Archive for May, 2013

Cycling Ultimate Interval Training

May 29, 2013 7:49 am
Cycling Ultimate Interval Training

Since there was not nearly as much study on interval training for the bike as there has been with running, I adapted my running training over to the bike.  For marathon training I found mile repeats and half mile repeats to be a good workout, while doing 400 meter repeats for a short race.  So on the bike I used 7 minute or 3.5 minute intervals followed by half that time for a rest interval, and would repeat 4 times.   Many cyclists use a much short interval length.  Of course the length of the interval, it’s intensity, and the rest interval, will all be a factor on what aspect you are trying to improve.  Some research suggests an Ultimate Interval length based off your T-Max.

Before I get into the details, let me first make a case of why you should have a power meter to do this, although at the end I do offer some suggestions for those who do not have a power meter.

Use a Power Meter

With running, it is easy to see your progress by watching your pace for the interval splits.  But with a bike, your speed is dependent on much more than just how much effort your are putting in.  I tried to use a repeatable, mostly circular course to cancel out the effects of wind and incline.  I figured if I averaged my speed during all the intervals that would be an indication of my fitness.  However since I started to train with a power meter, I see that my prior approach is not sufficient.  Take a look at this graph of four workouts done this year, the last few using a Power Meter.  If I based my estimate only on speed I would have thought I had declined during the last interval workout, but I actually improved by looking at the average power of the intervals.


The Ultimate Interval

Now that I have the advantage of using a Power Meter, I can change the interval approach and not try to just do the same course and interval length.  Some studies point to what is referred to as T-Max interval as the basis for the ultimate interval.  See this article in Bicycling Magazine.

Find Your T-Max

1. First you need to determine your Peak Power Output (PPO) by starting out cycling at 100 watts, increasing your power by 30 watts every minute until you reach exhaustion.  You can go by your own feeling on what that point is, or some use a benchmark as when your cadence drops below 60 rpm.

2. Rest for one or two days, then after a warmup, start your timer and ride at your previously determined PPO until you can no longer sustain that power level.   The amount of time you were able to hold your PPO is your T-Max.  For most people that is around four to six minutes.

3. For the Ultimate Interval, use 60% of your T-Max for the interval length and twice that for the rest interval.  So if you were able to hold your PPO for 6 minutes, you would use an interval length of 3.5 minutes followed by a rest interval of 7 minutes.  This is the opposite of what I have been doing.

4. When doing the intervals take your power to your PPO and hold it there for the interval length (60% of your T-Max), then rest for twice the length, letting your heart rate decline down to about 60% of your maximum heart rate.

5. Start out with two to three intervals, doing two sessions a week.  Try to build up to six to eight sets twice a week, with at least two days of spinning or rest between.

 No Power Meter?

Without a Power Meter you will need to just use a nominal interval length, in the range of 2.5 to 3.5 minutes and a rest interval twice as long.   When doing the intervals take your heart rate to 95-100 percent of your maximum heart rate.  The recovery period should be at 60% of your maximum heart rate.  My maximum heart rate is 176 so for the interval I would try to get over 167 bpm and for the rest interval I would be at 105 bpm, which is pretty much how I have been doing intervals.


Strava Suffer Score

May 21, 2013 8:48 pm

The original entry was published on September 1, 2012.  Since then, Strava has made it possible for Premium members to change their heart rate zones.  I have updated this post accordingly.

One of the features of a premium account on Strava is the so called Suffer Score that it will compute for you after each run or ride.  It will only be able to calculate this if you are recording your heart rate because it uses the heart rate compared with your heart rate zones to calculate the suffer score.  For a detailed analysis of what goes into this see Strava Suffer Score decoded, a post written by a friend Dan Connelley.

Heart Rate Zones

Strava now allows Premium members the ability to edit your heart rate zones.  If you accept the defaults that Strava offers, your Suffer Factor might be misleading.  I have done a lot of research on how different coaches recommend setting heart rate zones but no one would put an anaerobic zone starting at 169+ for a maximum heart rate of 175.  Besides, I know that is not the case for me.  Instead of changed the heart rate zones so Zone 5 now starts at 163 not 169.  See my article that compares several methods.  Note once you change your zones in Strava, it will use on a going forward basis and will not change your prior suffer scores.

