A Rant on Power-Based Training

A light bike doesn't replace good fitness.

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iheartbianchi
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by iheartbianchi

I am obviously a huge skeptic on power-based training for amateurs. I confess, I do 75% of my training indoors on a turbo trainer and I closely monitor my power on those sessions. But I do not do power-based training. Let me explain why (I am going to be exceptionally general here):

Let's take a hypothetical rider who can maintain a power of 200watts for 1 hour fairly comfortably. This rider wants to improve. This rider will probably do some combination of the following:

1) Continue to do sessions of riding 200watts for 1 hour, hoping for adaptations to occur so it becomes easier to ride 200watts for 1 hour
2) Extend the 200watt riding sessions by say 5 minutes each ride, hoping for adaptations to occur
3) Attempt rides at 205 watts for an hour, hoping for adaptations to occur
4) Do some intervals at 200watts or higher, hoping for adaptations to occur

Sounds sort of good right? OK...but what are the unknowns here?

-For what period of time do you have to do these 200watt hours for an hour to improve? When should this rider either increase the power, or when should they extend the duration of the 200watt rides?
-Once this rider can do 210 watts comfortably for an hour, when should this rider seek to increase to 220 watts? Or 230 watts?
-Is it OK to do 200watt rides for 1 hour every day? Or should there be some rest days built in? With harder days built in?
-How easy should the rest days be? 150watts? How hard should the hard days be? 250 watts?
-Should there be any extended period of recovery and rebuilding?
-When should intervals occur and in what form? Some % of FTP? Says who and why is this so? How many reps? How much rest between reps? Why? What is the basis for x rest between reps?
-What about "sweet spot" rides or threshold rides? Do I follow the %FTP? How long should I do these efforts and how often?

I posited several questions that I can think of off the top of my head. I know there are more. Now, how do we answer these questions?

In the case of power-meter training, unfortunately the only ones with the "answers" are "coaches" who want your money, your friends who don't really know, or some random guy on the internet. But even the information posseseed by these latter guys can trace their source to some "coach." The power is all in the hands of the coaches. They "know" what you should do and how, and you have to pay them for the privilege of that knowledge. But here's the catch: what is the basis of these coaches' knowledge? Let me tell you the answer: experience. Not science. Not research. Nope. Just, experience. Experience which may or may not translate from whatever athletes they have coached, to you and me.

Oh sure, a coach will probably put some kind of structure in your training, and probably make you go harder and longer, and you WILL inevitably improve just because you have increased your workload. But is this rate of gain sustainable? Is it the most efficient and effective bang for your time spent? Will it result in you being overfatigued, sore and tired all the time? Nobody knows, not even the coaches.

I'm sorry, but that's 1970s style coaching.

The beauty of heart-rate based training is it is entirely based on science and research conducted by the most significant research institutions in the world. We are talking about Harvard, Stanford, Johns Hopkins. Doctors specializing in blood, bone marrow function, hormones, etc. PhDs who research human growth, the role of mitochondria, the heart and lungs, oxygen delivery functions. They have millions of dollars of funding by the government and major pharma companies who are interested in improving human health, not some small-time cycling team like Sky or US Postal who want to win some race that is not even that profitable. These are not some random coach with a few athletes and access to a local lab at the local technical college and some guys in labcoats with a masters degree in sports science who will prick your ear to measure your lactate or Vo2max and pretend that this is some kind of science-based training.

And all this research is free (it is publicly funded), publicly available. It puts all the information and knowledge in your hands. Not some "dude" with "experience" coaching "athletes" who asks for money before telling you anything. You know what's hugely ironic? These doctors and researchers are EXCEPTIONALLY accessible. Don't just take my word for it - you can generally find their contact information through their respective universities, and if you were to posit an intelligent and thoughtful question, they would most likely respond to you in a helpful manner, and not ask you for a single dime! I've corresponded with some of the leading sports research scientists and Olympic coaches, without ever having even met them. They got nothing from me in return other than a thank you. This lot are generally very helpful and passionate about their research.

And this research provides answers to all of the above questions. How long should you be pushing 200watts? Simple. The moment a 200watt effort fails to achieve at least a 60% of MaxHR, you should never be riding at 200watts. How easy should my easy days be? Simple...60-70% of MaxHR. Why? Because that's what your body is telling you is easy. How much rest between intervals? Easy. Until your HR recovers to 60-70% (in the case of long intervals) and 70-80% (in the case of shorter intervals). Vo2max intervals are a different story, and there is no real concept of rest as your simply trying to bounce your HR back up repeatedly to get as close to MaxHR as often as possible before lactate overload. Your body is telling you everything you need to know about your physical state through your HR monitor.

