Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Torque Yourself

This has been a tough winter. Especially for my UK athletes. It seems that the UK has been hit by a perpetual winter storm that has lasted most of the season. Needless to say, they are ready for this winter to be over and to get out of the gym and back on the roads.

On the upside, the indoor time has allowed us to really hone in on 2 critical abilities to Ironman racing – steady (trainer) cycling and pure strength. Many of my athletes are at or on the verge of life best strength numbers at the moment. As we emerge from the cold, it will be my job to transfer this potential ‘gym strength’ to real ‘rubber meets the road’ strength.

In a previous blog, I wrote about the theory of strength-endurance training. Specifically, about how to look at torque numbers to set some goals for on-the-bike strength training. However, these numbers are of little value to athletes ‘on the road’, as you usually don’t get to see your torque numbers from a given training session until after the download. Not sure if the new Joule will change that situation (?) but for now, most folks are limited to basing their concrete training prescriptions on 2 elements: power and cadence.

So, without further ado, let me present a table that looks at the sort of power/cadence combinations that are optimal for on the bike strength & strength-endurance work:

You can use the table as follows:

Let’s say your Functional Threshold Power is 300W. The minimal power/cadence combination that is likely to elicit strength gains is ~205W @ 40rpm. In practice you may set a target range of 205-250W @ 40-50rpm. This is a power level that is significantly below functional threshold, actually upper steady for most folks at the bottom of this range, allowing you to accumulate quite a lot of work in this zone.

For the higher octane strength work, for an athlete with an FTP of 300W, big gear hill reps of 30-60s@ ~40-60rpm/410+W will likely offer the athlete the greatest strength ‘bang’ for his time ‘buck’.

A new, very useful, tool that has recently emerged with the introduction of wko’s v3.0 is that of quadrant analysis. Basically, breaking a ride’s data points into 4 quadrants – High Force + High Cadence, High Force + Low Cadence, Low Force + Low Cadence and Low Force + High Cadence. This is a particularly useful way of looking at strength-endurance training, with the first type of session ideally falling within the lower half of quadrant 2 (High Force + Low Cadence), i.e. below threshold power but above threshold force, and the latter falling in the top half of Q2 – above threshold power and significantly above threshold force.

An example of a strength-endurance session from one of the athletes that I coach is shown below.

The chart shows the ride data broken into the 4 quadrants. Because most of the ride took place in Q2 and Q3, these are dominant. The orange elipse in the center of Q2 represents the ‘sweet spot’ of strength-endurance work, i.e. high loads with relatively low metabolic stress. FTP is represented by the darker orange line cutting Q2 in half. The ‘sweet spot’ for pure strength work occurs within the red elipse, i.e. low cadence but above the FTP line. Because this wasn’t the objective of the ride, only one point occurs within this range.

To put this ride into more ‘real world’ terms, it involved a 5mi 8.5% climb with the instruction to keep wattage within the 210-250W range with a firm cap of 300W (FTP) and cadence at 40-60rpm, i.e. within the prescriptive range of strength-endurance training from the table above. In chart terms this represented from 286N @ 0.73m/s (210W@40rpm) to 341N @ 0.73m/s (250W@40rpm). The athlete clearly did a good job of racking up a good number of data points within this range.

Considering a competitive Ironman bike split requires the equivalent of 43,000 or so step ups with 45lb on your back, it’s no surprise that strength is important. But pure gym strength doesn’t cut it. Your strength program should move from general strength training designed to improve your strength reserve to specific muscular endurance training at race specific loads. ‘On-the-bike’ strength work is a key intermediate step.

Train smart.



Stijn S said...

How long do these workouts have to be? Should these be done in intervals or is it best to do these in longer blocks?

Alan Couzens said...

Hey Stijn,

The length depends on the athlete and where they are in their season. As a general rule of thumb, I'd plan the strength endurance sessions as 30-90mins of total work, either as intervals or a sustained climb. For the 'pure strength sessions', ~30min of total work, generally as intervals of 30s-60s w/60-90s recovery

Thanks for the qu.