What’s this thing, “Functional” Threshold Power

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I’ve been thinking about FTP more and more as I gear up for a century next weekend. I’m not saying anyone is wrong, just some food for thought

I teach indoor cycling at a big box gym. I have several certifications, most notably training with watts. I am not an aerobics instructor. I don’t teach at SoulCycle or any of that ilk. I teach using sound cycling principles, not push-ups on the handlebars.
 
The past two weeks I’ve taken my classes through 20-minute functional threshold tests. I’ve done this myself using Trainer Road and Sufferfest and both apps have increased my FTP based on my virtual watts. I’ve also watched many in my virtual communities go as hard as they can for 20 minutes and the apps call it their FTP.  In my education, this is incorrect.
 
FTP means ‘functional’ threshold power, an estimation of what you can function at for 60 minutes, not 20. It’s not balls to the wall, hard as you can, throw up at the end effort. One of my group called it her ‘forever pace.’ The rate of perceived exertion is 6-7 out of 10 – you’re breathing hard; you can recite a line of Mary Had a Little Lamb but need to take a breath. Train at too high an effort consistently and you will feel the effects of overtraining.
 
I have this problem myself – I get all jacked up about the numbers and go hard, hard, hard, but only end up feeling like complete carp halfway through the season. I was training at too high an effort when I should be at my ‘forever’ pace.
 
My FTP on both Trainer Road and Sufferfest is 220w. My indoor FTP on the Keisers at the gym is 240w. Which is right?
 
It doesn’t matter. 220w on my bike on the trainer feels the same as 240w at the gym: sustainable (rpe 7) for one hour. What matters is that I have a concrete number to work with, just like that evil number on the scale.

#Music Makes Me Move – Getting your #ClimbingLegs

I’ve been writing posts for the Indoor Cycling Association since last fall and I’ve had a great time doing it. Most have been for their ‘Friday Favorites,’ which is music suggestions for your workouts.

Artist: Russian Circles  (for info on the Chicago, IL based band)
Song: Station
Album: Station
Time: 8:43
Genre: alternative
BPM: variable
Category: climb
Available on: iTunes, Amazon Music, Google Play, Spotify

I tend to use music with a hard-driving beat and big, dramatic sound for my workouts. Unlike most instructors, I do not use bpm/rpm to gauge whether a song is good for climbing or flats. I go by how it feels. Is it angry and dark, edgy or do I feel like my legs are already pumping?  My tastes in music also run along the obscure and it is rare that you hear me use a Top 40 or popular song in my class, that is unless I’m forced. 

This Russian Circles track delivers on all counts. ‘Station’ is chock-full of fierce guitar riffs and rocking drums. What I especially love is that there are several changes in tempo throughout this song to challenge you. Tempo changes like this are rare (which is why Russian Circles is so great!). Every time you ride to this track you might do it a different way. 

Because of the tempo changes, you can include big-gear surging flats, a tough climb as the bpm slows down, attacks, respites, and a big standing effort at the end (with just enough left over at the finish to recover a bit before moving on).

How I’ve used it:

Climb at tempo at the beginning until 2:50 when the energy eases up. Then at 4:00 the aggressive guitars pick back up—bringing you back to a hard climb. At 5:20 the ambiance changes completely. It’s not as aggressive, but the tempo picks up, so you can surge harder here against the same gear, or maintain the intensity and reduce the gear at the higher cadence as if the road levels off a bit. This continues for 2 minutes, until just after 8:00 when the beat fades away—perfect for rolling over the top of this varied climb out of the saddle.

For another example, see my ride profile called The Grimpeur, a stage race simulation that follows American Mara Abbott up the famed #Mortirolo in stage 5 of the 2016 #GiroRosa, available here

 

 

You are Your Own Limits-Brief Pros/Cons of @TrainerRoad and @TheSufferfest and some whining

The 20 Best Inspirational Cycling Quotes » I Love Bicycling:

I often tell my class ‘you are your own limits.’

I feel training (for anything) is often more a mental game you play with yourself, than a physical one. In order to affect change, limits must be reached. You must test your mental and physical abilities to push past boundaries, often self imposed boundaries, of what you consider ‘hard’; of what you consider ‘pain’.

