Using your power meter in cyclocross.

Using your power meter in cyclocross is not only effective, but arguably one of your best weapons in pushing yourself to the next level. Cyclocross brings its own set of demands in that you must be able to create quick bursts of effort over small obstacles, leap off the bicycle and run while carrying it for sections as long as 30 seconds – all the while maintaining a your race pace.  Cyclocross might not seem like the best place to utilize a power meter, since there is hardly time to get a sip of water from your bottle, much less look at those tiny numbers on the handlebar, but there are quite a few ways you can use a powermeter to improve in cross.  What if you knew the best tire pressure to run for optimal power output , traction and puncture resistance?  What if you knew the  correct gearing  to use in that upcoming race when you have to cross the tilled farmers field?   How important is your warm-up and how much does that impact your race?   The answers and more can be found with simple power analysis of your training and racing files and that’s the true “power” of a power meter for cross.  You are going to use it more as a post-ride/race tool and not so much focus your hard-core cross race rehearsal or race itself and from that perspective you can use that information to tailor your training so you’ll be ready for the next race.

While the data from a cross race is invaluable, I won’t try and fool you, there are barriers to utilizing a power meter and it’s data as well.  First off, you need to understand what all those squiggly lines mean in the download and how they relate to the terrain, your effort and even your line on the course.  Coaches like myself have been using power meter data now for over 10 years to help their athlete improve in a variety of cycling disciplines and while consulting a coach can definitely shorten your learning curve, it’s not required.  For those of you that are more artsy, fartsy(as my mom used to say), and less analytically inclined, all this data might be a bit much and conversely… for all you engineers out there, you might become too obsessed with the numbers!  On the whole, once past the learning curve, I know you’ll really enjoy training with a power meter and the new dimension it brings to your passion in cycling.

Power meter files from ’cross races typically average about 20 to 40 watts below an athlete’s actual FTP, since there’s so much “down time” when the athlete is either coasting down a technical hill, off the bike and running or just experiencing a lack of traction. The difficulty of putting the power to the ground skews the power numbers down, and one has to take this into consideration when reviewing cyclocross power files. Because of these running and technical coasting sections, it’s hard to determine the exact muscular demands of cyclocross. When viewed in a Quadrant Analysis plot, which breaks down a ride based on time spent with different force outputs and cadences, a ’cross race contains the largest amount of amount of the effort in Quadrant II, which represents slow pedaling and higher force, but Quadrant III (slow pedaling, low force) and Quadrant IV (fast pedaling and low force) are also heavily  represented.

When you examine your power file from a ’cross race, one of the first things you might notice is that it looks a lot like some of those criteriums many of you did earlier in the year: loads of stochastic power spikes, easily discernible laps and big “race winning” type efforts are all commonalities to criteriums. A cyclocross power file will define the power bursts needed in the race, reveal the amount of rest in each lap and show the overall training stress accumulated in the race. One thing that’s important to identify in a cyclocross power file is the number of efforts you have above your FTP and how long each of these efforts is. In other words, how many matches you needed to burn. A cyclocross “match” is a little different than a match in a road race or a criterium because most likely you will already be at your FTP and then have to do hard efforts above it, depending on the terrain and your competition. In this case, the matches are really just bursts of flames coming up from the already raging fire! However, identifying these flames and their intensity will allow you to train more specifically for the effort.

  After reviewing hundreds of cyclocross race and training power files, I have determined that a specific training workout good for ’cross is one that I call the “30-30-30” workout; it’s made up of 30 seconds at 150% of FTP, 30 seconds coasting (0% of FTP) and 30 seconds of running. The “30-30-30” workout is done continuously for 10 minutes and then a rest is taken for five minutes before doing two to four more sets total.

The “30-30-30” Cyclocross workout

15 minute warm-up, level 2.

(1) – 5 minute hard effort at 110% of FTP

5 minutes easy- Level 2.

2 x 10 minutes —  30- 30 -30. Which is 30 seconds RIDING hard as you can, 30 seconds not pedaling and coasting, 30 seconds dismount  and running fast…. REPEAT.

10 minutes Level 2 after each  30-30-30 block of efforts.

4 x 2 minutes- at 150% of FTP. Anaerobic Capacity work.

REST 2 minutes after each.

10 minutes Level 2

Finish with 10 x 1minute FAST PEDALING at 110rpm+. 1 minute on, 1 minute off at 80rpm

15 minutes cool-down

One of the most important reasons to use a power meter is to training for the demands of the event, and this reason is highly applicable in the case of cyclocross. Addressing the specific needs for a strong anaerobic capacity along with highly-tuned technical skills (dismount the bike, run with the bike and remount) creates a perfect blend of a workout in the “30-30-30,” which you’ll find below. Along with this anaerobic capacity workout, cyclocross demands a strong FTP, so the traditional Level 4 threshold workouts done at 4 x 10, 3 x15, and 2 x 20 minutes at FTP are important for the successful ’cross racer. As Sam Krieg, a coach for the Peaks Coaching Group and Elite ’cross racer said, “The ability to train with power on your ’cross bike and develop specific ’cross workouts has allowed me to not only coach ’cross riders more specifically, but also improve my own fitness. My favorite workout is the ’30-30-30′ that Hunter developed because of the structure it provides – the nearly identical similarities to my ’cross races – and it forces me to go hard for the entire 10-minute set.”

Kris Walker, the 2009 national champion in the Masters (45-49) Time Trial and 2008 Masters Cyclocross events adds, “As a classic steady state rider, my forte is my ability to hold a constant power for the entire event, and cyclocross is very challenging to me because I have to train my weakness , anaerobic capacity. After reviewing my power files with Hunter, we were able to determine just exactly how much anaerobic work I was going to need in order to be on the top step of the Cyclocross National Championship podium.”

Cyclocross is another discipline within cycling where using a power meter in order to train more quantitatively and also more specifically to the demands of the sport allows racers to improve their performances. A key component of this improvement hinges on the ability of the athlete to mimic the demands of upcoming ’cross races and develop training routines for them. As the popularity of cyclocross continues to gain momentum, more and more racers will be using a power meter to collect data, analyze the demands of the events and then train for them.

Check out Hunter’s CX online training plans HERE  Cyclocross Training Plans – Shop Peaks Coaching Group     

Peaks Coaching Group also has a special 3 month CX coaching package available at a discount!  

Silver Cyclocross Coaching Package – Shop Peaks Coaching Group

Longer or harder? Is intensity or endurance the key to cycling fitness?

This is an article that Hunter wrote for Cyclist Magazine based in the United Kingdom. The author of the column Michael Donlevy also asked Hunter what he likes to call “quickes”, which are just some quick random questions.

Is there a best time of day to train?
I’m a morning person, but I have many clients who ride better in the afternoon. Best time of the day to train: when it’s best for you.

What’s the first thing I should do after getting off the bike following a training session?
Stretch! Stretch those quads, hamstrings, calves and shoulders, and open up the chest with some back bends or ‘up-dogs’.

Does a lot of sweat signal I’m unfit? Not at all. It just means you have an efficient cooling system.

Longer or harder? This is the million-dollar question and the answer, of course, is both. First off, you have to define the demands of your event. Is it five hours plus? Is it a short one-hour race? This is where you start to determine which is more important. Riding harder with more intensity close to or at and above your FTP will make you faster, period. FTP – functional threshold power, the maximum average power you can maintain for around one hour – is the most important physiological determinant of performance, so if you improve your FTP by 30 watts doing intervals, you’ll be faster.

When I coached the winning solo woman for the Race Across America, Janice Sheufelt, she did FTP intervals. I wanted her FTP as high as possible so she would be fitter, but she also did some huge 40-hour rides to make sure she had the endurance. So my answer is always to do your intensity first, increase your FTP, then work on the longer rides as you get closer to your event.

Endurance rides help to increase your aerobic ability, which helps to bolster your FTP and also increases your stamina, which is the ability to maintain as close to your FTP power for as long as possible. ‘Endurance’ is the ability to complete a long ride. Most of us can do that. ‘Stamina’ is the ability to hold close to your FTP for a long time, like six hours. Many events require more stamina than endurance.

