Higher, faster, further! This is the official motto of the Olympic Games for more than 100 years. In Germany, the Olympic Games are also known under the motto: “participation there is everything”. A contradiction? Well, both statements go back to the founder of the International Olympic Committee (Pierre de Coubertin), who reactivated the 1984 Olympic Games. However, the “presence is everything” had never passed his lips. The decisive factor for him was neither victory nor defeat, but that every athlete gives his best.
Get the best out of yourself
The Corona year 2020 was a tough year for sports. Most competitions were cancelled or at least postponed. For many athletes, the hard training in a season is all about the goal of being able to compete with others in competitions and to prove their own performance. In addition to ambitious, competition-oriented cyclists, there are also numerous bicycle enthusiasts who love cycling as such and who do not participate in any competitions. Nevertheless, all cyclists are united by one wish: the goal of improving themselves: the Olympic idea! This is not necessarily about standing on the podium after a competition. There is already an exhilarating feeling of happiness when you can get over the local mountain or the distance to work faster or with less effort. You are then able to perform better than before. You give your best.
A little theory
In contrast to other sports such as swimming or running, the performance achieved in cycling can be precisely measured. With the help of wattmeters, so-called power meters, the performance of cyclists can be directly compared and an increase in performance can be clearly quantified. Power is a physical quantity that results from the work done or the energy expended in the time required for it. The work involved in cycling is simply the force exerted by the crank during one pedal revolution. In short: Work is force times distance. By measuring the force and knowing the cadence together with the crank length, you get the power, which is measured in watts.
Meanwhile, there are numerous manufacturers of wattmeters. The most common measuring systems measure with the help of strain gauges in or on the crank arm, since the crank arm deforms slightly when force is applied by pedaling. More and more popular are power meters that measure the force at the pedal axle. These watt pedals can often be quickly exchanged between different wheels and no longer need to be laboriously calibrated before use. Both pedal-based and crank arm-based powermeters can measure the power on the left and right side separately. Often a one-sided measurement (mostly left) is used, whereby the value measured on one side is doubled. Furthermore, there are common wattmeters that are installed in the crank axle, the crank spider or the rear wheel hub. Exotic power meters as a belt for the rider or in shoes have not become generally accepted so far. A selection of powermeters from different manufacturers and different measuring systems can be found on the website of Powermetershop.de*.
What do I need such a power meter for?
Especially beginners tend to overstrain themselves physically at the beginning of their “career”. Sometimes they make only slow progress and are frustrated. Especially for women who ride together with their male partners or in a group with men, gender differences can lead to frustration. With the help of a powermeter, performance values can be viewed during rides. In this way it is possible to set the “right” speed that does not overstrain. Fun and rapid progress in performance are thus guaranteed. “Driving at the stop” makes us improve even faster.
In the case of group rides in a cycling club, usually several groups are formed in which cyclists with approximately similar performance levels can be found. The allocation is then more or less based on experience and feeling than on measured performance values. If a cyclist in his group is noticeably over- or underchallenged during the ride, he will most likely go to another performance group next time. Nevertheless, it is not necessarily possible to tell from training rides how good a cyclist is. If you send two cyclists up a mountain, the first one to reach the top is not necessarily the one with the better physical performance. Maybe the slower cyclist simply made less effort?
Performance improvement and pacing
But how do you get better? How do you increase your performance? The magic word is supercompensation. (Survival) life works by our body adapting to stimuli. Over a certain period of time, the body gradually adapts to the demands placed on it. In sports, training stimuli and regeneration alternate. There are two sides of the coin and both are necessary for improvement.
If someone does not have a fixed training plan, he sometimes uses his body awareness to determine the intensity and duration of his exercise. Being guided by his body feeling is not wrong at first. Unfortunately, everyday factors such as diet or stress play a role and can be deceptive. Likewise, the use of a heart rate belt is useful to identify possible stress in addition to training. For example, increased pulse values can indicate the onset of a disease despite low levels of exercise. An increased heart rate can also be seen in hot summer temperatures. However, this means that the control of the training stimulus is not adequately represented.
With a wattmeter you can precisely quantify the performance in training or competition. Training stimuli can be controlled exactly. Subsequently, an analysis of the training and the set training stimuli can be carried out and thus the subsequently necessary regeneration can be controlled. During competition, an “overrun” can be avoided. This makes it possible to call up the maximum performance during the entire competition.
From theory to practice
If I want to improve and monitor my progress, the first thing I have to do is take stock. Especially as a beginner it is important to know where you stand in order to work on weaknesses and build on strengths. The absolute performance values are not decisive. Men can achieve more absolute performance than women at the same level of training. Larger people can potentially push more “watts” than smaller ones. An indication of the training condition can be obtained by standardizing the watts performed with the help of body weight, since body weight is to a certain extent linked to height. In other words, the value in watts is divided by the body weight in kilograms.
As a standard for the first determination of the performance level of a cyclist, the determination of the endurance performance over one hour is used. The maximum continuous power that can be maintained over one hour is called FTP (functional threshold power). Studies have shown that for most cyclists this value corresponds very well with the individual anaerobic threshold determined in the laboratory (a detailed discussion of the biochemical processes and correlations of different values would go too far at this point). The Individual Anaerobic Threshold is usually determined in a lactate test under laboratory conditions, which is complex and costly. This threshold value indicates the value around which the energy supply of the body changes. Below the threshold, the body can use sufficient fat as a source of energy and break down any lactate produced during physical exercise. Above the threshold, the burning of carbohydrates for energy supply dominates and lactate accumulates in the body. The knowledge of FTP enables every cyclist to calculate his own individual performance ranges and train accordingly. Even without a training plan, knowledge of FTP is important and helpful. Long periods of exertion near or above the threshold should be avoided and only used selectively in order not to overstrain the body or even get into overtraining.
For a comprehensive training plan to increase performance, it makes sense to create a larger performance profile by determining the performance in the sprint, over short intensive loads (1 and 5 minutes) and the continuous performance over 1 hour. The short peak loads are naturally easier to manage than a one-hour ride without interruptions with considerable physical strain. Therefore different methods have been developed for the estimation of FTP. The listing and explanations would go beyond the scope of this article.
An individual training progress can thus be clearly tracked by a Powermeter. The classification of the performance is possible with the help of the following table “Coggan Power Chart”. Together with Hunter Allen, the scientist Dr. Andrew R. Coggan was the first to describe the use of a powermeter in training and competition in detail. They develop training and competition concepts with the help of wattmeters. The table below shows the power profile for different time intervals in watts per kilogram for men and women separately. FTP is abbreviated as FT.
My personal experience
I bought my first Powermeter shortly before my first participation in the Ötztal Cycling Marathon 2016. The goal was an optimal design of the pacing. I was very afraid not to finish because it was only the second race in my life and I lacked any experience. Using the wattmeter worked perfectly for me. I was always able to ride in my optimal performance ranges and even had a lot of energy left at the end. Meanwhile I have equipped almost all my bikes with a powermeter, even if I don’t compete in all races. I own different powermeters from different manufacturers and I have partially compared them with each other. I was very amazed that the wattmeters delivered almost exactly the same values. With a powermeter I always know what I am doing while cycling and in which training range I am moving. According to the olympic thought it means for me: get the best out of yourself and your training.
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