What's Cool In Road Cycling

CyclingPeaks WKO+: “Power”ful Number Crunching

Heart rate monitors have become almost universal for cyclists, but most of us just look at the numbers once in a while and are still not really sure of what it means or how to use it. The same thing can be the case for power monitors unless there is a way to extract the data. Leading the way in power management software is the CyclingPeaks WKO+ package, which easily and rapidly gives you the “power” to maximize your training.

Power Revolution
Two important revolutions in cycling, in my opinion, have driven the increase in fitness in both the pro and amateur ranks over the past decade. The first development has been the realization of the importance of individualized training. Gone are the days of “standard” training plans given to whole groups of riders; in its place has come the concept of periodization throughout a season, peaking for particular events, and also targeting individual factors. These individual variables include things like your natural strengths and limiters on the bike, training history, recovery capacity, and nutrition.

That is one reason that we have always advocated recording training data over the course of a single season and through the years. In order to know where you’re going, you must know where you are currently and where you have come from. Basic things such as how much volume of training you can realistically handle next season can only be determined by assessing how much you have trained over the past season(s). Similarly, every individual responds to a particular workload in a unique fashion. For example, can you handle back-to-back hard workouts? How much intensity can you handle over the course of a week or training cycle before you start wearing down into overtraining? It is only through maintaining accurate objective and subjective data that you can mine for this information.

Secondly, without a doubt the biggest technological advancement in scientific training over the past decade has been the development of power monitors, to the point where they are becoming commonplace in the pro peloton and even for many amateurs and enthusiasts. Rather than relying on an indirect measure of workload such as heart rate, we can now easily track the exact work output achieved and also the exact work output required for a particular task on the bike. However, beyond the cool factor, it remains a very expensive toy and gee-whiz gadget unless you’re able to really extract and analyze the data to further your own training and fitness goals.

CyclingPeaks WKO+
That’s where computers and software comes in, and the leader in the field by far is CyclingPeaks WKO+. Designed by power training gurus Hunter Allen and Dr. Andrew Coggan, WKO+ enables athletes to very quickly determine the key parameters of their workout, and to also think about and track their training in ways most of us have not thought of or been able to do easily before. Coggan and Allen have devoted the past decade plus to using and understanding training with power, and they have developed or popularized some unique ways to track your training.

Having all these analysis ideas is one thing, but the real strength of WKO+ is that it does all of the number crunching for you. Right from download, the main Journal page gives you numerous graphs and numerical breakdowns of the entire ride. From there, you can also customize each graph or even develop your own customized graphs.

Two main pages are presented on WKO+. There is a Journal and Graph “page” for each individual workout, and all the graphs and data are there. You are also able to manually add your workout goals and your ride notes directly onto that workout, making it a self-contained training diary. The other major “page” is the Athlete Home Page, where your ride data over the past 28 days (or any range or time period you desire) is presented. This provides a very quick and simple way to view your “long-term” training and response to it.

If your power monitor gives you the ability to log intervals over the course of a ride, the individual values for each interval are also presented in a sidebar. Furthermore, once the data is downloaded, you can select any segment of the ride (called ‘creating a range’) and WKO+ will instantly calculate all of the appropriate values for you. Let’s go through some of the major things you can immediately track with WKO+:

Power Distribution

The above example was a “cruise-interval” workout I did in August, where I did 5×10 min intervals averaging my threshold of 235W.

This graph very simply lays out the percentage of time that you have spent at different power outputs. The default ranges on the horizontal axis is in 20 W increments, but this is customizable. The biggest surprise for most people is just how much time, approximately 15-20%, is spent coasting and at minimal power outputs! Nearly 13% of my riding time was spent coasting at 0W, and another 3% or so at 40W or less!

This graph is also replicated on the Athlete Home Page, where the default graph lays out the power distribution over the past 28 days. This is one easy way to get a sense of your training intensity over a training cycle. Also, the workload beyond which there’s a sharp dropoff in time spent is a good ballpark number for your Functional Threshold Power (FTP), or the maximum power your can sustain for about 1 h.

WKO+ also provides similar graphs for your heart rate and speed. For cadence, a pie chart is provided, and like all charts can be customized to a ‘bar’ chart, created in different colors and sizes.

Mean Maximal Power

This graph is a summary of my rides from August and September this year.

