Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Power and the Trainer: Planning a Season of Change

Power training and indoor trainers simply belong together. The pure efficiency and controlled environment of training indoors partner amazingly well with precise training based on specific targeted power numbers. The combination of accurate power measurement and controlled smart trainers have taken this to new levels, and because more and more people are now training indoors with their bicycle power meters, we are seeing significant improvements in the effectiveness of indoor training.

But there’s always a catch.

Training indoors with precise performance numbers can have some negative effects on your training. The introduction of clear training targets measured by watts has brought about some bad training habits, and they’re often disguised as the desire to improve performance as we focus on increasing just one number: average watts.

Here are two ways to look at indoor power training differently to improve your results.

Power vs. Duration

The Challenge

The introduction of power to indoor training has created a focus on “more power” that can actually be detrimental to long-term improvement performance; I often see athletes striving constantly for more power (increased watts) as the key to their breakthroughs, often repeating similar workouts in their pursuit to track their improvement by tracking their power numbers. This obsession with power leads to problems with training focus. We can become overly focused on increasing power and forget about increasing power duration and fatigue resistance.

The Solution

Change your thinking this winter. Focus more on power duration instead of pure power output.

Here’s a simple example. Say you do a lot of 2 x 20s at tempo, sweet spot, or FTP training levels. This probably means you’re trying to get more watts each session, often turning tempo and sweet spot work into FTP intervals. I recommend that you focus more on increasing your time in those zones and let the power come up more naturally as you grow more fit. Instead of doing each 2 x 20 a few watts higher, progressively expand the duration of your time in that zones. You could start at 2 x 15 minutes of SST and progress to 2 x 20 minutes and then then 3 x 15 minutes, which leads to 3 x 20 minutes of SST. I progress my athletes incrementally (often 1- to 2-minute increments) over the course of their base training, but there’s no reason to sit stagnant; I will rarely plan more than three workouts at the same time length before increasing the time demand. Just remember that your power numbers will be coming up as the time increases, so you’ll need to test and monitor other data to gradually move up your power targets.

The Reason

Why give this a try? Results! Increasing your power duration/fatigue resistance is more likely to improve your results than adding a few more watts of pure power in the base training phase. How many times have you made the break and got into the lead pack only to be dropped or be unable to hold? You had the power, but you couldn’t sustain it. It’s time to change that.

Power vs. Cadence

The Challenge

Power training is exactly what it sounds like: training by power. However, this has led to such a focus on output numbers of average power that I see more and more athletes not using their indoor training time to work cadence drills and focus on potentially improving efficiency. 

The Solution

Start using more of your available data to track and encourage the introduction of efficiency drills into your training. I have my athletes focus on three types of drills during their base build:

1. Fast Pedaling

This is the simplest of all the drills, but I add a twist. I suggest doing fast pedaling drills 2-3 times a week as 10 x 1 minute with 1 minute of rest, but I like to break them up by doing 5 x 1 minute just after warming up (before the actual workout effort), then completing the final 5 x 1 minute after the workout effort (just after cool-down). We want to get cadence above 125 rpm for the minute, to not focus on power, and to focus on spinning without bouncing.

2. Over Fast Pedaling

This is a slightly more complex drill (I call it “rate coding pedaling intervals”), but it’s very effective. Just like the fast pedaling drill above, these are 10 x 1 minute, but you need to start them in a mid-range gear, get your fast pedal up to max for 30 seconds, then shift into one easier gear, spin fast for 15 seconds, and shift again to one easier gear for the final 15 seconds. This fast pedal format will teach you to “over-spin,” as each gear shift will help you spin faster than you thought possible and help improve your neural muscular pathing and performance.

3. Progressive Pedaling Intervals

During the base training phase I also use cadence targets in my longer intervals to help develop efficiency and fatigue resistance. For example, I might prescribe a 45-minute Tempo effort with progressive cadence. This means the first 15 minutes will have a target of 75-85 rpms, the second 15 minutes 85-95, and the final 15 minutes above 95. This helps us focus both mentally and physically on the effort and on maintaining good cadence targets. This is harder than it sounds, but it’s worth it!

The Reason

Why give this a try? Improving efficiency is low-hanging fruit for many cyclists. Building both short-term and long-term efficiency can improve your ability up to 10% as demonstrated by this training response chart supplied by Dr. Andrew Coggan.

The benefits of indoor training are clear: efficiency, a controlled environment, focus, and more. Just make sure your power meter doesn’t cause you to repeat the same old training focused only on more power. Make the most of this season. Do things a little differently to get the results you want.

Want expert help with your training this season? Contact us to find out how we can help!

Article originally featured on Pez Cycling News

Author Tim Cusick


  1. Good info! For your fast pedaling drills you mention 5x1 before workout and 5x1 after. Just confirming that you are doing these incorporated into another workout ie. a 2x20 SST bookending with fast pedaling drill?


  2. Well written article. I think the concept will help time crunched cyclist find better balance between high intensity/low volume and endurance.

  3. Matt,

    Correct. Easy enough to add late in the warm up and early in the cool down!

    Timothy Cusick

  4. Thanks Timothy, the duration point resonates with me, far more "achievable / productive" than trying to squeeze out more watts.