How much should you train? You may not like the answer.

How many miles a week should you ride? Such a simple question, but the answer isn't so  simple.  For starters “How many miles should I ride” isn’t really the right question, as not all miles are the same. Riding 50 miles on flat ground being pulled along by a group is not the same as doing a hilly ride, braving the wind in a solo effort. “How much should I train?” is really the better question. But still, there are different ways to measure “how much.” Power meters are now a common site on the bikes of pro and amateur riders alike. But before the power meter era, heart rate was considered the gold standard in training technology and many athletes used a heart rate X time metric known as TRIMP*. Now that a bike can be outfitted with a power meter for under a thousand dollars, riders of all levels are using the power related metrics as their preferred method of measuring training volume and stress. A power meter user can track daily and weekly kilojoules, and training stress score, along with acute and chronic training load as well as training stress balance**. While I love both training and coaching with a power meter, I also use a much simpler metric that pre-dates heart rate training, and power: The watch.

Saddle time is a simple metric that anyone can measure, and endurance athletes have been measuring their training in this manner for as long as endurance athletes have existed. Of course an hour at race pace is not the same training stress and an hour at recovery pace. But weekly training hours will give you a pretty good idea of total training volume. Weekly hours are not only easy to measure, but easy to understand. Some riders don’t care to learn about or use hears rate monitors or power meters. For these riders, weekly hours is going to be their best measure of how much they are training. So then the question is: “How many hours a week should I train?”

Don't overdo it and wind up looking like this

People naturally prefer simple answers to questions. But even seemingly simple questions have complex or even unclear answers. Answers to questions like: “How much improvement will I see from coaching?” or “How much should I train each week?” are difficult to answer, because everyone is different. Anyone that tells you to expect an exact amount of improvement or tells you that everyone should train a certain amount is either uninformed or untruthful.  As far as how much you should train, the answer for most people is:  As much as you can without it being too much…as much as you can train, and still recover both physically and mentally from the training.  You should train as much as you can while still ensuring that you get in the quality and intensity of your workouts. You should train as much as you can while still succeeding in your career, having a balanced social life, enjoying family time, and keeping your significant other happy.

When I’m planning the training for my athletes, the “A” (top priority) events go into the calendar first. The next items to go into the calendar are family, work, and travel commitments. The first workouts to go into the calendar are the highest intensity workouts. These efforts are typically the most important workouts of the week, and the integrity of these workouts must be maintained. If you don’t get them right, you are just spinning your wheels. Most amateur riders should not try and do the same volume of training that professional riders do, as the pros are dealing with a completely different set of commitments, priorities and circumstances. I’ve seen riders read about the weekly hours that the professionals train, and try to replicate it themselves. But for a professional rider, training IS their career. The pro rider can concentrate on recovery by napping, eating, relaxing on the couch, and maybe getting a massage. While the amateur rider with a 40+ hour a week job is often doing things that are counterproductive to recovery. Some riders increase their training volume and actually get slower, because they aren’t recovering properly in between hard workouts. One of my jobs as a coach is to ascertain: What is the optimal training load for that individual athlete. Some athletes are limited by how much time they can actually spend on the bike. For these riders, the task is to ensure that they are spending their time wisely. Some athletes have practically unlimited time to train, but I need to ensure they are recovering properly and not overdoing it. As an athlete it can be difficult to see when you are a pushing it a little too much, and that is when the objective eye of a coach can become invaluable. Athletes all have different needs, time, and stressors in their lives. All of these things must be taken into account when determining how much training volume and athlete can handle. There is no easy answer to “How many miles a week should I ride” or “ How many hours a week should I train”. It seems like a simple question, but there isn’t a simple answer. Do you need help figuring out how much is enough without being too much? Use the contact form on the right side of this page to contact us.

*TRIMP was developed by Dr Eric Bannister. Google will help you if you need to know more. ** Training Stress Score is based on the original work by Bannister. This and other terms were developed by Andy Coggan and Hunter Allen. Check out the book “Racing and Training with a PowerMeter” for more information.

