From 2010-2015, 224 British athletes missed providing drug testing samples due to ABP (Athlete Biological Passport) Whereabouts violations. Those who complain that this is not current news complete miss its relevance -- cheating is a timeless problem endemic to all of Sport. To marginalize this and to report that "this in no way implies guilt or suggests wrongdoing or cheating" only serves to further perpetuate the omerta and excuse the cheating.
The better part of a year ago, I posted this video on the ORION YouTube channel discussing the transitions in Life through which we all invariably go. In short, Life is not linear, nor is our desire for the physical pursuits we choose. At some point, the rigor of what we are doing outweighs the enjoyment we once received from the pursuit, and it might be time to re-evaluate why it is we do what we do. It is also important to understand our motivations behind these pursuits, so we continue to do them for the right reasons. Do we feel we “have to” train rather than simply work out? Do we feel we “have to” compete in a specific sport rather than another sport or competitive outlet? Do we feel we “have to” go hard or go home, because otherwise the pursuit is not worth the investment of time we are giving it? And so on.
When I made that video hyperlinked above, a series of events created a perfect storm to take a step back from the competitive cycling season about a month early. A decision I anticipated would be fraught with internal turmoil was actually shockingly easy to make and absorb. Since that time, I reprioritized how I approached the Fall/Winter of training in the following ways: 1) I made strength training primary -- frankly, I was tired of looking like a cycling climber for the past 15+ years and, having turned 50 last December, it was time to really focus on ensuring the highest quality of existence for the back-half of my life; 2) I cut back on the cycling volume – no more 1-2hr sessions at 0-dark-30; 3) In making strength training primary, I would follow a session up immediately with a short 20-30min cardio session of varying intensity depending on the flow of the week – this served to up the impact of the session and create some economy of scale in the day; 4) I stopped setting the alarm for 3:45-4:15am and instead wake up fairly naturally at 5:15-5:25 like clockwork – the upshot being I get an extra 60-90min of sleep every night; and 5) I decided to finally get back to some trail running – something I’ve wanted to do for a handful of years but felt compromised my cycling too much given the Colorado racing season starts fast and furious the first weekend of March with the Frostbite TT.
I’ve won the Frostbite TT multiple times. It is right in my sweet spot given its length and my power curve. The out-and-back course is imperceptibly downhill on the way out and nefariously, noticeably uphill on the way back. It’s a 30+mph effort for roughly 25 minutes. You either blast it or it cooks you. I’ve gotten to the point where I feel I own that race given the level of success I’ve achieved with it. This race alone kept me motivated through the Fall/Winter of relentless indoor sessions because there is nothing like kicking off the season by ‘opening the account’ with a victory. But, something really interesting happened this year. Two days before Frostbite, one of my teammates posted on our team’s Facebook page that Frostbite might be postponed due to some shitty weather set to roll through Colorado heading into the weekend. I read that and I just stared blankly at the screen.
A shocking reality hit me. No, not that I would not have the opportunity to defend my title from 2018. Rather, until reading his post, I HAD NOT EVEN THOUGHT ABOUT THE RACE! Sitting there in shock, the following thoughts ricocheted around my mind – I had not renewed my racing license; I had not had ‘the talk’ with my wife at Christmastime about the racing plans for the upcoming season; I had not been on Zwift at all the entire Fall/Winter; I had not done any structured interval sessions on the bike; I had not done any group rides; knowing it was the beginning of March, I never even connected the dots that the beginning of the racing season was upon us.
What I’ve come to realize is that at this point in my life, challenging myself is enough. The process of betterment is not much different than it is when I was focused on competing year round. The absence of race-specific goals is really the only piece of the puzzle missing. I have thought about competing in some trail running events this summer and felt myself aggressively preparing to ramp up the running. My wife, always one to provide some grounding perspective, posed this to me yesterday: “You ever think about taking a year off? You’ve been competing non-stop since you were 6 years old. All the signs since last summer seem to point to needing a step back and a break.”
She’s absolutely right. I need to sit with what it feels like to not compete, absorb it and see how I react to it over the course of the year. Choosing not to compete in no way keeps me from doing what I would do anyway. In fact, if anything, it liberates me to do exactly what it is I feel like doing on any given day without worrying about if it is the “right” or “wrong” thing to do. Because there will be zero impact on any predetermined goals associated with competition. Freedom. Enjoyment. Adventure.