OK sure, there are some cautionary points: obviously caffeine, sleep, stress, weather, heat etc. all effect your HR and you need to adjust your effort accordingly. Sore muscles can also impact your HR. Generally, these external factors will tend to make you go slower than you should be going, and you need to be aware of this. But again, the answers are in your control and at your fingertips, and they are based on science.

Just to be sure, there are a few (and I mean very few) coaches who do have invaluable experience coaching based on power, and can certainly take you to levels you never imagined possible (but to be clear, there are similar coaches who do HR based training). However, 99% of you will never have access to such coaches. But absent a stellar coach, you are completely guessing when you train based on power, and you have to be really lucky to find a program that is just right for you. If you're unlucky, sucks for you. If you're lucky, well then just admit you were lucky instead of saying power based training works.

Sorry for the rant :D Hope we can have some interesting discussion on this!
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Lewn777
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by Lewn777

My approach is to first be clear about what's simple, provable and build everything from there. The thing is there are so many variables that I don't even really understand the bigger picture, but then again I don't really buy that anyone else on the whole does, it's simply best guesses adding to a knowledge base built from experience and study. More experience and study means you'll be better at it.

1. Surely though a PM is essential, we need a baseline some kind of FTP number to build from. Yes FTP is kind of nonsense 20 minute power to arrive at a theoretic hourly maximum, but at least we can build our threshold, sweetpsot and recovery numbers from it.

2. HR also must be useful, becuse it's another way we can figure out maximum and rested effort even though it's variable and lags behind.

3. We then have sweetspot training and interval training we know putting in big efforts in shorter bursts on longer rides works better than ticking over at a constant rate and that HIIT training probably works.

4. We also know that doing less for a while will help our freshness and that tapering will help before an event.

5. We know that we have to monitor what we eat so we don't get too bulky and slow up climbs and that we're not missing any minerals, vitamins, carbs or proteins, and if we really care we can get blood tested just to make sure.

Other than that obvious stuff it seems to get pretty foggy pretty quickly with all sorts of complex dietry hoodoo and debateable studies. Beetroot? Pomegranate? Fasted riding? Spiraluna? Bicarbonate of soda? Salts? Carbs? Isotonics? Caffine? Blood's abilty to carry oxygen? Fitness vs fatigue vs form vs freshness? Too many variables to gain any real foothold for the layman like me and probably the coaches are mostly educated guessing, honestly there's enough information there to do a Phd and then still be studying the stuff for your whole career and still not be quite sure. Then we're all different, one person might be deficient in something and 'food A' will really help him, but 'food A' might not help you.

The list never ends really.

I eat a minitored wholefood diet and ride nearly everyday, but only push myself 3 days a week, where I might do short 10 second intervals or do a 200 plus km ride with a 20 minute cat 3 mountain segment in it at threshold. That seems to work for me, and can get to about 4w/kg, I could be better but I'm not sure how much as I'm in my mid forties and what's considered good is based from being in your late 20s or early 30's.

I don't cry over not getting better because I don't even know what my potential really is, I don't race much and I just enjoy riding so that 'training effort and time' isn't ever a waste, it's part of my enjoyment of life.

petromyzon
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by petromyzon

Power gives you a high resolution data stream describing what you did to propel the bike forwards.
Heart rate is one aspect of the body's physiological response to the stress you put on it in doing that work.
How you use these two is completely up to you.

The idea that there is some split between "researchers" who use heart rate and "coaches" who use power isn't true. A laboratory physiology setup would likely use both, as would many serious cyclists. I would concede that a coach, or even a sports physiologist, who is interested in the practical application of science, is very different from a scientist. To be honest I'd rather have the former if I wanted to get fit.

The idea that there are robust "rules" that govern HR training, as you describe them, but nothing of the like for power, is misleading. The former reflects a physiological variable and the latter reflects the output of the system but that does not automatically make the former superior.

I think your whole post is a straw man argument based upon your own bias. Sorry if this comes across as inflammatory.

iheartbianchi
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by iheartbianchi

Lewn777 wrote:
Sun May 19, 2019 12:48 pm


1. Surely though a PM is essential, we need a baseline some kind of FTP number to build from. Yes FTP is kind of nonsense 20 minute power to arrive at a theoretic hourly maximum, but at least we can build our threshold, sweetpsot and recovery numbers from it.

