I first heard the word POWER used in relation to indoor cycling when I had my basic instructor training on Wattbikes. Well, I have heard about power being used on Keiser bikes but I was not taught about how to use it, let alone teach with it.
So I learnt a bit about the concept of using power in your training on a Wattbike but there was an issue here – these bikes are fantastic for training but not so much for exercising. It’s like using an Aston Martin to nip up for milk to the corner shop. I ended up teaching the “old school” way on them: using the RPMs and resistance.
But then a gym where I have regular classes brought in those new shiny bikes that light up in different colours and have the most futuristic name to go with it: Matrix IC7. And the concept of POWER in cycling came up again. Like it or no Izabela – Welcome to Coaching with Colour.
I was a bit sceptical to begin with. There is loads of data that the bike feeds back to you but why would an average Joe be bothered with it? However since the bikes came in a couple of months ago I have done loads of reading, online research, online training and actual 2 day course on training with power in indoor cycling or cycling in general. There is still loads for me to learn but I feel ready to write this little guide directed as much at an average spin class attendee and someone who wants to take their fitness to another level. Or even an outdoor cyclist who may be a bit doubtful how sitting indoors can make them any stronger or better outside.
WHAT IS POWER? In simplest terms related to cycling: it’s your speed/cadence x your resistance/gear. It is measured in WATTS. The number of watts you produce is a MEASURE of how hard you are working. With no consoles you can only guess your speed and resistance. Do you want to see it?
I DON’T EVEN OWN A REAL BIKE SO WHAT DO I CARE ABOUT POWER?
I spoke to Ruth, one of my regulars and now more like a friend, last week in the changing rooms: “Hey Ruth, I haven’t seen you in the class today?”. “No, I had to change my gym routine. You see I started putting on weight again. I can see the change in my body. Cycling doesn’t seem to do it for me anymore. I am doing weight training now”. So Ruth used to do about 5 indoor cycling classes a week. On Tuesdays she would do both mine back to back. What happened then? Has she reached the level of too-fit-for-cycling? No but it is quite simple: we do not appreciate how clever our bodies are.
If from nothing you go to 2 classes a week with the intent of losing weight, you will lose it. To a point. Until your body gets used to your gym timetable. When I kept teaching more and more classes a week: 3-4-5-6 I was constantly hungry but I seemed to be able to eat loads and still lose weight. Now I am on 10 a week and I don’t anymore. Why? Because this is now a regular number. The body knows what is coming and it found a coping strategy. I hit the dreaded plateau. I can see you screaming: WHAT?! 10?! AND NOT LOSING WEIGHT!? I CAN’T DO MORE THEN 10?! And that’s not the way forward. You change the WHAT or HOW and you don’t have to change the HOW MUCH.
Yes, you can change your routine completely and move into weight training but what if you really, really like indoor cycling? You re-focus your training. Do you actually know how hard you are working? Do you know if you are any stronger on the bike than you were 3 months ago? Do you know what your strong and week points are?
NO STRESS – NO ADAPTATION.
Until the bikes with power meters came around we had really no way of measuring any of this. Now we can. Now you can test yourself and retest 3 or 6 months later and see if you got fitter. And by watching the numbers on the consoles and working towards your goals you can still keep the same number of classes a week and if your goal was to do with losing weight – you will keep losing it. I kid you not!
Don’t worry though: this does not only apply to HIIT classes. It doesn’t have to be all out effort each time.
WHAT DOES POWER TRAINING DO FOR ME?
It will increase your muscular strength. It will improve the toning of your legs (hello!). It will improve your cardiovascular fitness overall. It will add variety and motivation to your training: you will know what you are working towards and you will know when you get there. Hell, it will make you a better runner too! I can put you in touch with Russ who takes my classes twice a week and over the last 12 months his half marathon times improved significantly since he added indoor cycling to his fitness routine.
MAKE IT PERSONAL – SPECIFIC
Do you want to get stronger? On the Matrix bikes you keep to your colour zones and pay attention where you are in the zone: lower end or higher end. Maybe you want to get faster? When given an RPM bracket stick to the higher end – you can see your speed in a number format so you can monitor it.
IT ALL SOUNDS LOVELY. IT SOUNDS LIKE LOADS OF FUN. YAY!
DISCLAIMER: NO. IT CAN REALLY, REALLY SUCK. You know me. I tell it as it is. But it will get unpleasant. It will get uncomfortable. You will be panting and sweating more than what you are used to. Exercise can be fun. Training is great fun when you put it into use on a race day or when you achieve your goal in the class by hitting that RPM or that WATT number you were aiming for. A wide grin and a fist pump will come. Later. But not during. It is hard. Your brain will tell you: “Stop now, I don’t like it. Why? WHY? You could have been in a pub right now!” You will leave a puddle of sweat underneath your bike. When given a 2 min recovery song in an exercise class you go: “Oh God, 2min!? Boring! Let me check the view outside…” When you train you go: “Oh, God! 2min?! I need 4. Please, please can I have 2.5?!”.
Now in a group class environment you will always have yourself as the worst enemy. You will have that little devil on your left shoulder saying: “She can’t see you now… She doesn’t know what your goal is anyway… Take a bit of the resistance down… You know you can push 200 WATTS, you KNOW it. You don’t actually have to DO it now… Just scrunch your face so it looks like you are pushing it…” But at the end of the class when you press your SUMMARY button and see those numbers and actually see whether you have achieved your targets you will KNOW you won’t have to GUESS. I don’t need to see it. But YOU will.
WHY THEN? WHY?!
The key is knowing why you are training. You hear me ask this question at the start of many of my classes: “Why are you here? Why are you in an (often) hot studio, willing to sweat next to other 20 people instead of being somewhere nice, relaxing?”. “Why are you training?” is a bit of a broader question that will focus not on that one class but a few weeks or months. In simple terms in any sport you train to be faster or stronger while suffering less in the process. This will not apply if your goal is workout pain: unless you are sliding off the bike after every single class and have to be reminded where the changing rooms are you don’t consider the class good.
But if you want to know where you are at with your fitness, where you can or should take it to become better and you want to see in black and white (or colour) the journey and the results – welcome to the world of training with power.
Are you willing to take on the challenge? I am actually getting a coach myself and will be embarking on this fitness road with you so watch this space. Starting in a couple of weeks!
Meanwhile keep an eye on the next post coming: the importance of fitness testing when training with power.