Everyone has a ‘bathtub’, or level of fitness. Some bathtubs are small with tall walls and a small drain, like a track sprinter’s. Others are wide with short walls and a big drain, like a randonneurs. What most of us want is a large bathtub with tall walls and a big drain. The height of the walls represent your FTP, the size of your drain represents your aerobic
efficiency and the taps are the watts of resistance. The water represents the lactate and other byproducts of hard work, and the total volume of the bathtub is your overall fitness. To increase the height of your walls (FTP), you fill the bathtub up to the edge and hold the water there, just before it spills. To increase your aerobic efficiency, you fill the tub three-quarters of the way up and keep it there – water in equals water draining out – by ‘firehosing’ the bathtub for 30 seconds and then turning off the firehose just before the water spills over. This increases the size of your drain and the height of the walls. This is basically what intervals do.

In terms of a plan, do at least two days of work on your FTP each week and one long ride per week. Twice a month, your long ride should be at least 15% longer than your longest ride from the previous month until you reach 20% more than your target race/event time.

You can focus on one or the other, but ‘training stagnation’ is the enemy of improvement, and this is where intervals are so important. If you work on increasing your endurance for six months but all of your long rides are five hours, you’ll be adapted to that five hours and you’ll no longer see improvements. If you do 6×10 minutes at FTP
four times a week, your FTP will increase to a certain ceiling and no higher. By combining a long ride with hard intervals you’ll break out of that stagnation and challenge the body to adapt to the new higher level of training stress.
Continual improvement means continually increasing your total volume and intensity.
And rest helps too.

Training only one energy system will give you one-dimensional ability. Almost all cycling requires being good in all the physiological energy systems, so you need a good blend.

Hunter Allen is a USA Cycling Level 1 coach and former Professional Cyclist. He is the co-author of “Training and Racing with a Power Meter, co-developer of TrainingPeaks Software, and is the CEO and Founder of the Peaks Coaching Group. This has been the 25th year that he has conducted training camps in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.

How much training can you handle?

With the advent of power meters, one of the age old questions asked by many can finally be answered.  How much training should I do before I rest?  When should I take my rest week? As coaches and athletes, we have never really been able to determine the best time for an athlete’s rest week other than going by the standard 3:1 work/rest ratio(which is very good btw)  or listening to your body (also a good thing).  However, these can be somewhat arbitrary and subjective.   Some riders can go longer than 3 weeks before needing a break, and others need a rest after only a week of focused training, while others might be able to go for 6 weeks before needing a true rest week.   Discovering your ideal work/rest formula is just as exciting as discovering your threshold improvement formula. This is one of the many changes that have occurred in training for cycling since the introduction of power meters and cutting edge software.  Now, that we can quantify training load and the corresponding response to that training load, finding your ideal work/rest formula is only a matter of time and data analysis.

What is your work/rest formula?

Let’s examine an athlete that I have coached for five years in order to better illustrate the principles behind this concept.   The rider is Gilbert Ducournau, a young rider, 22 years old and a Category 1 that was striving to turn professional at the end of 2015.   He has been racing seriously since he was 17 years old, and each year has progressed up the ladder in both categories and FTP. As he has progressed and matured as an athlete, his ability to recover has also improved and over the years we have had to update his work/rest formula.   In year 1(figure 1) of his training, he was barely able to train hard for two weeks before he needed a rest week.  Gilbert was new to endurance sports and really struggled with the initial training and frequently needed breaks in order to recover in the first four months of training.  After the fourth month, he was able to handle nearly 6 weeks without a rest week.  However at the end of the 6th week, he did get sick and had to rest for two weeks.  Therefore in retrospect, he still wasn’t ready for that long of a block of training. 

Know your goals

As we jump forward to year 4 of his training, where Gilbert achieved a Category 2 ranking, and he was able to sustain a very hard two weeks of training, followed by 3-4 days of rest and then train hard again in the early season.  As Spring approaches, he was able to consistently increase his training load for 8 weeks with short micro rests, so that his TSB(Training Stress Balance) never dipped too low, hovering around -24 and -12.  In the middle of this phase, he went to a training camp which significantly upped his training load and now his TSB dropped to -50 and this created the needed rest week.   During the summer, he was able to consistently train hard for two weeks with one week of rest.    This was an interesting year and one that will be important for you to understand and look for the pattern in your own workouts. 

The pattern here was:

1) He was able to train very hard for two weeks, but then needed a rest week.  


2) He could train relatively hard, and then only take 2 to 3 days easy and continue on this schedule for 8 weeks. 

This brings about the questions, which was better for him? Which is better for you?   Will a 2 week very intense block of training be better than 8 weeks of steady hard work?  The answer to this question depends on the goals of the athlete.  If you are in the beginning of the season and need to improve your FTP quickly with some hard focused weeks of training then that will be a good choice.  Another scenario to use the 2:1 formula, is if you are in the middle of racing season and/or need to get a quick bump of fitness, then do the 2 week intense block.  If you are building to a peak of fitness and your “A” goal, then stick with the longer, and steadier progression.  The take home here with Gilbert is that I was now seeing a nice pattern of improvement based on two different work/rest formulas.  This could now be used in future seasons.

In Year 5, we finally saw his true sustainable training ability come to fruition.  His season was up and down, as he had a great spring, but unfortunately crashed and fractured his hand in 3 places which required surgery, and then a month later, a second surgery.  These two events dramatically slowed down the middle of his season, however, if we looked at his season as two separate parts, we saw a very different rider in this 5th year of hard training.   The first half of the season, he was incrementally building his CTL up to the middle of February and then pushed very hard for 4 weeks driving his CTL to a career high of 96.  This was a new pattern, but made sense in that his previous year he was able to train hard for 2 weeks and not quite as hard for 8 weeks, so was now splitting the difference with a hard 4 weeks of training.  At the end of that 4th week, he didn’t need a big rest period(more than a week) like previous years, but a solid 7 days of easy riding brought his TSB positive and then he now maintained between 90-98 CTL for the entire month of April and kept his TSB just barely positive for good results on the weekends.   While, I had predicted that he could hold a solid 4 weeks of training, it wasn’t obvious that he could do this from his data, so I had to rely on his previous year 4 data to see that the expected outcome would be 4 weeks splitting between 2 and 8 weeks.

The “holy grail” of training

The middle of the year was a bust with recovery from his broken hand. But, the fall and winter have been very good for Gilbert as he has been training for the Vuelta a Tachira in middle of January .  Looking at Figure 4 below, he has been able to maintain an incredibly steady and incremental ramp rate of 5-8 TSS/week as an increase in CTL that peaks at 137CTL at the end of 2014.   This has been his longest, continuous block of training and his highest CTL ever.  This long ramp of training load increase has been sustainable because of two things: 1) Ability to handle this type of training.  2)  Short rests within the build period that allow for some recovery.  These short rests are critical to keep fatigue at a level which still allows for hard training and focused efforts.  

Hard training does not always require absolute freshness and the mark of a successful cyclist is one that can train hard while tired and still gain a tremendous training response from it.   If you have made it this far in the article, note that you have now gotten to the magic of using a power meter.  Pay attention closely!    By using a power meter, and watching your Performance Manager Chart to modulate the exact amount of fatigue(negative Training Stress Balance) and freshness (positive Training Stress Balance), you can continue training while fatigued for a very long period of time.   Let’s examine Gilbert’s PMC with a higher level of detail (Figure 4), so you can easily understand this concept and how to use it in your own training.   The most important detail in this Figure 4 is that the blue CTL line continues its steady march upward with short bumps of hard training followed by short rests.  This allows Gilbert to continue to train hard and rest just enough in order to train hard again.  He continues to increase his CTL to the peak of 137, without a single day of positive TSB in the entire 12 weeks of training!  Practically speaking, what does this mean from day to day, week to week training?  I planned his training so that he would do 3-4 days of hard training, followed by 2-3 days of easy riding.

 This can also be viewed as “block” training, where the athlete trains in a “block” of days, and then rests until he is ready to resume training.   In this case, I did not allow him to have full recovery and forced him to return to training with some fatigue in his legs.  The combination of work/rest changed radically from the two weeks on and one week off, or just steady hard training.   Now, he has been able to achieve the holy grail of training, the ability to train very hard to near exhaustion in 3-4 days and then recover quickly in 2-3 days, ready for another block.  These micro-rests are critical in the equation as it’s that small recovery that allow the TSB to move toward a positive number (not become a positive number though!).  It is critical in your own training that you watch your Performance Manager Chart closely so that you don’t become too fresh.  I would recommend allowing your TSB to get to -10, but not any closer to 0, in order to maintain the constant ramp rate.