The trail run races I had originally earmarked for 2019 still intrigue me. I can see doing them in 2020. But, for now, the sheer enjoyment of movement, and challenging myself and my limits in ways that I haven’t in a really long time are both very appealing.
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with racing and competing. Races can be wonderful expressions of our athletic selves. My cautionary tale here is that if you feel beholden to compete, then a step back for a fresh perspective is probably a good call. There should be no “have to” associated with any training or racing we do – because it is our choice to do or not do an activity. Rather than define yourself as a particular type of athlete – “I’m a triathlete,” for example – instead the sport should just be one facet by which you define yourself. “I’m a woman, wife, sibling, mother, friend, teacher, volunteer and I also compete in triathlons.” Subtle, but big difference in mindset. And an important one.
If you find yourself struggling with the whole ‘challenge myself vs competing’ conundrum, hopefully this post will help you process that and come to a conclusion, in either direction, about which you’re excited and happy.
The number of doping-related scandals and sheer insanity of perspective has rendered modern day Sport a dead man walking. Whether it be the brazen systematic cheating (athletes are NOT going rogue), or the ineffectiveness of the AD system, or the fact that money trumps reason, there has never been a better time in the history of Sport to be a cheater. That is disheartening state of affairs.
When we think about doping in sports, people tend to fall in 1-of-3 buckets
Everyone has an opinion and everyone has a right to his or her opinion. But, for those who take the stance of defending sport as clean and who contend that athletes must be considered clean unless there is absolute proof to the contrary, the argument breaks down fairly quickly and definitively. Yes, they demand incontrovertible proof of cheating to declare any given athlete in any given sport a cheater. This is a strawman stance at best and, at the least, defies logic.
If those who disbelieve what they're seeing try to turn that around by saying, "Show us proof that we should believe in these top-level athletes," they are met with:
All of this only diminishes the stance of those who say we need to believe. The internet and the ability to share so much information today has vaulted us into an era where the accessibility to that information has tilted the discussion firmly in the favor of those who choose to take off the rose-tinted glasses and apply heavy skepticism to the feats of strength, speed, power and endurance we all witness:
Insane! All of it. Insane.
In the case of cycling, where it becomes nonsensical is when we are supposed to believe in a rider who has won or can win one of the 3 GTs. He's clean for myriad reasons -- I know him; he's a good guy; he's outspoken against PEDs; he's never tested positive; and so on. But, in order to believe a rider is clean, you MUST also believe the following:
There are more points to support this, I'm sure. But, if you question any of these points, then your sycophancy around clean riding caves in immediately.
We are also fed so much deflection, and I'm both disappointed and dismayed by how easy the general public and the apologists lap it up. We see narcissistic videos of LeBron doing deadlifts during the NBA playoffs and hear about how dedicated he is and how he works so much harder than anyone else. While no one can dispute his talent, it would be ridiculous to believe he's not hoped up on some PED cocktail. Look here, not there.
The examples are endless and can be discussed about any sport on the planet.
And don't get me started on the grey area horseshit. Talking about the grey area is the apologist way to excuse cheating. Cheating is about intent. There is no grey area with motive.
Lastly, as I've said many times, patterns are proof. We know unequivocally what a doping athlete looks like because there have been enough of the elites who have been popped -- not by AD organizations but rather by whistleblowers, so there's that endemic failure to the AD system to remember as well -- that we can fairly easily size-up other athletes and do a side-by-side comparison -- athlete in question vs known doper. If they look eerily similar, then, sorry, the athlete in question is a doper.
Because remember ... elite sport is rife with doping. And, make no mistake, dopers are not lazy athletes. If anything, they work harder because the PED cocktail they are on allows for faster recovery between sessions as well as the ability to work harder during those sessions. A clean athlete simply cannot compete with that -- unless you believe any given sport is entirely clean. That the history of cheating and doping and match fixing has been completely eradicated.
But, we are told to take heart. That AD is working. Sacrificial lambs are led to the slaughter and offered up as examples of the AD system working. What is curious is that nearly every single one of them is a second- or third-tier athlete. When is the last time that you read about a top-level elite being caught by an AD organization rather than a whistleblower or investigation? Even the more recent and bizarre cases with Russian athletes and Kenyan runners are in now way glowing examples of the AD system working. So, the myth of "only those not good enough are the ones who cheat" gets perpetuated -- because the narrative that elites are clean HAS to be protected.
