Easy versus Hard

A fantastic thread discussing the relative merits of high volume/low intensity (ie long, steady rides) versus lower volume/higher intensity (ie SST/Threshold) training.

It is seriously worth signing up to Google Groups Wattage forum anyway – especially if you’re interesting in training with power.

Anyway, this particular thread is here.

I’ve made no secret that, especially given my newly imposed time constraints, I’m going to opt for the latter (ie a relatively low volume/high intensity) strategy.  This is largely contrary to the advice of most coaches and not to mention a considerable tradition which suggests ‘getting the miles in’ to ‘build an endurance base’ is the way forward.

It would be nice to say that ‘we’ll see’ which is the most successful strategy but with so many confounding factors we probably won’t.

Power vs Heart Rate Metering

I did some science today.  Like most ‘sports science’, it wasn’t very good science.  But it was an experiment of sorts.

I’ve been banging on to anyone that will listen about the benefits of power meters in general and the PowerTap in particular all year.  I’ve used mine this year to gauge my indoor training efforts which have largely consisted of threshold work (2x20s, 3x20s, hour of power, etc). 

One of the many reasons (don’t get me started…) for using a power meter is to accurately gauge the work that is being done during an interval.  Intervals consist of a target intensity, duration and rest period.  Traditionally the intensity has been monitored using a HRM (heart rate meter).  The problem with this is that heart rate is subject to many confounding factors – fatigue, dehydration, temperature, caffeine and so on, all have an impact on heart rate  which makes it only a so-so guide to the intensity of the effort that is being made.  The response of the heart to effort is also considerably ‘damped’; ie it takes a long time to catch up with any changes of intensity.

Anyway, to my wonderfully unscientific experiment.  My hypothesis is that the power, and therefore work, would vary considerably across an interval for a consistent heart rate and vice versa.  Initially raising the heart rate would take a deal of effort and as the interval proceeded fatigue would mean that, in order to maintain a consistent heart rate, the power would need to decline.

I was planning a 3×20 ‘sweet spot’ session.  Using power as a metric this corresponds to about 290W.  Using heart rate I estimate this would be about 160bpm.  My plan was to do the first interval based on power, and see what happens to the heart rate, the second according to heart rate (159bpm +/-1) and the final interval back to power again.  Here is the result…

3x20

(click to image to see full size).

NB Heart rate is shown in red, Power is yellow.

It is worth bearing in mind is that, even indoors with the absence of wind, hills, junctions and so on, it’s not possible to maintain perfectly consistent power output.  Despite this I hope that you can see that the first and third efforts are reasonably consistent.

The first interval is very interesting.  I only warmed up for 5 minutes (coz I’m ‘ard) but even so, you can see that my heart rate climbed throughout the entire 20 minutes and took 5 minutes before it even reached 150 bpm let alone 160.  So the first 20 minutes displayed a totally non-linear relationship which is what I had expected (and, yes, hoped for!).

The second interval was done with a consistent as possible heart rate, targeting 159 +/- 1 bpm.  I did not want to exaggerate the initial effort so I tried to slowly build for a minute or so into the interval.  Either way you can see that the initial power was high, and quite fatiguing, and did slowly drift downwards through the remainder of the session.  But not to the extent to which I thought it would have.  Given the non-linearity of the first interval, the second I found surprisingly consistent.

By the third interval I was back to consistent power and again the heart rate response was variable, slowly building throughout the entire 20 minutes but much less than the first interval  – presumably due to my inadequate warm-up.

Summary

It should be noted that this was a generous test from the perspective of heart rate – the intervals were neither short nor massively intense.

What I hope I have shown is that

  • There is not a linear relationship between effort and heart rate response
  • Even working reasonably hard (90% of FTP) it can take 20 minutes, or more, for the heart rate to level off
  • Due to this latency, it is likely that using heart rate as a guide to interval intensity is likely to lead to starting too hard leading to unnecessary fatigue. 
  • If you are using a HRM to gauge interval effort a proper warm-up is a good idea
  • I found the second interval the hardest, most probably because of the 310W + required to get my heart going

CycleOps Pro 300PT Spin Bike

Well, with a baby on the way some compromises need to be made.  Not least a clearing of the second bedroom for it’s conversion into a nursery – the cheek.

My indoor training is going to be relegated into the third bedroom amongst other inconveniences (god I need a garage!).  The best solution seems to be to get a spin bike, and this cheeky chappy seemed to best fit my needs.

cycleops-cycle-pro-300pt07

It’s made by the same guys that make the PowerTap and has the same facility to download the workout data into the excellent WKO+.  It should be much quieter than the turbo and it has a 25kg flywheel so should ‘feel’ better too. 

This then frees up my Trek bike to become my official winter training bike, complete with PowerTap.  Which frees up my titanium winter bike from last year to be sold on eBay.

The last big advantage is that the power data for all of my riding (indoor and out) will be downloadable.  CTL and TSS – bring it on!

The biggest fear – the same fate befalls it as the vast majority of indoor trainers; it becomes a very expensive dirty clothes rack!

Majorca

I was on holiday in Majorca last week in a lovely villa just on the outskirts of Pollenca. 

It was fantastic as I managed to combine an excellent family holiday – with Rach’s two brothers, respective wives and niece – with some great cycling.

Mindful of preventing the cycling compromising the holiday for others and of the midday sun this involved getting up early in the morning and trying to hit the road by 06:15.  I managed 4 rides.

