Posts filed under tech tip

Building Power on the Trainer and on the Road


March 7, 2017

Published in Issue No. 752

By Coach John Hughez

Sunday it was 62F (17C) in Boulder, Colorado, and I went for a great endurance ride up to Jamestown, a cluster of 250 homes at 6,926 feet (2,105 m) elevation. Although the weather was warm there was still ice in James Creek.

And, sure enough, Monday's weather was windy, wet and very cold (back down to freezing). Good trainer weather, in other words. This "shoulder season," as winter becomes spring, is perfect for trainer workouts on those days when the weather still won't let you ride outside.

Daylight savings time is just a week away, and spring is officially just two weeks away. The purpose of spring training is to build the endurance that you’ll need for 2017. This is also the time to start introducing power into your workouts. More power is useful whether you commute (that headwind!), do endurance rides (those hills!) or do fast club rides (hammer your buddies)!

As much as you need to, you can start your spring training in earnest on the trainer, while hitting the road on the nice days.

To get the maximum benefit, each workout should have a specific purpose. (Riding for fun is also a good purpose!) Every workout should include at least a 5- to 10-minute warm-up, a main set and then at least a 5-minute cool-down. Here are four examples of main sets to build power. Except for the one-leg pedaling, the workouts can be done on the road or on the trainer.

One-Leg Pedaling

The purpose of this workout is to practice and improve your ability to recruit all of the muscle groups that go into a powerful pedal stroke.

Clip in with your left foot and rest your right foot on a stool, box, etc. Here’s the drill:

  • 30 seconds pedaling with just your left foot
  • 30 seconds pedaling with both feet. Don’t bother to clip in with your right foot — that’ll break the rhythm. Just rest it on the right pedal.
  • 30 seconds left foot
  • 30 seconds both feet
  • 30 seconds left feet
  • 30 seconds both feet

Then switch legs and repeat the sequence. Imagining the following will help you to recruit all of your muscles:

  • Top of the stroke – imagine that you are pushing your knee toward the handlebar or kicking a soccer ball.
  • Down stroke — imagine that you are pushing down toward the floor.
  • Bottom of the stroke — imagine that you are scraping your toe along the floor.
  • Back of the stroke — imagine that you are lifting a weight around your ankle.

If you can easily do three 30-second repeats, then make the repeats longer with the same amounts of time pedaling with one leg and with both legs, e.g., three repeats of 45 seconds one-leg / 45 seconds two-leg.

Every second or third time that you do the workout try to increase by five seconds the duration of all three repeats of both the one-leg and two-leg intervals.

Sweet Spot

The purpose is to increase your sustained power, for example, for climbing a hill.

The harder you ride, the greater the physiological overload. The more you overload your body and then allow sufficient recovery, the fitter you’ll get. This is why hammering is such a great way to build power … only it isn’t!

When you ride harder, you do increase the physiological overload; however, you need even more recovery, both between hard efforts and between hard days. You’ll get more cumulative overload if you don’t ride quite as hard, do much more volume and don’t need as much recovery. This is riding in the Sweet Spotmaximum cumulative overload.

Training in the Sweet Spot is the optimal way to build sustained power (but not peak power.) You can gauge riding in the Sweet Spot by Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE): you’re riding harder than at a conversational pace but aren’t starting to breathe very rapidly. You should still be able to say a word or two but not more. If you’re training with power, the Sweet Spot is 93-97% of Lactate Threshold or 88–94% of FTP.

The workout:

  • Repeat 3 to 6 times [4 minutes in the Sweet Spot and 2 minutes easy]. The easy recovery part by RPE is at a conversational or slower pace, <83% of LT or <75% of FTP.

If you can do 6 reps, then progress to:

  • Repeat 3 to 6 times [5 minutes in the Sweet Spot and 2.5 minutes easy]. The easy recovery interval is always 1/2 the Sweet Spot interval.

Over several workouts build until you can do all 6 repeats, and then progress to:

  • Repeat 3 to 6 times [6 minutes in the Sweet Spot and 3 minutes easy].
  • As you progress, you can add another minute, with rest being half the total time in the Sweet Spot.

Additional Resources:

See my eArticle Intensity 2016: Using Perceived Exertion, a Heart Rate Monitor or Power Meter to Maximize Training Effectiveness. The eArticle provides 10 different sets of workouts for 10 different training objectives. Each set includes 5 to 10 workouts, both structured interval-type workouts and unstructured free-form workouts. Just $4.99; $4.24 for Premium Members!


