More Power!

Hello, winter! You’ve finally arrived.

Most years, it’s not long after Labor Day in September that I head down to the “love dungeon” to ride. I still try to get outside on the weekends, but most rides happen indoors now. (This year has been better than most; I’ve been out on the roads five times in the last month!) While others might feel comfortable riding around before and after work year round, I don’t particularly like to ride in the dark. So it’s off to the basement for me.

My set-up

The only problem is that I have trouble getting a really good workout inside. Outside I push hard, and I have a sense when I’m not going “fast enough.” On the trainer, however, I really have to push to get the same burn. So I was looking for something to help me make the most of my trainer time this winter.

Enter, an online app that gives you power-based workouts. “Wait! You have power?” I can hear you asking. No, the app uses my Garmin’s speed+cadence sensor and details about my CycleOps trainer to estimate my power. It comes pre-loaded with workouts, and you can buy more online—including the SufferFest series. All I have to do is pick a workout, put my laptop near the bike, hop on, and work hard to keep my effort at the suggested power values. TrainerRoads shows the target, and I try to hold my effort as close to that number as possible and keep a light on the screen green.

Recovering between

“But, Jeff, how do you know your power targets?”

That, my friends, is where the 20-minute functional threshold power (FTP) test comes into the picture. I recently learned that FTP is an estimate of the maximum effort that you can sustain for an hour. For those of you familiar with heart rate training, it correlates very nicely with lactate threshold, the point where your body can’t clear all the lactate your muscles produce and things start to feel really difficult. It’s also the level of exertion where you start incorporating more anaerobic effort. TrainerRoads says, when you’re working at FTP, you really want to back off the effort, but you don’t actually have to. It’s hard, and it hurts, but it’s supposed to. It’s also possible to improve FTP, making it possible to work harder for longer, always staying just on the happy side of the edge.

The first workout TrainerRoads suggests is the FTP test, and it’s what I did Wednesday night. It starts with 30 minutes of relative easy cycling, including three short sections of high intensity to get the legs ready for what’s to come: 20 minutes in the pain cave. It might be the most difficult bike workout I’ve ever done. In order to test FTPin just 20 “short” minutes—remember, FTP concerns how much effort you can sustain for an hour—you have to go beyond the threshold for the whole 20 minutes.

The first five minutes weren’t bad. Then it started to hurt. By the midway part of the test, I was starting to wonder how much I could actually sustain. At fifteen minutes, Lisa could hear my deep, forceful breathing all the way upstairs. The last five minutes were sheer willpower. Sweat was streaming off me at a disgusting rate. The last minute was somehow easier than the previous 10, probably because I knew I was almost done.

And then I was done.

OMG! So difficult!

I had a number: 200 watts. Don’t worry, I’m not going to become one of those power-obsessed triathletes/cyclists who talks about “watts this” and “watts that,” much to everyone else’s boredom. For me, it’s just a number to help me get faster.

At first I didn’t really know whether it was a good number or not. There are a lot of watt-obsessed folks on the internet, who are willing to break it all down. Turns out, FTP is a fairly objective measure of performance, once you factor in bodyweight. This article from Athlete Lab was the most helpful. After computing watts/kg, it’s possible to see how you stack up against other typical and not-so-typical riders (who are insanely talented and/or aided by a little something off-the-books).

Here’s how they put it:

FTP Watts/KG  
2-3 Good weekend rider
3 Good weekend racer/Cat 3
4 Cat 2
5 Cat 1/Semi Pro
6+ Get on the Tour Baby!


When you factor in my current weight (70.5 kg), you get a value of 2.8 W/kg. Not bad. Could be better.

We’ll see where I am at the end of the winter.


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