Motivation – in the off-season we’re all looking for it. Without it, we’d never get off the couch. If you’re talking about just ‘riding’, finding motivation can be pretty easy – riding is a blast, and all about fun! Personally, I’m up for going for a ride pretty much anytime. But, if we’re talking about getting on the bike for training purposes, that’s a different story… Training is mostly about hard work, and if you’re training hard, there usually isn’t much ‘fun’ to be had. So, we need another motivator, or at least I do – something that is going to get us into the gym, on that stationary bike, or out on that winter ride. For me, it’s results. I’ve found that I respond to results really well, and I know I’m not unique in that, but I admit, I am a bit surprised just how pumped I can get about training, when I can actually measure and see the results of that effort. And it’s training with POWER that gives me those metrics, that keep me coming back for more.
During the race season, you always have the benefit of that direct feedback. If you train hard, eat and rest well, then you’ll race well – you’ll see your result. If you slack, you’ll see the result there too. A race performance is always going to be the ultimate measure of our performance, because that’s when and where it all matters. But, when the race season is done, in my opinion, (PE) perceived effort training can only take you so far. I can’t really tell if, week after week, my training program is working, if I’m training too hard, or too little… It’s all a guessing game. Sure you can set some loose metrics attached to PE, but it’s all too vague for me, and certainly not much of a ‘motivator’… Now, give me a measurable number like watts/kg, that I can track and see improve, and now you’re talking.
I’ve had a POWER TAP for three seasons now, but it wasn’t really until this off-season when I started using the ‘Real Rides’ video series from Vision Quest, that I started to really understand how to train with power. The videos give you a visual dashboard that displays the vitals of the riders, like VQ founder Robbie Ventura, showing his cadence, heart rate, perceived effort, and power, the whole time. As you try to follow along as Robbie and his VQ crew grind up real climbs, or race in a real race, and you record your own efforts, you get a ‘benchmark’ for yourself. It’s this benchmark, your average power, your peak power, etc… during these sessions that give you an accurate picture of where you’re at, fitness-wise. You also get to know yourself, and your own PE zones, using these videos. You get to know what a 5 out of 10 feels like, versus a more sincere 8, or 9/10, which is where you spend a lot of time in the Real Rides videos. You’re being asked to put in honest efforts, and in doing so, you’re registering honest power data, that you can measure yourself against, ride after ride, week after week. And let me tell ya, seeing your numbers go up is a great feeling. So much of the guess work is gone. You know your training program is working. You know you’re getting stronger.
For me, the results were speaking for themselves, but I still wanted to better understand the training with power concept, so I did a little digging around, which of course raised some questions. I was about to do some more digging, but then it occured to me, who better to answer my questions than pro US Postal Service team member and Vision Quest coach, Robbie Ventura himself.
Q & A with Robbie Ventura:
Outside of actual race performance, is power the best metric for assessing your progress, and the effectiveness of a training program?
Yes – if your power is going up at a given intensity, or duration, then you are improving and what you are doing is working. If your power starts to go down for given effort then it may be time to take a rest. On a daily basis if you train consistently you can see changes in power and determine your training direction based on them. You still need ‘how you feel’ to play a big role in the process. If you feel great and the power is high, then all systems go – if you feel bad and power is high, that is OK too. If you feel bad and power is low, then you need to rest. How you feel and the power you are putting out are the two most important pieces to solve the training puzzle.
Do you find power to be a motivator, at all levels of racer, Beginner, up through to Elite?
For sure. The key to motivation is improvement. If you can see measurable improvements it motivates all athletes. Getting stronger and measuring that growth is the reason we train. We work with so many levels of athletes and one thing is consistent – as your power goes up, so does your motivation and feeling of excitement about our sport.
What are the drawbacks, or pitfalls of relying on power?
When you measure something there is always the chance your power will go down. This is depressing at times since we work so hard to grow. Chances are, though, you just need rest. If you train hard and rest you will get stronger, that is a fact. However sometimes at the end of a big training block we get tired and our power suffers – this is hard mentally for you because you just busted your butt. You have to believe in your plan and understand that you cannot grow without rest and when your power starts to drop that is a signal that you may have gone a bit too far and you need a rest. Also, sometimes knowing that you have to be at a certain wattage to be competitive, and you cannot get there, is tough, but the reality of power is something that makes sense when you’re considering your goals and what makes sense for you in the short term.
What are your thoughts on power profiling? Is it an effective way for coaches and teams to identify what kind of rider a person is, and how best to train them to maximize their natural ability?
I think that it makes sense to some degree but I think it is always skewed with the athlete’s training. I think you need to really train all the systems for a while before you really figure out what you are best at. I think when you take an untrained cyclist and do a power profile you may not be getting a great picture of what the athlete’s true energy systems look like. I say you work the entire aerobic system for a while before you start focusing your efforts on what the profile says you’re best at.
So far, I’ve found all the VQ Real Rides videos are really good. (I use RACE DAY, CLIMB and FORCE). They’re nicely filmed/produced, and interesting enough that I haven’t become bored with them (which happens for me with most vids). More importantly though, I’m finding that they work – I’m seeing improvement. If you’re looking for some new vids to mix it up, and get you going again in the New Year, I’d recommend them.
For more information on Vision Quest’s Real Rides videos, and training services, check them out at visionquestcoaching.com
For more information on training with power, I also found these links useful:
Are you interested in getting a powermeter? Here is a detailed article from Cycling Tips: