By Hunter Allen
This winter I had the opportunity to travel the USA on a book signing and speaking tour, which is always a great time as it gives me a unique insight into how different each area of our beautiful country is. The people of this country are also so very different and each brings their own perspective to cycling, power training and endurance sports. We are similar though in that we have strengths and weaknesses, are limited in our training time, respond somewhat similarly to training stimuli and all want to improve. These similiarities are the key reasons why training with a power meter can help us to improve our cycling. In my travels, I have met pro road cyclists, track athletes, ultra endurance mountain bikers, triathletes, recreational riders and many others, each asking me questions about they can best use their power meter to optimize their training time, optimize their chronic training load and also optimize their individual intervals as well. The knowledge of using a power meter for optimization is one of the top asked questions that I get at my seminars and book signings. Sure, everyone wants to hear about this pro or that pro and see how to analyze their power file in the TrainingPeaks WKO+ software, but the general theme is always around optimization.
Optimize your training time
After you have a power meter for at least six to eight months, you have plenty of data to review in order to find trends based on the training response to your training dose. We each have limited time to train and a certain point, you have to make sure that you are focused during those key training hours on your best and highest use of time. First you need to make sure you understand what exactly is your best and highest use and that comes from having clear goals combined with a very honest assessment of your strengths and weaknesses. I wish I was a better climber, but I am not. I am a great all-arounder that win road races, crits and the occasional time trial with a very high anaerobic capacity which allows me to do the best in the hardest of hard criteriums. Knowing this and being honest with myself will then give me the confidence to make a few goals which support my unique abilities. Only after I have made those goals, correctly meshed them with my abilities will I be able to optimize my training time. In my example, I have picked a couple of road races that are hilly and long, along with two hard criteriums all within a four week span which gives me the best chance at doing well in at least one of them. For me, the limiter will be on muscular endurance in the road races as I tend to get cramps during a hard road race that’s longer than 75miles and in the criteriums, I’ll need my sprint as sharp as possible in case I want to win a few premes. Generally though, I’ll need the highest FTP I can possibly achieve and also optimize my ‘repeatability’ for shorter anaerobic efforts which I excel in, but the key will be having the repeatability to attack over and over. Doesn’t everyone want to have those two general abilities? Which is a good point to think about as you plan your training time, since winning races has a lot to do with your FTP and if your FTP is higher than the rest of the peloton, it makes it much easier to create a winning opportunity, therefore always make training your FTP the core of any training program.
Now that I have defined the components of success for my goals, I can divide our training appropriately into the limited time that I have to train, which is about 12 hours a week. Of those 12 hours, I will want to spend at least 3 hours focusing on improving my FTP, and I’ll do this mainly with intervals in the sweetspot range with one focused workout right at my threshold power or a touch above and spread throughout 2-3 workouts in the week. Then I’ll want one workout during the week, to focus on my anaerobic capacity and the amount of time at anaerobic capacity won’t be that long (maybe 25 minutes total), but the strain will be high. Finally I’ll want to do a sprint workout as well, but I am going to incorporate it into my Saturday weekend ride and do the sprints early in the ride when I am freshest and can create the most watts during the sprints. The rest of the Saturday ride will be endurance and sweet spot and I am going to burn 4 hours of my available 10 hours on this Saturday ride in order to stress my muscular endurance and really fatigue my legs. Sunday will be as many hours as I have left to play with(probably about 2) and I’ll make sure to do some climbing or riding in my time trial position at endurance and tempo pace to just get in the time.
As you have read, meshing your goals with your strengths and weaknesses provides the foundation from which you can optimize your training time best suited to your goals. Let’s look at how we now optimize your chronic training load over the next few months in order to make sure you achieve the perfect balance of fitness and freshness.
Optimize Chronic Training Load
Chronic training load(CTL) is defined by all of the workouts that you have done in the last 6 weeks and the last 6 weeks of training is what drives your current fitness. Of course, the hard work you did last season and in the last 6 months provides you with the foundation of fitness from which you build upon, but ultimately your current fitness has been built from all your workouts in the last 6 weeks. This is an important concept to understand and review on a regular basis as what you do today and this week, ‘drives’ your CTL(and fitness) 6 weeks from now. Ultimately though, you want to optimize your training over every 6 weeks’ period which means planning for your hardest week, planning in the proper amount of rest, planning for your maintenance weeks, etc. The critical things you need to consider are: 1) building your training load up in a rational manner, ie.- don’t do too much too soon. 2) make sure that have enough new training load so that you prevent training stagnation. Eventually you’ll stop adapting to your current training load and need additional stimulus to create further improvement. 3) allowing for the proper amount of rest in order to create a peak of fitness when you want to have it. Each person is a little different in exactly how much rest they need in order to create enough freshness for a peak performance. With these rules in mind, lets come back to my example in which I am training to peak for a solid four weekends of hard racing. When we consider these goals, we can work backwards so that I create the most fitness possible during those weeks.
