Wattbike’s resident sports scientist Eddie Fletcher may wince when he reads this, but in the interests of full disclosure I’ve got to lay my cards on the table: until recently I’d never been one for indoor training.
Cycling for me has always been a release from the daily grind and an opportunity for exploration. It still is. For me it was never about what Team Sky have come to popularise as ‘the numbers’.
My training would rarely have much rhyme or reason to it, I just liked to ride. Indoor training was to be avoided like the plague. To my shame I’ll admit to buying a turbo trainer at the end of last season in the hope that I’d get some productive use out of it, but it’s been left to gather dust, unused, under my desk in the office.
So when I stumbled upon the Wattbike in our office basement in January, nobody was more surprised than me when I not only started using it, but started using it with purpose. My previous experience of indoor training has been largely forgettable. I find gym bikes uncomfortable and too far removed from a road bike position, while the turbo trainers I’ve used, particularly the magnetic types, give an unnatural pedal stroke at high resistances. I’ve been to the odd spin class, which I enjoy in short bursts, but find the dreary dance music insufferable.
It’s always meant my winter riding has been restricted to weekends, and whatever fitness I’ve built up during the summer would dwindle away through the winter. By spring, while I wouldn’t exactly be starting from scratch, I’d have plenty of ground to make up.
No one said it was easy, John…
Then the deluge of last winter happened. As weekend rides fell victim to the floods, indoor training became essential. So one evening in January, I headed down into the basement – or the pain cave as it’s affectionately referred to by my colleagues – and hopped aboard the
I must admit I wasn’t instantly taken by it – I had too much of a chequered history with indoor training for that – and there was little structure to what I was doing early on. But I did like how closely it replicated the position of my road bike, its huge adjustability and the seemingly endless information provided in its display. If only I knew what any of it meant…
Then I started reading up on Functional Threshold Power (FTP), or the point where lactate begins to accumulate in the blood and diminish aerobic performance. I learned that if I rode for 20 minutes as hard as I could on the Wattbike, and took five per cent off the total, I could work out my theoretical hour power. Armed with this figure I could work out my power zones and apply it to training plans on
After a short while, the numbers started to make sense
For the next three months, until my early season target of the Liège-Bastogne-Liège Challenge, I worked on improving my FTP. I was not only sticking to a structured training plan – and an indoor one at that – but I was enjoying it.
Each session was judged on both my average power and the puddle of sweat that accumulated on the floor. There was no stopping at traffic lights, or waiting at the top of hills for riding partners to catch up – just relentless efforts of up to an hour that are impossible to replicate on the road. In my job time isn’t a commodity I have in abundance, so it was a big attraction.
I made big strides quickly, and evidence of my progress was most keenly felt whenever I got out onto the road.
In late May I headed up to Wattbike’s Evesham HQ with Cycling Plus editor Rob Spedding to meet Eddie and be put through another FTP test. My recorded figure was 308w at a power-to-weight of 4.3w/kg – the all-important figure for hilly riding. When I did the test in January it was 288w and has been as high as 320w, though on this occasion with Eddie I was tested after a heavy period of riding that included Liège and the Fred Whitton Challenge, so fatigue was a factor. Back in January I was carrying a little holiday weight at 74kg, and my then power-to-weight of 3.89w/kg was significantly lower.
The warm-up Eddie put us through was a shock to the system. Our 20 minutes prior to the threshold test included three six-second cadence bursts at 150rpm, which was far more vigorous than we were used to. Eddie says it’s a common mistake to go too easy with the warm-up, and that although it feels hard in the moment, it’s not going to fatigue you in any way.
“It’s about preparing the body for what it’s about to do,” he assured us. “But although it feels vigorous, in terms of physiology there’s not a lot going on. Your heart rate peaks at a high level but it’s only momentarily and you’re not building up much lactate. It’s a shock the first few times but the more you do it, the easier it feels.”
Meeting Eddie was also a good opportunity to learn more about the capabilities of the Wattbike. You could use it as a simple spinning bike, but as Eddie says, “using it as such is a huge waste of all the technology we have developed here”.
A unique feature, and one of the most interesting for me, was getting a better understanding of the ‘Polar View’, or the force curve on its display that shows my pedalling technique. My threshold test revealed a 53/47percent left/right leg imbalance, the consequence of a knee injury that I’ve been working to overcome. Improving this will not only mean a more efficient pedal stroke but will also reduce the chance of injury to my ankle, knee and hip joints.
Eddie also found a dead spot in my pedal action, which I can improve by pulling through at the bottom of each stroke. Improving that alone, he says, is worth an extra 10 to 15 watts.
There are two Wattbikes available, the Trainer and the Pro, with the latter offering higher levels of air resistance. Air feels closer to riding a road bike, so I’ll be using the Pro to get the most out of my training.
Over the next few months Rob and I are going to be delving deeper into the intricacies of the Wattbike, using it to work on our climbing, endurance and time trialling abilities. My summer includes a bunch of challenging sportives, while Rob will be riding his first time trial, and we’ll be using the Wattbike extensively in our preparations. It wasn’t too long ago that I couldn’t care less about the numbers. Now I can’t get them off my mind.
Getting started with your training might be the hardest thing to do but it sets the tone for everything that lies ahead. But even before your first session, you will need to establish your training zones. Without them you will be training in the dark and unable to track your progress.
There are a number of tests in the Wattbike Performance Computer, from simple 3-minute aerobic test, submaximal and maximal ramp tests through to a 20-minute threshold test. All of these tests will identify your training zones by percentage of maximum heart rate and power.
Be careful with your choice of test – maximal tests should only be done if you are well trained and under the supervision of a coach or sports physiologist. It is possible to get a good approximation of your training zones from a simple submaximal test.
Once you know your zones, get to know the gears and cadence combinations on your bike and on the Wattbike – there are useful tables on the website wattbike.com. The body loves leg speed so work out what is effective for you.
It is also important to select a training plan that reflects your fitness level and has the right mix of duration and intensity. Start gradually and build the duration and intensity slowly over a period of weeks.
Don’t select a plan for an experienced cyclist if you are a beginner. The Wattbike website has a number of training plans for beginners through to experienced cyclists. Selecting the right plan will avoid overtraining, illness and injury.
Finally, do not neglect recovery. Rest and recovery is when the body adapts to the training and recovers ready for the next training session.
John's initial assessment
- 20 minute average power: 308w
- Body mass: 71kg
- Max heart rate: 205bpm
- Power/KG: 4.3w/kg
- FTP: 308 x 0.95 = 293w
- Maximum Minute Power estimate: 410w
- VO2 max estimate: 69.92ml/kg
To find out more about the Wattbike visit www.wattbike.com.