Tag Archives: Power Training

Winter Training by Numbers

The low point of the triathlon calendar occurs at about this time in February. Last season is a distant memory and my first race is still a long way off, yet I am still having to get out of bed at ungodly times to train. Add to that the fact that any training before 7.00am or after 4.30pm has to be done in the dark and probably in freezing temperatures and you get the picture – it is a slog.

But winter training doesn’t have to be a chore. 2015 will be my third season in triathlon, so this is my third time round the winter training routine. My first winter was just about training and staying fit – what I lacked in structure I made up for in enthusiasm. My second winter was all about the bike. It identified itself very quickly as my weak spot and so I set about changing that. My chosen training regime was all volume and no science. If there was a club ride I was on it. If there wasn’t I was out on my own or with a friend come hell or high water – well we didn’t have hell that winter but I learned to cycle on flooded roads.

The only drawback with this approach was that I didn’t measure anything, so I had no accurate way of knowing if I had improved apart from how it felt. It certainly felt better, but it wasn’t until my first race in early June that I was able to prove it – a bit late if it turned out I hadn’t improved.

So this winter I am taking a completely different approach. Less volume and more science.

The less volume is a deliberate effort to rid myself of the junk miles I did last winter. The science is all about measuring myself on the basis that what you can measure you can improve. It’s the introduction of the numbers that has made winter training such fun this year and it’s the reason I can say with confidence, even at this early stage, that I am improving.

On the bike my measure of choice is power. How many Watts am I producing? images (5)And the way I am measuring that is through a cheap, but brilliant, system called TrainerRoad which works with any popular turbo trainer. I blogged about it a month or so ago. The structured workouts have already produced an increase in my power of 15% since November and there is definitely more to come. I have added a vital ingredient to my training, a virtual training buddy in the form of Chris Glover. We have been through exactly the same program together, mostly working out on the same day and the moaning, celebrating and general banter over Facebook Messenger has become an integral part of the process.

In the pool is where I need most help to train. My approach to date has been to pound up and down the pool hoping things get better – they haven’t. This year I am using a geeky sounding measure called “Critical Swim Speed”. It is what a runner would refer to as “Threshold”. It is measured using a simple swimming test that requires no specialist equipment, except obviously a swimming pool. Once you have established it then you train by doing intervals of varying lengths at your CSS and then retest every 4-6 weeks. I am hoping that a combination of CSS training and the technique lessons I had in the Autumn will see my swim times budge from the place where they have been stubbornly stuck for two years.

Which just leaves running. This is the area where I feel most confident and yet where I am making the biggest change to my training. In the past I have relied on speed work combined with a weekly long slow run to get me run fit for long-distance triathlon. My approach probably looks unchanged to any observer but on the long run I am trying a training technique pioneered by a guy called Phil Maffetone and introduced to me by Chris Glover.

Maffetone uses a formula to calculate your ideal endurance training heart rate which will be different depending on your age and current fitness. The magic number for me is 130. On my long runs I am not allowed to let my heart rate go over 130. At first it seemed impossible. I had to keep to about a 10-minute mile which is at least a minute a mile slower than I would normally train on a long slow run.

But that is the crux of Maffetone’s theory. Bashing out lots of modestly brisk miles is neither speed training nor endurance training. It’s training in that no-man’s-land that we know as “junk miles”.

By training at a heart rate of 130 bpm, Maffetone believes that I am conditioning my body to fuel itself with the oxygen I breathe and not eat into my glycogen energy stores that are scarce and quickly burned. As it becomes more efficient it can do more for less which in practical terms means I can run faster for longer. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Just a few weeks in and I have seen my pace improve by 15 seconds per mile at the same heart rate. It seems Mr Maffetone might be onto something.

Whether all the science and numbers produces a better triathlete come next Spring we will have to wait and see. But what they have produced is a really interesting back drop to my training. I feel as motivated as I have at any point in any of the last few winters and that has to be worth something

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Trainer Road – the Power of Power

December must rank as the low point in the triathlon calendar. The racing season is a distant memory, there’s at least five months until my next triathlon event, the evenings are dark and the weather is cold and wet. And as if that isn’t enough, someone has thrown in Christmas with all its temptations.

However the off season is not all bad. It is a good chance to stand back from the relentless pressure of race training and concentrate on fixing a few things. Last year I focused on my cycling as it was by far my weakest discipline, but I wasn’t very scientific about it – I just did lots of it. I went on virtually every club ride going and when there wasn’t a club ride I went out on my own. However there was no structure to it and I had no way of measuring my progress. In fact my first real test of whether I had improved in the off season was in my first race in June. As it turned out I had improved, which is just as well because it would have been a bit late to find out I hadn’t.