Work/Rest Strategies

Training has always contained a bit of “Art” along with the science of exercise physiology, however there are 3 strategies that you can use in your own training.   First, try the strategy of two weeks hard and one week easy (also try the 3:1 ratio as well), especially if you are relatively new to the sport.   Secondly, try to extend the length of your harder weeks, so that you can do up to 4 weeks without a full rest week.  This period will contain the micro-rests, and the first time you embark on this journey, I recommend you reduce your overall intensity just a little and by that I mean reducing the number of intense days, not reducing the percentages in your training zones.  This will be the toughest transition for you, but if you can do it and keep your CTL ramp rate between 5-8 TSS/week, then you will be on the right track.  At the end of the four week block, take a mandatory rest week no matter if you feel tired or not.  This will guarantee that you don’t over-reach too much.  The third strategy is to employ the full blown “block” training method for a period of 8-12 weeks.  After you have been successful in strategy number 2, and you have enough time leading up to your priority “A” event, then employ this strategy. 

Remember, on your hard training days, you have to ride hard or long, it can’t be a medium intensity workout, and you have to do this for a minimum of 3 days in a row, followed by days off and easy days.  Your rest days are a minimum of 2 days where you ride easy or completely rest.  Do not take more than 4 rest days though, as that will raise your TSB too much.  Constantly watch your Performance Manager Chart to see your TSB numbers making sure that you continue to stay in negative territory (from -10 to -70).    What you have successfully accomplished now is determining exactly when you need to rest!  This is obviously a more advanced concept, but anyone with a power meter and TrainingPeaks WKO software can easily understand the data behind all the training. 

Hunter Allen is a USA Cycling Level 1 coach and former Professional Cyclist. He is the co-author of “Training and Racing with a Power Meter, co-developer of TrainingPeaks Software, and is the CEO and Founder of the Peaks Coaching Group. This has been the 24th year that he has conducted training camps in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.

Where did the time go?   We don’t know, but it’s time for you to come to a camp!

End of Season Analysis

How many weeks of hard training are you able to handle before a rest week?  How much rest did you need before you created a peak wattage for the year?  The end of the season is when each of you should be going through a period of reflection and analysis of your previous year of data.  Using a power meter and recording your data for every ride/race you have done this year, should allow you to go back and start seeing some patterns in your training and racing that will help you to make some better decisions for the coming 2022 season. This kind of post season analysis is something that I do with each of my clients and it’s a critical part of the coaching process as each of us wants to create even more success in the coming year.

The first chart you should look at when examining your season is the Training Stress Score vs. Intensity Factor chart as this chart will present you a rough idea of how much training stress you can handle vs. the need for a recovery week.   Whether or not you had a coach, or followed a loose training plan, this chart will reveal your rough periodization of training for the year and that’s a great place to discover a few interesting patterns.   Looking at Figure 1, this racer had a  solid and steady build-up of TSS through the season culminating in June. From June to the end of the season, his ability to create TSS was reduced because of the need to recover from weekend races, some summer travel and then a slight injury.  There are a couple of interesting things that we can learn from this chart: 1) He can handle between 3-4 weeks of hard training before needing a true rest week. If we look at the green bars in Figure 1 and notice how after every 3-4 weeks, there is a smaller bar indicating a reduced amount of TSS for that week, this means that he had a planned easier week or he ‘had’ to take an easier week because the previous 3-4 hard weeks.   This observation should be noted as a key characteristic of this rider and therefore can be planned around and watched in the upcoming 2022 season.  2) Later in the season after he had created a solid foundation of fitness, he was able to handle some very big TSS weeks, but those big TSS weeks ‘cost’ a lot.   In order to handle them, I, his coach,  had to taper and rest him beforehand and then rest him afterward.   Of course, those were key goals for him, so it wasn’t a mistake to do those easier weeks, but it’s important to note the ‘cost’ of big goals and take them into account for the following season.

The next chart that I use for the end of the season analysis is the now ubiquitous (for power meter users) ‘Performance Manager Chart’(PMC).   This chart goes a level deeper than Figure 1, as it takes into account the accumulated training load and fatigue throughout the season, while displaying the riders ‘best’ efforts.   This display of best efforts is where you want to begin correlating your chronic training load and your training stress balance(how fatigued or fresh you are).   By reviewing your season and connecting the dots on your peak performances, correlating this with your TSB, then you can learn your optimal range for how fresh you need to be in order to create a peak performance.   This is incredibly valuable knowledge for the coming season, as it allows you to plan your taper exactly for any race you might want to create a peak performance for, which means you will have the best chance for success on the day that you want it.  The Performance Manager Chart not only helps you with your taper, it also helps to determine your optimal training load.  By reviewing your season, you can see the height of your training load with the chronic training load line and correlate this to your peak of fitness as well, along with your review of your notes and power files from that time, as this will remind you how well you rode during that time.   In figure 2, this athlete’s PMC illustrates perfectly the relationship between freshness, fitness and ‘form’.   Every time the athlete had a peak 20 minute for the year, his training stress balance(TSB) was either close to balance or a positive number, with most of his bests occurring when his TSB was +5 to +12, so we can use that knowledge for the coming year in order to plan for the perfect taper.   His maximal training load that he could sustain for 2-3 weeks this season was around 80 TSS/day for the CTL, which means that he basically averaged(at his maximum) 50 minutes of equivalent threshold training stress each day for 6 weeks in a row.   This is a good amount for an amateur masters racer, with 12-15hours a week to train and while he was able to build up to that training load, he was not able to go above it nor was he able to sustain it for  more than a couple of weeks.   That knowledge gives me valuable information about how to plan out his training for the coming season, so that I can make sure to give him the correct build of fitness at the proper time.  

By utilizing these two charts, as his coach, I can now plan his weekly training load with more precision, knowing that when he exceeds 800 TSS per week for more than 3 weeks, I should pay close attention to his fourth week and prepare for a rest week if warranted.  I can also understand the bigger picture better as well, since now I know that when his CTL begins to reach 80 TSS/day, that means I should watch how negative his TSB is and for how long, since it is an upper limit of his ability to sustain that training load, and while it might not be at the end of a 3-4 week build cycle, I can ensure that he has proper rest, along with the right amount of taper in order to either peak for an event or prepare for another build cycle.     A proper post season analysis of your power data can reveal some relationships that you might not have otherwise seen, and it’s critical that you understand the correlations between peak wattages and fatigue, so that you can be sure to create your peak watts on the day that you want.  These charts, while they could seem intimidating are really pretty simple to master once you understand the basic concepts.  I highly recommend that you read the chapter on “Performance Manager” in my and Dr. Coggan’s book, “Training and Racing with a Power Meter”, as this will provide a more in depth discussion of these topics and help you to create the best season ever in 2022!

Tractor Pulls

Everyone has seen a “Tractor Pull” on TV at one time or another, even if it has just been a commercial.  What started out as a bunch of competitive farmers seeing whose John Deere tractor could pull the most mass over a field, has turned into insanely high horsepower “dragster” tractors, complete with flames coming out of the exhaust and pulling specialized weights with sliding loads.   The original premise remains the same though and it’s about seeing which tractor has the greatest pulling capacity or torque producing ability.   What does this have to do with cycling you ask?   As cyclists, we also need this big burst of torque on occasions and while we normally have very low loads of torque, there are times we need to use this ability to accelerate in a sprint, to jump out of a corner, climb up a very steep hill and in track racing.

Tractor Pulling and bicycle racing.

One of the challenges of weight lifting when you are a cyclist is translating that new found strength into something useful on the bicycle.  I once had a NFL linebacker in one of my power seminars.  He could squat over 500lbs and for the life of him, he didn’t understand why he couldn’t ride with the best cyclists on the Tuesday evening ride.  He said, “Man, I am strong.  I put out 450watts when I just push down on the pedals, but I can’t stay with the best guys on the bike. I don’t get it.”   The concept that I had to explain to him was that he had an incredible ability to create force on the pedals, but it wasn’t “effective force”.  Meaning that he was “stretching” the crank arms at the bottom of the stroke, but wasn’t able to effectively use all his strength in a circular motion to create more forward movement.  What he could do though was accelerate from a near dead stop in a 53:11 though and crush us all for the first 100meters, when his cadence became too fast for him to be effective any longer.   

