Perfecting the aerobic / anaerobic dose
When an athlete performs any kind of endurance exercise, there will be energy contributions from both aerobic and anaerobic pathways. Most cyclists, runners and triathletes seem to know this and certainly know the feeling of being too long in a highly anaerobic state (in the RED). Each pathway has it's unique advantages for bike riders, aerobic metabolism is highly energy efficient, powering muscular activity for long periods of time, but unable to fuel the super high intensity efforts required for power climbs, sprinting etc. So this is where anaerobic metabolism has the edge, producing energy rapidly to fuel high level exertion, but of course there is a cost, which is the rapid onset of fatigue. Cyclists need both systems working well, but the cruel reality is that over-using either of these pathways will erode the other, so getting the balance or "dosing relationship" right is paramount for increasing endurance performance and building reliable consistent form.
A certain amount of muscular work requires a fixed amount of energy, so it stands to reason that the more energy supplied anaerobically, the less is contributed aerobically and vice versa. As in all aspects of physiology, the more one's system utilises a particular process, the better the body becomes at doing it. Conversely, should certain processes be under-utilised, the capacity for using these processes is eroded. The bottom line is that over-reliance on either of the two metabolic pathways, will negatively impact on the other.
This sounds simple enough but the process becomes far more complicated if you consider that athletes vary greatly in terms of which points on the intensity continuum they become anaerobically dominant. Some cyclists can remain highly aerobic VERY close to threshold (this means they have a very large zone two) whilst others become significantly anaerobic well below threshold. A big aerobic capacity also pushes the threshold point much closer to maximum, which is the holy grail for endurance cyclists.
Put simply, training zones cannot be accurately established using simple percentages of threshold / FTP and without defining training zones more precisely, it will be almost impossible to get the training dose right. The chart above shows an athlete with diminished aerobic capacity and a small zone two. Zone three represents a significant shift towards anaerobic metabolism and occurs at relatively low power / heart rate for this rider. Knowing this is critical for getting the training dose right and avoiding continual erosion of aerobic efficiency, a certain recipe for an over-training disaster.
There is no doubt that the most common mistake made in respect of training dose and the balance between aerobic / anaerobic load is an over-emphasis on anaerobic work. The notion of "go til you blow" will work for short periods, but has no future, in terms of building reliable, consistent form. The key is knowing your training zones and understanding that the most important attribute in developing good form (apart from being genetically blessed) is patience and control.
Get tested and don't just rely on predicting your zones through an FTP conversion, this error is the main reason that similar training plans produce vastly different outcomes for cyclists. Build power through understanding your body and it's capacity for adaptation.
Enjoy the Ride
The ScyclePro Team
A smart training model that produces big gains
Recently I was struck by the title of a Strava ride completed by a friend of mine, which went something like this; "same hard effort, same slow time........". Now the title is relevant for two reasons;
The move towards greater polarisation of training has been gaining momentum in sports science for almost a decade and there is now no denying the evidence. Less than 15% of your total training load (TTL) should be performed within your threshold zone. The rest is distributed in the zones either side of threshold. The key for all athletes is to identify their true effective training zones (ETZ) through comprehensive assessment. Only then can one know how and when the training loads should be allocated within the training plan.
Finally, not all athletes with the same threshold have the same ETZ, so where FTP can be a useful gauge of progress, it is ineffective for determining training dose and timing, only a comprehensive assessment of your physiological profile can do that.
So if you truly want to make progress with your riding, please try to avoid ego-based groups where the only goal seems to be "go til you you blow" and get yourself a qualified assessment. There is an old adage in distance running that goes like this; "you don't train for a marathon by running marathons". The same goes for cycling, you simply cannot boost your threshold by continuously training at (or near) threshold.
It's time to employ some smart athlete thinking and get on a plan that is built around he science and ensures you get a positive result from all the time, effort and money you invest.
How to maximise the effectiveness of this wonderful tool, build motivation and lift performance.
More and more cyclists, of all levels, are making the significant financial outlay and purchasing a power meter. In my experience, most of these expensive gadgets are reduced to nothing more than something (else) to stare at whilst riding. So how can cyclists of all levels make the most of their power meters and begin see some real performance gains in their riding?
Broadly speaking, a power meter is used in two ways:
Power meters produce both the "raw" power numbers and analysis metrics that allow you to work at improving your mechanical efficiency on the bike. Pedal smoothness and torque effectiveness are indicators of how efficiently a rider applies force through the full pedal stroke and setting up a screen that shows these numbers can be a great way to receive instant feedback when doing technical or drill sessions on the bike. This sort of data can also be used to identify a "cadence sweet spot" for a cyclist. This is the cadence zone where efficiency data remains close to historical peaks, almost all riders have an obvious point (as cadence increases) where these numbers begin to plummet.
Another area where power data can be extremely helpful is with a trend comparison between raw power (let's say average power) and normalised power for longer rides or segments. Generally speaking, low NP in comparison to average power means a cyclist is dosing energy in an inconsistent or "surging" pattern (on VERY hilly courses this may not be so). This can be a great cost (energetically) to the rider and negatively impact on endurance.
Using a power meter to both identify these inefficiencies and then provide instant (in ride) feedback is one of the most powerful applications available to cyclists in decades.
Cycling fans have become used to seeing riders from Team Sky sit calmly pacing themselves, watching their power meters whilst rider after rider attacks impulsively. Nine times out of ten, the rider will be brought to heel by the steady tempo set by the men in black (and blue). This is a fine example of how a power meter allows every cyclist to pace themselves, dose their energy evenly and avoid prolonged excursions into the red zone (which is an endurance killer). Ultimately ALL riders will climb a hill/mountain faster if they are aware of their most efficient climbing intensity and a power meter is the only way to monitor this.
The final and most powerful application of the power meter is in the defining and setting of the power targets in training sessions to ensure that loads are well matched to rider's level, physiological characteristics and training goals. A test can define all of these things and once the structure is in place, the power meter becomes the ultimate weapon in the smart cyclists arsenal. The key is to have a well-structured and robust test, without it, your power meter is once again reduced to an expensive toy.