2. HR also must be useful, becuse it's another way we can figure out maximum and rested effort even though it's variable and lags behind.
I think these two sentences really sums up the issue. At least you are clever enough to use both power and HR. We know power meters are hugely popular among amateur cyclists, and there are far more training programs marketed towards amateurs that are power based than HR. But how many amateurs own heart rate monitors, let alone use them?

Serious athletes obviously use them. But now you have a wide body of amateur cyclists who get power meters just because it's another piece of cool gear, and a lot of online training programs/coaches have created some ridiculous training programs that discard heart rate monitors and claim that power meters are more accurate/definitive but offer no support other than dubious claims about "lag." Oh come on. Yes, lag is an issue when you're doing short intervals or Vo2max training, but not a major issue if you are properly warmed up and fit, and only really an issue when you're doing really short (1 minute or less) sprints, but that's missing the picture. You simply cannot do a reliable Vo2Max or interval training session without a heart rate monitor to begin with! Interval training at its core is all about time spent in an intensity zone and if you are looking only at a power meter then you are 100% guessing whether you are going at the right effort level. Do we even understand what Vo2Max is? It's directly correlated to your heart rate, NOT your power meter.

If you try to do a Vo2Max workout based on a % of FTP, guess what? You are completely guessing whether you are in the right intensity level. "Oh it feels hard and I'm pushing X watts which is exactly the right % of FTP so I must be near max heart rate, but yeah I don't need to actually check my heart rate to confirm." Come on...300 watts is 300 watts. But the point at which you are doing the appropriate level of effort could be 200 watts on a given day, or 250 watts on another day, or 300 watts the next day. But no, let's just stick to % of FTP because that's what the training program says I need to do, never mind that if I try to check the research the references only point to some obscure online article or other training program and nothing is backed by science or research.

But yet you have all these amateurs who look solely at FTP and % of FTP, barely looking at their heart rates other than to brag about how high their heart rates got while crushing a set of intervals, without a clue of how high their heart rate should be during said intervals.
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iheartbianchi
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by iheartbianchi

petromyzon wrote:
Sun May 19, 2019 3:54 pm
Power gives you a high resolution data stream describing what you did to propel the bike forwards.
Heart rate is one aspect of the body's physiological response to the stress you put on it in doing that work.
How you use these two is completely up to you.

The idea that there is some split between "researchers" who use heart rate and "coaches" who use power isn't true. A laboratory physiology setup would likely use both, as would many serious cyclists. I would concede that a coach, or even a sports physiologist, who is interested in the practical application of science, is very different from a scientist. To be honest I'd rather have the former if I wanted to get fit.

The idea that there are robust "rules" that govern HR training, as you describe them, but nothing of the like for power, is misleading. The former reflects a physiological variable and the latter reflects the output of the system but that does not automatically make the former superior.

I think your whole post is a straw man argument based upon your own bias. Sorry if this comes across as inflammatory.
This is a controversial topic so no offense taken, glad to hear other views (as I know I'm probably in the minority here). And just so you know, these "scientists" also test elite athletes who are indeed very interested in the practical application of their science.

There is no split between researches. The limited research conducted so far on power-based/FTP based training, have thus far universally concluded that FTP is useful, and statistically correlated to lactate threshold, but with significant variation. The study cited immediately below concludes that a heart-rate based training program is more effective for developing power in cyclists.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19204572

"when the data were analyzed using magnitude-based effects, the GHEART group showed greater probability of a "beneficial" effect for peak power output. The current general perception that prescribing training based only on power is more effective than prescribing training based on heart rate was not supported by the data from this study. Coaches who are unable to monitor progress frequently should prescribe training based on heart rate, when intervals are performed under stable conditions, because this may provide an additional advantage over prescribing training using power."

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29745765

"Accounting for the participants' fitness status, no significant differences were found between FTP and LT (effect size = 0.22; limits of agreement =2.1% [7.8%]) in trained cyclists, but FTP was significantly lower than the LT (P = .0004, effect size = 0.81; limits of agreement =-6.5% [8.3%]) in recreational cyclists. A significant relationship was found between relative peak power output and the bias between FTP and the LT markers (r = .77; P < .0001)."

