For the past two seasons, I have been using power on my road bike for specific interval training. Being able to hand over raw data to my coach, Lynda Wallenfels has helped her strategically maneuver my schedule to keep increasing my fitness and motivation without risking burnout. Using power, I treat workouts like a game of Super Mario, as if hitting my numbers and beyond will earn me that 1UP.
This has worked great for indoor training and days on the road when the dirt is still covered in snow. However, once the thaw hits my motivation to grab the road bike goes down and all I want to do is ride dirt. That makes training a little more variable as I’m purely going off heart rate and perceived exertion. This has worked – OK, but who wants to settle for ok? After a successful 2015, it was a no-brainer to add a Stages Cycling Power Meter to help boost my training into the 2016 season. The crank set up was quick and easy, and the pricing is quite reasonable. Click the image below to check out their site.
If more miles on dirt isn’t reasoning enough, I went to LW to ask her input on other important benefits of training with power on the mountain bike.
KJ: What do you find is the biggest benefit of adding power to your mountain bike vs. just using it on the road?
LW: With power meters on all bikes you get a complete picture of the athlete’s efforts. Fundamental to endurance training is to apply a training load followed by recovery. What is the optimal load? Optimal recovery period? Before power we could only guess. In 2003 Dr. Andrew Coggan developed a set of metrics that models workout stress, longer term training fatigue, fitness and recovery (form). We worked with him as beta testers to refine these for practical use. Since then we’ve learned a lot about the “when” and “how much” variables of training.
KJ: Where do you see the advantages of looking at an athlete’s power versus heart rate?
LW: Heart rate is a response where power is what moves the bike. Heart rate his highly variable – down a coffee or Red Bull and your HR goes up for the same power (in most cases – but maybe not). Power data is objective ground truth – what really happened, what the athlete can do. Power data can be used to identify strengths and weaknesses. Once identified, creating the ideal program for an athlete based on event demands and goals becomes much more clear.
Spotting a limiter example: with power data, it might be discovered that an athlete has trouble at low cadence, high power efforts. These are often crux in MTB events. So, this athlete would benefit by doing some hard, low cadence steep climbs – and probably some SS work.
Power profile example: power data tells you how much power you can maintain normalized to body weight, and there are known ranges for various levels of cycling from recreational to world class, and they are broken into time bins (sprint, neuromuscular, VO2max, threshold). This is more info to help assess and figure out where the biggest gains can be made for the goal event.
KJ: Is it possible to rely too heavily on data? Could data ever hold an athlete back?
LW: Quite the opposite! Most athletes are prone to overtraining. Who wants to ride easy when stoke level goes to 11, right Karen? When used right, power data helps the athlete stay on track to reach goals. In most cases we advocate athletes to race with power meters but not looking at them, instead racing by feel. That “feel” is a calibration of your senses to what you can actually do, and gained by training with power. Training with power teaches you to execute.
In short, power data is knowledge, and with knowledge comes power.
KJ: Do you have any tools or resources for mountain bike athletes to learn more about training with power?
LW: Glad you asked. Resources first:
The fundamental power metrics are described at http://lwcoaching.com/power-
The concepts of power profiling on TrainingPeaks http://home.trainingpeaks.com/
Now, some tools.
https://connect.garmin.com/ is a great place to store your data as a starting point. Most worthwhile services can connect to your garmin account and automatically receive and process your files anytime you upload to garmin. As a bonus (and this is huge over time) it’s a backup of your precious power data.
https://strava.com/ has great support for power in the premium version. At $6/month it’s a bargain. It generates a PMC style fitness/fatigue/form chart for you.
It generates a power curve for every file, and compares the current ride’s data to your historical data.
Strava probably doesn’t need further description here, but using the power data as well as segment times makes it easy to test different pacing strategies.
KJ: Thanks Lynda!
As you can see, there are many benefits to training with power. Even if you are someone who goes cross-eyed when you start looking at data. That’s where having a coach plays a huge role in continuing to make gains in your sport. He or she does that work for you, and you can just focus on following directions. If you’re not ready to jump into coaching, start by taking a look at the online tools Lynda mentioned to fully reap the benefits of using power.
Want to ask Lynda more about power? Check out her facebook page, LW Coaching. Each month she does an open coaching day where you can ask about any of your training and racing questions. Her next one is coming up Feb. 4th! Click the image below to check out LW’s facebook page.
Lynda has been a plethora of knowledge to my training and racing over the past two seasons. I’ve never been one to hold something good to myself, so please check it out – and happy training.