We all will have this problem (to a lesser extent most likely!), when we try to convert our new found strength gained in the weight room to the bicycle.  Increasing your strength in the weight room can be easily done over a winter season, but typically that new strength is only applicable to the exercise you were doing like squats, or ham string curls, etc.   The trick is taking that strength and making it effective on the bicycle, so that you go faster!  How do you do that?  Tractor Pulls, I tell you!  Tractor Pulls!

Why you need “Tractor Pulls”

Before we go into the mechanics of “Tractor pulls”, let me further explain why you need to do them on the bike and why it’s critical to do them correctly.  Lower cadence workouts are great to do in the winter transition period and throughout the winter really, because they can enhance your muscular strength, which in turn can help you to sprint with more peak wattages and to push a bigger gear into the wind, in a time trial or up a steep climb. Muscular strength (Tractor pulls) workouts are based around hard, but short intervals done in the biggest gear you can manage at a low rpm.   Many people have long believed the myth that riding for hours in a big gear at a slow rpm will increase their muscular strength and consequently make them more ‘powerful’.  However, this only makes you good at riding in a big gear at slow rpm’s!   Riding at 50rpm for hours on end is just not creating enough muscular stress in order to strengthen the muscles.  You can think of this analogy:  If you are trying to bench press 200lbs, then you need to start at 150lbs. and build up to it with low reps, high sets and the most weight you can lift.  You have to use heavier and heavier weights to stress the muscle in order for it to adapt.   Now, if you lifted 100lbs, but one million times, you would never adapt to lift 200lbs. for one rep.   This is similar in this ‘big gear’ myth in that when you are pedaling at 50rpm for hours on end, it’s just like lifting 100lbs. for a million reps.  While 100lbs. (metaphorically speaking) is more than your normal pedaling force of 80lbs., it’s just not enough stress on the muscles to get them to strengthen.  In order to increase your muscular strength on the bike, then you need to do hard, short bursts of effort in a big gear.  

The mechanics of the Tractor Pull is simple, but important.  First off, they are usually better done while you are in the saddle the entire time of the effort.   Secondly, in order to elicit the most force, you’ll want to do these on a flat road or false flat upward slope. For example, put your chain in the 53:12 gear and slow down to about 5-8mph, then while you stay seated, tighten your abdominals, grip your handlebars tightly and then with all your force, turn that gear over until you reach 85rpm.   Once you have reached 85rpm, then the amount of force you are putting on the cranks has reduced to a point at which it’s just not enough stress to create muscular strength improvements.   You should plan on doing about twenty of these power bursts in a session in order to create enough of an overload to achieve some benefits.  See figure one to understand what this looks like in a power file.

Besides seeing the correct way the tractor pull should look in the graph, you should also confirm that you executed the tractor pulls correctly, by looking at the Quadrant Analysis scatter plot. Most if not all the points from your tractor pulls should in quadrant II, where the high force and low cadence intersect. When you see the dots in QII, that’s a great confirmation you elicited the right amount of force from the workout. The higher the dots are up in the upper left quadrant, the better you did!

Now you know the secret of how to take your hard work in the weight room and make it effective force on the bike. I suggest in the month of January and February that you do at least two of these workouts every week, and of course this work should be done at the beginning of the workout when you are the freshest and have the most strength to apply.  This also means that you’ll want to do some tractor pulls at the beginning of a workout that addresses other energy systems as well.  I would suggest doing tractor pulls before your sweet-spot 2 x 20’s or before your FTP 4 x 10 intervals and even at the beginning of a kitchen sink workout.  These are great additions to riding on the indoor trainer as well, and are easy to execute correctly, just remember if you can’t reach 85rpm in less than 30 seconds, once you reach 30seconds the interval is over.   Your sprint, your explosive snap, your time trial and ability to charge up steep hills will be forever changed for the positive! 

Investment Advice for Cyclists and Triathletes!

By: Hunter Allen

First you start out “wide-eyed and bushy tailed”, excited for everything and everyone related to cycling.  It’s a great time when you are absorbing as much knowledge as you can, getting stronger, ripping through every cycling magazine and website memorizing all the names of the riders, and generally throwing yourself into the sport.  After this phase wears off, you continue to learn, but in a way that makes you wiser now, the “wise” phase.  You are learning from your mistakes made in training, mistakes in races and as you learn, you become more successful.  This second step is an important one because it causes an upward spiral of success, happiness and adds to the whole “fun quotient” of cycling in general.  At the start of the next phase, the “serious” phase, you are still improving but at a slower rate now.  You are continuing to get wiser and ride smarter saving precious energy to keep those legs fresh for the end of the ride.  This phase lasts a disproportionately long period of time because the gains are slower, the desire is still high and you are now trying harder than ever.  Eventually though, you reach a place when you are not able to improve and you begin to stagnate.  This next phase or evolution of training is one in which you begin thinking about all the smaller ways you can improve and that idea of “the accretion of incremental marginal gains” begins to run through your mind.  Can I buy a little faster wheels?  Can I train a little smarter?  Do I get a coach?  Maybe if I used my Power meter more effectively?   This phase is what I call the “Dedicated” phase.  You are dedicated to your hobby, sport and for some of you, your profession.    It could move onto the next phase, which is called the “monk” phase, where you do nothing but ride bicycles and eat special food, do special training, etc.  and this is the phase that all pro cyclists much reach to pass into the professional ranks.  There are other phases after this of course, but for this article we are going to focus on the “Dedicated” phase.   Going through to the next phase is not something that is a discrete, door opening experience, and it’s generally a slow change over time from one way of being/thinking to another.   

In this “Dedicated” phase of cycling, this idea of smaller improvements dominant the thinking and actions.  Improving your nutrition and its corollary, losing weight, always seems to be close to the top.  From there we move onto harder training and smarter training, generally in that order because you first train harder and then you get smarter, learning that harder training only works at the right times.   The next step is you begin learning about the power of the mind, positive self-talk and improving your mental game.    There are many more steps that you take in this “Dedicated” phase but let’s focus on the “smarter training” one in this article. 

Smarter training does not mean less training and it does not mean more training.  Smarter training means training more efficiently.  It means training the correct physiological energy systems at the time they need to be trained and for the right amount of time so that they give you the greatest adaptation/improvement.  Training smarter does not always mean training only when you get the highest benefit for cost, as many of the strategies of training require a large investment with a small return.  It is often the case, that the smallest of improvements are the improvements that make the difference between winning and getting dropped, and those smallest of small improvements take a large investment of time and hard work.

Smart Training Investment #1

Each week, you should do a workout that I affectionately call, “Intervals to Exhaustion” (ITE).   ITE intervals are the epitome of effectively using your power meter for smart training.  Pick an energy system you want to train on that day, and then train it until you can train it no more.  ITE is based on your average watts from the third interval and typically you will stop the interval session when your power drops off about 5-12% (depending on the length of the interval) from the average watts in that third interval.  See Table 1 for a guideline on when to stop doing intervals. Check out Dr. Coggan’s and my book, “Training and Racing with a Power Meter” for a more in depth discussion on ITE. To increase your fitness, you have to push yourself a little farther than before in your interval repeat sessions.  If you normally do five intervals, then using the ITE concept can help give you the confidence you need to keep doing more intervals until they aren’t being effective anymore.  Who knows?  Should you do six repeats?  Ten repeats?  Four?  With a power meter and using this concept, you can easily determine the exact optimal number of repeats needed for maximum training adaptation and time efficiency.  Smart training.

Smart Training Investment #2

Cut out the “Fluff” in your workouts and in your week.  When you are focused on training hard and really going for it that week or workout, then cut down the warm-up time, time between intervals sets (not intervals, but sets of intervals) and get rid of the endurance paced riding.  The workout becomes shorter, more focused and efficient.   Here’s an example of a workout with the “fluff” and then without the “fluff”.

Threshold power and Anaerobic Attacks:

WU: (warm-up) 15 minute- endurance pace and do 4 x1 minute fast pedaling intervals –cadence over 120rpm. Rest for 1 minute between each.

Then MS: (main set) 4 x 10minutes at 200-210 watts, 100- 105% of FTP. Nail these and do your best. Rest for 5 minutes between each.

