Road bike training with a power meter

Training with a power meter

Implementation of the training theory with powermeter

Once you’ve found the fun in cycling, you’ll soon want to go faster or further. An important step in this process is regular training to build fitness. Long but easy workouts help build basic endurance. Since there is not much time for this in the daily work routine and sensible training sessions during the week sometimes have to be completed in 1.5 hours, some help is needed. Since the training always consists of two components, intensity and intensity, one can take place here a certain compensation. Intervals at high loads can be good for fitness. However, many athletes are also afraid of overtraining. To avoid this, there are means of training control. Power meters are extremely popular. In this post, we’ll shed some light on why these are a useful tool for training management.

Introduction: Watts are better than pulse!

In cycling, performance-based training offers several advantages over training based on heart rate. On the one hand, there is the better reproducibility of the training load, because 100 watts are exactly the same power today and tomorrow. Heart rate is clearly an inappropriate factor as the body’s response to work done, because it is subject to many influences. Outside temperature, health, state of recuperation, stress and a few more can cause wide fluctuations on a daily basis.

A heart rate monitor is often inferior to training with a power meter
As soon as the intensity of the training varies more strongly, a heart rate monitor reaches its limits, since the heart rate fluctuations occur too late.

In addition, the power measurement reacts much more finely to changes in, for example, the wind, the gradient of the road and the speed than the heart rate does. This means that very effective forms of training can also be implemented with a power meter. With these, the load can only be precisely controlled via the power. We would now like to introduce some of these forms of training.

New approaches in training control

Classic training approaches in cycling, such as long and slow from the GDR still have their justification today. They are still used by professionals when it comes to training the basic endurance in 6-8 hour sessions to create fitness for the coming season. New approaches allow us to make effective use of even short training sessions or simply add some variety to the training routine. A power meter is helpful here.

Basic endurance “+”

The basic endurance training “+” takes place at the border between the training ranges GA1 and GA2 (75-82 % IANS). Depending on the preparation phase and the training cycle, it is performed either at high (95-110 rpm) or low (70-80 rpm) cadence. The training duration is one and a half to three hours, which makes this form of training particularly suitable for working athletes who do not have the opportunity to complete longer sessions in the basic area.

Gravelride with Powermeter
Gravel tours are a welcome change in the daily training routine, especially if the profile is not too wavy, they are ideal for basic training.

This is a very effective training for the fat metabolism, which is however hardly controllable over the heart frequency. fatigue slowly increases over the duration of the session. It is in the narrow range between GA1 and GA2 training that a maximum fat burning rate is achieved. With a power meter it is possible to perform and control this training very precisely.

In this way we achieve a very effective training with the highest possible training stimulus.

HIT – until the blood boils

Already ten years ago (LONDEREE, 1997) it was found out that training in the area of the endurance performance limit (IANS) – i.e. classical EB training – is the appropriate form of training for improving endurance performance, but higher intensities work more effectively in all performance classes. New studies with different intensities and load lengths prove this. What is amazing is that not only the endurance performance threshold (IANS) can be shifted upwards by this intensive interval training. There are also significant improvements in energy provision in the lower load ranges.

During HIT training with a power meter you feel the effort in your whole body
During HIT training with a power meter you feel the effort in your whole body

For example, after a HIT training block, the proportion of carbohydrates in the energy supply was lower (improved fat metabolism), and the lactate values of the athletes at the same loads were also lower (WESTGARTH-TAYLOR, 1997). At the same time, the maximum performance of the athletes in the performance test increased, and the time trial performance over 40 km was also significantly improved.

Different levels of stress have been found to be particularly successful. Only the loads in the range around the endurance limit (IANS) – i.e. just the traditional training in the EB range around the IANS – resulted in almost no further increase in performance in very well trained cyclists.
The following approaches are particularly effective:

Twelve 30-second intervals, each with a 4.5-minute break

Here the load is very high in the 30 seconds. Depending on the power level and weight of the rider, it is around 650-900 watts. During the breaks, the load should be kept in the lower GA1 range (power).

Eight four-minute intervals, each with a 1.5-minute break

Here, the power output in the load phases is significantly lower, but still slightly higher than with classic EB training. The load is slightly above the limit from the development to the peak range.