High Suffer Score Could Mean Poor Condition

I suppose that there there is a correlation between suffer score on Strava and how much you suffered on a ride.  But that does not mean a higher suffer score correlates with better performance in terms of speed/distance.  This was apparent on today’s ride, which had a suffer score of 360.  I sorted my activities in Strava over the past 3 years by suffer score and looked at all of them over 400.


I think the ride where I suffered the most was the on on 7/7/10, but it has the lowest suffer score on this chart.  But then that was done before I was able to change my heart rate zones.  For the two recent double centuries, the one on Knoxville cause me far more suffering that the one for Solvang, but the suffer scores are not that much different.

The suffer score seems to be heavily weighted toward long duration but for some individuals a long ride does not mean suffering, especially if done at a moderate pace.  I therefore consider suffer score just a fun thing to look at and probably a motivator for many people so overall I think it is a good thing.  Strava might consider to look at some other measurement score that could help us with our training, but that might require a power meter which most users do not have.

For those who have a power meter, Strava now offers several new tools to look at, including Training Load and a Fitness and Freshness page.  Once you start to accumulate data from a power meter you will be able to better understand your rides, far more than the Suffer Score will provide.


Intervals with Power Meter

May 20, 2013 11:05 am

I have been doing intervals on the bike periodically.  I usually a a series of 4 repeats of 7 minutes followed by about a 3.5 minute cool-down.  Before I acquired a power meter it was difficult to see if I was really improving.  With running you can pretty much see your improvement with your pace for each interval, on a bike there are a lot of things that affect your speed besides what you are putting out.  So I picked a relatively flat course that included a couple miles of warm-up from our house and then a straight shot, with no need for stop signs or traffic lights during each of the 7 minute intervals. The blue sections on the map are the intervals done at speed and the red sections the recovery portions.  By using a circular course I tried to average out the affect of wind.

I have data from 15 workouts, the first in March 2008 and the 15th today but this workout was the first one using a Power Meter and it reveals some information I did not realize before.  I have been plotting out my average speed for the intervals, along with my average heart rate and maximum heart rate.  With the new information I have added Normalized Power average for the lap.  Since I only have power for this one workout, I used the Strava estimated power for the past couple of interval workouts so I can kind of see how things are changing.  Since Strava estimates are not that good, once I do more interval workouts with a power meter I can remove those Strava estimates.


When you look at overall averages of all 4 intervals, there is a relatively good correlation between speed and heart rate, except in the period 2010-2011 when I was on a beta blocker.  Power also seems to somewhat follow the same pattern.  What I did learn, however, was that there much less correlation between the individual intervals of a workout.  Typically the 4th segment is done at the fastest speed, but that has more to do with the prevailing winds and topography than with my actual effort.  Today for that 4th interval segment I averaged my best speed of 22 mph, but my normalized power dropped from 219 watts for the first interval to only 142 watts.

I also learned that I can not put out the same type of power level when I am riding flat compared with climbing, even though my heart rate is high.  When I am with a fast group on the flats I have a hard time keeping  up until we hit the hill where I can go ahead.  I just thought that was because I was a light weight guy, but now I realize that I am not generating as many watts while riding flat, for the same perceived effort, as when climbing.  Last week I was able to average 235 watts for 20 minutes while climbing Henry Coe.  But today my best interval of 7 minutes was only 219 watts and the rest of the intervals were below 200 watts.  This is not a matter of aerodynamics because I am looking a power, not just speed.  It has to do with my riding style and not putting as much power to the pedal on the flats as I do while climbing, where I often stand a lot.

It is clear that training with a Power Meter is a great aid and it has helped me to see some things I did not realize before when I was just looking at speed and heart rate.

GoPro WiFi Back and Remote Combo Pack

May 11, 2013 3:02 pm

I purchase the GoPro Hero 2 camera over a year agot.  Although I used it a lot initially, putting it on my helmet to take photos and video while riding,  both when using my road bike and mountain bike, I found it difficult to use because I had no way to know if it was pointed in the right direction and I had to reach up to the camera to press the shutter or turn the camera on and off.  I was never quite sure if the shutter press or power button worked because I had to rely on a series of beeps and I can’t always hear those if there is a lot of background noise.  When I made the purchase, GoPro was promising a WiFi back and a remote, with the ability to use an iPhone to control the camera and preview what it was taking a photo or view of.

