Thursday, February 14, 2013

Why Cyclists are so Damn Skinny ...

I train with power on the bike.

I believe everyone should train with power and hopefully after this brief analysis you'll see why?

Each year I usually cycle very sporadically over the winter and run lots of miles. By the time Feb/Mar roll around I am ready to get back in the saddle and this means I need to do a Functional Threshold Power Test(FTP).  An FTP test is simply the maximum amount of watts you can hold for one hour. This number is than used as your baseline for training and you retest every 6 weeks to track improvement and reset the baseline. Simple, right?

I did my FTP test last Wednesday and here are the results I wrote in my Training Peaks log:

- My FTP is 207.1 on 2/6//13.

- FTP is down from 218 on 3/18/12.

- In March 2012 my weight during that FTP Test was 153lbs, which is a w/kg of 2.98.

            - Sidebar: W/Kg stands for Watts per Kilograms. This is the avg watts push divided by my weight in kilograms. The higher the number the better.

- However, on 2/6/13 my weight was 142lbs** which makes my W/Kg 3.215 (nice).

So ...  I lost 11 watts from LYs FTP Test at the same time BUT my W/Kg went up by .23. This means I am pushing less Watts but climbing better and riding faster despite the drop in power. This is why Cyclists look like bean poles!

Now what the heck does this all mean to a Triathlete?

Well, this was my first FTP test after being sick and a long layoff. I expected it to be low and over the next 8 months my goal is to get my weight down another 3lbs to 139lbs and increase my FTP to 221w. If these two goals are accomplished my W/Kg's would be 3.51.

Now these numbers become relevant when you plug them into a calculator ( to figure out what can be accomplished on the bike course. My "A" race this year is Ironman Florida so it will be the course I use for the calculations.

Here is what things will look like:

At 139lbs and an FTP of 221, which would be 3.51 w/kg, the bike split on a flat course like Florida would be:

- @65% FTP = 144watts avg  = 5hr 29min

- @70% FTP = 155watts avg = 5hr 19min

If I rode the course today at an FTP of 207 and @65% FTP = avg watts 135 = 5hr 37min.  

These numbers do not take into account wind or road conditions but are nice to use when trying to estimate performance.

By training with power I have clear and concise metrics with clear and concise goals. An FTP of 221 is very attainable for me, even at a lesser weight then last year. It is something that I am very excited to go after because by training with power it is measurable and as I move through my training my fitness level will be a known entity as opposed to something I am guessing at.

Do you train with power? After reading this are you going on a crash diet?

Thanks for Reading,


** I have not weighed 142lbs since I was 13yo.


  1. Correction, this is why climbers look like beanpoles (2.0 pounds per inch). The time trialist and sprinters are larger cyclist (2.5 pounds per inch).

    Power meters are basically a legal way to cheat, you find your number and just sit on it all race long, I want a power meter just for this reason, it is the most effective way to train and race.

    We are doing races, where the other race is more suit for each other. I am more suited for IMFL, you are more suited for the climbs in IMSW.

    Every pound extra is 1.5 watts of more energy needed to keep the same pace. So, if we both want to go 20mph on the bike, based on our race weights goals, I will need to 76.5 more watts of energy to keep pace. But I am not talking power to weight ratio. You are going to see some big boys fly at IMFL, because on a flat course, the athletes that have a higher weight can produce more raw power, which throws w/kg out the window. You wont have any hills to utlize the w/kg and offset the pure raw factor that large riders have.

    Dont worry, you will pass them all on the run.

    1. Truth - it is the climbers who look like beanpoles! And to that point I am 69" tall, so you can see why I am trying to get my race weight to 139.

      And to your point about the run, which I didn't explain well above, You'll see the 65% and 70% to FTP mentioned. These are the percentages of my FTP (of 100%) that I try to hold for a long course like an Ironman Ride. For 70.3's I try and hold 85% of FTP. Olympics - 95% and sprints all out.

      AND the reason for holding these lower percentages is so you can still run off the bike. This is a very important aspect of training and racing with power that I glossed over.

  2. ALL THE POWER!!! I've been riding with a power meter for over a year and it is the only thing that really makes sense to me. I love that you can see real improvement over time, and its the only way I know how to pace myself in training and races. <3

    1. Jon would have it no other way I assume (-:

  3. Great summary Jeff. I use a power meter, and follow a similar schedule to you..."dabble" with riding over the winter while running a lot of miles. The PM is great to see where I'm at to "start" the season and to plan my workout goals accordingly. The meter doesn't lie. Now, gotta go lose 5 lbs!

