What's Cool In Road Cycling

Toolbox: Real World Training

We spend time, lots of time, looking at the minutiae of training. What watts are necessary to produce what outcome. How much carbohydrate to take. Which tires produce the least rolling resistance. It can all be very engaging, and very fatiguing. Rather than looking at another study or angle on high performance training, let’s spend some time in the real world.

By Matt McNamara

This time last year I wrote about the transition period. It was geared towards approaching a true off-season, or moving into a cyclocross season. It’s worth a re-read if you have the time. This week, however, I wanted to spend a few paragraphs talking about the value in real world training.

To Watt Or Not
Power meters make it easy. You plug in and watch the screen, hit your targets and call it a day. What could be easier? Yet, sometimes your brain just wants to check out and do something else. Is it worthwhile to tackle a workout, or even a block of training without your trusted power device?

The short answer is, yep! It can even be argued that you will gain far more from NOT using power for a few weeks. You may lose the metrics, the data, but you will certainly gain a new insight and appreciation for what your body can do.

It is well established that experienced athletes can closely match a requested power output on perceived exertion alone. If you ask them to do 300W, they’ll be pretty close, close enough to have a training benefit, every time. Can you do that? If you can’t, you should learn to.

Cross Training
I got to spend a lot of time with four time Danish National Cyclocross Champion Joachim Parbo over the past few weeks. He’s a fast guy. Fast like you and I wish we were. He’s also a guy who manages his own training plan and doesn’t use a power meter. As a power-based coach I find it fascinating to talk to elite level riders who don’t use power meters and get a read on just how they manage their training.

To clarify, Joachim isn’t an opponent of power based training, he gets tested by his federation each year and knows a lot about the science and theory of power, he just doesn’t use it in his day to day training, preferring instead to base his training around his real-world situation. Joachim works for the equivalent of his public works/parks department in his hometown in Denmark.

Riding all of the city bike trails and paths on the lookout for potholes, debris, cracks and other elements that damage the trails leads to a lot of saddle time. For Joachim this serves to develop both an excellent aerobic base (lots of low to moderate intensity miles) and, as the cyclocross season approaches, a ‘cross specific interval workout that helps peak his form. The interval is simple enough; each stop to check the road or trail lends itself to a race simulation effort whereby he sprints off the line, remounts and charges hard for 10-20 seconds. Sometimes he’ll extend the effort out a few minutes, often times he won’t.

What I love about the workout is its simplicity and effectiveness. The crux of ‘cross is the repeated hard accelerations from low speed. Joachim has created an effective program that maximizes his environment. Honestly, if we were to prescribe a workout like this with power it would likely look pretty much the same as it does already, so the numbers and focus of the power meter become somewhat unnecessary (that said, I’d still love to get him on power and work on his racing from that perspective!).

About Matt McNamara: Matt is a USA Cycling Level 1 coach with over 20 years of racing, coaching and team management experience. In addition to coaching athletes from across the spectrum, he is also the director of the Sterling Cross p/b Sendmail, Inc. team based in Northern California. Matt is the founder and president of Sterling Sports Group. Learn more by visiting them online at www.sterlingwins.com.

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