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ToolBox
TOOLBOX: Ten Power Training Lessons
Get out your party hats, it’s my tenth anniversary! Ten years of coaching and training with power, that is. In celebration, what are the top ten things I’ve learned about power in that time?

Last week I passed the first decade milestone, and I spent some time remembering all the experiences and thinking about the many things I have learned. Inspired by a blog post by Dr. Andy Coggan (“inspired” is a fancy way of saying “stole the idea”), I decided to create a top-ten list to share with the Pez audience.

Visalaje - Czech Republic - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - illustration - sfeer - illustratie Markus Riejanne (Netherlands / WM3 Pro Cycling) Pioneer Powermeter pictured during Gracia Orlova 2017 - stage 4 - photo Anton Vos/Cor Vos © 2017

My articles are typically based on data and science, but here are my top ten key learnings, thoughts, and opinions.

1. Ability of the Rider, Demands of the Event
All good training, particularly power training, starts here: the ability of the rider and the demands of the event. For new coaches and self-coached athletes, it’s crucial to take the time to understand what this means before selecting and developing training plans for events.

It amazes me how many times I speak with athletes who don’t know why they’re doing the training program they are. Data gives us the ultimate ability to understand rider ability by quantifying their capabilities, so there is no excuse not to know what you’re aiming for.

● Think about how you win races (maybe you have the power to complete a long sprint and out-sprint your competition) and how you lose (maybe you get dropped out of breaks). Quantify this by researching your data and building a profile of you.

● Use event information and any historical data files you have (or can find) for events. The demands of road races, mountain bike races, and triathlons are all dramatically different.

● Further understand the event by researching its key challenges. Is there a big climb? A skill-challenging technical section with lots of turns and accelerations? What about environment? Is there always a wind? Altitude? Heat?

● Make a two-column list. Record the rider ability on the left and the demands of the event on the right. Look for areas where there is a gap between rider ability and event demands, and focus on those areas as key parts of training.

2. Individuality is King
Power training is the key to individualization of training, and individualizing your training is the key to maximizing your results. Individual riders respond differently to exercise stimuli. It’s important to use both power history and process testing to understand how an individual will respond. Avoid generic training by either taking the time to learn all the nuances of power training or hiring a good coach.

● Track the dose-response relationship of training. Identify peak performance and look back 2-6 weeks from the peak, as this is typically the “dose” that is driving the response. What was happening at that time? What type of training were you doing? What format was it? How much rest were you getting?

3. Be Specific
I break down the training season into two segments or macrocycles. Cycle one is fitness training with the goal of building maximal aerobic fitness while working on limiters and maintaining anaerobic ability. Cycle two is performance training, which, once the athlete is fit enough to really train hard, is a focused cycle of specificity, typically originating from the analysis of the list of the rider’s ability and demands of the event.

● If an athlete is focused on an event where a major obstacle to success is a longer climb - say, twenty minutes - then the training needs to be targeted to specifically produce improved results to overcome this obstacle. There’s a lot more to it, but this is a good starting point.

Hautacam - France - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - illustration illustratie SRM powermeters team Astana Pro Team pictured during stage - 18 of the 101th Tour de France 2014 - from Pau to Hautacam - photo LB/RB/Cor Vos © 2014

4. Test and Test Some More

Power gives us some pretty precise data, but without testing maximal capability, you’re actually in the dark when measuring training results. Based on the specific demands of your training plan, you should have a set of power tests that act as milestones of performance and ensure that you’re consistently moving toward success in your event.

● Test every 4-6 weeks and match with milestones.

● If improvement stops or plateaus, review your training strategy and adjust as necessary.

● Make testing part of your training and build it into your plan.

5. Power is Descriptive, not Prescriptive
This is a tough one. The evolution of modern power-duration models gives us such insight into time and intensity targeting, but I would be remiss not to include this point. I still see way too many coaches and athletes prescribing intervals in a broad range of possible power targets based on a stated “zone.” There are better and more accurate ways to prescribe the targeted intensity. First, always use history as a key. What was the power output of this athlete last time he completed similar intervals? What was her peak power at this range in the last thirty days?

● Use the average of your last set of similar intervals as your starting point. Say you did 6 x 3 minutes two weeks ago; tally the total power of each interval and divide that by 6 to get a base target. Do you expect it to be a little higher this time? Add a little. It’s both a science and an art.

● Use a modern modeling system. I’m biased to WKO4’s power-duration curve, but there are other systems out there too.

6. Stress and Strain are Two Different Things
Stress is the external measurement of effort in training. Power outputs are a measurement of stress. The resulting Training Stress Score (TSS) is also an external measurement. These external measurements give insight into the stimuli load of training. Strain is what the body undergoes when stress is being applied, and strain leads (when adequate rest is present) to adaptation.

So what is the issue? We tend to mistake stress for strain, which leads to avoiding some important work on the bike. There’s a common idea that once power goes down X%, you are tired; go home. This is accurate in some cases, but it should not be the norm.

Fatigue is part of training, and learning to deal with fatigue is crucial. Just because the external stress number (watts) is dropping doesn’t mean the strain is dropping. Sometimes it’s actually important to accept the stress number going down because the strain is actually going up (see my next point). Be careful with this; this type of deep training brings results but can lead to non-functional overreaching or possibly even over-training.

7. Adaptation is both Physiological and Psychological
This means two different but related things. First, using power to track adaptation as the response to training builds confidence and often inspires athletes to push harder, train better, and achieve things they didn’t think possible. Second, hard training is, well, hard. Training the mind to suffer is crucial.

8. Hard is Not a Number
Sometimes you just go hard. One area that I believe power data has actually been a bit counterproductive is maximal intervals or efforts. Many times when I prescribe intervals at maximal effort, the athlete replies by asking for a target, but that’s not how it works.

● Hard is hard. Max is max.

9. The Power Data Intangibles Matter
Power is power, right? Not really. There are so many things that affect power numbers: heat, altitude, fatigue, nutrition, and much more. Coaches and self-coached athletes need to be aware of environmental effects on data and do their best to normalize the data.

● For most cyclists, the environmental data is similar (we often train and race where we live), but always consider all elements that can affect performance, such as temperature.

La Toussuire - Les Sybelles - France - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - illustration - sfeer - illustratie Pioneer Powermeter - Team LottoNL - Jumbo - Gesink Robert (Team LottoNL - Jumbo) - Martens Paul (Team LottoNL - Jumbo) pictured during le Tour de France 2015 - stage 19 - from Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne to La Toussuire - Les Sybelles on fryday 24-07-2015 - 138 KM - photo Dion Kerckhoffs/Sabine Jacob/Marketa Navratilova/Cor Vos © 2015

10. Don't be a Slave to the Numbers
I have to remind myself of this all the time. I love to coach and train with power, but in both roles, I can easily find myself a slave to the numbers.

● Try riding one day a week with your head unit in your pocket. Don’t use the data; just “feel” your way through the ride. Review the data afterward. How accurate were your feelings?

Just a collection of my thoughts and opinions.




About Tim:
Tim Cusick is the TrainingPeaks WKO4 Product Development Leader, specializing in data analytics and performance metrics for endurance athletes. In addition to his role with TrainingPeaks, Tim is a USAC coach with over 10 years experience working with both road and mountain bike professionals around the world. You can reach Tim for comments at tim@wko4.com tim@wko4.com. To learn more about TrainingPeaks and WKO4 visit us at TrainingPeaks.com.

 

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