Recently we discussed power-to-weight ratio and followed up by delving into how to improve that number by decrease weight (the bottom number in this ratio). The other way to improve power-to-weight ratio is to increase the top number, power output.
A power meter allows you to measure intensity and measure progress. It’s a training tool as well as a pacing (or race day) tool. It’s the most effective way to train and to communicate with a coach – who knows how to read your test results and implement your power numbers into a personalized plan. Power meters are the best tool for cycling 0- whether you’re training or racing.
But tools are only good when you know how to use them. A good coach can help you make sense of the numbers you get from your tests and put those numbers into a plan to make you a stronger cyclist. If you’re not ready for a cycling coach, there’s plenty of training advice to be found online.
One such power-based workout, posted in Bicyling.com, recently caught our eye.
The Ultimate Interval
Exercise physiologist Paul Laursen, of the University of Queensland, set out to determine if there was one interval that stood out as the most effective to improve cyclists’ performance. Laursen (and subsequent studies) found a workout he called T-Max to be the most successful even if it is difficult to complete. More than a third of Laursen’s test subjects failed to complete the prescribed workout. Even still, the results were astounding: an average increase in power output by five to six percent.
One of Laursen’s test subjects, an Aussie by the name of Peter Herzig, who would go on to become a professional cyclist, saw his power output increase by more than ten percent and his VO2 max increase by three points. He also took four minutes off his 40k TT.
So, what is the “ultimate workout?” And, more importantly, can you handle it?
All it takes to develop blow-their-legs-off power is one hour—one brutal, agonizing, endless hour of astounding misery and pain. Just one. ~ Ian Dille, Bicycling.com
T-Max refers to the length of time you can hold your peak power output (PPO) until you give in to exhaustion. Most people can hold out for about four to six minutes. To find your T-Max, Bicycling.com offers these instructions:
- Determine Your Peak Power Output. Using a power-measuring device, begin riding at 100 watts. Increase power by 30 watts every minute until you reach exhaustion. Laursen deemed test subjects fully exhausted when they could not keep their cadence above 60 rpm. You can use that benchmark, but let’s be honest, you’ll know when you’re done. The number of watts you produce just before collapsing is your peak power output, or PPO.
- Find Your T-Max. Rest for a day or two. Again using a power meter, ride at your PPO until you can no longer sustain that level of output. The amount of time you can hold your PPO is your T-Max. For most of us, that’s between four and six minutes.
The workout that Laursen found the most effective was to have cyclists perform most intervals at 60% of their T-Max with twice that amount of time for recovery between efforts. As an example, someone with a T-Max of four minutes would ride hard for 2:30, followed by five minutes of recovery. To create your T-Max Interval workout:
- Calculate Your Ultimate Interval. Multiply your T-Max time by 0.6. This is the work phase of your interval. Double the work phase to set your recovery time between efforts.
- Give It a Try. The original study prescribed eight hard efforts. But if you’d rather avoid losing your lunch, start with two or three intervals. Do two sessions a week, with at least two days of rest or other easy riding between. Add one interval to each set every week until you achieve five or six intervals per workout. Build up to eight – if you can.
When the study was duplicated at Ithaca College, research project advisor Tom Swensen found, “The guys could do about five or six intervals max. I think a goal of eight is too many.” In fact, Laursen admits that “The stress is quite significant.” With that in mind, we recommend you heed the advice of beginning with one to three of the intervals, and adding a set every week of consistent training. And, should you attempt this workout indoors, we highly recommend you add a bucket to your indoor training set-up.
Higher Gear recommends checking with your doctor before beginning any new exercise program.