We all know real pain, and training on a bicycle isn’t real pain. It’s discomfort. Very intense discomfort, but it does end when you stop. (If it doesn’t you’ve got more of a problem than I can help you with).

I taught three classes this week and each had a different workout, but all focused on the same thing: Steady State efforts, with brief forays to and/or above Functional Threshold. Now, FTP (functional threshold power) is not 100% effort. FTP is an effort you can hold for an hour that is hard, let’s say 85-95%. Your breath is tested, your legs burn, but not overwhelmingly so. It’s real work and it’s often something you have to push yourself to do. [Unless you’re out riding around with your pals and well, heck, then it’s called FUN!]

The workouts were different in formatting of the intervals, but focused on keeping your watts steady at around 90% of FTP – something we test to find out. You will need a way to measure your output, which is why I pay for @thesufferfest and @trainerroad. Both apps have ‘virtual watts’ that use the information generated by my Wahoo speed/cadence sensor to compute my energy output, because I can’t afford (husband won’t let me buy) a watt meter for my bike.

Where I teach indoor cycling, we have Keiser M3 bikes which have a cycling computer. *Watts are not absolute but just like your scale, it’s a way to measure your effort. Some meters are better than others in calculations.*

On Trainer Road, the two workouts I do most often in my own training are “Cartwright” and “Deerhorn”.

Cartwright is four sets of 10 minutes. The first five minutes of each interval are steady state riding, rpm between 85-95 and watts are between 92-94% of FTP.  Part two is five, one minute increases of watts up to 5%. You increase 1-5% and hold it for a minute, then another increase of 1-5%, and another and again, heading to 110% of FTP. Pleasant, eh? Believe me, it’s gets more pleasant at set three, when the increases come at :30. The only saving grace is that they are 1-2%, which might just be 2-3 rpm.

Image result for clarkson, yes

Deerhorn is a similar experience with two sets of four intervals of :90 of steady state 90-95% with :30 of 105-110% of FTP. Even more pleasantries.

That’s right, Mr. Clarkson. Two Thumbs Up.

With Trainer Road, I can use my own music and there is a lot more variety in the workouts. But, without something to watch other than the black screen and a graph, it can be tough, mentally. Often, I’ll load up a profile and then put the TV on YouTube and ride to one of the many women’s pro races (if I can find one in its entirety). I love that because it’s great way to (re)inspire me to keep writing. (See previous post, Setbacks for why I need inspiration at this time.) But, I don’t always have the mental capacity and need someone taunting me.

Which is where The Sufferfest comes in. These videos are highly entertaining with footage of actual races and mostly good music. The cons are that there isn’t as much variety in the workouts (they have added more recently) and sometimes, (cringe) I don’t like the music. I have to mute the soundtrack, which also mutes the cues so I have to pay attention to the screen of my iPad Mini. It’s small; very small.

To sum up what has turned into a pros/cons of both apps, they’re both great for their own reasons and if you’re like me and are limited to the dark hours of the evening to train, having both is worth the price of one good lunch.

Do, or Do Not…. you know the rest

I am a Sufferlandrian. This is my National Flag. I devote 60-90 minutes most days to intense, mind-numbing, leg-burning, self-induced suffering on my bike attached a trainer in my basement. Alone.

Image result for sufferlandrian

I am also an indoor cycling instructor and twice a week, I put several other individuals through much the same torture, in person, on Keiser M3’s at LAFitness.

 

This is Dave. He’s the founder of Chief Suffering Officer of TheSufferfest. I’d like to say he’s my friend but honestly, I think he just hates all humanity. (he really is a nice guy, though)

Sometimes, as I recover from the beating by the Minions and reflect on the profile of the workout, I’m inspired. The Sufferest has a pyramid workout called “There Is No Try”.

From their website: A wise man once said, ‘There is No Try. There is only Do. Or do not.’ And, so, as you approach your turbo trainer for this video, you should only come if you are fully committed to doing what needs to be done in order to get faster. And getting faster is what this video is all about. Here, you come face to face with Sufferlandrian intervals. You see, Sufferlandrians get faster when other cyclists get tired. And our intervals do the same. It works like this: Every interval is broken into four parts. Each part is faster than the previous. You usually finish with a sprint. @thesufferfest

I took that idea and expanded on it – accelerations in rpm while keeping the gear/resistance the same, on a climb. When we mortals climb a hill outdoors, we would decrease the gear and increase our pedal speed to compensate for the steeper grade. That’s exactly what we’ll be simulating in this workout. The limiter here is aerobic capacity. Pedaling faster against increasing grade makes you breathe faster. You get better at controlling your breath by actually controlling your breath.  What a concept!