Do these at a faster than normal cadence- by 5 rpm! So, legs should be burning a bit just from the spinning faster. Then 20 minutes at endurance pace- 150-180 watts.

Then do 10 x 1 minutes all out- Attack these like you are in a race and you are attacking to get away! Do your best to average 150% of your FTP for the minute- 300watts or greater.

Hammer and push it with 3 minute between each.

CD (cool-down) Head home 20 minutes.

Total time: 2 hours 43 minutes.

Now, the same workout without the Fluff.

Threshold power and Anaerobic Attacks:

WU: (warm-up) 10 minute- endurance pace and do 4 x1 minute fast pedaling intervals –cadence over 120rpm. Rest for 1 minute between each.

Then MS: (main set) 4 x 10minutes at 200-210 watts, 100- 105% of FTP. Nail these and do your best. Rest for 3 minutes between each.

Do these at a faster than normal cadence- by 5 rpm! So, legs should be burning a bit just from the spinning faster.

Then do 10 x 1 minutes all out- Attack these like you are in a race and you are attacking to get away! Do your best to average 150% of your FTP for the minute- 300watts or greater.

Hammer and push it with 2 minute between each.

CD (cool-down) Head home 10 minutes.

Total time: 1 hour 50 minutes.

That’s a time savings of 57 minutes!

Smart Training Investment #3

Forget the easy days. You are on a time schedule and have no time for ‘putting’ around spinning the legs in active recovery. This is a waste of your time.  Instead of doing easy rides, just sleep or rest, do a yoga class or get a massage. Forget the easy days as they are not really helping you to improve your fitness and while active recovery does have some benefits in helping you to recover more quickly for the next workout, you need to just fully rest one day a week and do nothing. That is a more effective use of your limited time, plus it allows you to catch up around the house on those things that need to be done.

Smart Training Investment #4

Learn how to analyze the periodic charts in TrainingPeaks WKO software.  The periodic charts are the charts that allow you to see your changes in fitness over a time period.   These include the Mean Maximal Power Chart (Figure 1), the Performance Manager Chart (Figure 2) and the Training Stress Score by week (Figure 3) charts.   The Mean Maximal Power chart graphs your ‘bests’ or ‘peaks’ for whichever time period you decide to plot.  This defaults at 5 seconds (Neuromuscular Power), 1 minute(Anaerobic Capacity), 5 minutes(Vo2 Max), 20 minutes(close proxy of functional threshold power),  so that these default time periods will easily tell the user which energy system is on the upswing and which is on the downswing and this will help the user to make the correct decision on current training to impact future fitness.   The Performance Manager chart teaches you the dose and response relationship between work and fitness, by clearly quantifying the level of your accumulated training stress and showing you the best wattages you produce as a result of that training stress.  The peak wattages always trail training stress, since it’s the training stress that causes adaptation and improvement.   The Performance Manager is one of the most useful charts that a smart ‘trainer’ should invest in understanding.   The Training Stress Score chart is an important chart as well and something that you should look at on a regular basis to get a clear understanding of how many TSS per week you can handle, what your rest weeks look like and what are the maximum TSS points you can score in a week.  While this is not earth shattering  in terms of analysis, it does give you  perspective and sometimes having perspective makes you smarter and wiser.

The different phases that we go through in cycling are always interesting, exciting and motivating.  We learn something at each phase and those key understandings are what allow us to move to the next phase in our cycling experience.  Evolution in your cycling is like how training itself has evolved. It’s grown over the years, adapted, improved, and grown some more.  I would argue this is the hallmark of success and those that are not able to follow this path, are destined to mediocrity and stagnation.  Push yourself in your adventure, open your mind to new ideas and use the most advanced tools to improve.  Remember that if you do five smaller ‘things’ to help you improve for next season, they will add up to one BIG thing and that contributes to the next level.

The 5 second test!- By Hunter Allen

How to test your neuromuscular power with your power meter.

You have read about the 1-minute test, the 20 minute test and now here’s the shortest test you can do in cycling!   Woo hoo!  For all those that do not like testing, there is always the 5 second test!  I can promise you it is over fast!

What is the purpose of the 5-second test?    It’s to measure your neuromuscular power, or how quickly you can contract and relax your muscles with maximum force.   In cycling, this is your sprint power.  How many maximum watts can you produce for 5-seconds.  

Why 5-seconds?   Our power meters measure in 1-second samples, but we do not know where exactly in the pedal stroke the sample starts and where it stops, so you might crack out 1534 watts for 1-second in one test, but never be able to repeat that same power.  The earth, the moon, the stars all aligned perfectly in that 1 sample to give you a high maximum wattage, but it’s not a true measure as it measured just the perfect slice of your pedal stroke.   When we measure over 5-seconds, you are guaranteed to include at least 5 complete pedal strokes of both legs, and this average for the 5-seconds is more representative of your actual neuromuscular power.

Do we actually test for only 5 seconds?    No, you guessed correctly, you are going to have to test a little longer.  You will do at least a 12-second sprint and out of that 12-second sprint, you will take the best 5-seconds average power as your neuromuscular power.  You need to test a little longer, as sometimes it takes 2-3 pedal strokes to get up to speed and jumping on the gear.   Do not worry about hitting the “lap” button on your bike computer, for this test, you will have to rely on your post ride data analysis in order to see your best 5 seconds.

How do you test?    You should test in both the small chain ring and in the big chain ring.   Each sprint starts from a slow speed and for the small chainring, you should start from less than 8mph, so that you can really stomp on the pedals and create the most torque(force) that you can.  You will likely shift a couple of gears during the small ring test, but do not shift too early, be sure to shift after you reach 110+ rpm and then shift one gear harder to maintain your pedaling momentum.   You should do at least (3) of these small chain ring sprints to ensure that you capture your best 5 seconds.   Some riders have more “explosivity” and they will create their highest watts in the small chain ring sprint.  Other riders will need to sprint in the big chain ring to create their highest 5-second average power. For this test, you should start around 12-15mph and in a gear that allows you to really stomp on the pedals and then change to the next gear quickly.  You will want to sprint for at least 12 seconds, as you might create the highest wattages from second 7 to 12.       Do (3) of the big chain ring sprints as well, so that you will ensure you capture the highest wattage.   For rest between sprints, it is important to pedal easily at 80-90rpm for 5minutes between EACH sprint.  This allows the muscles to recover and helps you to reproduce another great sprint.   Many times, your third sprint will end up being your best, so give each sprint your 100% effort and adequate recovery.

Here is an example of a good 5-second sprint.  In your downloaded power file, you are looking for a sharp (straight vertical line) increase in power indicating you started quickly and hard enough.

What do you do with this data?   Well, this helps you to understand if you are a sprinter or not and put your neuromuscular into a relationship with the other energy systems.  Is this one your strengths?  Or an area you need to improve?    The old adage is true, “Sprinters are born and not made”, so your neuromuscular ability come from your genetics.  Of course, you can always improve, but if you can only do 900 watts in your sprint and your competitor does 1400watts, it’s highly doubtful that you’ll ever be able to bridge that gap.  Which means you should be careful where you put time into your training.  Someone that is not a great sprinter might ought to focus more on improving their FTP, so they can just ride away from all the sprinters!

The 1 Minute Test. – How you should do it.

By: Hunter Allen

The FTP test has been written about by hundreds of coaches, journalists, and others since Dr. Coggan and I created the FTP testing protocol back in 2003.  It has been a constant source of amusement and bewilderment over the years to see it misinterpreted, misconstrued and wrong in many articles.  Other articles have gotten the concept correctly, which is a relief.  If you have questions on how to properly execute the FTP test, then grab a copy of our book, “Training and Racing with a Power Meter” where we detail the exact protocol. 

But, this article isn’t about FTP. It’s about the 1 minute test, which is also often done wrong, done incorrectly or not done at all.  The 1 minute test is a test of your anaerobic capacity (AC) , or your ability to do hard, hard work without using oxygen.  These are very short efforts by nature and range from 30 seconds out to 2minutes.  

