Q&A: Improve your power!

Improving climbing is a topic addressed frequently in the cycling press, but I have the opposite problem. With the guys I regularly ride with I will be right up there on the hills. But when they are powering along on the flat I’m clinging desperately to their wheel. How can I improve my speed on the flat?
Tom, Wirral

Tom, power is a combination of pedalling speed and strength, so have a look at your cadence and make sure you’re comfortable at 90rpm and even higher in short bursts. Next try to increase your strength by introducing some basic core strength and squats/leg-press exercises into your programme. It’s simple physics, more speed and strength equals more power.

Next make sure you are actually ‘training’ more often than just riding. It sounds like you are doing a lot of group riding with your mates, which is fine but be aware that this might not be the best way to see improvements. Conditioning principles demand that in order to see adaptations you need to progressively ‘overload’ your training, this means gradually increasing volume, intensity and durations. Group riding doesn’t usually allow for this kind of structure as its highly variable.

So try to ensure you have sufficient training time on your own to work on the areas you need to improve.

These sessions should be based on your maximum heart rate (MHR) and a solid understanding of the various training zones and the adaptations you get from them. Use a heart-rate monitor or better still a power meter to ensure you are training in the correct zones.

On a six-zone system, zone 3 is around 75-80 per cent of MHR and continuous training session at this intensity would last for between 45min to 2 hours. Zone 3 training gives you improved sustainable power. Zone 4 training at around 80-90 per cent of MHR improves sustainable race pace, pushes your power at lactate threshold up and a continuous training session at this intensity might last for about 30 minutes to one hour.

Zone 5 is very hard, at around 90-95 per cent of MHR and you’d be looking at no more than around 15-40 minutes continuous training at this intensity. This is great for developing your resistance to short term fatigue and sustaining a high percentage of your maximal aerobic power, ideal for the kind of adaptation you’re looking for when trying to stay with ‘stronger’ mates on the flat.

Structured work across these zones would improve your performance but avoid extensive work in zone 4. It is ideal for TT development but can result in staleness as it changes some fast-twitch muscle fibres into slow twitch.

Huw Williams is a BC Level Three coach

This article was first published in the February 21 issue of Cycling Weekly. You can also read our magazines on Zinio, download from the Apple store and also through Kindle Fire.