Otherwise, the entire world of sport gets exposed for the complete and utter sham it is.
Look here, not there.
Endurance athletes, especially Masters athletes, train too hard. I’ll define “endurance” as any event lasting an hour or more. So, this encompasses a broad range of athletes, from cyclists to half-marathoners and marathoners, to every triathlete on this planet (not to mention all the other endurance sports out there, like cross-country skiing).
We have been done a disservice on multiple fronts, not the least of which is by the vast majority of coaches out there who espouse repeated bouts of interval training per week or prescribe a large volume of interval training on their athletes’ hard days. The premise is that we get faster by training harder. This is true – to a finite point. In order to better understand how we can extract more from our training and how to best balance aerobic with anaerobic efforts, it’s first important to understand how the body works.
At a simplified high-level, there are 3 energy systems from which the body draws during any exercise of any duration and any intensity – phosphate, lactate and aerobic. Phosphate is mainly leveraged in all out efforts lasting up to 30sec but typically falling in the 3-10sec range. Lactate gets produced in greater quantities the closer we get to our LT (Lactate Threshold) and when we exercise above it. Lactate is a fuel source, a byproduct of our effort that our body processes more quickly than it is produced until such time as we hit and cross our LT. The aerobic energy system is when carbohydrate burning is slowed (but not stopped) and we recruit some stored fat as fuel because we are training or racing at an effort that is well below our LT.
Even 5k runners use predominantly the aerobic energy system -- as high as 93%. We really don’t elicit a high anaerobic utilization until we dip below 2min in effort, and leveraging a higher percentage of lactate for fuel instead of aerobic energy does not even occur until the efforts duration falls to less than a minute. O2 is the fuel of muscles, and it takes about 30sec for the O2 we breathe in to be put to use. People think the O2 is used immediately because when they hold their breath for a long time and the lungs start burning, they take another breath and feel instant relief. But that relief actually comes from expelling CO2, not inhaling O2. A build-up of CO2 -- because we can't inhale enough O2 to replace it -- is what becomes the limiter with higher intensity performance. When CO2 production outpaces our ability to intake fresh O2, there’s a cascading effect with higher lactate production and other internal triggers that tip us further into an anaerobic state.
So, on the one hand, it is imperative we become aerobically efficient. We do this by tuning our aerobic system so we have a turbo engine rather than a lawnmower engine. By focusing on aerobic training, we can push out metabolic triggers that start tipping us toward anaerobic system/fuel utilization (lactate, phosphate). When these triggers do ultimately get pulled, carbohydrate utilization speeds up and we burn through muscle glycogen faster. Hence, the more aerobically efficient we are, the longer our muscle glycogen lasts. Also, the less our muscles fatigue, the longer our muscle neurons fire properly and spare us from potential cramping (IMHO, cramping isn't primarily due to dehydration or salt loss; it stems from fatigue that keeps the muscles from firing properly).
But, here's the rub.
Part of our ability to become more aerobically efficient (more O2 to the working muscles) gets stimulated by bouts of high intensity training, especially VO2max efforts (lasting up to a handful of minutes). Higher intensity training forces the body to create more plasma and red blood cells, which in turn saturates the blood with a higher amount of O2. Think of a VO2max training block when the first workout of 3min intervals leaves you heaving and out of sorts. After a few weeks, the 4-5min intervals are hard and very taxing, yet there is also a sense that the body is settling in to them. This is due to the adaptation I just mentioned.
The key is to stimulate thru high intensity enough, but not too much. Too much high intensity disrupts your ability to make that internal metabolic shift to being more aerobically efficient. Doping aside, bike racers can dig deep and throw down attack after attack at the end of a 5+ hour race not because they do a lot of anaerobic training but rather because they are aerobically efficient enough that when it's "go time", they have the muscle glycogen reserves to support those efforts and their muscle neurons are not too fatigued so cramping typically (but not always) isn't an issue either. Next time you watch a bike race or mountain stage of the Tour, instead of focusing on the strongest rider, instead focus on those in the front group who inevitably start to fall away. Watch the change in their body language as steam and smoke start to inevitably pour out from under their hoods like a car overheating on the side of a desert road.
