The ability to go hard for long is tough. Too hard and you’ll burn out, too slow and you’re off the pace. The types of situation where you need sustainable power would be in a 25 mile time trial or a long road race, getting to the end to finish in a sprint is all very good but if you’re too tired to be competitive in the sprint it’s game over. Alternatively you can look at it from the point of view that with exceptional sustainable power you could win from a break-away or at least tire your competitors out enough to give yourself the best chance at the line.
But it isn’t just about competition, if you can go hard for long you’ll be quicker than your friends, able to reserve energy for those tough climbs or that sprint to the sign post. Sustainable power is as much a part of any ride as it is any race. The best part, in my opinion, about improving or boosting your sustainable power is that it’s easily done outside! You may get slightly better results from training inside, but the fun element, the part that we all enjoy really comes to play in training to boost this element of your cycling.
You may have heard of functional threshold power (FTP). It’s a very popular topic and term used in cycling training. Without going into too much (somewhat confusing!) detail FTP is your maximum sustainable power over the course of an hour, or the point at which lactic acid starts to build in the blood. If you know your maximum minute power (MMP) which can be found through a performance or fitness test just take 75% of that. Alternatively there are tests you can do at home, like the 20 minute test. I prefer performance testing, mainly because with a qualified coach you will get a more accurate result but also that the design of such tests tend to suggest that the shorter the test the more accurate it’ll be. A 20 minute FTP test or a 10 minute ramp test, or even a 3 minute aerobic test. All good but in my opinion the latter are more accurate.
Once you know your FTP you know how hard you have to go in order to boost sustainable power. Anything between 55-75% of MMP is the range you should be training in, if you are using a power meter. If you are using a heart rate monitor you should aiming between 75-89% of your maximum heart rate (MHR). Training with power will yield better more efficient results but not all of us can afford expensive power meters, the next best thing is heart rate, if you don’t train with a heart rate monitor you should be finding it reasonably hard work, heart rate and breathing up, sweating and beginning to pant. If you use training zones you will need to be training in zones 3 and 4.
The results from training in these zones vary, obviously the main goal is to boost sustainable power but you’ll also get an improvement in your body’s ability to metabolize carbohydrates, some of your muscles will change from fast twitch to slow twitch, and as mentioned above you’ll start to boost your threshold. This type of training benefits everyone, it is useful during tapering and pre-competition but too much training in this area will cause staleness.
If you chose to train to boost sustainable power outside it is important to be able to see your power output or heart rate while riding or at a minimum you should be able review your ride afterwards, a good tracker is important here. If you are outside rides should last anywhere between 30 minutes and two hours, effort should increase as duration decreases.
If you can’t check out your effort during or afterwards you should really complete these sessions on a turbo trainer. The type of intervals here will range from 2 intervals of 15 minutes to 4 of 8 minutes. The shorter the interval length the closer to the maximum (or possibly over) you should be. Use the advice above in order to train as effectively as possible. If you want to test your progress, a 25 mile time trial is perfect as you should be aiming to be as close, or under, to an hour as possible. Another reason why, if you don’t already, you should make a leap and do some time trialing…