Ride

Time

Length

Climb

Day 1

4hr35

127km

1,840m

Day 2

3hr35

107km

1,125m

Day 3

5hr22

132km

3,020m

Day 4

4hr20

102km

2,612m

Total

17hr52

468km

8,597m

Without doubt this was some of the best cycling I’ve done.  The terrain was sufficiently challenging, the roads really quiet and some of the scenery just stunning.

On the fourth day I found the Sa Calobra climb which this photo only does partial justice.

It’s a 10km climb with an average of nearly 8% gradient.  Far too good to do only once so I did it a couple of times.  There was almost no traffic and just a couple of cyclists on the road so both the descents and ascents were terrific fun.  Surely one of the best climbs in Europe? 

There were plenty of other climbs including another corker over near Soller which had 30 switchbacks – eat your heart out Alpe D’Huez.  Well, sort of – it had nowhere near the ascent but you know what I mean. 

Majorca even has it’s own scaled down version of Mont Ventoux, Piug de Randa, which you can see for miles around.  If even has it’s own weather station at the top and tremendous views of the surrounding landscape.

I’ll definitely  be heading back there at some stage, probably for a Spring training session.  I can’t think of anywhere better.

First Hour of Power

Interesting first ‘hour of power’ session.

hourofpower

Warm up for 5 minutes.  Then maintain about 90% of FTP and every 2 minutes put the hammer down for 30 seconds.  I managed 40 minutes of this nonsense before collapsing.

Still, not a bad first effort. 

Weekend Rides

Two good rides this weekend, a glorious flat 120km on Saturday with the club and a harder ride to Ditchling Beacon and back today.

Today’s ride was meant to be a 100-miler but I ended up, Don Bradman stylee, doing a mere 99.3 instead.

The links to the rides are to one of my ne’er-to-be-finished websites – logmyride.  It takes data from my awesome Garmin 705 and plots the route on google maps and a few charts too.  All clever stuff.  If I didn’t spend so much time on the bike I would even finish it I reckon.

2x20s

2x20s reside at the fun end of cycling training.

The premise is simple; do a nice warm-up, say 10 minutes.  Then hit it hard for 20 minutes at threshold (or thereabouts) level.  Almost die.  Then do 5 minutes easy to recovery then repeat the 20 minute section.  Then cool down for 5 minutes or so.

How hard is ‘threshold’?  There are many definitions as there are definers.  However, most simply put, for any given time period, there is a maximum output that can be sustained.  Go any harder and you will not be able to complete the session, or at least not at a consistent effort.  For cyclists, there are several interesting durations – 15 seconds, 2 minutes, 5 minutes, 20 minutes and an hour.  The ‘hour pace’, when power is being measured, is called one’s FTP (functional threshold power) and this is considered a very good predictor of endurance performance.

Anyway, “threshold” for the 2x20s is considered to be between 91 and 105% of FTP.  Translated to English this means “just at the point of sustainability”.

Here’s a list of observations collated by someone called ‘Toks’ on a BikeRadar forum

  • Try and really tune into the ‘feel’ (RPE) factor’. It really helps
  • It should feel like your almost on the edge and if you pushed it up a notch or two ( 20 secs say) it woud take a lot of gasping and quite a bit of time to recover – unlike a tempo/sweet spot ride where you could take it up a notch for quite few minutes before you enter the ‘this feels bloody hard zone’
  • Some days you will really nail it and cope admiirally despite the ever so apparent discomfort
  • Some days the first 10 mins will feel like an hour – really horrible!
  • Your breathing will be anything from quite noticeable to laboured and panty
  • 10 minutes into the second set you may want your mummy
  • Once you’ve done a few of them you’ll notice the trainer warm up midway through the second set -raise your cadence or hit a gear higher to counter this lovely feeling
  • Some days music, TV will not be enough of a distraction – those again are horrible days
  • Some days the burning in your quads will almost be audible – cry if you must but don’t stop
  • Every now and then you’ll have a session where you just stop even though you don’t want to. Don’t worry it happens to everyone
  • For me at least when I’m bang on my FT I struggle to even gulp down water
  • If you can mumble more than a couple of sentences your not riding hard enough.
  • Don’t even think about trying one without a good fan.
  • Don’t keep looking at the time – it purposely runs slower for nutters that do 2 x 20′s
  • Films can be a good distraction but the concentration required to watch em can add to the fatigue

Training

Well, it has been a disastrous few weeks – I almost can’t remember the last time I rode a bike on tarmac.

Therefore I have to train indoors, which is at best a mixed blessing.  The biggest problem is countering the ever-present problem of boredom. There are a few strategies to stave off madness.

First is the choice of training device, either rollers or the turbo trainer.  The rollers are kind of fun as you are never far from an accident.  The lack of forward motion means that you have to work just to stay on the bloody thing.  The downside is that it’s not really possible to do seriously hard work – there’s not enough resistance for a start, and even if there was it would be a hazard as you’re so unstable an accident is just waiting to happen.  You can get plenty of resistance on the ‘turbo’ but as there is no chance whatsoever of coming off the boredom level naturally increased.

The second is feedback.  For example, see the WKO+ output from my turbo session yesterday.

Workout

The session involved 3 sessions of 20 minutes at a hard pace with 5 minute recovery periods in between.  This is a slightly controversial twist on a more common 2×20 (or 2 times 20 minutes) session.  I basically train very slightly less hard than I would for 2 sessions, but obviously with an extra session.

The yellow line is the power ouput, which I maintained about 280W, the red line is my heart rate which you can see slowly climb throughout each session and the green is the cadence, which also, suprisingly crept up, in each session.

Anyway, a tough(ish) session but at least it wasn’t boring!