We will go into much more detail on this graph in a future edition of Toolbox, but this graph calculates the peak average power you have produced over particular set time periods ranging from 5 s through to the entire ride or interval. Again replicated on the Home Page for the previous 28 days (or customizable), this graph can give you a quick handle on your relative strengths and limiters as a cyclist. For example, a really high peak power over 5-15 s but a rapid dropoff for longer time periods could indicate a highly-developed sprint but weak anaerobic and aerobic capacity. This very quickly tells you what you may need to focus your training towards, especially when matched against the requirements of your particular cycling discipline or event.

Intensity Factor and Training Stress Score

A summary of August and September this year. Training Stress Score (TSS) on the left axis and green, Intensity Factor (IF) on the right axis and yellow. The two green spikes in the middle included long group rides at a fairly moderate intensity, which can be deduced from the fairly low IF value.

These are another two very innovative values that we will go into detail again over the coming months. Briefly, intensity factor (IF) is the normalized power as a percentage of your Functional Threshold Power (e.g., if I rode at a normalized power of 200 W and my FTP was 250, then the intensity factor for that ride would be 0.80). The higher the IF, the “harder” that particular workout is in terms of intensity. Training Stress Score (TSS) incorporates both the IF and also the duration of the ride (e.g., if I rode at an average of 250 W for 1 h and my FTP was 250 W, my IF would be 1.0 and my TSS would be 100).

Basically, TSS is an indicator of total training stress from that workout, making it useful to compare how “hard” a 6 h easy endurance-pace ride is compared to a 90 min interval workout. Also, tracking TSS over time gives a good clue to overall intensity of a training cycle. IF and TSS are also calculated for each interval you have set during the ride, or for any segment that you select from the downloaded data.

Other Nice Software Features:
• It is universal in its compatability to every existing power monitor device: PowerTap (including the indoor PT300 bike), SRM, CompuTrainer, Tacx, Ergomo, iBike, and Polar. It is also compatible with Polar and Sunnto even when not monitoring power, and Garmin and Timex for GPS files. I’ve used it to download from my PowerTap and Polar s725 (HR, cadence, speed in various combinations) with no problems.

• An excellent feature is the one-touch direct upload to the on-line training diary software TrainingPeaks. This makes it incredibly simple to work on-line with coaches and athletes, as a coach can download your workouts from TrainingPeaks into CyclingPeaks and have the full analysis capabilities from there.

• With a lot of wireless units, there’s occasional interference problems that causes crazy spikes in heart rate or distance. This is easily edited, as you can see a tabular listing of every data point and then delete the incorrect ones.

Not necessarily a direct feature of the software, but the documentation, including a pretty exhaustive user’s guide to the software and also an extensive guide to training with power, is all available from the main CyclingPeaks WKO+ website. Best choice though is to also purchase the excellent book by Coggan and Hunter: “Training and Racing with a Powermeter”, published by Velopress.

Downloading and installation of the software is also pretty straightforward. Bulk import of workouts from my Polar software was simple and pretty much one-touch. And as it’s partnered with TrainingPeaks, bulk import from that on-line software was also simple. That makes the decision to switch from one software to another easy.

Any Limitations?
After three months of tracking my training with WKO+, it’s hard to come up with any major concerns about the software. The one quibble I have is that it’s not easy to punch in or edit the distance of any workout, so my distance ridden towing the boys on the trailer or on my other non-speed logging bikes gets stuck at zero. Ultimately, this makes tracking distance a bit sketchy. For the non-PC set, WKO+ is not natively compatible with MacOS. The WKO+ user forum has some solutions, but I’m not familiar enough with Macs to comment.

CyclingPeaks WKO+ is an excellent software program that is specifically designed for the cyclist first and foremost, although it is also useful for the multi-sport athlete. Thanks to Allen and Coggan, the analysis performed by WKO+, especially the Training Stress Score and Mean Maximal Power, is really well thought-out and I feel will revolutionize the way athletes quantify and plan their training in the coming years. Basically, if you have spent a fair chunk of money on a power monitor, the relatively minimal cost of the CyclingPeaks WKO+ software transforms your power monitor from a nice gadget to a truly powerful training tool.

• See the CyclingPeaks WKO+ website here.

Thanks also go to Saris Cycling Group and Zipp USA for providing a PowerTap SL power monitor built up into a Zipp 303 clincher wheelset, and Saris for providing a Pro 300PT indoor cycle. We’ll have reviews of these products soon.

About Stephen:
Stephen Cheung is an Associate Professor of Kinesiology at Dalhousie University, with a research specialization in the effects of thermal stress on human physiology and performance. He can be reached for comments at [email protected].

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