It makes sense to replace two units per week with HIT units and do the whole thing over three weeks, so a total of six HIT units in three weeks. Both interval forms can actually only be implemented with a powermeter. Due to the lag of the heart rate and the relatively short load phases, the heart rate is not a suitable control variable.

Most athletes and coaches are afraid of overtraining with this method. This is actually unfounded. Overtraining is mainly caused by an increase in the amount of training. This increase in volume leads to changes in metabolism and hormone secretion. This is a great danger with too large increases in volume, because once the body is in a strongly catabolic situation (breakdown of body substance), performance growth is no longer possible. Increases in intensity naturally lead to fatigue and exhaustion, but the danger of classic overtraining does not exist for a trained cyclist with two HIT units per week.

HIT – Powermeter brings an old acquaintance on the road

Not everything that seems new is new. Already in the old GDR catalogue of training aids there was a K2 fast strength programme on the ergometer with 20 seconds load duration at maximum load (three series of ten repetitions with one minute break) as well as a K3 strength endurance programme for the ergometer in the repetition method with 75 seconds loads (600-700 watts) and relatively long breaks of about 15 minutes. With a powermeter, you can now effectively do these heavily power-based sessions on the road.

Hit training with a power meter
HIT training already existed in GDR times, power meters help to implement the training on the road.

So the approach of high intensity intervals in cycling is not new. What is new is the realization that these intervals not only lead to adaptations in the high-intensity range, but that these forms of training can also increase endurance performance (IANS) and also achieve positive adaptations in fat and carbohydrate metabolism.

Moreover, these are precisely the kinds of stresses that are relatively common in races; among other things, they lead to performance adaptation and further performance enhancement of cyclists through competition. Of course, competitions have other effects as well. But what is there to say against targeting these loads in training? With exact load level and pause length, and not randomly predetermined by training race? In this way, a greater and more effective increase in performance can be achieved in certain sections.

K3 with cadence change

K3 training is often criticized these days for not being true strength training. This is absolutely correct, because in order to achieve a real increase in strength, the use of force is too low and the number of repetitions too high.

Nevertheless, this form of training has its justification and leads to adaptations that can be very useful, especially on mountain rides. The intensity here is in the upper GA2 range and reaches up to the IANS, but does not rise above it. In American training theory, this range with an intensity of about 90 percent of the threshold power is often referred to as “sweet spot training”. This training does not take place with the typical low pedaling frequencies of the K3 training, but physiologically it is almost the same load. In order to control the K3 as well as the Sweet-Spot training correctly, a power meter is very helpful. With both types of load, you can greatly optimize the efficiency if you train at a constant equal load.

It is therefore a purely aerobic, strength-oriented endurance training – in the case of the K3 training with low pedalling frequencies on the mountain. The pedalling frequency should be between 40 and 60 revolutions per minute, depending on the training condition and preparation phase, and the duration of the load between ten and 45 minutes.

As a purely steady workout, this form of training can still be controlled very well via heart rate with a little practice. Due to the low cadence it is rather difficult to leave the range permanently upwards. However, if one intersperses cadence and position changes without changing the power to be delivered, control via wattage becomes indispensable.

K3 Training on the mountain with powermeter
Training in the K3 range is very tiring, but after just a few sessions many athletes notice a difference in performance

Such a training session can look like this: During a three to four hour training session, after about 45 minutes of warm-up, three 15 minute K3 intervals are run, each with a 20 minute break. The rest of the workout is in the GA1 range. During the 15-minute intervals, after five minutes the cadence is increased from 50 to 90 revolutions per minute without increasing the power. This cadence is now maintained for five minutes before resuming at 50 rpm for the last five minutes of the interval. This is done in all three intervals. In this way, changes of pace and rhythm can be trained on the mountain without increasing the training load into the peak range. The heart rate will rise sharply due to the change in rhythm and then not fall properly during the interval, making intensity control via heart rate impossible.

GA1 wavy

Even in undulating, hilly, even mountainous terrain, it is possible to complete a real basic training on the bike without any problems. Doing a targeted basic training uphill even has many advantages: On the one hand, you train “mountain riding” already in winter, which differs from riding on the flat already by the constant effect of the downhill force and thus trains your footing. On the other hand, the low speed on the mountain means that the wind, which is often very cold in winter, at least does not affect the entire training session and thus provides a small warm-up.