It seemed like a good way to go but it took a long time for GoPro to fulfill their promised device.  About the time they did, they released a new model, Hero 3, with WiFi built in.  I didn’t want to buy a new camera.  I was reading some mixed reviews of the WiFi back on the GoPro Hero 2 so I waited awhile, figuring they would work out the bugs.  I finally bought the WiFi Back and Remote combo pack and was able to get it for $100 at a local bike shop, which I thought was a good deal since it was priced higher on


I opened up the box and in the usual GoPro fashion they make it hard to get to the contents and seem to put more thought into making it look fancy on the shelf.  They should take a lesson from how Apple packages things, but they probably think they have done that, but they have not.  Inside are all the things you need.  Besides the WiFi back and the remote, you get two new backs for the case, one water proof, since the current back would not fit with the WiFi back being thicker.  You also get a standard USB cable plus a special one for charging the remote.


Both the WiFi back and the remote needed to be charged first.  Both charge from a USB port, but as mentioned, the remote has a special USB cable that you don’t want to lose.  Once charged, I then downloaded the CineForm software from GoPro and updated the Hero 2 camera, WiFi Back and Remote with the latest firmware.  Initially I had a problem for CineForm to see the Hero 2 camera, but when I swapped out the 64 Gb SD card for another card, then it worked fine.  Part of the update process includes the need to register the WiFi Back and selected a password that will be used later for the WiFi conection.  That was a good thing because you would not want some stranger using their smart phone with your camera.

When you buy the combo pack the WiFi Back and  the remote are already paired on the WiFi.  For the iPhone I downloaded the GoPro app and then in settings I found the Go Pro camera, selected that, and entered the password I had created early.  I have read numerous reports in the web of people having a hard time to get the devices to pair, but I had no issue at all.

Some items to note before you go this route:

  • The remote is a handy device with a small LCD screen that essentially shows what mode the Hero 2 is in by having the screen be a duplicate of what you would see in the Hero 2.  That means you have the same lame menu system that the Hero 2 uses so you have to go through all the button presses to change things, but at least if they camera is mounted on your helmet you can do that with the remote.  It does larger buttons that are much easier to press than those on the camera itself.
  • The iPhone app allows easier controls than the remote plus a live preview so you can see what the camera is pointed at and recording.  Note that there is a 5 second delay in the live preview but that is much better than shooting blind and not knowing what you get until you download to a computer.
  • The biggest issue I have is that you can only connect the WiFi back to either the remote or the iPhone, not both of them at the same time.  I would like it if I could use the iPhone for preview and still use the remote as a shutter release, but that is not supported.  I am not sure if that is a limitation of the iPhone or GoPro’s issue, but to switch between the two you have to access the camera itself, not a great design feature for a camera that might be on your helmet.  You can use the iPhone to make the switch to the remote so if you want to use the iPhone to get things positioned and select the right options on the camera itself, you can then use the iPhone to switch to the remote, but to switch back to the iPhone you would need to do that on the camera itself (or using the remote to wade through the menu system).
  • The WiFi back has it’s own battery, otherwise you camera battery would drain too quickly.  If the WiFi Back battery get’s low, it will draw power from the camera.
  • There is a distance limit to use the remote or the iPhone and they are not the same.  I have no issue when either are within a few feet of the Hero 2, but for really remote applications, check it out before you go this route.
  • You can use the iPhone to turn the camera off and on, but the WiFi back stays on so make sure you turn it off when you are finished.

I guess I would give GoPro only a C grade on this.  First they took a long time to release a product that they promised upon which many people bought the Hero 2 expecting this ability.  It would be nice to have a Hero 3 with WiFi built in, but they they charge you $79 just for the remote, so the combo pack and a Hero 2 is an okay deal.  If I could use both the remote and the iPhone at the same time, I would raise my score to a B.  Although I think the Hero 2 is a great camera, the form factor and the lame menu system bothers me, but right now GoPro has the video and image quality and all the accessories one could ever want.


Threshold Power (FTP) Testing with the Garmin Edge 800/810

May 10, 2013 6:12 pm

Threshold – What is it?

The term “threshold” is used in many ways in terms of sports and endurance, such as anaerobic threshold (AT), lactate threshold (LT), maximal lactate steady state (MLSS), onset of blood lactate (OBLA).  Exercise physiologists have known for a long time that as you increase the intensity of exercise you reach a point where lactate begins to accumulate in a person’s blood, and this their LT.  It is an indicator of the athlete’s endurance ability.  Lactate is a good thing since it is a fuel for the body during exercise, but when you create more than you can use, it builds up in your muscles and will limit what you can do.

