The OutSeason® Seminar, Lesson #3: Training with Power

At the end of this lesson, you will:

  • Have a basic understanding of the fundamentals of training and racing with power
  • Understand the ROI of power training, especially compared to more common triathlete gear purchases.
  • Heart rate athletes will learn how to apply this power training perspective to their heart rate-based training.

Coach Quotes:

  • “The PM is like a tiny jockey on your stem, whipping you in the ass to make you do just a little more work. Mo’ work = mo’ fitness = mo’ SPEED! When in doubt, push the watts, work WORKS.”
  • “Racing with a PM is like cheating: I know exactly how much work I am doing, should be doing, in real time. You have no idea or can only guess. Who do you think has the advantage over the course of a 112 mile bike ride?”

What is Power on the bike?

In Lesson #1 we explained how fitness is the ability to perform more work. A powermeter is simply a device on your bike that lets you measure how much work you are doing, in real time. If I can measure and prescribe workouts for myself in relation to my measured benchmarks, then I can make my training much more precise. Very simply, if I can objectively measure a thing, I can target my training to improve that thing.

We’ve found it easiest to explain power training in terms of lifting weights, an activity that most of you are very familiar with. You go into the gym and we test your one rep max on the bench press: how much weight can you lift, one time, without a spotter? You lift 150lb. If your goal is to raise this one rep max from 150 to 200lb, then we’ll:

  • Prescribe workouts as some percentage of this one rep max. For example, you’ll lift 3 x 10reps at 85% of 150lb, or 125lb.
  • You’ll actually put 125lb on the bar. You won’t think, feel, hope, take your heart rate and guess that you’re lifting 125lb. Nope, you’ll put 125lb on the bar and lift it, 3 x 10reps above.
  • Over time, 3 x 10 becomes 3 x 15, becomes 135lb, becomes 140lb. We test again and your new one-rep bench is 175lb. This is your new benchmark and we adjust all of your rep weights upwards, as a percentage of this new benchmark. Before too long, 150lb becomes your new fitness and the 200lb one-rep bench is a reality. Congrats!



Training with Power Notes:

  • The powermeter allows me to attach an objective, measurable, quantifiable number to every aspect of my training: I test and get a number. I use this number to attach other numbers to my training. I ride my bike, staple my nose to the dial and make myself see these numbers. I don’t care about what’s going on inside my body. I just put weight on the bar, lift it, and, over time, I’m able to lift more weight, to push more watts. Mo’ watts = mo’ speed = bike goes faster.
  • You know from weightlifting that if you can bench 1 x 150lb, you can probably bench 10 x 120lb. However, when you increase your benchpress to 200lb, you can now lift 10 x 150lb! Your old max becomes your new easy lift.
  • The bike is EXACTLY the same! I do some testing on the bike and determine I can hold 200 watts for an hour. Without going into detail yet, we can tell you that this 200w means you should ride at about 140 watts for an Ironman® bike split. I train, train, train and, over time, lift this Hour Power number from 200w to 250w. Not only am I able to push more watts/go faster for an hour, I’ve also increased my Ironman® bike wattage from 140w to 175w. We can tell you that 35w over the course of 112 miles = a HUGE bike split PR!

Racing with Power Notes

These same principles of measureable, quantifiable data have incredibly powerful applications to the triathlon bike leg. Imagine that we make up a new sport, Liftathlon. We go to the gym, lift weights for about six hours, and then run a marathon.

  • Me: I know exactly how much weight should be on my bar, at all times. I know how much, how many reps, and how quickly I should lift, each and every time, in any situation. Most importantly know exactly how much weight is on the bar in real time, relative to the numbers above. I make very, very few “pacing” mistakes.
  • You: weight? What’s a weight? How much? How many reps? How quickly should you lift each rep? You can only guess, feel, take your heart rate and guesstimate how much weight is on the bar.

Over the course of our six hour lifting session, who has the advantage? Who is more likely to make many, many small or big lifting/pacing mistakes?

Simply put, a knowledgeable, disciplined power-racer makes only a fraction of the pacing mistakes the heart-rate racing competition makes, creating the greater potential for a great run. More importantly, all of those little (and big) pacing mistakes you make on the bike greatly increase the potential for your run to go south…to the tune of slowing down 5-10 minutes PER MILE!

The Return on Investment (ROI) of Power

It’s very likely that this is the first time you’ve read about the value of training and racing with power. However, how many marketing messages have you been subjected to about the free-speed-for-a-hefty-price potential of expensive carbon wheels, aero widgets, and other whizzbangery? Very simply, power isn’t as sexy and it’s harder to sell than a carbon widget bolted to your bike, and so the triathlon-marketing-industrial complex has placed it far, far down on the hierarchy of required triathlon purchases…below $1500 wheels, $500 aerobars, or $150 bottle cages.

The truth is that power yields a far greater return on your investment than any of these purchases.

Application of Power to Heart-Rate Based Training

“Wow…lots of talk here about the value of a whizbang gadget that I don’t have.  I train with heart rate and don’t have a powermeter. How does all of this blah, blah apply to me?”

That’s a great question! Our notes:

  • Remember that benchmark/threshold heart rate you tested in Lesson #1? For now, that’s a good-enough substitute for our one-rep bench/threshold watts discussion above. Every time you push that heart rate for extended periods, you are increasing the amount of work/speed you can do at that heart rate. Over time your speed at that heart rate will increase.
  • Consider moving a powermeter higher up on your list of possible triathlon purchases. You can find a good used Powertap on eBay for about $600. While $600 is certainly still a lot of money, chances are that, if you’re like most triathletes, you probably had wheels for $xxx, aerobars for $yyy on a list of future purchases in your head. In our opinion, that’s the marketing talking. We hope you consider purchasing a powermeter instead. In the end, the bike goes faster because of the engine and a powermeter is an excellent tool to help you build that engine.
  • But if a powermeter just isn’t in the cards, no worries. A $60 Polar heart rate monitor is still a great tool. We just hope that you consider approaching heart rate training from the perspective we shared with you here.

This Week’s Training

  • Run = 35 total minutes at benchmark pace, as intervals of 1 mile in length.
  • Bike = 50 total minutes at benchmark pace, as intervals of 15′ in length.

Train Smart!