The purpose is to increase your power by improving the way your nervous system controls your muscles. In other words, you don’t need bigger or stronger muscles, you just need to use the ones you have more effectively!

A muscle is composed of motor units. A motor unit is a muscle fiber and the nerve that controls it. When you pedal, your motor units don’t naturally all fire at exactly the same time, so you’re wasting power. When you sprint, you’re demanding peak power and your body learns to coordinate the firing of all of the motor units. It’s like dialing in the timing on your car engine.

The workout:

  • Shift to a fairly hard gear, e.g., a 53 x 15, and sprint flat out for 30 seconds. If your cadence is under 60 rpm, then use a lower gear so that you’re pedaling 5 to 10 rpms faster than your normal cadence.

If you’re training by RPE your legs are screaming!

If you’re training by heart rate then ignore your HRM during the sprint — the increase in heart rate lags the increase in effort, so your HR won’t get up there until after you’ve sprinted!

If you’re training by power then try to produce the same peak power on all three sprints.

  • Shift back down and pedal until you’re fully recovered — don’t rush it — 10 minutes or more of recovery before the next sprint is fine. By RPE this recovery phase is at a conversational pace, 69 – 83% of LT or 56 – 75% of FTP.
  • Shift back to the hard gear and do another 30-second sprint. Get plenty of recovery.

Then do a third sprint.

As you get fitter you can either increase the duration of the sprints, three by 35 seconds, three by 40 seconds, etc., or decrease the recovery between sprints.

VO2 Max

The purpose is to increase your VO2 max, the maximum amount of oxygen that your working muscles can use. You can increase your VO2 max through long endurance rides — hard to do in the winter — or through very short intense efforts.

Michelle Grainger taught me the workout. This is similar to sprinting; however, you don’t get full recovery between your max efforts.

  • Repeat 3 to 5 times: [20 seconds flat out, 40 seconds very easy and then four minutes tempo pace.] By RPE the tempo pace is the pace at which you can still talk but can’t whistle, 84-94% of LT, 76-90% of FTP.

When you can do five repeats, then decrease the tempo duration:

  • Repeat 3 to 5 times: [20 seconds flat out, 40 seconds very easy and then just three minutes tempo pace.] 

Or you can increase the duration of the max effort:

  • Repeat 3 to 5 times: [30 seconds flat out, 30 seconds very easy and then four minutes tempo.]

How to Maximize Your Benefit

To get maximum benefit, do the same workout, for example Sweet Spot, for several weeks and then switch workouts. The intensity workouts (Sweet Spot, Sprinting and VO2 max) are described in increasing difficulty. So start with several weeks of Sweet Spot.

However, doing the same workout (progressively harder each time) can get pretty boring — I mix them up.

You can do the one-leg pedaling as many as three or four times a week — you could even include it in the warm-up for one of the other workouts.

Because the Sweet Spot, Sprinting and VO2 Max workouts are hard, you should only do them once or twice a week. You should have a recovery day before and after each of these three workouts, and if you’re doing them twice a week, then at least one recovery day between the workouts.

Rollers Help Develop a Smooth Stroke

Also in this issue, Brandon Bilyeu reviews Kinetic's Z rollers. Rollers are another great tool to complement riding the trainer. Riding rollers is the best way to develop a smooth, round pedal stroke. If you are skilled at riding the rollers, you can also use the rollers to do long, steady, higher-intensity workouts like the Sweet Spot workout. However, the sprints and VO2 max workouts are impossible to do on the rollers.

Daylight savings time is just over a week away and spring is officially just over two weeks away. Hopefully, you and I can get on the road soon! The trainer workouts are still very useful workouts to do during the week and on days that don't allow you to ride outside. And except for one-leg pedaling, you can do them on the road as well.


Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written nearly 30 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John's full bio.

Posted on March 9, 2017 and filed under tech tip.


By Jim Langley

Winter riding can wear and tear bicycles quickly because of the grit and crud that gets all over the frame and components. Also, excessive moisture can remove essential lube from the drivetrain, which accelerates chain, cassette, chainring, derailleur pulley and front derailleur cage wear, too.

This is why it’s best to clean bikes immediately after inclement winter rides or at least before riding them again. Here’s a quick rundown of don’t and do’s for a good job (“don’ts” are first in the title because they’re the things that can cause bigger problems).

With a little practice, you can clean a bike after rainy/snowy rides in about 15 minutes. This assumes it’s a relatively clean, well-maintained bike in the first place. And it does not include replacing any worn out parts. If it’s a grimy mess, a more thorough degreasing and cleaning will be required before a basic bike wash will be enough. And having to replace parts adds time, too.