Hey, if you're OK with a difference of anywhere from -6.5% to 2.1% from actual lactate threshold, more power to you. But let's call it as it is - guesswork.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30676826

"For the power output measures, FTP presented a bias ± 95% LoA of 1.4 ± 9.2%, a moderate TEE (4.7%), and nearly perfect correlation (r = 0.91) with MLSS in all cyclists together. When divided by the training level, the bias ± 95% LoA and TEE were higher in the trained group (1.4 ± 11.8% and 6.4%, respectively) than in the well-trained group (1.3 ± 7.4% and 3.0%, respectively). For the heart rate measurement, FTP presented a bias ± 95% LoA of -1.4 ± 8.2%, TEE of 4.0%, and very -large correlation (r = 0.80) with MLSS."

Again, if you're OK with gaps of +- 11.8%, more power to you.

So I ask, if the purpose of FTP based training is to approximate a percentage of effort based on lactate threshold, but that connection between FTP and LT varies significantly, isn't the very basis of FTP-based training flawed?

More importantly, why don't coaches or trainingpeaks WARN their customers of this?

https://www.trainingpeaks.com/blog/what ... old-power/

No mention whatsoever that research indicates that FTP and LT vary, and more so for recreational cyclists.
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by Jugi

I hope respectable scientists or coaches or other ”village’s wise men” are not discounting HRMs or PMs when both are available. Comparing heart rate with power is the most important thing a powermeter provides to me. A PM measures the amount of work done and a HRM measures my body’s response to that. Loosing either of those would make it much harder to measure general improvements in fitness.

I usually do aerobic workouts based on heart rate and harder workouts based on power.

petromyzon
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by petromyzon

In the first study you cite they found no significant difference, as reported in the abstract. Using a different analysis they felt there was a trend towards the heart rate group.

The other two studies explore the correlation between LT and FTP. This has been argued about on the Google Wattage group for 15 years and is complicated by the fact that even lab-based researchers cannot identify what they think LT is. MLSS, OBLA, 2 and 4 mmol/l.... the list goes on and on.

The beauty of "functional" is you do not need to know or care what LT is, you don't need to go to a lab, prick your ear etc. etc. Those things may help you or provide additional insight but they are not absolutely necessary. All else being equal if you produce more power for a given duration you will go faster.

I would lay a bet that many experienced pro riders could train themselves without ever looking at a power meter out on the road. Take the watts off the Garmin screen! But if you look at the power file later you should see progression and your performance relative to your best form.

petromyzon
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by petromyzon

NB I realise that my last point could be taken as my acceptance that power-based training is of no use.
Rather, I believe that the true strengths of power are
1. Measuring absolute performance now and over the course of many years.
2. Measuring training load and intensity and using this to control periodisation

Neither of which heart rate is particularly good at.
If I could have one measurement on the bike it would be this, hands down. Cycling is incredibly lucky that we have this metric - coaches in other sports are jealous.

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by Butcher

Why would you use a training program you are not comfortable with? If you do not like power, then don't use it.

I use both. Power is a constant. HR is not. By using both, I know when my heart is going to wave the white flag and when my legs are going to say 'I'm Done'.
How many amateurs are using a HR monitor? I do not know but then again, I do not care. How many riders with power meters use a HR monitor? I do not know that either, but I would assume if you have a power meter, you have a monitor too. They are relatively cheap compared to what you are riding.

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by spartacus

Thanks for all of your posts. It's nice to hear something that makes sense and has scientific validity!

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by AJS914

Since I started using the polarized training method, I've realized that training can be pretty darn simple. Out of five rides per week, you have four in zone one and one ride with zone three intervals. (Three zone model.) You could ride those four Z1 rides at a really slow low end of Z1 or at the higher end of Z1. It really doesn't matter that much and it's very easy to do it with HR. For your one ride per week with Z3 intervals, it's pretty easy to spend some time at a bit above threshold. To do those workouts you definitely don't need a power meter. A HR monitor is very helpful, but even doing them by RPE isn't very hard at all.

I've read Friel's and Carmichael's books. They are very detailed but it feels like some coaches make this more complicated than it needs to be. Prescribing all sorts of intervals at different percentages of FTP or wattages make training sound like a very precise science or even a dark art that only the wizards know. The truth is that the body is a blunt instrument that we are training with stress and recovery. Most amateurs will improve by doing mostly anything and riding more. The amateurs in my club though are training too much in that Z2 (3 zone model) medium hard zone.