Riders with a strong AC can attack very hard up a short hill, or attack with 1km to go in a race, or are good at doing hard, short efforts and recovering quickly.   Riders that do not have this ability are generally better at aerobic efforts like steady-state riding for a long time, like doing a time trial, triathlon and climbing.  There are riders that have both a strong AC and aerobic ability and these riders are a threat to win nearly any race.  These are the riders winning the very hard one day classic races and also the grand tours.  It is rare when you see a pure steady state rider win a stage in the Tour unless it’s a mountain top finish and the rider can just grind the legs off the other riders slowly and painfully.    

 What about you?  Where is your AC as it relates to the rest of your energy systems? Is it one of your strengths? Or is it one of your weaknesses that you could improve?   Knowing how much power you can put out for 1 minute will help to you to determine which races or events might be best for you,  understanding when you should attack and put your rivals in a bit of difficulty.   Understanding your 1 minute power can also help you to determine your freshness or fatigue.  Your AC is highly dependent on your current level of fatigue.  If you are really fresh, then your AC will be very high and your average watts for that 1 minute will also be high.  Conversely, if you are fatigued at the end of a hard 3 week block of training, your AC will be low and your 1 minute power will be low.    Knowing this, it is obvious when you should test your AC to achieve the highest power output… the end of a rest week, when you are very rested.  If you took your rest even further (haha!) and sat on the couch for a month not riding at all, then went out and did a 1 minute test, it most likely would be your highest 1 minute ever. It would hurt bad and you might puke, but it would be the highest average watts for a minute.    

How to properly test your one minute.

Since freshness is critical for your best 1 minute test then, you test it the first thing in your ride.   It’s not necessary to warm-up very much and certainly don’t do any intervals before your 1 minute.  If possible, you should do your test on a tough hill, with about a 5-9% gradient.  If it’s too steep, you’ll have a hard time turning the pedals over in the last 15 seconds, so the ideal hill actually flattens out a little bit right at the top.  I really like to find a hill where you do crest the top of it just after you finish the 1 minute, so it’s easier to recover after.   If you do not have a hill to attack, then do the test going into the wind, so you have more resistance to push against.   Before you go out to test, you will also need to adjust your “fields” in your computer head unit so that you can see:  Lap Time, 3 second Power, and cadence.  You will touch the “lap” button on your computer when you begin the test and then again when you stop, so that you can learn your average right at the finish of the test and also easily find it in the downloaded data.  AND, it’s super important that you can see your lap time, because at 37 seconds, you will swear that you had to have ridden for a minute already. If you can’t see that timer, you will stop early and then will have to wait till the next rest week before doing it again.  

Here is the exact testing protocol that you should use to crack out your best 1 minute.

Warm-up:  20 minutes of easy riding at endurance pace so that you end up close the base of your testing hill or area.  If it takes 1 hour of riding to get to your testing hill or area, I would encourage you to drive and park, so that you have only about 20-30minutes of riding to do before the test.  Just an hour of riding could impact your wattage average.   This should be no more than 70% of your threshold power (FTP) . Keep cadence between 85-95 and the pressure on the pedals light.  Now,  do (3) x 1 minute fast pedaling drills, where you keep the wattage at 70% of FTP or lower, and just increase your cadence to 110-120rpm for a minute and then ride at 80 rpm for a minute.  It is VERY IMPORTANT your watts stay below 70% of FTP.  This is about spinning the legs, and keeping the watts low.  Do NOT blow your 1 minute test by putting out too much power here.

Main Set:  Now, you are ready for the 1 minute test.   But, guess what???  The test is actually going to be 1 minute and 5 seconds!  Yes, you will need to test for 1 minute 5 seconds, so that you capture your very best 1 minute.  When you start, you aren’t able to touch the “lap” button on your computer head unit and accelerate out of the saddle at the same time, so by doing the test for 1 minute 5 seconds, you’ll be able capture the very best 1 minute of wattage output.     

When you start, most likely you will be in your big chain ring (I recommend it).  Jump out of the saddle hard and sprint for 15 seconds, then back in the saddle and hammer for another 15-20seconds giving it your best.  It is VERY critical that you go ALL-OUT for the first 30-40 seconds of the test and then just die a thousand deaths in the last 20 seconds.   The last 20 seconds should feel like it is taking 5 minutes and you are pedaling in squares and barely moving.  I promise, you won’t be going that slow and your watts will still be pretty high.   To produce the highest average wattage for 1 minute though, you need to absolutely KILL IT in the first 30-40 seconds.   There is no holding back.  There is no thinking that you’ll go harder in the last 10 seconds.  You are going to be blown no matter what and the majority of your anaerobic capacity system is used in the first 30 seconds, so it’s better to completely exhaust that AC system with a max effort right in the beginning.

After your 1 minute, continue for the rest of your workout.   This is probably a good day to also do the other durations in the “Power Profiling tests”: 5 second sprint, 5minute Vo2 Max and 20 minute FTP test.  To learn the exact protocol for these, grab a copy of my and Dr. Coggan’s book, “Training and Racing with a Power Meter”. Today is a great day to do some testing and training and as Dr. Coggan says, “Training is testing and testing is training”.    Or, you might want to do a long ride with sweet spot work, or even just some great FTP intervals in the next hour of the ride.   The main thing is that you got in the correct testing of your Anaerobic Capacity and now you will know how this relates to the rest of your physiology.

Let’s examine two different tests where the first athlete did not test correctly and then the second one did.  (In both figures, the yellow line is the power output).  Our first athlete does the one minute test, but does NOT go hard enough in the first 30 seconds.  You can tell this because the last 30 seconds of the effort is a “flat” line.  This means that this rider had enough energy left to produce the same power for the last 30seconds, whereas their power should be degrading throughout the last 30 seconds. See figure 1 below.

For the second rider, this rider does the test properly, with a hard sprint out of the saddle. Notice how this rider’s power peaks and then begins falling off immediately. It continually drops off to nearly the end of the test when he musters up just a little bit more energy for a small increase in the final seconds.  This is how to properly execute your 1 minute test.  See figure 2 below.

In figure 3 below, we see another good example of a 1 minute test. This rider also starts very hard, not quite as hard as the rider in figure 2, but still a hard effort.  This riders power continues to degrade for the entire effort and he leave nothing on the table, so to speak.  Incredible effort here as well.

The 1 minute test is not an easy test and it hurts, but the great thing is that it’s over quickly!   How you do the test is critical to creating your best average watts for that minute.  It’s important that you do the test at the end of a rest week and on a steep enough hill.  Be careful about using any energy on the ride to the hill and then just slam the test right from the start.  You’ll die a thousand deaths, but at least you put out your best watts !    Be sure to test your 1 minute every 8 weeks, just like you do your FTP, as it can give you a great indicator of improvement in your Anaerobic Capacity and also tell you if you are too fatigued.  After a rest week, you should have a good test, and if you don’t then it probably means you need a couple more days of rest. I hope this helps you to learn even more about your unique abilities and the areas you should and should not train. 

Increasing the size of your bath tub.

By Hunter Allen

I am often asked many great questions.  One of the questions that I am asked often is,  “Which is better to improve your threshold power, riding longer rides or doing more intervals in shorter rides?”  The great thing about being a cycling coach is that most, if not all, your answers to questions such as this are always: “It depends”….  Seriously though, there are times when you should do longer rides in order to improve your stamina and other times when you should do shorter, harder intensity rides to improve your absolute threshold number.   How should you decide which you should do and when?   Let’s first examine a metaphor that I like to teach at many of my power seminars in order to teach  the importance of both types of rides and then dig deeper into the decision making process.

Let’s say for instance, that every cyclist has a “bathtub” of fitness.  In your bathtub, you have a drain, bathtub walls, a spigot, and some Hot and cold handles.  Some cyclists have a very big bathtub but with small walls.  These are the riders that can ride across the USA, with panniers and a tent, spending 12-14 hours rolling along at 14mph and seeing the sights over a summer.  They have incredible endurance, but at a slow pace.  They never “overflow” the walls of the bathtub because they just don’t ride at an intense enough pace to flood the massive floor of their bathtub. Then there are those that have two 50 gallon drums stacked on top of each other, tall walls but relatively small in volume.  These are the sprinters on the track.  Their bathtub can be “fire-hosed” for about a minute or two before it fills up and overflows onto the bathroom floor and since the drain is relatively small, they have to wait a while before they can “fire-hose” it again.  Then there are the road racers and stage racers; they have both a relatively large bathtub with tall walls.  These riders can handle a high flow of water into their bathtub and even some limited “fire hosing” as well.  Ultimately, that’s what most of us want, the largest volume bathtub with the tallest walls.  This would be the ultimate in the “bathtub” of fitness.  

