The “Power” of Intention.

What does ‘intention’ bring to the game?   Intention is something often talked about in the martial arts world and not so much in the endurance sports world.   Intention is A: a course of action that one intends to follow. B. the state of one’s mind at the time one carries out an action. C: a determination to act in a certain way.  Your intention about your race or event has a lot to do with the outcome of the race/event, how you determine your happiness with that outcome and also the experience of the race itself.    What the heck does intention have to do with training or racing with a power meter?  Well, training and racing with a power meter by definition implies intention.  You have made a conscious decision that you want to improve and investing in a power meter has become the outward expression of that intention.  Not to say that those folks without a power meter don’t also want to improve, but maybe their intention isn’t as strong as yours.  Without a strong intention, the intensity of the riding is very different.

                How do “intention” and “intensity” relate exactly?  We know that the ‘intensity’ of your workout or the ‘intensity’ at which you do your intervals determines the specific type of training response that your body gives you, ala the “dose and response” effect.   If you do intervals at 120% of your FTP, then at that intensity you are training your power at Vo2 Max. Do enough of them and your power at Vo2 Max will increase.   There is a metric inside the TrainingPeaks WKO+ software called “Intensity Factor” that Dr. Andrew R. Coggan created in order to define the relative intensity of a ride or a specific time period within a ride as it relates to your FTP.  Intensity is an essential part of training and adapting to becoming a stronger rider and without the intensity in your workout, you won’t continue to improve.   When we think about ‘intention’ in relationship with ‘intensity’ to each other, it is the ‘intentionality’ that we bring to the workout which imparts the necessary intensity to each interval, workout, ride or race.   When we ‘intend’ to win a race, then we race with a much higher intensity than if we only ‘intend’ to ride a race for training and sit in the field. When we intend to go out for a cyclo-cross workout in order to improve so that we can have a chance at winning the next race, then that workout will be a very intense workout with lots of hard threshold intervals, anaerobic capacity efforts and maybe even a few hard sprints.   This intention that we bring to the workout defines the needed intensity and the important thing you need to know is at which intensity to ride in order to create the training response you want.

                Let’s examine some workouts done with intention and some without so that you can better understand the difference between the two.  In the Figure 1, we see a ride in which the athlete went out and ‘just rode’.  She didn’t ride very hard nor super easy, but just rode at whatever pace she felt like.  When she returned, she even commented in her notes that she didn’t feel much like riding and her legs were just spinning around.    Then let’s examine Figure 2.  In Figure 2, she had a workout goal of 2 x 20 minutes at FTP in an hour ride.   Clearly, you can see how focused she was and she even got on the indoor trainer to do this workout, so she could focus on the workout.   In her workout notes she wrote that she felt clearly better when she was focused on the workout and worked on engaging her core.  Bringing intention to the workout brings about body awareness and that will make a difference to your cycling, just like it did in this case.  

What about bringing intention to a race?  How do intention and intensity interrelate in racing situations and what do power files from each look like?  Just the act of participating in a race means that you are bringing intention into your reality.  Because you have chosen to join the race, you have made a conscious decision about becoming a part of the race and that will impart your intensity.  The difference between ‘intentions’ for racing and training have more to do with the strength and desire of your intention which governs your intensity.  If your desire to win the race is very strong, then it’s more likely you will stay more focused than the riders around you, continually watching the terrain, the tactics that other teams employ and your own race strategy. Sometimes your desire is too strong and you want to win so bad that you chase down every attack that goes until you finally get worn out and then that’s when the winning attack goes away. Sometimes, balancing your desire to win with the natural rhythm of the race becomes more important than the actual intensity you bring to the race.  Other times, your race desire isn’t very high and you are just ‘going through the motions’ , which means that your intensity will most likely be low.  Another case might be that your intention in the race is dictated to you by your teammates or team director.  In this case, your intensity is governed by an external intention to your own free will and choice (of course you are a willing partner to this or otherwise you won’t be on the team).   As we examine Figure 3 below, we see a race from a rider that didn’t really have a plan in the race and the resulting intensity in the race was rather random and his finish was also mediocre.

                After reviewing the above race done without much intention, a race done with a focused intention appears very differently in a power file analysis.  The race below was done by an athlete that went into the race with a highly specific game plan and intention in mind.  He wanted to get in a breakaway and then once in the breakaway to grind people’s legs down, so that all he would have to do is put in a little attack to drop them and then solo to the finish line.  Wishful thinking for some of us, but for this athlete, he knew the course, knew he had the legs to back up his plan and then just needed to execute it.   One thing you should note about Figure 4 is how the much smoother the power becomes when he is in the breakaway versus in the pack and then how it becomes even smoother still when he is solo off the front and doing his best to get to the line first.  Clearly, the intention in the race is an ever-changing thing, as the best racers use their intention before the race to set their game plan and tactics in the race, but when the race is unfolding, a careful response and appropriate reaction to the dynamics of the race is also required.

A power meter can tell us many things about our training and racing and in post analysis; it’s a useful tool to help teach yourself the importance of training and racing with a goal or purpose in mind.  Goals and purposes are typically very hard, concrete and defined, such as, “I am going to win the race in a field sprint”, or “I will attack on the climb at the finish and solo to the line for the win.”, whereas intention isn’t always a hard and concrete goal.  Intention is more of a determination in how you are going to approach a race or act in a certain race and with highly dynamic bicycle races, is often the better way to think about a race or training ride. Intend to do your best, play out your strategy, all the while being willing to change on the fly to adapt to the ever-changing tactics employed by your competitors.   When you train with your power meter, intend to train in specific training zones, work on specific weaknesses and use that intention to improve which will help you better regulate your training intensity.  On the flip side, I am also a big believer in going out and just riding your bike (which is an intention as well), and not having a strong intention on some days does not mean you are not competitive or do not want to win nor does it mean you will not have fun.  Quite the opposite on some of those days and days of weak intention can end up being your best days on the bike.  Finally, remind yourself occasionally that it is bike racing and not every day is going to be perfect, nor will you be on form for each race.  As former USA Cycling’s Coaching Coordinator Sam Callan said to me one time, “Sometimes my level of intensity did not meet my level of intention” which helps to remind us that no matter how hard you want to do something, your body does not always respond the way you want it to.  Intention and intensity are both entangled concepts that when put to proper use consciously can really enhance your fitness and also your success in races and rides.   Start with the right intention and then the success will follow.

Hunter Allen intends in each of his articles to impart some knowledge to the reader about power training. He is the co-author of “Training and Racing with a Power Meter, co-developer of TrainingPeaks WKO+ Software, and is the CEO and Founder of the Peaks Coaching Group. Along with creating custom coaching solutions for all levels of athletes and designed with winning intentions, he has online training programs available at www.shoppeaks.com  and you can contact Hunter directly www.PeaksCoachingGroup.com