I love my PowerTap, but this is ridiculous.

I saw this story on Velonews today:   Upcoming from CycleOps: Heart-rate-based power meters and superlight carbon wheelset I am going to say this as clearly and simply as I possibly can.  There is no way to measure power using heart rate.   It just isn't possible.   Heart rate is to dynamic.  It changes due to factors such as fed state, level of fatigue, how long you have been exercising, hyrdation level and more.      Power measured via strain gauges is instantaneous,  and any effort put into the pedals can be measured right then and there, but but  heart rate may take several minutes to catch up.    So heart rate is a reasonable proxy  for effort level on long efforts, but  is practically useless for long efforts.

Like I said, I love my powertap,   I have one on my bike, and I have a studio full of powertap stationary trainers.   But don't tell us you are measuring power when you aren't.    What PT is trying to do is measure training stress using heart rate, and make it applicable across different types of exercise.   This is nothing new and it can be useful.    You can read a good article on TRIMP HERE.    But there is absolutely  no no way that TRIMP equals power measurement.


Is power measurement the "End All Be All?"

I personally have been using power meters since 2002, and I love to use power meters to coach athletes. I'm kind of a science geek and I love to crunch the numbers and evaluate the data. I also love that fact that the power data can enhance or even tell a different story from what the athlete conveys. Power meters give truly objective and accurate information that can't be obtained any other way. They let us track progress more accurately than any other method, and they help us dial in an athlete's effort level to ensure an efficient use of time, as well as determine when "enough is enough." There plenty of resources out there on training with power, and there is ever more powerful software available to analyze, evaluate, and plan training. These are all powerful tools, that help athletes track and attain higher levels of fitnes, as well as help coaches communicate and track their athletes better than ever. The problem comes when athletes and coaches become too reliant on the power meter.

The training and coaching of an athlete is not just a simple recipe or formula with predetermined inputs and outputs. Every athlete is different, and every athlete's response is going to be just a little bit different. An athlete needs to be viewed as a whole organism, not just a set of power data. In fact the subjective feedback from an athlete is every bit as important as that power data. I think some athletes and coaches easily forget that. They just want to open up a book, take training plan from the book, and adjust it for the athlete's power numbers. It is easy to get caught up in all the charts, graphs, and information that today's powerful software provides, but all those charts and graphs just don't tell the whole picture. I would argue that power data in isolation can even confuse the issue. For example in riders look at their power meter data along with a chart that says they are in a Cat 1 range and get frustrated because they are still a Cat 3.

How and athlete "feels" is every bit as important as what that athlete does. In fact there are several athletes I have been training for years that don't use a a power meter, a heart rate monitor, or any piece of electronic equipment on their bikes whatsoever. We train primarily using RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion), or how an effort feels, and these athlete have reached many of their goals, as well as put wins on their palmares. Power meters have their place. And if i had my way, most of my athletes would train and race on them all the time. But power meters aren't for everyone. Price, functionality, and even all of that information makes powermeters and training with power undesirable for some.

For those that don't want to train with power, RPE works just fine. I used to rely heavily on heart rate monitors for athletes without power meters, but now I've gone the other way and prefer to use just mostly RPE. Heart rate data can simply change so much from day to day, and RPE conveys both what I want from the athlete, as well as what the athlete should do much better than heart rate.

Power meters have their place and many coaches and athletes love to use them, but they are by no means a requirement for success. Coaching and training is more than just looking at power numbers, and the entire experience of the athlete needs to be taken into account. Rate of perceived exertion and how an athlete feels is just as important as power numbers, and many coached athletes are successful using nothing more than than their own perceptions and some feedback from their coach.

Use the comments section below to tell me what you think.