Inside each bathtub, there is a drain that controls the flow of water out of the bathtub and the size of your “drain” is incredibly important to your ability to handle the water pouring into it.  The larger the drain, the more work you can handle as a cyclist.   In our metaphor, the drain is your aerobic efficiency, or how developed your cardiovascular system is within your body.  The more developed your aerobic system, the larger the drain and the more you train and longer you have trained the larger the drain.  Aerobic capacity and efficiency refers to the number of capillaries you have in your muscles, the number and size of the mitochondria in your cells, the stroke volume in your heart, the size of your heart and the maximized capacity of your lungs, along with many other factors. The bottom line is:  the bigger your “drain”, the more efficient you are at riding at a higher intensity for a longer time, which is endurance or stamina.    A road cyclist wants to first improve their drain and then begin working on improving the height of the walls in the bathtub. In order to do this, you must first “stress” the drain, by adding water pressure to it, which means you need to fill up the bathtub to at least three-fours full and once you have enough water pressure on the drain, then you need to maintain it for as long as you can by keeping the water or ‘dose of training/watts’ coming out of the spigot at the same rate as the water emptying out of the drain.  The body senses this “stress” and responds by increasing the size of the drain.   Any prolonged high-ish level of water in the bathtub, so to speak, will cause the drain size to increase.   From a training perspective, this means riding at an upper tempo pace (85-95% of FTP) will create enough water pressure on the drain to improve aerobic efficiency.  This is really the first step towards increased fitness and if you are working on increasing your overall FTP. Train your drain first.

In order to increase the height of the walls in the bathtub, then you need to stress the current height of the walls.  This is done by adding so much water to the bathtub that the water level goes over the edge and floods the floor of the bathroom or gets right up to the edge and threatens to flood.  This type of stress means riding right at your threshold power or “on the edge” and also just above it, so that the water is constantly at its maximum capacity of the bathtub.  The body responds to this type of stress, by increasing the height of the walls in order to prevent the water from escaping.  Of course, you can train at Level 4 or your functional threshold power before you “train the drain”, and increase the height of the walls, but then you will be left with a small drain in relation to the walls.   What this means in practical terms is that you will be able to ride at your threshold or slightly above for a 20-30minute period and not much longer and then need to wait for a while (30minutes or more) to allow the water to drain out, before having the ability to do another 20-30minute threshold interval.  If you haven’t figured it out yet, in our metaphor here, “water” is lactate in the blood.

Can you do both things at once?  Increase the height of your bathtub walls (FTP) and the size of your drain (aerobic efficiency/endurance)?   Of course!   One of the best ways to do this is by doing what I call the “Sweet Spot with Bursts” intervals.  These intervals are correctly done when you ride for 20minutes at your “Sweet Spot” (88-93% of FTP) and then every two minutes for the entire 20minute period, you do a hard burst of effort up to 120% of FTP for 30seconds and then recover back to sweet spot, but not lower.  This is like filling the bathtub about 3/4 ‘s full, then taking a fire hose and blasting water into the tub for 30seconds, just enough to get the water to the top and overflowing into the floor and then shutting off the fire hose.  Once the water drains back down to ¾’s full again, you “fire hose” it again!    By doing this, you increase the water pressure on the drain and at the same time you increase the height of the walls in the bathtub, hereby increasing both FTP and endurance.

Now, back to our original question of when should you work on which of the two components of the “Bathtub of Fitness”?    I will always say that you should increase the size of your drain first (endurance/aerobic efficiency) and then work on the height of the walls (FTP) second.  This is the general progression in periodization to begin with and it allows you to build a solid foundation of fitness, and increasing your FTP after you have established that initial level of fitness.   Once you are in the racing season or in the middle of the summer, then you might consider working on the height of the walls first.   As you probably know, your FTP and endurance increase and decrease in a wave like pattern through the season and if you are in the middle of the season and have just come off a long block of hard racing, you might best be served by continuing to work on the height of walls (FTP), instead of going back to increasing the size of the drain.  The key to doing this making sure that limit these intense workouts to only two a week.  If you do too much of the FTP work, then the size of the drain will begin to shrink and while you’ll have great form for criterium racing, you’ll be toast after an hour and half in a Road race. So, conversely, if you just have finished a week long criterium series with tons of FTP work, then I would suggest working on your endurance (drain) in order to prepare yourself for any longer rides.    Yet another scenario might be that you have a strong spring of racing and riding, and then decide to take a break for a month or two afterward, just riding casually and not doing any specific training.  In the late summer and early fall you decide you want to race in Cyclo-cross races and perform well.  In this case, I would work the “drain” first for at least 2-3weeks, and then do a week of intensity, working on FTP and then back to the drain for 2 more weeks and finishing with 2 weeks of working heavily on FTP (height of the walls).   When in doubt of which to do first, then fall back on working on your endurance/aerobic efficiency and then only when you feel you have done enough work improving the size of your drain, then move onto increasing the height of the walls or work done right at your FTP.  The “bathtub of fitness” is a key concept to understand for sustained and solid improvement season after season and year over year.  As you progress through your season, making sure you are working on the correct component is always essential to continued growth and hopefully now you have a better understanding of which part of the bathtub is the most important for you.

Plan your Peak for 2021.

We all have the best of intentions leading into the off-season and even after a non-season in 2020, it’s important to have that down time to recharge the battery.  That’s a critical part of making your 2021 season even better and if you come into next season with only a 90% charge in the battery you’ll never make that next leap in fitness.  One of the critical things that you must examine for next year is whether or not the training you did this year was effective.  If you made the improvements you wanted to make then it was definitely effective, but if you didn’t make those gains, you need to change something for 2021.  One of the easiest places to make a change is to plan out your peak and sketch out how you are going to get to that peak.   Planning for success is something that every winner does and if you don’t plan for success you are planning for failure.  How do you plan a season and what things do you take into consideration when training with a power meter?   While this column is too short to go into much detail, I would like you to consider five key factors in your planning for 2021.

Power Training Success Factor

#1-  Lock in your “A” priority events.  

Take time to look at this years’ race calendar and think about all the races or events you did and then which ones you want to do next year and which races are your top priorities.  I would suggest making sure that you pick not just one “A” priority event, but make sure there are plenty of races around that “A” race, so that you will be able to take advantage of your peak fitness.  I once had an athlete that was determined to win a particular race on June 9 and I did everything to put him on peak form for this race.   Unfortunately, he flatted in the first 5 miles of the race and couldn’t get back to the peloton, which was of course highly disappointing not to mention it ended up being a huge waste of the six months leading up to the race.  You see, there weren’t any other races within eight hours drive of his home for the next five weeks and he had the best form of his life, and nowhere but the “Tuesday night world championships” to use it.  So, I recommend you pick an event that suits your strengths and weaknesses well and also has other events close to that time frame in order to take advantage of your great form.  Once you have determined when you want your peak, you can begin to work backwards from there to establish the different macro cycles of training that you’ll be doing.  Macro cycles are the phases of training that you’ll focus on for a four to six weeks at a time in order to build a well-rounded level of fitness in which you can create a peak of form.  Using a power meter helps you to determine the optimal training load you can handle each week throughout your build and rest cycles.  I use Training Stress Score(TSS) in to establish those training loads and more accurately predict needed training loads each week, along with helping to determine length and intensity of rides.

Power Training Success Factor

#2-Know your strengths and weaknesses. 