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by iheartbianchi

petromyzon wrote:
Sun May 19, 2019 5:31 pm
In the first study you cite they found no significant difference, as reported in the abstract. Using a different analysis they felt there was a trend towards the heart rate group.

The other two studies explore the correlation between LT and FTP. This has been argued about on the Google Wattage group for 15 years and is complicated by the fact that even lab-based researchers cannot identify what they think LT is. MLSS, OBLA, 2 and 4 mmol/l.... the list goes on and on.

The beauty of "functional" is you do not need to know or care what LT is, you don't need to go to a lab, prick your ear etc. etc. Those things may help you or provide additional insight but they are not absolutely necessary. All else being equal if you produce more power for a given duration you will go faster.

I would lay a bet that many experienced pro riders could train themselves without ever looking at a power meter out on the road. Take the watts off the Garmin screen! But if you look at the power file later you should see progression and your performance relative to your best form.
Petromyzon, I greatly appreciate this post. I apologize if my original post did not make clear my fundamental issue with power meters and FTP. At least among the amateur cycling community, power meters and power-based training has somehow become the infallible "end all be all" to cycling training. It is viewed not only as a substitute to heart-rate based training, but as the superior alternative.

But as you pointed out, there are massive differences as to what people think LT is. I disagree with the assertion that FTP is irrelevant to LT. When FTP was first formulated, it was meant as a means of "approximating" LT, the theory being that you should not cross your LT during the vast majority of your aerobic training, hence we train in percentages of FTP (usually below LT). So in order for FTP to be a useful measure, it is indeed very dependent on where your LT is. And just like heart-rate based training, FTP is not a perfect indicator of where your LT actually is at any given time. Pricking your ear is really the only way to have a close to perfect measurement.

But this is never disclosed in the hundreds of FTP training programs I have seen, and you have thousands of amateur cyclists who blindly follow FTP and don't ever use their heart rate monitor, despite the obvious fact that all we are doing when we ride the bike is aerobic or anaerboic exercise, which clearly involves the heart. Yet the current mutation of FTP training would have you discard the single most effective measuring device (the heartrate monitor).

The power meter is an invaluable device for measuring your current output and measuring your progress over time. But what it is not, is a real-time measurement of your effort level. As pointed out above, it is a real-time measurement of output. Completely different. But the power crowd (and questionable online coaches) would have you think it is something more.
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by scapie

iheartbianchi wrote:
Sun May 19, 2019 10:38 am
I am obviously a huge skeptic on power-based training for amateurs.
i'm a huge skeptic of the advice you have been posting as of late.

the person who will benefit the most from training with power is an amateur.
iheartbianchi wrote:
Sun May 19, 2019 10:38 am
I do 75% of my training indoors on a turbo trainer and I closely monitor my power on those sessions. But I do not do power-based training.
this post is ridiculous.

iheartbianchi
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by iheartbianchi

scapie wrote:
Mon May 20, 2019 2:42 am

i'm a huge skeptic of the advice you have been posting as of late.

the person who will benefit the most from training with power is an amateur.
Please feel free to proffer any substantive rebuttals. Otherwise this is just a meaningless post.

And no, you are incorrect. An amateur will benefit from most training, whether power based or not. But I would love to hear why you think an amateur will benefit most from training with power.

Unless our discussion is now at the level where it is acceptable to make claims without any support or any reasonable attempt at supporting your statements.

Donald Trump would have been a better cyclist than Eddy Mercx had he started at age 20. This year's Giro is the easiest Giro in history and therefore even if Roglic wins, he will be the worst winner of all time. There see, anyone can do this. But does this add or detract from the value of any discussion we are attempting to have?

And yes, I monitor my power to measure my progress (more like decline but whatever). Between work and family commitments I only have time to exercise for about 60-90 minutes a day, typically after 10pm when it is dark, so I am on my turbo for the vast majority of my training. But my entire training program (which I have modeled after what I used to do as a collegiate and post-collegiate athlete) is based entirely on heart-rate zones and time spent in zone, which by the way is the same exact training that I used to do with a former teammate of mine who is currently riding in the Giro (and yes, he is wearing a heart rate monitor). Why do I monitor my power on the turbo? It's quite simple. I look at my heart rate every few minutes. If it's not where I want it to be (usually too high), then I will turn the power down, wait for the lag and check my heart rate again to confirm. Every week or so, I chart my average power by zone. I can see whether I'm getting stronger or weaker, and most importantly, see if there is any declining trend that would indicate some other underlying health issue. But yes, it's ridiculous :roll:
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