The following is a pyramid profile where the time of each interval increases, reaches a peak and then decreases.  Within each interval set, our rpm will also increase; however, our resistance will remain the same, simulating an increase in gradient. Now since I teach with watts, this is our focus. Small increments in rpm do increase watts but the goal is to not go over FTP (functional threshold power). Reach it, yes. At a maximum of 5 rpm for each increase, that ends up being 15 watts.

Interval 1 starts off with a moderate climb with a pedal speed that matches (maybe 75 rpm). Increase 3-5 rpm (and/or 5 watts) and hold for 15 seconds, then again for 15 seconds, and again for 15 seconds. We get one minute of recovery.

Interval 2 is the same, except we hold the rpm increase for 30 seconds, with 1-minute recovery. Intervals 3 and 4 follow the same pattern except going to 45 seconds and one minute, respective. Our recovery is still one minute.

Interval 5 is the halfway mark. We hold the rpm increases for TWO minutes before recovery for two minutes.

Intervals 6-9 are in reverse, going from one minute back down to 15-second increments with one minute in recovery.

Some of you might think, ‘Heck, I don’t climb like that. I just grind it out with a hard gear until I get to the top.’

Image result for superman on a bike

Bully for you, Superman.

But why? Try taking a little off the top and pedal faster. See what happens.

 

By the way, if you click here: Ask the Expert  you’ll find an excellent post on the subject of high resistance/low rpm written by such an expert, Jennifer Sage, of the Indoor Cycling Association.

This ain’t yo mamma’s aerobics class…

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I’ve been an indoor cycling instructor for over 12 years, and in that time, my teaching style has evolved. When I first started out, I didn’t ride very much outdoors and admittedly, I didn’t realize the difference between an ‘aerobics class’ and training for fitness. I went onto aerobics instructor websites – even some for just cycling classes – and saw what everyone else was doing: rpm at ridiculous speeds,  push-ups on the handlebars, millisecond ‘jumps’ out of the saddle, etc. I thought ‘Heck, if these instructors are doing that, I should do that too…because then everyone will like me and come to my class!

In the years that followed, I began to ride more outside, got my first road bike and became more and more interested in becoming something other than just an aerobics instructor.  I wanted to help my participants to reach their goals, whatever they were. To do that, I had to become a true instructor.  I needed to learn how to teach.

I read several books on training for cycling, biographies and autobiographies of professional riders and Directeur Sportifs of pro teams.  I read about strategy, about heart, courage and sacrifice.  I was completely hooked on the sport and develop my own Tour de France rides that follow the race every July.

[I recently became a contributor for the Indoor Cycling Association. My profile for Stage 20 of this year’s Tour de France was included in ICA’s TdF package. Also, my profile, ‘The Grimpeur‘, which told the story of Mara Abbott’s fight up the Mortirolo in Stage 5 of the Giro Rosa is featured. (If you are interested in the profile, let me know.)]

The focus of my class changed to follow ICA’s mattra: ‘Keep it real’.  I was very fortunate that the new club where I started teaching had brand new Keiser M3’s with watt computers (brand new in 2010).  I learned everything I could about training with watts, which while the calculation varies, the training principles do not. It was then that I became familiar with true suffering and became a devotee to @TheSufferfest. (I love/hate you Dave)

Nowadays, I get a little pinch when I see another evening instructor’s class fill up, while my class count rarely goes above 7. The biggest advantage that instructor has is the slot time at 5:30pm while mine is 6:45pm on Thursdays. (I work at my day job until 5:30, so earlier is out of question) I also teach at 5:45am on Wednesdays, which again, I have a core group of 5-6, but sometimes goes to 10-12.  Early mornings are hard. I know.

The difference between our styles is obvious.

