Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Using a Power Meter in Cyclocross Training and Racing

By Hunter Allen and Dr. Andrew Coggan
an excerpt from Training and Racing with a Power Meter, Second Edition

PCG elite coach Christian Sheridan crushes 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 has its own unique set of demands: you must be able to create quick bursts of effort over small obstacles, leap off the bicycle, and run while carrying it for up to thirty seconds, all while maintaining a pace at your functional threshold power (FTP) and above for 40-75 minutes. It’s nearly impossible to hold a steady power or even look at your power meter during a race or hard training session. However, you can use your power meter to learn quite a few things about the demands of CX and tailor your training so that you’ll be ready for the next race.

Power meter files from CX races typically average about 20-40 watts below an athlete’s actual FTP, because there is so much down time when the athlete is either coasting down a technical hill or off the bike and running, and because of the lack of traction on many of the courses. Putting the power to the ground skews the power down, and one has to take this into consideration when reviewing CX power files.

Because of these running and technical coasting sections, it’s hard to determine the exact muscular demands of CX. When viewed in a quadrant analysis plot, a CX race contains the largest amount of the effort in QII, which represents slow pedaling and higher force, but QIII (slow pedaling, low force) and QIV (fast pedaling and low force)  are also heavily involved in CX.

Peaks Coaching Group power meter cyclocross race racing training

When you examine your power file from a CX race, one of the first things you might notice is that it looks a lot like some of those criteriums you did earlier in the year. Loads of stochastic power spikes, easily discernible laps, and big race-winning type efforts are all commonalities to road criterium races. Many aspects of a CX power file are very interesting, such as the power bursts needed in the race, the amount of rest in each lap, and the overall training stress accumulated in the race.

One thing that is important to identify in a CX power file is the number of watts above your FTP and how long each of these efforts were; in other words, how many matches you have to burn. A CX “match” is a little different than a match in a road race or a criterium, because most likely you’ll already be at your FTP and then have to do hard efforts above it, depending on the terrain and your competition. 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. Use the “fast find” feature in WKO+ to help identify them.

Peaks Coaching Group power meter cyclocross racing training

After reviewing hundreds of CX race and training power files, I have determined that another specific training workout good for CX is a variation on the Level 7 micro-burst workout. I call this workout the 30-30-30 workout because it’s comprised of 30 seconds at 150% of FTP, 30 seconds coasting (0% of FTP), and 30 seconds of running. By extending the intervals to 30 seconds, it changes the type of workout from a level 7 to a level 6 workout, since at 30 seconds the anaerobic capacity system is highly utilized. The 30-30-30 workout is done continuously for 10 minutes, and then a rest is taken for 5 minutes before doing two to four more sets total.

The 30-30-30 Cyclocross Workout

1. 15-minute warm-up at level 2
2. 5-minute hard effort at 110% of FTP
3. 5 minutes easy at level 2
4. 2 x 10 minutes of 30-30-30, which is 30 seconds riding hard as you can, 30 seconds coasting and not pedaling, 30 seconds dismount and running fast. Ride 10 minutes at level 2 after each 30-30-30 effort.
5. 4 x 2 minutes anaerobic capacity work at 150% of FTP. Rest 2 minutes after each.
6. 10 minutes at level 2
7. Finish with 10 x 1 minute fast pedaling at 110+ rpm; 1 minute on, 1 minute off at 80 rpm.
8. Cool down for 15 minutes.

One of the most important reasons to use a power meter is for the ability to train to the demands of a specific event, and this is highly applicable for cyclocross. Addressing the specific need of a strong anaerobic capacity, along with highly tuned technical skills (dismounting the bike, running with the bike, and remounting) creates the perfect blend of a workout in the 30-30-30. Along with this anaerobic capacity workout, CX demands a strong FTP, so the traditional level 4 FTP workouts done at 4 x 10, 3 x 15, and 2 x 20 minutes at FTP are important for the successful CX racer.

Sam Krieg, PCG coach 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 ten-minute set.”

Kris Walker, the national champion in the 2009 masters (45-49) time trial and the 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 in which using a power meter to train more quantitatively and also more specifically to the demands of CX allows users to improve their performance. A key component of this improvement hinges on the ability of the athlete to mimic the demands of upcoming CX races and develop training routines for them.

Good luck out there!


Hunter Allen is a USA Cycling Level 1 coach and former professional cyclist. He is the coauthor of Training and Racing with a Power Meter and Cutting-Edge Cycling, co-developer of TrainingPeaks’ WKO software, and CEO and founder of Peaks Coaching Group. He and his coaches create custom training plans for all levels of athletes. Hunter can be contacted directly through PeaksCoachingGroup.com

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