For cyclists who use a Power Meter, this same threshold concept is called FTP, or Functional Threshold Power.   Just as you might see what heart rate you can hold for 1 hour to determine your LT, FTP can be determined by seeing what power you can average for a one hour time trial.  Knowing your FTP can allow you to set power zones for training, similar to heart rate zones.

In the book “Training and Racing with a Power Meter”  by Hunter Allen, and Andy Coggan, a test protocol is provided to determine your FTP.  Not many want to do a one hour time trail periodically just to get this number so their test involves a series of steps, leading up to a 20 minute section where you try to go close to your threshold.  From this test, you can determine your FTP.  The first time I did this test last year, I wrote it out on a piece of paper and taped it to my handlebars, trying to read the next step while I was in the middle of an intense setp.  The Workout Feature of the Garmin Edge products makes this so much better.

Garmin Connect Workout

The first step is to log into Garmin Connect and set up a new workout.  Using the test protocol, I added 11 steps.  This way I can use the Garmin Edge 800/810 to guide me through each step.  Note for each step I selected the time and what to measure.  During the warmup I wanted to keep my heart rate in the range of 110 to 115 bpm, so that was the first step.  The test protocol includes some one minute segments at high cadence, so I selected cadence between 95 and 105 for one minute for those steps, and so forth.  For some steps I could either set a target for Power or Heart Rate but I decided to use Heart Rate since I am more familiar with my threshold for that.


Getting Ready for the Test

Once you have the workout setup in Garmin Connect, you connect your Garmin Edge 810 to your computer and send the workout to it.

Next pick the route to do the workout on.  Ideally it will be one where you can ride without stopping.  For me, I prefer to do the two segments where I need to get my heart rate up high to be on a hill climb.  The only negative is that I need to do a recovery 10 minutes while climbing, but that worked out okay for me.  I decided to do the test riding from home, and then climbing Squaw Peak in Utah.  This allowed me to do the warmup steps on the way the the climb.  You could decide to do all of the steps on a bike trainer, but that would not be very interesting to me.

Actual Workout

Now you are ready to run the test protocol, letting the Garmin guide you through each step.  The workout screen includes a count down time, and the parameters you are trying to achieve, in this case I was on step 10, trying to hold my heart rate just below threshold for 20 minutes.  If I am in the desired zone, a message will show at the bottom, then disappear.  If I am outside the desired range for that step I will get a similar message.


These messages at the bottom auto clear.  The main screen shows your current step at the top, the prior step and your next step below.  When I reach the end of one step, a message at the bottom appears briefly with details of the new step, telling me to speed up or slow down to get into the desired range.



A simple approach when you finished is to see the average power you generated during the 20 minute test.  Your FTP will be about 5% below that since the FTP is for a full hour. Since I ended up with 206 watts for 20 minutes, that means a FTP at my current condition of 206 – (206 x .05) = 196 watts.  Remember that watts is not as important as watts per kg, and since I am a lightweight small guy, 196 watts is much better than it would be for a large cyclists, who needs to put out more watts to go as fast, especially on a hill climb.


If you are a STRAVA user, you can get these type of plots.  Here the current ride, or this test is plotted against my best power vs. time over the last six weeks.  The test was successful because the average power for 20 minutes was just as high as my best for the last 6 weeks.  The test protocol is not to see how much power you can put out for 5 minutes or 5 seconds, but to determine your FTP, or threshold by using a 20 minute segment.


Golden Cheetah

Another good program (free) is Golden Cheetah.  Load the ride into this program and you get all types of analytical tools.  From the plot below you can see that my 20 minute critical power is below what I did last year.  It is a clear indication that I am not in the same condition as my best condition last year where you FTP was at least 20 watts higher.

Screen Shot 2013-05-10 at 1.54.46 PM


Hunter recommends that you run this test protocol a few times a year to determine your current condition.  Using the workout feature in Garmin Connect and the Garmin Edge 810, you can easily do this and the test is set so it is not as exhausting as trying to do a one hour time trail.  Just using a heart rate alone makes it difficult to determine fitness since your heart rate is not a direct measurement of your power output, being affected by things such as fatigue and other physiological aspects. That is what the Power Meter is becoming so popular with cyclists.