The aerobic focus -- and strict adherence to the parameters of those workouts (L2 watts, HR maxed at 70-78%) is what allows you to compete in a multi-hour race at a very consistent effort and pace. That's aerobic efficiency. It is the complement of the high intensity work -- a little but not too much -- which allows your finish time to be considerably faster than it would otherwise be. The body is a potpourri of response to stimuli. This training stuff would be so much simpler if it weren't, if instead it was more the case of pulling one trigger or another to elicit the precise response we want. But, then, I'd be out of a coaching job. :-)
So, when you think about your own training or the training program your coach has you doing, what percentage of time is spent doing intervals at LT or greater intensity? If it is consistently more than 10% per week, it is arguably too much. When we look at our lactate production curve, the biggest limiter to performance is how fast we can go before the curve starts to steepen up and to the right – meaning, when lactate production starts trending toward a greater amount being produced than can be processed causing the body to pretty quickly shut down. The longer the “tail” of our lactate curve, the more aerobically efficient we become and, thus, the faster we also become.
You’ve finished your racing season and have taken a well-deserved break from regimented training. Hopefully you’ve taken at least 2 weeks completely off from any working out and allowed yourself to be lazy. Then, hopefully you’ve spent at least another 2 weeks just getting moving again in something besides your primary sport of focus. If you’re a cyclist, then maybe you’re doing some running or swimming or hiking, for example. This is also a great time to reintroduce some light strength training to get the body used to the rigors of the gym once again.
But, now the holidays are over, we are firmly in 2019 and it is time to re-focus forward towards this season's goals. Hopefully you are motivated and ready to rip into your training regimen!
If you train with power on the bike, a challenging point is in determining where to set your CP - Critical Power - when you do start training regularly on the bike again. In-season CP will not be a good measuring stick because your fitness at the beginning of the off-season is nowhere near what it is at the height of racing. Certainly, you could perform an CP test “out of the gate”, but when moderately out of shape, the test becomes both mentally and physically distasteful, and the results can be a bit skewed.
So, what’s an athlete to do?
Here’s a simple way to establish a baseline CP that will be close enough to get you training at the right intensities for your various zones. Take your weight in pounds (1kg = 2.2lbs) and double it. If you weigh 150lbs, then it is 150 x 2 = 300. If you are over 35 years old, subtract 0.5% from this number for every year above 35. So, if you’re 45, you subtract 5% from 300, which equals 285. This is your ballpark FTP. Now, take that FTP value and divide it by 0.80. This brings you within range of what your CP could be.
Remember, training zones are “zones” for a reason. There are no absolutes in terms of an ideal or best percentage at which to train a specific energy system. So, if the above estimate is off by 10-20 watts – in either direction – the effect it will have on your training zones is minimal. My suggestion is to start with the above formula, use it for the first 4-8 weeks of your off-season training, and then complete an actual CP ramp test.
By giving yourself a few weeks of buffer from your final race to no training to unstructured training to beginning preparation for next season, you will allow yourself to better ease into your regimen with little to no downside in your actual preparation. And, you're removing any initial pressures about either conducting a stress test in which you're really not ready to perform, or puzzling over how to establish some preliminary training zones on the bike.
So fast forward ... You’re back into some sort of regimen for your off-season training and have been at it for a few weeks. You’ve used an estimate of your CP, but it’s time to establish an actual baseline CP with a proper ramp test.
After testing many athletes and going through countless CP tests myself, here’s my take on it. While the ramp test can occur with different durations at each "step", I prefer the '10w increase every 1min' approach. There needs to be a more dynamic inclusion of sub-aerobic, aerobic, threshold and supra-threshold efforts to get a well-rounded result. When I've done the longer steps of 3-5min, this also entails a larger wattage increase every time -- either 25w or 0.5w/kg, depending on the protocol. Nothing wrong with this approach, but I feel it is less effective in producing a usable result. My 2 cents.
Whichever way you decide to go about it, make sure you decide on a protocol that you can get excited to replicate over time so that you are comparing apples-to-apples one test to the next. Also, frequency of testing – every 6-8 weeks is good enough. Training zones are minimally impacted by a handful of watts, so no need to test every month. Lastly, conduct the test at either the very end of a recovery week or the very beginning of a training cycle after a recovery week. This ensures you are rested both mentally and physically, and ready to give the test the effort it requires.
