How to generate Free Power on the bike!
With all the talking about pushing more watts , following the latest training program or latest diet , or adding functional resistance training or some other activity to make you faster , how about applying the concept of “free” power?
They say that nothing is free and yes that is true for sure, but one concept which does not require much or in many cases any physiological improvement, is so often under estimated.
I am referring to the concept of economy.
We do know that power is dictated by a mix of aerobic and anaerobic power which results in functional power. Wedged in between these factors is the factor of economy. Much like the following model:
So how do we improve economy?
- Maximal functional power on the bike relies on a smooth pedal stroke.
A smooth pedal stroke is often underestimated or neglected by riders. Cycling is simple right? You push on the pedal. Or like so many people say “push and pull”. Both these approaches are actually not good. If you look at how smooth some of the top riders in the world pedal, you realize that there is no jerking or any unevenness involved. The pedal stroke is going round without the upper body bouncing or moving around. The key is to turn your legs round almost staying inside an imaginary circle formed by the crank. When a pedal stroke is smooth, your legs will feel like it is never reaching the outside limiters of the circle.
Smooth pedaling drills on your training rides, or even better, on an indoor trainer will help. Drills should be done for between a minute or five minutes and typically increasing the cadence by at least 10% of your typical cadence and to focus on a smooth round action without any “stomping” , bouncing or moving of the hips and upper body. It is not about riding fast during these drills , but about being smooth and to get the “feel “ once you get it dialed in for a period of time and to then take that “feel” to all your riding.
- Optimal cadence
Cadence is a much discussed factor by cyclists from time to time. Studies to try and determine the “perfect” cadence have concluded different results. Some top riders, ride at a very high cadence all of the time and some others, ride at a lower cadence.
What can be said, is that most recreational riders are riding at cadence numbers which are just too low.
Power is generated by a combination of force and velocity. Riders are different in their makeup with some having big cardiovascular abilities to rely on and should favour higher cadence. Other riders with stronger muscles with good muscle endurance can get away with a lower cadence and rely on more force.
What can be said is that an improvement of leg speed is almost always a good thing for all of us. And that understanding your body and finding the optimal cadence and very importantly gears to match, can buy you a extra few watts!
- Position on the bike.
We have modern technology to assist in optimal fitment and setup on the bike. One centimeter too forward or backwards, or a number of other factors in bike fitment will dilute your power output. Investing in a dynamic bike setup (fitment) is an expense that should be seriously considered.
Not only will you achieve more power on a permanent basis, but more comfort at the same time in parallel with avoiding possible injuries which will end up costing a lot more than a proper bike fitment.
- The dreaded factor of power to mass ratio.
Power to mass ratio is critical in cycling. We need to consider losing the extra couple of kilos to ride faster. Simple as that, and enough said.
- Functional Training
Functional training, Resistance training and training off the bike has been controversial over the years, but becoming less and less so. It is now recognized that functional strength will help!
A strong body, core muscles and specific functional strength will help with economy and make you faster. Most cyclists I know are members of gyms .The key is to invest the time and to find a person or coach with the knowledge to assist.
It could be a case of getting better results from two sessions dedicated to functional training and reducing riding time with a better overall result!
- Balanced training program.
How to balance your training program within the limiters of available time is perhaps the most difficult. What I mean by balancing is not the overall weekly time in training but rather the mix between intensity and time. If you do not have access to a coach just applying some logic and doing some reading will help.
Just as races and events are undulating in speed and nature, so training should be undulating with some hard efforts, some easy recovery rides, hill work and some short sharp efforts. The best is to consider a coach, but in many cases, too many riders I talk too are simply doing the same rides over and over again, and just simple by “undulating” efforts can add some “free power”.
Not all of the factors mentioned are free such as functional strength training, it will require time and dedication and perhaps a gym membership fee or the price of a coach, but the point is that cyclists are often spending the time effort and cost in any event. This article aims to promote the idea of economy in all these areas, in order to maximize resources.
The bottom line is to perhaps reflect on your current status and application of resources and start with the really “free” aspects such as to work on developing a smooth pedal stroke.