Every six weeks you should be doing the “Power Profile” test, which tests your best efforts at 5 seconds, 1 minute, 5 minutes and 20 minutes. Each of these relate to different energy systems in the body, Neuromuscular Power, Anaerobic Capacity, Vo2 Max, and Functional Threshold Power(FTP), respectively and will change at different times and also in relation to each other.  When your fitness improves it is not necessarily true that your sprint will improve with your FTP, or that your Anaerobic Capacity will improve when your sprint does.   This makes it critical that you test them on a regular basis so you’ll be able to clearly understand which physiological energy system is changing and by how much.  Clearly understanding your strengths and weaknesses determines the type of training that you will be doing within each micro cycle(two to three week periods) and also will help you to determine if your weakness is a barrier to success.   For example, if your goal for 2021 is to ride well at the “Assault on Mt. Mitchell”, then you’ll need to be able climb very well and that means you’ll want the highest FTP you can achieve by race day and sprinting really might not be that important to your overall success. However, through your power profile testing you have learned that your sprint (5 second test) is the weakest of your energy systems and your FTP is the strongest (even though you always want it to improve).  Should you then spend all of your time training your sprint? No, that probably won’t help you to crush Mt. Mitchell and I would bet even if you trained your sprint 10 hours a week, you would not see much improvement as it tends to be more of a genetic limiter than one that can be improved through training. The bottom line is that you absolutely need to know for certain which are your true strengths and true weaknesses, and as long as you test these regularly, you’ll know when exactly these systems change after each training macro cycle and this will help to keep up on track for your peak along with making you aware of your racing tactical limitations.

Power Training Success Factor

#3 Understand your secondary limiters

– Along with understanding your gross strengths and weaknesses (whether or not I have a strong aerobic or anaerobic ability), you also need to understand how quickly you fatigue within these systems.  Some riders may have a tremendous initial ‘snap’ when they sprint, but fatigue quickly after a mere 100 meters of sprinting.   Other riders might not have an incredible ‘snap’ but are more ‘diesel engines’ when it comes to closing gaps, chasing down breakaways and hardly seem to fatigue at all no matter the time or distance.  The ability to ‘diesel’ means that you have more fatigue resistance than other riders and that fatigue resistance can be a part of each of your energy systems.  A sprinter like Mark Cavendish, who has an incredible snap, must win races by coming out of the draft with less than 100meters to go since he has poor fatigue resistance, whereas a sprinter like Peter Sagan needs to start his sprint from 250-300 meters out so he can take advantage of his strong fatigue resistance in the last 50m as others are fading. Mark Cavendish probably can do about 1800 watts for 5 seconds, but then only holds 1000 for 10 seconds and then at 20 seconds is down to 850 watts, whereas Sagan starts out with 1500watts, fatigues to 1300 watts by 10 seconds and still is cranking out 1100 watts at 20 seconds. This fatigue resistance that Sagan has will help him determine his sprint strategy and also the types of training he needs to do in order to improve his snap as well.  By using the Power Duration Curve in the TrainingPeaks WKO5 software, you can accurately understand how your watts reduce from 5 seconds to 10 seconds to 20 seconds.   Look at each “energy system range to understand if you have more fatigue resistance in one system over the other  (Vo2 over AC for example) This might mean you need to do some testing in these time ranges as well.  So for your sprint, you need to make sure you test your 5second, 10 second and 20 seconds and then for your Anaerobic Capacity, you should test your 30 seconds, 1 minute and 2 minutes.  As you test your fatigue resistance at Vo2 Max, you should test your 3minute, 5 minute and 8 minute ability and then finally you should consider your fatigue resistance at FTP, so that you test your 20 minute, 60 minute and 90 minute best efforts to clearly understand whether you are true ‘diesel’(strong fatigue resistance) or not(poor fatigue resistance).  How do you use this increased knowledge of your physiology?  By knowing your secondary limiters, you have another area to focus on in your training to help improve those limiters and give you more tactical racing options to use during your races.

Power Training Success Factor

#4 – Plan in your rest days and rest weeks

  Each week, you should have a rest day, where you either stay off the bike completely or just ride ‘embarassingly slow’.  This is absolutely a critical factor for success and so many riders just don’t do it.  Your body needs to recover, recharge and rebuild for the next day of hard training and a day of very easy riding or complete rest is really the only way to do it.  This is the easiest part of training and it’s an important one.  Many cyclists ride a little too hard on their easy days in order for them to be truly rest days, so when you do ride easy, go slow, and use your power meter as your governor.  Your power should be under 56% of your FTP about 90% of the time, but if you have to do 400 watts to get up a hill or fall over, then do the 400 watts, but maybe you’ll want to select a different route the next easy ride.  Throughout your plan for next year, you’ll also want to schedule in rest weeks and these allow you improve as it’s the rest weeks when your body gets stronger from all of the hard training you have been doing.   The great thing about planning in rest weeks and then sticking to them is that you force yourself to re-charge your battery no matter whether you feel like it or not.  Even though, you might not feel like you need a rest week, you can keep pushing through you could end up compromising your immune system or possibly compromising your next hard build cycle.  Scheduling in those rest weeks will control your overall training stress as well and prevent you from overtraining. How much rest do you need in a rest week?   I would suggest looking at your Training Stress Score chart so that you can see how many TSS points you accumulate during a normal week of training and then half that amount of TSS for your rest week.  If your normal week is between 700-800 TSS, then somewhere between 350-400 TSS for a rest week would be plenty and if you do less that would be fine as well.  

TSS chart by week highlighting a rest week.


Power Training Success Factor

#5- Build the Plan and do your best to stick to it.

While this seems relatively simple it’s much harder to actually create, implement and then keep to the plan throughout the season. Life does interfere and that’s one of the more challenging parts about cycling or any activity that you are committed to, and has to be worked around the rest of your life.   When you build a training plan, you always work backwards from the goal date and that begins to define your rest weeks, specific training weeks where you focus on your primary and secondary limiters and your “power foundation”.   Your power foundation is really the foundation of aerobic work that you lay down in order to be ready for the more specific work needed later.  This is not ‘base’ training, as that really is easy riding at endurance pace for hours on end and your power foundation is built on riding more intensely(tempo pace), and for shorter periods of time. In this day and age, we all have less and less time to train, and only the pros or Category 1 riders have time to ride an easy 5 hours every day for months on end and in reality, if we did that, our threshold power would likely decrease from lack of intensity.  What I like most about riding at tempo (76-90% of your FTP) is that it creates just enough stress on your aerobic system to maintain fitness and also is tough enough to keep those muscles engaged in pedaling hard on the bike.  This dual strain keeps your cardiovascular system primed for later work and also makes sure that you have the needed muscular endurance in order to do the longer rides on weekends and later in the year.  If you want to go to the next level, then you have to integrate in a long ride (4-6 hours) at least once and preferably twice a month to achieve the needed cardiovascular and muscular strain to improve. I have a “Next Level”  Training plan available here.    Your power foundation phase should last for a solid 8 weeks before starting with focusing on your primary and secondary limiters and I would recommend for most people this power foundation phase occurs from December to February depending on when you are planning on peaking. After this phase, you should make sure your plan begins to incorporate specific limiters even if you do just them once a week while continuing your work right at FTP.  As you get closer and closer to your peak fitness, you work to improve your shorter anaerobic efforts as your body will adapt much quicker to them than to your longer aerobic efforts.   One common mistake that many people make is that they ‘stack’ workouts when they miss them, so avoid this if you can.  If you miss the Tuesday workout, then don’t try and push everything back one day so you still get in the workouts.  It’s better for you to just move along to the Wednesday workout then worry too much about missing that Tuesday workout.  The only exception to this is when the Tuesday workout was addressing a key limiter to success and in that case, substitute the Tuesday workout for Wednesday and just forget about the Wednesday one. 

There are many factors that help you to success in cycling and books have been written about them. It’s my hope that this article will inspire you to take some time now and do these steps in order to plan for your success.  Make a plan.  Plan for success and use your power meter to help you stay on target.  If you don’t know you are improving or know your strengths and weaknesses then how will you improve?  How will you reach your goal no matter how large or how small. A carpenter does not just tell the guys one day to show up with a ton of wood and we’ll throw something together and then end up with a perfect house.  Each carpenter starts with a blueprint, a plan, a way to make sure they are building the house correctly.  Once that plan is established then every once in a while situations come along and you have to adapt to them, that’s normal, but you always come back to the master plan.  We plan for success in the rest of our lives, and we should do the same in cycling. Measure your results accurately, consistently and you’ll know when to make changes to your training plan so that you do achieve the best possible benefits a training plan can give you.

Hunter Allen is a USA Cycling Level 1 coach and former Professional Cyclist. He is the co-author of “Training and Racing with a Power Meter, co-developer of TrainingPeaks Software, and is the CEO and Founder of the Peaks Coaching Group.  2021 will be the 24th year that he has conducted training camps in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.  Where did the time go?   We don’t know, but it’s time for you to come to a camp!