'Tis the time of year. Most folks need to head indoors for some of their winter riding, or even all of it. I tend to set a temperature of 30 degrees F as the floor for heading outside. It can be colder than this when I start out if I know it will warm up as the ride progresses. But, if the temperature is fairly well fixed, then 30, it is. When I was younger, dumber and more resilient, I used to go out in some pretty stupid weather for both cycling and running. I did enough damage to my hands and feet (luckily, no lost digits!) to where I cannot handle the extreme cold anymore. Plus, there is a most definitive negative impact to training when the body is spending an inordinate amount of energy just trying to stay warm, so in reality what is the point?
About this time of year, I get the obligatory questions about riding indoors vs outdoors, and how to adjust power zones in order to more accurately track the effectiveness of the given workout. Should you adjust your indoor power up, or down, or not at all? Great question! Hopefully I will be able to shed some light on this for you so that you have more confidence in the workouts you are completing indoors and carry that confidence back outside to both training and racing.
Depending on the type of trainer you ride – dumb vs smart, wheel off vs wheel on, as well as which brand of any trainer type – you will find that either your wattage is higher or lower indoors vs outdoors (there isn’t even a “rule” one way or the other, despite what you read or what anyone might tell you). And in the case of smart trainers, you will probably even find a discrepancy between how it calculates wattage output vs your power meter. With myriad variables, it can be not only confusing, but downright frustrating.
The punchline here is that your FTP (Functional Threshold Power) and associated power training zones are almost assuredly different when riding indoors. For example, my old Stages power meter recorded 15-20w lower than my PowerTap and 20-25w lower than my Wahoo KICKR in Erg mode. And, when I’m riding in a virtual world such as Zwift, the discrepancy oscillates between 10-30w difference. So, even the swing in discrepancy is wild rather than very tight. And, there is even a difference between Zwift, Kinomap and FulGaz, at least in my experience. Couple this with the fact that the resistance of riding indoors also seems greater indoors. It’s as if the inherent forward momentum created when riding outside is nearly (or completely) non-existent indoors.
Here's a few pointers for you to help with all this.
Rear Wheel On Trainers
This is the most common type of trainer. It is also the most challenging to dial in compared to outdoor riding. Riding on the road, you apply force to the pedals generally from about noon to 5 o’clock. The bottom and back of the pedal stroke, the legs don’t create any meaningful force because of how the body is oriented to the cranks. So, there’s a little built in rest for the legs with every pedal stroke. Not so, indoors.
On a rear wheel on trainer, the only momentum of the rear wheel is that which is created while you are pedaling. When you stop pedaling, the rear wheel comes to a stop almost immediately. Because this type of resistance is applied to the entire pedal stroke, your legs are tasked all the more with every pedal stroke. Thus, your cardiovascular system is tasked more greatly when riding indoors than outside. Your HR climbs more quickly and your legs crater more quickly – during intervals and during complete workouts. This greatly impacts your ability not only to produce watts but also ride for a long time. 90-120min indoors can be both a soul- and leg-crushing experience.
The ”good news” is that the more you ride indoors, the more your body will adapt and a large discrepancy in wattage will reduce over time, even if it never completely levels out.
Wheel off Direct Drive
Wheel off trainers like the Wahoo KICKR overcome the dynamic resistance issues of the wheel on trainers. By taking the rear wheel off, and increasing both the size and weight of the flywheel, wheel on (or direct drive) trainers better simulate the type of momentum you gain when riding outside. And, wheel on trainers also create a smoother, more realistic “road feel”.
Now, how the direct drive trainer interprets force and measures watts is still not perfect. Like my Stages vs KICKR example above, where my Stages actually reports lower output, some athletes I train talk about the discrepancy going in the other direction, where the KICKR records lower wattage than their own power meters. It would appear that how and where the power meter measures your wattage – crank arm, crank, pedals, rear wheel – will impact the indoor vs outdoor relativity as well.
Various spin bikes will calculate power. Stages has come out with a spin bike that uses the same technology on the crank arm of the spin bike just like on a road bike. Arguably, this could produce a very similar power output when comparing a Stages spin bike to riding a Stages-equipped road bike outside. However, spin bikes increase resistance by applying a brake to the flywheel. This creates the similar challenge as with wheel on trainers in that resistance is applied during the entire pedal stroke rather than just when you’re able to apply force between noon and 5 o’clock. Yes, the spin bike’s larger fly wheel does create more momentum than the small flywheel on the back of your trainer, but this only mitigates the issue of constant force to a degree, not fully.