"Understanding Your Power Files" Clinic

Ok, You've got this fancy doohicky on your bike. Maybe its made in Germany, maybe its built in the US, . This fancy thingamajig may have cost you just about as much as some people spend on their entire first racing bike. It tells you how hard you are going in watts, it tells you you average watts, your max watts, it tells you how much work you've done in kiljoules, and more. It gives you all sorts of information, but what do you DO with all this information. The coaches at Crank Cycling are here to help. We work with power every single day. We sell more Power Tap and SRM power measuring systems than most bike shops. We've helped elite athletes analyze their power files, and adjust their training.  We've written articles on power for local and national cycling news outlets, and we want to share our knowledge with you with you.

This clinic will cover:

  • The basics such as how power is measured, what are the advantages and disadvantages of the different power measuring systems.
  • How, when and why you should do field testing with your power meter.
  • How to monitor and analyze individual workouts as well as weeks, months, or years worth of data.
  • Creating and implementing a training plan based on power.
  • Racing with your Power Meter
  • and more

This clinic is appropriate for anyone who owns a power meter, or anyone who is thinking about purchasing a power meter.    It is appropriate for self coached athletes as well as athletes who work with a coach (Crank Cycling or anyone else!)*.    Knowledge is power, and the more knowledge you have, the greater your chances for success.

The clinic is scheduled for Sunday November 20th at 1PM at our downtown training studio and is expected to be 3-4 hours in length.   The cost of the clinic is $99 with discounts being offered to Crank Cycling coached athletes or clubs with more  5 than athletes attending.

Registration is HERE , or use the contact form on the lower right or call Coach Burke at   six- one –nine -865-3389 for more information.

*Athletes that work with another coach may bring their coach with them to the clinic for no charge.  We welcome the company of knowledgeable coaches, and encourage their  participation in the question and answer portions of the clinic.

Free Coaching with a Power Meter Purchase

You know you’ve been thinking about the taking the power meter plunge for a while now. We know that you want to quantify how hard you are pounding those pedals into submission (+- 1.5%) It is unlikely that your power meter will make you the as tough as Jens Voight,. Nor will it help you put out enough watts to power a small alpine village like Fabian Cancellara. But a PM can help you hone in your training so that you can see the maximum possible improvement, as well as make the most of your precious training time.But what do you do with that expensive toy once you get it? Well, the Crank Cycling coaches are here to help. Crank Cycling is an authorized dealer for both Powertap and SRM and we really want to get you on a power meter. More than that....we want to get you into a power meter and teach you how to use it. That’s why from now through the end of October, we are giving you 3 months of coaching with the purchase of either an SRM or Powertap SL. It’s as easy as that. Buy a power meter and a Crank Cycling coach will work with you for 3 months. That alone is a $495 value. So head on over to the Coaches page and check out the coaches. Don’t know which coach is best suited for you? Contact head Coach Sean Burke and he will help you figure out which Crank Cycling coach is the best match for you.

So to sum it up.... Here are the reasons why you should buy a new power meter from Crank Cycling right now:

You’ll get free coaching worth about $500 It will help you make the most of your training time You want to quantify how hard you are crushing it They look cool Jens Voight uses one, and he is a badass You know you want one This offer is only good through October 31st 2010

Contact Coach Burke at Coachsburke@gmail.com to get going on your power meter.

What it takes to ride with the Pros

We put a SRM on Elite amateur riders at Redlands Stage race, and then Daggs and I did a write up on his  power output.: How much power does it take to hang with the pros in a big American stage race? For the Redlands Bicycle Classic, we put an SRM power meter on the bike of Eric Marcotte, a 30-year-old chiropractor who races as a Cat. 1.

Marcotte's power decreased each time up the climb on stage 3. (Wattage is yellow, elevation is red.)

Marcotte lives in Arizona and races with the California-based Pista Palace squad. This year he won stage 2 of the Valley of the Sun and placed fifth in the GC. He then won stage 3 at the Tucson Bicycle Classic from a break. At Redlands, Marcotte was racing in a 190-man peloton that featured 13 pro teams. Here is what the numbers revealed.

How much power does it take to hang with the pros in a big American stage race? For the Redlands Bicycle Classic, we put an SRM power meter on the bike of Eric Marcotte, a 30-year-old chiropractor who races as a Cat. 1.