    1. Chris, it is funny how those of us that are runners first seem to have this same type of training setup every year.

      I'd like to take the winter and build power and increase my FTP but there are just so many darn good running events going on around here in the winter!


    FTP tests are good for marking improvement and helping to set training and race paces. However, I do think these tests also need to be matched with analysis of daily training and key races. For e.g., if you do a half ironman leading into a full ironman, that data is important.

    Using WKO+ software (or something similar), I've also been able assess what is and is not efficient about my cycling. When I first started using the PM, I found random spikes in my power profile, with each spike burning precious energy every time. I've been able to really smooth out my cycling and become more efficient.

    I know exactly what Big Daddy means by saying it's like cheating. You know what numbers you can stand. But, I also think its important to match power ranges with other information - HR and RPE still matter. Power is the actual effort you are expending, and HR is how your body is reacting to it. We can't guarantee (unfortunately) that our bodies will react to the watts in the same way (e.g., heat). So, if I'm racing IM and my target range is 150-160w, with a 180-200w cap for climbing, but my HR is 155bpm or higher, I'm in trouble (ideally I would be around 145-150bpm on the bike in an IM), and I have back off the watts - no matter what. Sticking to the watts, while ignoring HR can be a risky game - especially when it comes time for the run.

    I could go on forever. I'm a total power and data dork... #powerslut

    And, FWIW... I come from a running background. But, I spent this past fall and winter building my bike strength and it paid off with a 25 minute faster half Ironman bike split. While I missed the running races, the sacrifice was worth it for the bump in speed and power - at least for me.

    1. Thanks Maria, Nice recap, sometimes we forget about the other metrics (HR,RPE) and just focus on the watts and this can be detrimental. Especially when we spend most of our time on a trainer in an air conditioned room. Because when summer rolls around that indoor FTP is going to feel a lot harder to hit in the blazing sun and humidity.

  5. Off to buy a power meter......m'fer this sport is expensive.

    By the way as of this morning: 142.4 lbs and 7.5% BF.......BRING IT IMTX!!!!!

  6. No and no.

    I don't want to think that much when I am training or racing haha. Call me lazy, but winging it is more fun and makes for better stories about screwing up.

    As for being that skinny, I am tired of looking gangly, I want some meat on these bones again!

  7. I will admit, it is all foreign to me! I come from the era of training w/ my computer and cadence and that's about it. I'm sure if i were serious at all about triathlon anymore, I'd get on board. But I'm way too mellow about my tri training these days to learn a new way to measure things!

  8. Come back to Memphis and will get some more meat on them bones!

    1. Memphis would get me back into the low 160's in like 3 days. That place is evil!

  9. Because I train with power, I instantly ride 15mph faster.

  10. I've got a power meter on my Tracx trainer. Love it! it's made a big difference in understanding what I'm doing on the bike, and I'm getting way more consistent training rides. I pay attention to heart rate sometimes, but more generally I like to pay attention to how I'm feeling at a particular wattage. I'm big for a cyclist, a little over 100 Kg, and need to pare some of it off.

  11. how about a breakdown of your diet plan

    1. I'll write up a post on how I now eat - pretty simple. Low fat, lean proteins, carbs early in the day, eat 5-6x. Will write it up this weekend, Ryan.

    2. Jeff - just copy and paste my post about my diet and how it changed. Its probably exactly the same outside of your occasional dabble into meat or fish......haha!

      Lean Texan beanpoles. Seriously if the wind is blowing at the Great Planes Ride we may have to put bricks into our cycling jerseys.

  12. Happy to finally be joining the power cult.

  13. With power measurement coming down in price at a quick pace, I might be able to afford it soon!

    1. The new Stages power meter startes at $699. It is placed on the left side crank arm of you existing crank.

  14. Um... you are going to need to weigh more than 139 in Florida or the wind will tip you over. Remember... there are no hills so you don't need to be a climber.

    I found this post kind of nerdy and loved it. :)

    1. I can just get real small on the bike and run like a gazelle!

  15. this is interesting!
    I wish I had the time / money / patience / analytical qualities needed to do this for myself/ Right now I am all on feel...with some HR training on the long bike sessions. your focus on weight...its important for me and I really need to take the next step. getting 12 weeks must be really really focused and strong..

  16. I totally get that training with power is the way to go...BUT...I am a little afraid of the $$$ and time it takes to figure that shit out.

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