Indoor Testing the Whole Year Round
With six more weeks of winter left to go according to groundhogs around North America, there’s still a lot of indoor cycling to go for many. And even for those who are now emerging outdoors, indoor training can still be a viable and even preferred method of training. This is especially the case for controlled interval workouts or sustained efforts. For example, terrain, wind, and traffic can make it extremely difficult to find a perfect place for doing that 10 min threshold interval.
That was certainly the case in my old stomping grounds of Halifax, which featured never-ending rolling hills in every direction. The only remotely steady stretch of road near me was a 2 km stretch, which I could do as an out-and-back to double it. But even then, it typically featured a raging headwind going out and tailwind coming home, making it almost impossible to do any kind of threshold efforts within a narrow range of wattages.
Things are a lot straighter and flatter here now in the Niagara region, and I can indeed go for pretty much forever at a steady continuous effort. But the scientist in me still prefers to have firm control over as many variables as possible when it comes to my testing, so I prefer to do specific test efforts indoors.
ErgVideo Threshold Testing
Living in Canada and having been in cycling since the mid-1980s, I have had the dubious honour of having experimented with almost every indoor training setup that has come onto the market. For my money, nothing has proven as stimulating and versatile as the combination of the CompuTrainer with the ErgVideo software system. Essentially, I’ve found the EV stimulating enough over the past three months of constant use that I have yet to find myself dreading hopping onto the bike in the basement, and the “are we there yet?” brain-melt during a workout itself has yet to invade my psyche.
Apart from the numerous specific workout and race videos, along with the upgraded ErgVideo 2.0 control software, a new EV addition for fall 2008 has been the Threshold Test video. What the Threshold video does is provide the optimal controlled setup for a field test of threshold power, while still giving the mental stimulus of having a top-notch video riding companion for motivation.
The basic setup for the Threshold video is that you can choose to ride either a 20 or 60 minute self-paced time trial as your field test. The key difference between the Threshold and other ErgVideos is that, unlike EVs where the video and ride/race situation controls the CompuTrainer resistance and therefore the power that you must put out, the intensity and power during the Threshold test is completely dictated by you.
The course itself is set as a constant gradual false flat of 2% so that you don’t really have the benefit of momentum keeping you moving, and the speed rapidly drops as soon as you decrease your power. So there’s a slight mismatch between the virtual grade that you’re riding and the video that you’re watching (i.e. the resistance of the CompuTrainer remains at a 2% grade and doesn’t change whether the virtual video is going up a slight rise of a gradual downhill), but it’s not that disconcerting in practice.
Racing is why we do all this training, and it’s so much more fun to do a test with a pacer to chase.
The 60 min version will provide you with a full and “real” determination of your threshold power, defined as the highest average power output that you can sustain over 60 min, which is used as the baseline by many coaches in designing a training program.
However, as anybody who has ridden a 40 km time trial can attest, it is mentally very draining to put in that hard a sustained effort in training, and it is often better to save that fire and motivation for actual racing rather than indoor cycling. Therefore, EV provides the commonly employed alternative option of a 20 min time trial. Your threshold power can generally be estimated as 95% of your average power over the 20 min test. So while still painful, this is a much more viable option for regular testing for most riders.
Would you like 20 or 60 min of stabbing yourself in the legs with a dinner fork, monsieur? Your choice!
Regardless of whether you choose the 20 or 60 min test option, the Threshold video begins with a 26 min pre-programmed warmup in “traditional” EV mode, where the software dictates the power output. Apart from steady endurance efforts, the warmup features a 5 min effort at 100% of your estimated threshold (unless you have previous test data, you’ll have to make your best estimate to start), along with 2x45s and 1x60s at about 110% of your threshold. The net effect is that you are given an excellent warmup that really opens up the engines and prepares you for the effort to come. The warmup concludes with a final calibration of your CompuTrainer, then it’s onwards to painsville.
The warmup will leave you, well, warm! Yellow line is the power output, and the long flat stretch in the middle was 5 min right at 250W, my estimated threshold.
At the conclusion of the either the 20 or 60 min test, the video automatically calculates your threshold for you, since if done correctly you’ll be too tired to add 2 + 2!
Here’s my actual 20 min threshold test result from early January. From a pacing perspective, note the very typical “J-curve” pattern, where I gradually decreased my wattage over the middle and then ramped it up as the end approached. End result was 255W average for the 20 min, or an estimated 246W for a threshold power. Happily, this matches my highest values in years of testing, and it came right after Christmas and New Year decadence!
On the “Video” Road
Having spent a solid 2+ months of 3-4 trainers rides weekly with the ErgVideo system, what are my impressions of the Threshold video?
• The video itself works as perfectly as the other EVs I have used. The setup and operation of the video is foolproof.
• In a sense, a similar virtual indoor Threshold test can be setup using the 3D, Coaching Software, or Multirider software from CompuTrainer itself. However, the value added by the EV, besides having the template already set up for you in a user-friendly format, is providing a realistic video of a pacer riding in the real world for motivation. In this case, you’re tucked in the whole time behind a rider in full TT mode, and you can easily imagine yourself riding hard the entire time to stay in the draft. Being a competitive type, I find actual video of a rider so much more realistic and motivating than any virtual animation.
• The warmup portion of the test is very effective at getting you primed for action. In fact, in an ideal world, it’s the kind of warmup that I would like to have pre-programmed to do before any hard interval workout or an actual race outside of my basement.
ErgVideo Coaching Software
Another recent addition to the ErgVideo collection is the ErgVideo Coach software, which is available free for download to any purchaser of any EV. First envisioned as a tool for coaches to design workouts and training plans using ErgVideos, it has been adopted by many self-coached EV users for keeping handy their own individual catalog of favourite EV workouts or rides.
Using ErgVideo Coach, you or your coach can easily design a whole training plan based on your ErgVideo library, or you can keep a separate set of your favourite rides.
From the ErgVideo Coach, you can individually design particular rides, then save them into a custom plan.
Prior to the introduction of the ErgVideo Coach, if I wanted to ride a particular 60 min of the A2 Crit at a set intensity, I would be able to do this by opening up the ride on ErgVideo, then manually selecting that portion of the video each time. Alternately, I could design the ride through www.intellicoach.ca and then email it to myself, then open that up on ErgVideo. Both options are do-able but not particularly elegant. The ErgVideo Coach enables me to directly develop these different workouts and store them all in one easy-to-access site from the main ErgVideo software. Much nicer and cleaner, plus I can easily alter and update the favourite rides.
Here’s an example of a whole menu of customized favourite rides that you can make from ErgVideo Coach, which you can easily select directly through ErgVideo.
I have been a CompuTrainer user since 1998 and I’ll be honest – I’ve very rarely used the 3D or Coaching software from CompuTrainer. I just found the software too cumbersome to setup and use consistently, and not overly inspiring or motivating in actual riding. Most of my training with the CT, therefore, has been on manual mode with me planning out set wattages and manually adjusting the resistance using the handlebar console.
That has all been changed with the emergence of the ErgVideo system. I now find it hard to envision jumping onto my CompuTrainer without the full EV experience, as it is just so much more motivating to do a “real” ride with “real” training partners. The Threshold video now gives me an easy template for performing controlled field tests, giving me that much more feedback into my fitness and training, and the ErgVideo Coach greatly expands my ability to customize rides to my heart’s desire.
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