The Power To Go Longer!

Most of us believe that to produce high power levels, we need to be going flat out. But unless your discipline is the track sprint, power really means power endurance – which translates to speed endurance.


Mark Carroll |

The Rules of Power Endurance

Good power endurance is all about maintaining a high power output for a set distance, without going flat out. This is what gives faster cyclists the capacity to hold a higher speed for longer without blowing, whether it’s up a two-kay hill or over a five-hour ride. To illustrate power endurance: on a flat road, a recreational cyclist will feel he’s going flat out while trying to keep up with a professional cyclist who’s riding at his steady two-hour pace – despite their power readings being the same.

We can all achieve good power endurance; but there are mistakes we make that prevent us from doing this. So here’s a short outline of common performance limiters, and some training advice on reducing them.

Mistaking Strength For Power

In cycling, power is about having a well-developed aerobic system; yet often, it’s confused with strength. Yes, some strength is needed to turn the pedals – but if you’re riding at, say, 80rpm for two hours, the actual force per pedal stroke is fairly low, compared to what you lift when strength-training. You don’t strength-train to build cycling strength, but rather to develop muscle fatigue resistance and speed endurance. Power comes from an efficient pedal stroke, not by how hard you can stomp the pedals.

Undervaluing Strength Training

Strength still has an important place, especially at full gas in a sprint, or up shorter climbs, or in hard attacks of five minutes or less. For example, on hills or in attack scenarios, weak leg muscles can compress venous blood vessels, reducing bloodflow back to the heart. The effect is that the heart stroke volume drops; and the only way to compensate is for the heart to try and beat faster, to keep up with demand – if there’s still capacity left. In a case like this, you’re going to risk blowing sooner. On long rides of several hours, strength training also benefits slow-twitch muscle endurance, improving your average power over these distances.

Building Aerobic Power

This needs to be approached with a combination of good-quality, low-to-moderate intensity hours, and high-intensity intervals. The volume ratio of low to high intensity is up for debate; but a safe ratio is 10-20% high-intensity intervals, 80-90% low to moderate intensity, which should include some threshold intervals. Discipline is important here: surprisingly, the average cyclist inadvertently skews the ratio in favour of high intensity, because they split lots of high-intensity activities across their training week – doing hill repeats one day, circuits the next, a fast club ride the day after that, etc. The key to maintaining focus on this ratio is to understand the difference between high and low intensity, and to plan your training week according to this.

Low-To-Moderate Intensity Examples

Good-quality, low to moderate intensity means a heart rate range of around 70-80% of maximum, and sitting on the pedals close on 100% of the time. It’s easy to do by being conscious of pedal force, keeping an eye on heart rate, and cycling with a group of similar fitness and mindset. It won’t take long to see the training effect of this showing through. Try it for just three weeks – ensuring quality stays high – to really give the training a fair go.

Threshold Training

Once you’ve got a handle on high-quality, low to moderate training, only then start adding threshold intensity on longer rides. For example, on a four-hour ride, keep it steady for the first three hours; in the final hour, pick the pace up to over 80% heart rate. Choosing a route with some big climbs at the end will make this much easier to do. This is a great quality session: three hours of structural aerobic conditioning, then a final hour for muscle endurance. In a race situation, it’s leg fade that tanks performance; and it’s this type of training ride that will help you deal with the problem.

High-Intensity Interval Examples

Heart rate can be useless in shorter high-intensity intervals, such as six to 10 repeats of 30- to 60-second explosive hill repeats with three minutes recovery. During longer, but still very intense intervals, such as six repeats of three to four minutes hard with three-minute recovery, your heart rate will ‘creep’ to around 95% of maximum in the final minute. That still means that for two or three minutes of the exercise, your heart rate will be climbing steadily, even though cadence and pedal force remain constant. If you don’t have the luxury of a power meter, using perceived exertion, speed and heart rate in combination will help produce better-paced efforts.

Set aside two days per week for your HIIT days. Rope in a cycling partner of similar strength to help motivation. There’s nothing like KOM hill repeats – just don’t blow all your matches on the first interval.

Strength Training

The research supports explosive plyometric training as well as heavy strength training of six to eight repetitions. There’s a risk of injury with heavy weight and plyometric training, and you shouldn’t attempt any of these exercises without technique coaching from a qualified instructor to ensure your form is perfect.

Start with lighter weights on the strength training, and just a single set of each exercise, or you are likely to end up with severe muscle trauma and not be able to train for a while.
Commit a period of eight weeks to your strength and plyometric programme in order to begin to see results – 12 weeks would be better.

Exercises to focus your form on:

– Leg Press
– Dumbbell Lunge
– Bulgarian Squat
– Squat Jump
– Box Jump

READ MORE ON: Skills training programmes workouts