This year I am taking a more scientific approach. I have singled out my cycling and swim technique as areas to focus on. I blogged about my swim technique coaching a few months ago and I am glad to say things are still improving. On the bike I have really tried to apply some science. This year I want to be able to measure myself because what you can measure, you can improve.

Power training is all the rage in the world of cycling at the moment. How many untitled (6)Watts of power you are generating is a great real time measure of performance, arguably better than heart rate or training based on perceived effort. The problem with using power to train on a bike is that you won’t see much change from £1,000 for a decent power meter. I can’t justify that kind of expense, but after a lot of looking around I have found a great alternative – TrainerRoad.

TrainerRoad is a turbo based training system that uses other measures to calculate an approximation of power, a measure they call “Virtual Power”. I won’t explain how it all works here as TrainerRoad does a very good job of that on their web site. What I can say is that for £50 or so of components, about 15 minutes of set up, a quick software install and a £6.50 per month subscription I was power training on my turbo.

Trainer Road uses speed and cadence data and the knowledge of which turbo you are using to calculate power stats on the fly and display them on your feature-training-live-feedback-v1.1PC/laptop. You get a live graphical and digital view of the stats and considering all the calculations are happening on remote servers somewhere else on the web, there is no noticeable delay in the speed at which the displayed stats respond to your activity. How accurate are the power readings? Tests show that they are accurate to within about 5% but I don’t think it matters. What it gives you is a performance benchmark and providing you keep your settings (turbo resistance, flywheel tension, tyre pressure etc.) all exactly the same, then all your results can be compared to the benchmark on a like for like basis.

But TrainerRoad is more than just a virtual power meter. It is also a training regime. The software comes equipped with an extensive library of workouts. If you are like me and like structure then you can also chose a full workout program. Wherever you are in your training cycle and whatever you are training for, they have a program to fit with the small exception of one for an Ironman, although they do have a Half Ironman program and when I asked they said a full Ironman program is on the way next Spring.

Like all these things, the proof of the pudding is in the eating – so does it work? I can only speak from experience. I started six weeks ago with a “Sweet Spot” base training program. Every program starts with a test to establish a benchmark and to set the power targets for your workouts. The test is a standard 8-minute test – two reps of eight minutes at full tilt built into a one-hour session– which is used to calculate your Functional Threshold Power (FTP). In English this is the maximum level of power that you could hold for one hour. My test calculated that my FTP was 163 Watts.

The Sweet Spot program was six weeks of three workouts a week, each between 60 and 90 minutes duration. Most workouts were interval based with increasing lengths of intervals in the sweet spot between 85% – 95% of FTP. It was hard work and pushed me much harder than I would ever have pushed myself. Yesterday I finished the program and retested and produced a shiny new FTP of 189 Watts – a 15% improvement in my power in just six weeks. It’s not going to scare Sebastian Kienle, but my verdict? It works all right!

On top of that, interwoven into every workout are lots of technique tips and drills. Not only am I already a more powerful cyclist, I believe I am also more efficient. There is also a social element to it. You can make your results public, to other TrainerRoad users, and even organise teams and collect results. Sharing the experience with my friends Chris Glover (yes the Chris Glover) and Louisa Vere have made me that little bit more accountable and made it more fun.

So with an early Christmas present of an extra 26 Watts, I am going to take a short break – who knows I might even cycle outside – before starting a follow on Sweet Spot base training program in early January. I can’t wait. It is safe to say that I am a huge fan of TrainerRoad.

In other news spare a thought for my friend Nick Wall. During an off season MTB burn up with some friends in the Forest of Dean, Nick took a downhill jump 1384167_10204339264055272_2592443157215635485_na bit too fast. The problem with downhill jumps is that the ground is suddenly a long way below you. Nick estimates that he was twenty feet up when he lost control and the back wheel came over the top of him. Needless to say he hit the ground hard. When the smoke had cleared Nick had broken his shoulder, his elbow, his wrist in three places and four ribs, one of which punctured a lung. After a bit of surgery he is on the mend and still managing to smile. Here’s to a quick recovery. I am still hopeful that he and I can race The Outlaw Half together in late May but time will tell.

That’s all for now! All that remains is to thank you all for reading in 2014 and to wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year. Let’s do it all again in 2015!