You hear about how important it is to calibrate your indoor trainer at the beginning of every single ride. In my experience, this is a bit of an exaggeration. Flywheels heat up and, thus, calibrating 20 minutes into a ride can alter the calculation of watts and could result in more accurate output. However, I have found that whether or not I calibrate my KICKR after completing a full warm-up, the discrepancy is still really big and really isn’t that different in any case. So, whether or not I calibrate my KICKR, the output will never come into line with my Stages power meter, and calibrating it creates a negligible difference compared to non-calibration. So, I don’t bother with calibration one ride to the next.
Now, if I decide to test and re-test my FTP indoors, I would calibrate the unit after warming up and do so before every test in order to ensure as consistent of results as possible one test to the next.
Other Variables to Consider
1. A Fixed Position
Being fixed into one position without the ability to move the bicycle or move your body as much as you might outside causes you to use more isolated muscles and create fatigue all the more quickly. When riding outdoors, we are constantly shifting our body on the bicycle which allows us to recruit some of our upper body to help the core and legs to produce power. This also gives some muscles a rest, helping them to recover and produce more power. Losing the ability to effectively wobble the bike back and forth reduces the ability to produce peak power. When athletes I coach are sprinting indoors, I tell them to ignore wattages as they just aren’t representative of what can be done outdoors. If the effort is there, call it good.
When riding at L3 (tempo) to L5 (VO2max), more strain is applied to the working muscles, especially some that are rarely leveraged outdoors, such as those of the inner thigh (adductors). It is not uncommon for the adductors, quads or hamstrings – or all of them – to crater and even cramp up toward the end of a challenging workout.
Temperature plays a significant role in the ability to produce wattage when riding indoors, so staying cool is critical. Heat is a byproduct of effort, and without the cooling wind we experience when riding outside, overheating becomes a real challenge. The hotter you get, the more you sweat. The more you sweat, the thicker your blood gets and the harder your heart has to work to pump that thickening blood to the working muscles. If you’ve heard the term “cardiac drift”, this is what is occurring. A rising core temperature coupled with exacerbated dehydrating from excessive sweating will do two things: 1) cause your HR to continue to rise; and 2) cause your wattage to drop.
Get a powerful fan blowing on you to provide some cooling. You can also set your trainer up in the garage where the temperature tends to be lower than in the house, or set it up by a window that you can open to allow cooler air to flow over you to complement the blowing fan.
3. Get Mental
The mind is very powerful, so don’t underestimate its ability to impact your workout – positively or negatively. Riding in a cellar staring at a concrete wall is not nearly as stimulating as riding outside with nice scenery. Nor will it ever be. Watching movies or race videos helps keep you stimulated and pass the time. Virtual training programs like the ones I mentioned earlier are also quite a bit of fun. And what I like about them is that they dynamically alter the resistance of the ride based on the terrain you’re covering, forcing you to constantly shift and alter your cadence and riding style to match the virtual topography. This increases the “outdoor feel” of the ride in a way that you simply cannot replicate on a “dumb” trainer.
Adjust Your FTP?
So, should you adjust your FTP when riding indoors? I don’t think there is a clear cut answer, quite frankly. I think if you say “yes”, then you open yourself up to the slippery slope of interpretation, which gets messy quickly. Instead, my suggestion is to understand the correlation between riding outdoors and riding indoors, and then keep both numbers in mind as you complete both your outdoor and indoor workouts. Remember, our goal is to shoot for certain training zones – in other words, there are no absolutes. So, in the past when I had a 20-25w discrepancy between my old Stages power meter and my KICKR, then I allowed a delta of 15-30w and knew with confidence that my indoor workout would be very close to what I would accomplish doing a similar workout outside.
And don’t forget, HR is the ultimate governor. You need to know what your HR zone is for a particular type of workout and that will help you more accurately define your indoor power zones compared to your outdoor zones. If you think the power zones are the same, yet your HR is substantially different indoors vs outdoors, then you need to adjust your thinking.
When you look at all these variables, you realize that even if all of them have small impacts on wattage (up or down) that adding just a few of them together magnify the discrepancy you’re experiencing. You can either be aware of the discrepancy and account for it in your head by ensuring your HR is where you need it to be, or you can deliberately create and recalculate indoor power training zones. There’s no right or wrong answer. It all depends on how much hand-wringing this all causes you. I will admit, when I was younger, I would have wrung my hands raw over this sort of thing. Today, not so much. I know what a particular type of workout is meant to feel like and if I complete an indoor ride feeling the way I should, then job well done. Next!