Here, however, training control with a power meter is necessary in any case. The simple reason for this is that the powermeter gives you instant feedback on your current load as you enter an incline. In addition, small technical changes to the bike may be necessary, because in basic training you ride quite slowly on an incline. Even seasoned professionals often ride cassettes with a gradation up to 25 or 26 teeth in winter, while amateurs and hobbyists are allowed to use compact chainrings in the front (with 50/34 teeth) and up to 28 teeth in the rear. Depending on the power level and the gradients to be ridden, a triple crank may even be necessary in extreme cases. This small translation has a simple reason: If you want to continue to train in the fat metabolism on an uphill slope, then of course you have to ride relatively slowly.

To be able to do that with a halfway reasonable cadence, you just need a little more leeway in the gear ratio.

GradientPowerSpeedTranslationCadence
6%180 watts11.5 km/h39/2558
6%180 watts11.5 km/h34/2875
8%180 watts9.0 km/h39/2546
8%180 watts9.0 km/h34/2859
Of course, the power varies depending on the rider’s weight. This example illustrates how cadence and gear ratio behave on a hill for a rider with constant power.

When designing the training, the constantly changing gradient in undulating terrain must of course be given special consideration. In particular, two different forms of basic training should be considered.

1 Alternative: GA1 on the mountain with the power meter

First, there is the option to plan and complete a GA1-only workout. The athlete should then take care to ride as closely as possible to the wattages of their base range on flats and climbs. When entering an incline, you deliberately slow down a lot, downshift significantly and dose the load and cadence using the powermeter. The second sticking point with this technique comes as soon as you come out of the climb back onto a flat section or even a descent. Often you let your legs hang here, but this interrupts the training stimulus. Therefore, you should immediately shift into a heavier gear and continue calmly in the GA1 range. This allows the load to be kept very constant, even if it means pedalling at high frequency in the highest gear when going downhill.

However, if you’ve stayed in the basics uphill, it’s not hard at all. The power output may be in the upper third of the GA1 range, but preferably not above. This requires a certain amount of practice; in the beginning you often have to switch back and forth a bit and look at the display of the power meter very often. After a few practice sessions, however, you will quickly develop a good feeling for the load and will need to look at the control less and less often.

2 Alternative: GA intervals with the powermeter

The second option for basic training in hilly terrain involves slightly more intense intervals in the GA2 range on the uphill sections of the course (not necessarily on all of them). These can be strength-oriented (50-70 rpm) or specifically frequency-oriented (80-100 rpm), depending on your personal training goals. With this type of training, the power output should be in the medium GA1 range on the flat sections, in the medium GA2 range on the uphill sections and as far as possible in the GA1 range again on the downhill sections. Again, this is real, albeit more intense, basic training.

However, all these training instructions are not limited to training in undulating to hilly terrain. In the lowlands, too, we find constantly changing conditions, especially in winter, only here the load is determined by wind direction and speed. And anyone who has ever been caught in an oncoming storm during bike training will be able to confirm that “upwind” and “uphill” can feel very similar.

Basic training with the road bike
No matter whether on the mountain or in headwinds, for effective basic training the power should be as constant as possible – you can check this best with a power meter.

For basic training, however, this “variable resistance determined by nature” means the same thing: Against the wind, progress is very slow with a low gear, and when changing direction, you can virtually complete high-speed training with the wind at your back, without leaving the basic range, because the only thing that matters is the power that has to be applied.

Conclusion: Power meters optimize our training

Powermeters are now not only found on every professional bike and are also widely used by amateurs. We think so: Rightly so. Because even though you shouldn’t ride up every climb with your head buried in data like Chris Froome, but simply enjoy the view and the experience, we can definitely benefit from a powermeter. In addition, there is plenty to talk about for the next Coffeeride, if you compare the data with each other.

Especially in winter, when the days are short or there is little time to train, power controlled training with the power meter is a good way to use even an hour effectively. Of course, it doesn’t matter if we move the interval session outside or hold it on the reel in one of the virtual worlds of Zwift and co.

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