that it’s hard to realize when you’ve made gains, and just how significant they are.
So I want numbers. Proof.
I want the charts and graphs. If for nothing else so that I can point at them in those dark moments when I need to convince myself that there is a point. That it’s worth it.
Riding bikes? Easy. Racing bikes? Hard. Hard as shit. Mind-boggling. Humbling.
Give me power files. Give me proof. Give me concrete goals and motivation. The cycling version of the game-saving catch will happen at some point. For now there are numbers. The Power Tap wheel is finally on the way.
The Super Basic Theory of Using a Power Meter in Training
The goal of incorporating the power meter is pretty straightforward. Increase the threshold of wattage produced, increase average speed achieved (get faster… duh).
During the off-season and in the winter months when many of us are stuck inside on the trainer, this is a particularly effective training strategy because it sets a competitive goal with viable real world applications. When you can’t be out in a group rippin’ legs, at least you have your good old power meter to keep you honest, right? Of course, power training is beneficial year round as well.
By nature, we all want to know how we stack up against others in the same sport. That is, after all, the heart of competition, and programs like WKO+ assign certain power profiles by racing category, so you can get a general idea of where you stack up in the brutal road racing pecking order. Of course, these are just guidelines… not hard and fast destiny. They’re based on years of data and can be considered fairly accurate, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to get on your bike and race in order to see where you really fall.
Power pits you against your toughest critic – yourself – to consistently build toward a higher threshold of wattage. If you ever wanted to know for certain whether or not you are kicking your own ass vis-à-vis some historical moment, power is the best and most accurate way to measure that. (A good measure of intensity and duration for the intervals involved in this kind of training is the lactate threshold, the point at which lactic acid starts to accumulate in the blood stream… but we all know that, right? I mean, we’ve been riding at LT all ‘cross season for christsake.)
Training with a power meter offers a significant advantage over using a heart monitor alone. Riders who are in good shape maintain a fairly steady pulse. That’s great data for getting affordable coverage health insurance, but it’s not a reliable indicator of ride performance. There are all kinds of things that can affect heart rate: nutrition, stress… the list goes on and on.
A variety of power meters are available. Most use strain gauges to measure torque applied in combination with angular velocity. (Dust off your old physics books, power nerds.) These units are mounted in the bottom bracket, rear freehub, or crankset. When combined with software that analyzes the data and tracks progress, these meters are highly effective training devices. (Most units also give data on heart rate, speed, distance, and time to build a broader performance profile. The big boys in this playing field are, of course, PowerTap and SRM with Polar and Quark trailing behind.)
Generally power training is combined with interval training on an ascending/descending curve. Like any training regimen, however, power training should be specifically tailored to the abilities and goals of the individual cyclist.
The most comprehensive guide (that I’m aware of) for training with Power is Training with Power by Hunter Allen and Andrew Coggin. It’s on the way to me – yippee! – and I’m told that it’s sort of an eye-crosser. We’ll see.
In the meantime, expect to see more nerdy power crap around here over the next year. I’ve finally gone to the dark side.