Project Faster: Tracking to Improve Cycling Performance
sports & fitness
Steve Dean has been doing triathlons for about 10 years on and off with varying consistency. 2007 was his most active year and he did a lot of self-tracking--which was when he was first introduced to Quantifed Self. He now runs the Quantifed Self group in New York. His last race was in 2012 and it was about 6 1/2 hours long. The last two years, he was racing a lot so he wanted to do something different and ran a QS experiment called Project Faster in sensing, measuring and tracking watts to increase his cycling power output. He ran the experiment for six months. In this talk, he discusses his experiment and what he learned.
I’m Steve Dean, I run the Quantified Self group in New York, and I’m going to talk to you about Project Faster and how I use tracking to improve cycling performance over the last six months.
So I’ve been doing triathlons for about 10 years on and off with varying consistency. 2007 was probably my most active year when I did Iron Man Lake Placid. A lot of self-tracking there, I’ve given a talk on that and it was really when I was first introduced to QS.
But last time I raced was 2012 when I raced a course in Middlebury, Connecticut called the Quassy Half; the distances are at the top. And the race was about 6 ½ hours. That’s how long it took me, and I thought in the last two years I have been racing a lot, and I wanted to do something different. I wanted to run a QS experiment. Well, winter training in New York is very difficult, especially for cycling, so I joined a new team and the team is based in New York. It’s called Tailwind Endurance, and what’s unique about Tailwind is that all of the cycling is done indoors. And specifically it’s done with a measurement that we call power.
So we use these devices, and the devices are called a computrainer, and use it your bike on the computrainer and it measures the load that you are, that load output from your pedal stroke, so it detects the load. Now, what happens is the device determines your power output for each athlete, and then work out are tailored to each athlete based on that power, and I’m going to go into a little bit more detail of that about the number and the importance of it.
So there is a computer interface that sits in front of you, the cyclist as you’re sitting at your bike, and the output – there’s a bunch of numbers, but the one we’re going to focus on today and what I want to share with you is the important one which is power and power is measured in Watts. And every athlete has their own Watts that we determined from the test. And this is us in the studio, and each of us is focused on what we call Watts in the box and we are really trying to train that number. So how did we calculate that?
So this power we call a functional threshold power, and I will refer to it as the FTP, and this is a number that is basically roughly measures the amount of Watts that an athlete can sustain over one hour on a bike and here’s the test that we run.
So you do about 20 or 30 minutes of warmup on the bike, and then the two zones that I show, the first part of the test is a five-minute what we call blowout effort. And you basically get on your bike after you’ve done your 30 minute warmup, and you ride as hard and as fast as you can. Then you get about a 10 minute break of easy recovery riding, and then you go into the test. And the test is a full 20 minutes.
The 20 minutes gradually moves up to where that five-minute blowout effort is, and then what you do is you take the average amount of Watts and that determines your functional threshold power at that point in time.
So every month, we started training in November and every month – this is our coach, every month, we would take a test. We would go to this 20 minute test and we would set a baseline. Each athlete would set a baseline.
Once we set that baseline of the FTP that power in Watts we would train over the next four weeks at that number. So what I would do at the beginning is take the test, I will learn my FTP, and then I would train at that number and I’ll show you what that looks like.
So he is my first baseline FTP test on December 14. My threshold number, the FTP number was 182, that’s 182 Watts that I was putting out in that test, so that’s where I started in December. And the other numbers that you see in this little printout which I attached to the front of my bike are different zones based on what we trained.
So for the next month, I took that number 182, and I would train around that number. So I’m basically exercising my muscles at this particular wattage. So I’m looking at that Watts in the box and training that for four weeks.
Then a month later, we’d do another test. Same test, but now as you see here, the result of my FTP went up to 210, so I’ve added about 28 Watts based on the training that I did in the past month.
So now I’ve got a new number of 210 and then I spend the next four weeks training at that number.
That was an example of one of the workouts where I’m working right in and around that FTP number. A month later, February 8, we do the power test again. Now my number, which was originally back in December was 182, had moved up to 230.
Now, I take that FTP number, I’ve learned the new FTP in terms of Mike output and for the next four weeks I train at that number of 230. And this is another example of a work out, and this is called a VOT Max and I’m training in and around of actually a little bit above that number.
In March we do another power test and now the number has bumped up to 242, and then I have new zones above and below.
So essentially what has happened from December 14, all the way to March 8 is that I increased my wattage output by 60 Watts. And that was a pretty significant increase. I was so excited to do this experiment and to actually see real time numbers in the training aspect of this team and translate into more power on the bike.
So from that date on there were more months of indoor training at that new FTP which was 242 Watts.
So then finally around late April, when the winter finally subsided, I transferred that power outdoors. And I have to say I hadn’t been outdoors on my bike in almost 6 months, and I was very surprised to see how well the power numbers had transferred onto the bike outdoors.
So now this takes us to June 7 and I get to take basically my experiment and go practice and see what happens. So, I returned to the same race that I did in 2012. This is us at the swim start at Middlebury, Connecticut. This was just two weeks ago, and I will just tell you that this was the opportunity to test these new power numbers and the power work that I done from the previous seven months.
And this is coming out at the swim exit, and I had improvements across-the-board in my time, and one of the things that we were promised on the team was that that power work on the bike would also translate to improvement on our run as well.
So he is the difference between 2012 and 2015, and an improvement of about half an hour on my overall time in the race. It was measurable results that I could get based on the numbers that I had trained over the seven months.
So my big takeaway and recommendation to you is if you want to race on your bike is to train with power. Thank you.