In conclusion, there is a much greater chance that outdoor vs indoor watts will be different than similar. If you train exclusively outdoors (for example, if you live in a perpetually warm part of the world) or always indoors (for example, if you live in the heart of a busy city and, therefore, riding outside is neither safe nor practical), this isn’t a challenge for you. However, most athletes are forced indoors during the winter months, some exclusively so. We put a lot of time and energy into our training so the last thing we want is to emerge from our winter pain caves only to realize we are not as fit or prepared as we thought because we were tracking to the wrong numbers for several months.
If you are able to create a mix of outdoor and indoor riding through the winter months, then cut yourself some slack. Be aware of the differences in power outputs and account for them in your various rides. If it is super important for your indoor zones to be spot on accurate, then you need to complete a separate indoor-specific FTP test. It is really up to you and your tolerance for “fudge factor”.
In highly elite cyclists, we are led to believe they can get skeletal yet retain their massive power outputs without ill effect and without the use of fat stripping PEDs. So, I did an experiment on myself for 3 months to test out the hypothesis, and here are the results of it.
Several hot topics which deserve some time and attention.
It is pretty clear that most athletes strive for perfection. They look for better ways to train, to eat, to fuel, to sleep — anything that can improve race day performance is addressed. Every rock is turned over. And, this makes sense. Athletes have to care about what they are doing in order to strive to be the best they can be.
The challenge is when striving for perfection leads to a rigidity in life, an unrealistic view of where things stand and a highly critical nature where any misstep is viewed as catastrophic, where any slight deviation from the Master Plan makes the athlete become fraught with guilt.
Striving to be your best is a great attribute when properly honed and channeled. Perfectionism typically falls into one of two buckets. The first step is determining what type of perfectionist you are.
The first type is perfectionism is externally-imposed. What this means is that athletes see others — coaches, peers, friends, parents, etc. — are exerting the pressure upon them to be perfect. These types of perfectionists feel that an incredibly high standard of performance must be met in order to feel valued and appreciated by other people. The pressure is to work toward extremely difficult goals in order to please others and have them feel proud of you, because this is the only way to affirm you are on the path to achieving high standards of excellence.
The second type of perfectionism is self-imposed perfectionism. This type of perfectionism is defined by athletes who set their own high standards for performance, against which they evaluate and judge themselves. Striving toward these high standards and their perceived importance in order to attain perfection is central this type of perfectionism. If tempered and kept to a healthy dose, this can be a positive attribute to have.
With externally-imposed perfectionism, the risk is that athletes never feel like they measure up, that no matter what they do or how they perform, it’s never good enough. This can lead to ‘choking’ in competition because athletes can get paralyzed by worrying too much about the expectations and outcomes. Pressure from others — real or simply perceived by the athletes — will lead athletes to becoming frustrated or pissed off when mistakes are made. Burnout occurs more frequently with this type of perfectionism as well, because athletes are dealing with their own expectations as well as those of others (again, real or perceived). This leaves athletes feeling like they can never please those around them; even words of encouragement can be dismissed and cast aside.
Self-imposed perfectionism tends to allow for a healthier mindset in athletes. When athletes create high expectations for themselves, they are in control of those expectations — setting them and adjusting them — which allows for less anxiety when thinking about them and striving to achieve them. There is typically a higher level of motivation and balanced mindset. Yes, falling short of expectations or goals is disappointing. But, athletes can typically have a heart-to-heart with themselves and tell themselves they did everything they could to achieve whatever the outcome. So, while disappointment can still be experienced, athletes who deal with self-imposed perfectionism tend to use that as motivation to prepare better for the next competition.
Some athletes will say, “Well, I fall into both types. So, what do I make of this?” The key is to determine which of the two perfectionisms is primary and guides your athletic journey. By identifying which type is primary, you can better cope with the associated emotions and feelings which are elicited, so you can minimize the influences that detract from your enjoyment and performances, and maximize the motivational aspects of striving for perfection.
If you seek improvement, then it is fair to assume you possess some perfectionist tendencies. Understanding what these tendencies are and how you react to them will help you better cope with unrealistic expectations and any disappointments you will surely experience during your athletic endeavors. At the end of the day, you should derive enjoyment from the process of self-improvement, whether your goal is to complete your first race or become world champion. Fundamentally, the journey should be the same, regardless of the stakes.