I focus on goals. Each class is a piece of the overall goal of increasing aerobic and muscular conditioning. I ask effort from you. I try and give you a better understand yourself and how you can put aside your preconceived notions of ‘hard’. I have found cycling is as much a mental sport as it is physical. I try to show you that not only can you climb that hill (inside or outside) or get through multiple ten minute, steady-state efforts, but also that you can apply that perseverance to other parts of your life.

Over the course of winter training from January to late March, that Thursday night core group of mine saw an 8-10% increase in watts. They put in the time and effort, asked questions and gave feedback. It wasn’t easy by any stretch, but they committed and saw results. One participant even rode in a bike tour with me in the summer – something she has not wanted to do in the past because, in her words, “I can’t keep up with you.” (I’m a slow B/fast C club rider). She did, though. I might climb faster (which is funny because I’m heavier), but she kept on my wheel through the tough headwinds to finish the 20 mile segment with a 14 mph average.

me jen

Jen and me

 

Anyhoo, my class is starting a round of ‘maintain, don’t gain’ at the LAFitness where I teach and I’ll be posting the profile and musical selections that I used on Thursday night on Fridays, in case you’re interested.

The period will culminate with a special class. In years past, I have lead a 50 minute climb up Alpe d’Huez (we’ve done all 21 switchbacks) or the Tourmalet. This year, I thought I’d tie in my romantic women’s fiction Wheeler- The Course of True Love Never Runs Smooth  by putting on the final race in the book – the UCI World Championship Individual Time Trial in Richmond, Virginia.

You are welcome to use the profiles and/or songs I post in your own training. If you do, I would love to hear back how you liked the profile.

#KeepItReal my friends.

#HalftheRoad and @KathrynBertine making strides in the women’s pro peloton

Women’s professional cycling is on the brink of a major explosion across the globe, with professional cycling’s governing body – Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) – creating the new Women’s World Tour for 2016. 
Attention to the sport is gaining momentum, especially in light of the incredible performances of Americans, Mara Abbott and Kristen Armstrong in the women’s Olympic race and time trial. I wrote an indoor cycling profile based on Ms. Abbott’s amazing victory atop the Mortirolo in the Giro Rosa, available through the Indoor Cycling Association. (The full profile is members only for now. Check back with me soon but the playlist is available on Spotify)
I also authored a romantic women’s fiction novel,  Wheeler‘, taking the women’s pro peloton into the realm of fiction with a strong female protagonist, romantic storyline and an original take on how races are presented with realistic color commentary by fictional TV personalities. 
As these athletes gear up for the World Championship in Qatar, it’s not too soon to look toward 2017 and supporting the women’s peloton. Go on twitter, facebook, Instagram, find a team where you are and follow them. Lend them your voices and cow bells!  Support their sponsors. 
 
Half the Road, by @KathrynBertine, gives a voice to these amazing athletes, who often get the short end of the stick. Winds are changing, but not fast enough in my opinion. Read about Kathryn and what she’s doing in women’s cycling at Voxwomen.com
aviva 1

La Grimpeuse, The Giro Rosa and Mara Abbott…

mara-pink

Photo credit, WiggleHigh5 Team

Recently, I was asked to become a contributor for the Indoor Cycling Association. I’m very excited about this as I’ve been a member of ICA since it’s inception and a follower of its creator, Jennifer Sage for many years.  It was her enthusiasm for the Tour de France – and her amazing profiles of the gloried race – that put me on the path to writing my women’s fiction/romance/sports novel, Wheeler.

I’m excited that my first contribution, an indoor cycling profile of Stage 5 of the 2016 Giro Rosa called ‘La Grimpeuse‘, will be featured this weekend. The profile honors American climber Mara Abbott’s incredible ride up the famed Mortirolo: her break out of the peloton, catching and passing fellow climber, Emma Pooley and going on to win the stage to wear the maglia rosa in Stage 6.

I’ve led my class through this profile a few times – only my Thursday night class as the profile is an hour –  which features 45 minutes of climbing at various intensities. Eventually I will post it to my blog, but I’ll give you a taste of the songs I used to add to the drama of the climb.

Black Sun, James Dooley (feat. Celldweller)
Friction, Imagine Dragons
The Secret is Momentum, Kerretta
1777, Russian Circles

I fully encourage you to check out ICA’s website if you are an instructor or a fan of indoor cycling.