Don’t use high-pressure car washes/washers

Last week I saw a cyclist at a coin-operated wash and almost hollered out the window, "Hey, stop that!” Bu, I didn’t because I still run into riders who think it’s a good practice. I have always recommended against it because the jet of water coming out of these devices is too powerful.

Yes, it will blast off dirt and debris and can even strip gunk from the drivetrain. But, the risk is damaging other things, like stripping decals, lifting chipped paint and forcing water at pressure into components. That can leave them completely empty of lube and full of moisture. The high pressure can also force itself into the tiny spaces between chain parts, leaving your bike with an annoying squeak that isn’t easy to silence.

Don’t submerge parts

Don’t laugh. I’ve known cyclocross racers who would toss their bike in the river after races to clean it off. And I knew a bike shop that put bikes in a bathtub to clean them. While it might seem like the fastest way to clean the entire bike, the problem is that when parts are dunked, water can get where it was never intended to go, such as inside the hub and cassette or pedals if yours aren’t well-sealed. You don’t want that.

Do suspend the bike to work on it

Whether you use a bike repair stand or something homemade to hold your bike off the ground, it will make bike washing easier and faster. Having the bike high keeps it closer to your eyes for better inspection and it saves you from having to bend over. Good repair stands allow rotating the bike 360 degrees, too, for inspecting all frame surfaces. It’s kind of amazing what you find stuck beneath the down tube.

Tip: Arm-type vehicle bike racks can work great in a pinch for holding bikes in the air for cleaning.

Do remove the wheels

Get in the habit of removing wheels when bike cleaning. As mentioned last week in the bearing check article, it’s when the wheels are removed that it’s easiest to feel the bearings for grit. So, after a nasty ride is the perfect time. Having the wheels off makes them easier to clean and inspect, too. Plus, without wheels, it’s much easier to clean the nooks and crannies of the bike, like behind the bottom bracket and around the chainrings.

Do use warm soapy water

Warm water makes bike cleaning easier. This produces lots of suds to lift the grit so you can rinse it off.

Tip: I know a rider who had a hot water tap installed outside his garage for easier bike/car cleaning. He kept a bucket by the door with sponges, brushes, soap and rags so it would be quick and easy to clean his bike and he wouldn’t be tempted to put it off.

Do use a grease-cutting soap like Dawn dishwashing liquid

There’s a huge difference in cleaning power between different brands and types of soaps. Lots of bike mechanics stick with Dawn dishwashing liquid because it cleans and cuts grease better than so many of the wannabe dishwashing soaps.

Do rinse before scrubbing

If a wet ride leaves your bike with a fine layer of dirt on top, don’t start wiping/rubbing it off or you may scratch your bike’s finish. Instead, rinse with water only first to get the dirt off and then start washing.

Don’t use only one sponge

Professional bike mechanics have lots of tricks, and one of the best is having dedicated sponges for different bike washing purposes – and not mixing them up. The two main ones are for working on the “clean” parts of the bike, like the frame, fork and wheels; another sponge is used for the greasy/grimy parts like the chain, crankset and derailleur pulleys.

This nicely solves the problem of only having one sponge and continually transferring grease to parts of the bike you just cleaned – or ruining your wet but otherwise still nice handlebar tape. And you can have as many dedicated sponges and brushes as you like in your cleaning kit.

Do inspect brake pads

Whether you have rim or disc brakes, brake pads (the parts that squeeze the rims or rotors) wear most quickly in the rain, snow and dirt. So, it’s wise to inspect them after wet rides. I also recommend having some spares on hand in your home shop so that you can compare the new with the old to tell exactly how worn your pads are. This also means you won’t have to wait to install new pads.

Don’t forget to re-lube after cleaning

A common mistake after cleaning is forgetting to re-lube. It’s important to refresh the lubes that the rain, snow and your cleaning stripped off your bike or else corrosion can set in. So be sure to lube the chain and brake and derailleur pivots. Let it sit for a bit and then wipe off any excess to keep your just-cleaned bike that way.


Jim Langley is RBR's Technical Editor. He has been a pro mechanic and cycling writer for more than 40 years. He's the author of Your Home Bicycle Workshop in the RBR eBookstore. Check out his "cycling aficionado" website at, his Q&A blog and updates at Twitter. Jim's streak of consecutive cycling days has reached more than 8,000. Click to read Jim's full bio.

Posted on February 16, 2017 and filed under tech tip.