Editor Elizabeth Hufton prepares for winter in the pain cave with just a Wattbike for company
Few people would choose to spend more time at the office, let alone in the basement. But I’ve just committed to spending a few hours in there every week, for six months, in the name of getting faster at triathlon.
This isn’t just about staring at concrete walls in a bid to toughen up my mind. The basement of Triathlon Plus Towers contains a Wattbike: a high-tech indoor bike trainer developed with British Cycling and used by ITU world champion Non Stanford. I’ve always felt my bike performances had untapped potential.
My best effort was last year, a 1:14:32 PB over 40km at the Virgin Active London Triathlon. This year, a repeat attempt ended in a snapped chain on the final lap –everyone joked that this was down to my massive power output. But, as I found out at my initial assessment with Wattbike’s sport scientist Eddie Fletcher, massive power output is no joke…
Heading up to Eddie’s testing lab, I was apprehensive. My colleague Mark Robinson from sister magazine Cycling Plus had met Eddie before and warned me that his passion for power readouts was matched only by his penchant for pushing people through the pain barrier. But that was the reason for my visit: to undergo a RAMP test to find out my max one-minute power output so that Eddie could set me training zones. He’d also talk me through set-up on the bike and how to use its gearing and displays.
Eddie also explained the polar view, one of Wattbike’s unique selling points. It’s a visual display of power output from your right and left legs, showing up imbalances between the two and weakspots in your technique.
Then it was time for a 20-minute warm-up, when I began to see what Mark was talking about – for many people this would constitute a decent interval session – and the test. We upped the power by 15 watts each minute, until I reached the maximum power I could hold for one minute. The outcome held a few surprises.
First off was the news that my ‘weak’ left side, injured since 2007, was putting out more power than the right. Then I had to face up to my current lack of fitness. Finally, my pedalling technique needed work. The polar view, which should resemble “a peanut with aspirations to be a sausage”, was a mess. Luckily this is precisely what the Wattbike is best at tackling, says Eddie. “It offers very precise training, but the real benefit for triathletes is making sure they get that technique right. Not only does it improve their cycling but it has a beneficial effect on their running.”
Real world riding
Eddie advises continuing with one or two road rides each week, but says adding in time on the Wattbike shows quick results. “Concentrate on getting your technique right and you’ll get some real gains. What I’ve found is that nothing happens on the road bike for a while, whilst you’re doing this technique work, and then all of a sudden, cyclists find they are faster.”
The subject: Elizabeth Hufton, Triathlon Plus editor
1:14:32 (Olympic distance),
Initial test results:
Max 1min power: 220 watts
Max HR: 188bpm
VO2 max: 52.9ml/kg/min
Left/right power distribution: 56%/44%
Angle of peak force: 111/120
“Your ‘shape’ [in the polar view] and power distribution was consistent across the test – the imbalance needs to be worked upon to prevent injury and improve your cycling performance overall. Reduce the force a little on the left and transfer to the right. Try to engage the hamstrings and calf muscles more in the recovery upstroke phase – imagine scraping mud off the bottom of shoes to reduce those dead spots.”
“I wasn’t surprised to be out of shape, and need to work on my endurance base. But I am surprised my non-injured side is weaker – obviously too many single-leg squats on the left! – and I had thought my pedalling technique was pretty good till now. I’ll be doing two to three Wattbike sessions each week with one or two road rides, focusing on those areas.”