What will make me faster: losing 5% of my body mass, or gaining 5% in sustainable power? On the 25th June last year my colleague, Morgan Lloyd, and I carried out a 20 minute power test at Performancepro. The plan was to establish a baseline for the year, train specifically and tackle an exciting event in 2014…

25th June 2013: “Collapse on the bike. Try not to puke. The Results…302 Watt Average,4.47 Watt.Kg. In the coming weeks, I may also profile my 5 second, 1 minute and 5 minute maximum power outputs, to get a more complete picture of my current state and figure out whether I can dedicate some time to improving some aspects of my condition. I may even choose an objective for next year (suggestions on a postcard please). I just need to recover from the test first…” 

Power Profile Of A Prolific Procrastinator

The initial plan was to re-test 12 weeks later, following a structured training programme based on the findings. 32 weeks later, in February 2014, Morgan and I finally managed to make the time to go back to Performancepro for round 2!

In The Meantime…

Since my test in June 2013, I’ve failed to find consistent blocks of time to train. Servicing the requirements of a rapidly growing business (Cyclefit), helping other riders improve their performance (Trek Factory Racing) and spend time with my (also rapidly growing) family has left few hours available. However, I have been religious about recording all of my riding, acquiring an SRM power meter and logging every pedal stroke in TrainingPeaks. Unfortunately, my enthusiasm for entering the realms of the ‘Quantified Self’  has not been matched by training quantity or quality. Crunching the numbers reveals that I’ve averaged 6.75 hours a week since last June, the majority of which have been commuting ‘junk miles’ (50 minutes each way through Central London). So, there are my excuses.

Whilst I haven’t been doing much training, each month I have conducted a 5 second, 1 minute, 5 minute and 20 minute power test using my SRM powermeter and turbo trainer. Consequently, I’ve been able to construct and update a Critical Power curve, enabling me to keep track of my progress/stagnation and stay in touch with the sensations of high-intensity efforts. I’ve also been experimenting with ‘polarising’ my limited riding; essentially distributing training intensity relative to my Critical Power Watts so I’m either riding at very low intensity (Below 75%) or high intensity (Greater than 106%).

Read more about polarised training in this study by Glenn Kjerland: “Quantifying training intensity distribution in elite endurance athletes: is there evidence for an “optimal” distribution?” 

5th February 2014: I’m always slightly apprehensive before a fitness test, even though I’ve subjected myself to more than I can remember. Warm-up complete, I settled into the familiar rhythm. I’ve always found 20 minute efforts painful – an exercise in exploring the cliff-edge between sustainable effort and the plummet into over-exertion, tying up your legs in the quicksand of fatigue. This time, I found the balance: 102 RPM, controlled breathing. 1200 seconds later the new result lay before me: A 320 watt average, 4.73 w/kg, a 5% improvement.

Read more about the Critical Power concept and how you can use it, here.

Make Easy Rides Easy & Hard Rides Hard

So maybe forcing myself to accept the daily humiliation of being overtaken by hybrid bikes on the commute, and busting a gut on the turbo-trainer, was worth it. Keep the easy rides easy and the hard rides hard. My monthly tests using the SRM offer more ‘granular’ data over more time durations, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Granularity but its satisfying to compare the two Performancepro benchmarks, set on the same equipment, 8 months apart. Whilst my improvement hasn’t been huge, I can’t hope for much more given the time I have available. But what if I want to continue to develop? It looks likely that Morgan and I will tackle the L’Etape Du Tour in less than 5 months time and I need to beat him!

Should I Lose Weight Or Increase Power?

Cycling pundits regularly tout the exceptional ‘power to weight’ ratios of the world’s top riders. And rightly so. Riders who can produce more power relative to their weight do not need to work as hard to reach the same speeds during accelerations, and the benefits are even more pronounced when climbing. Should I try to lose some weight, or improve my sustainable power output? What will make me faster: losing 5% of my body mass, or gaining 5% in sustainable power?

As I’ve identified over the last 31 weeks, appropriate training will help you to improve performance through increasing sustainable power-output, but there are also significant benefits to losing weight – either from your body or from your equipment.

The excellent website cyclingpowerlab.com provides the opportunity to explore these questions and more. This year the 148km l’Etape du Tour route includes an ascent of the Col du Tourmalet, the highest road in the central Pyrenees. The Tourmalet climbs 17.1km at an average gradient of 7.3%.

Since my test in June last year, my weight dropped from 68.5kg to 67.6kg (just over 1%) and I’ve also managed to improve my 20 minute average power from 302 to 320 watts. But which change would result in the most improvement? Losing weight or increasing power output?

Find out in Part 2

10 Tips To Improve Cycling Performance