For me, I have found with my athletes and myself, that a rest week needs to be planned in two weeks(weeks 5 &6) before that “A” race in order to create enough freshness the week before the race week, so I can hone and sharpen my abilities for the race. Many people like to rest the week before their “A” race, but I have found that it’s not as effective for myself n or my athletes, as while you do indeed gain the freshness needed in most cases, you also can become stale and lose a bit of mental confidence because the legs don’t feel as good as you think they should. Starting your rest week two weeks before your “A” race, allows you to still race on the weekend without having to worry about your performance and having stale legs. The week before your “A” race,(week 6) you can do a few tune-up workouts, which are shorter workouts emphasizing higher intensity and then plan a final taper for 3 days before your big race. With these two final weeks planned out, that means working backwards again and making weeks 3 & 4 some of the hardest weeks of your final training block. You will need to make them about 15-20% harder than any of the weeks preceding them. Increase both your volume and your intensity during these two weeks and dig deep in each workout. You will be tired, sore, complaining to anyone who will listen and ready to stop, but you have to push through these final two weeks. We continue to work backwards from weeks 3 & 4 and come to weeks 1 & 2 which represent ‘the beginning of the end’ or the start of your chronic training load before your “A” race. This makes week 1 & 2 very important and it’s absolutely critical you come into those weeks rested and ready for the training load. I recommend that these weeks are spent on your FTP and Vo2 max unless your goal is highly specialized and training in these areas won’t help you reach your goals. This will give your body just enough time to adapt and improve your threshold and Vo2 systems before your peak of fitness. One caveat here is important to include: if you are sick leading into these two weeks or get sick during them, you need to rest, rest, rest and be 100% before beginning your final push, even it means delaying the training a bit.
When you examine your Performance Manager Chart in TrainingPeaks WKO+ software, make sure you are comparing ‘ramp rates’ of CTL throughout your 6 weeks final build. In Figure 1, note how you can hover over the CTL line (blue) and compare how quickly your CTL rises from week to week. Be careful if it starts to rise more than 8 TSS/day each week. It’s fine to have it rise over 8 TSS/day per week for a week or two, but if you have a week that it goes up 15 TSS/day and then the next week is 12, alarm bells should be ringing as this means you are increasing your training load too quickly and too rapidly.
Optimize the number of intervals
How many intervals you do in a training session can be optimized and this is one of my favorite ways to properly utilize a power meter during training. Until recently we have only been able to guess whether we should do 5 hill repeats or 10, 15 or maybe none at all. We had no understanding of what wattage we needed to hit in order to improve that energy system, nor did we know what wattage we were hitting on interval one and how we fatigued we might be by interval 12. I have written about this concept many times and put it in the 2nd edition of “Training and Racing with a Power Meter” as well, so I am not going to go into depth here, but do want to give you some basic concepts with which you can build on. First off, when you train, you are training with a goal in mind in that training session, maybe it’s improving your anaerobic capacity and in my personal case, this is an important goal for me since I want to have the most number of “matches in my matchbook” to be burned in a race. For anaerobic capacity, I want to do intervals between 30seconds and 2 minutes and in this example, I am going to crack out some 1 minute hill repeats because they are just painfully satisfying. First off with my FTP at 300 watts, I know I’ll need to do at least 120% of 300(360watts) in order to even strain my anaerobic capacity system enough to cause enough stress and in turn gain improvements. I will start out shooting for 150% of my FTP (450watts) and then do as many intervals as I can until I can’t average 360 watts for the effort. When this occurs, I know I will have completely exhausted this system and doing anymore intervals won’t help me.
Now, I have a more complete discussion of the optimal intervals in Dr. Coggan’s and my book and I would encourage you to read it thoroughly so that you can optimize the number of intervals in each session you do. In Figure 2, you will see a guideline to help you understand when ‘enough is enough’. In order to do this correctly, you have to have a clear understanding of how you use the ‘interval’ button on your power meter computer head and then also how to review those intervals before doing the next one.