4 Powerful Training Data Points That Will Improve Your Workouts


Athletes generate more data than ever, and the number of ways to slice and dice the information continues to expand. There are times when information overload can do you more harm than good, and most commonly that time is right in the middle of your workout. My advice is to focus on a smaller subset of information during your ride, and save most of the analysis for your post-ride download – whether that’s with a coach or on your own. When it comes to the information you want to focus on, here are a few recommendations:

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This is the obvious one, but it’s only relevant if you’re going out for a structured workout. During an interval workout, remember that VO2 intervals (PowerIntervals on the bike, Fartlek intervals or track workouts when running) are max efforts. Rather than gauge your efforts on the numbers in real-time, you’re more likely to get the most of the workout by opening up the throttle and going for it, and then looking at the data to make sure your efforts are consistent from interval to interval. If it’s more of an aerobic tempo or lactate-threshold interval set where the efforts are longer and the intensities more sustainable, then you want to use your heart rate/power/pace data to stay within the appropriate range.

Kilojoules for Volume:

On the bike, setting a goal for your daily or weekly kilojoules can be a good way to gain a better understanding of the work you’re actually doing. If you’re a person who generally looks at your average pace or average power as the marker of whether an endurance ride was “good” or not, focusing on kilojoules would be a useful exercise. Due to a metabolic and mathematical coincidence, you can generally view kilojoules of work done on the bike to be roughly equal to the calories burned to produce that work. Perhaps more important, you can use kilojoules to standardize your endurance rides. Depending on the wind conditions, the size/composition of the group you’re riding with, or the amount of climbing you’re doing, a 1500-kilojoule ride could take 90 minutes or nearly three hours. Fast group rides can sometimes be deceptively easy, when viewed in terms of kilojoules. If the speed is high but the group is large and you’re spending most of your time in the draft, your actual workload may not be very high. In contrast, during solo ride into a headwind you may rack up kilojoules faster, despite struggling along at a low speed. How many kilojoules should you aim for? Look at your goal events, if you have power files from previous ones. To have the endurance to complete your goal event at the same or greater performance levels, you need to build up to those kilojoule levels again.
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I’m not talking about your pace on a particular climb, or even how many vertical feet you ascended during your ride. I’m talking about how much time you spent going uphill. This is particularly important for athletes who will be competing or participating in long events that feature a ton of climbing; like the events on the Endurance Bucket List (Tour of California, USA Pro Challenge, La Ruta, etc.). For instance, I know that during the first stage of La Ruta, I’ll spend more than 2.5 hours on extended climbs (not including small rollers). So in training I plan some routes that pack 2.5 hours of climbing into a 4- to 5-hour ride. The pace and power outputs don’t correlate all that well between these workouts and race-day performances because of variations in recovery and riding time between climbs, but it’s important to understand how your body – and brain – will act after 2-plus hours of grinding uphill.

Focus on Long-Term Fitness Gains, Not Just Daily Ride PRs:

We like to try out a lot of different training technologies here so we can help athletes understand how to use them. All our Ridley bikes are equipped with PowerTaps and Joule GPS head units, and we have a partnership with Strava, so we’ve been having a lot of discussions with athletes about their constant urge for ‘personal bests’ and KOMs. There are plenty of ways to track your pace or performance markers over known terrain, which is great for tracking your fitness gains over time. Strava can be useful for tracking performance gains over time, as well, and it’s one of the easiest tools for doing so. As your segment results add up over time you can compare your performance on a local climb over the past year. Now, since some of those rides were fast and others were slow and you weren’t always trying to go your fastest up that climb, you have to look at the general trend of the data more than the individual data points. If you are getting generally faster and stronger, your times on a segment you use frequently will generally get faster and more consistent. However, be careful not to get too caught up in chasing segment times or trying to set a new PR on your favorite local hill every time you go up it. I love Strava because of how easy it is to use and the data it records, but from a training perspective it’s also important to have the discipline to follow your personal program and make sure your endurance rides and recovery rides are done at the appropriate intensities.

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Chris Carmichael
CEO/Head Coach of CTS

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Comments 13

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  4. I prepare for “race the train” the Durango, CO. ride to Silverton each year by riding up hwy 65 on a Mtn bike with a 30 Lb pack in the spring pushing myself till I can climb the 22 mile grand mesa summit in 4 hrs……seems to work for me.

  5. Since I do not have a power meter, are you saying I can use the calories I burned in a workout as measured by my Polar HR monitor or Garmin smart watch to help me see how much power I am generating? As a way of comparing rides.

  6. I would like to hear the answer to the Zwift question. I’m doing a structured training program through TrainerRoad and am wondering what the benefit of Zwift might compared to TrainerRoad.

    1. Post

      See the comment below for part of the answer. With the advent of the workout mode on Zwift, both systems allow you to perform structured interval workouts. The biggest difference I know of is the user experience, in that with TrainerRoad you are watching whatever you want and your training data is overlaid on the screen. With Zwift, even in workout mode, you are riding one of their courses. When you’re doing an interval it keeps the power where it’s supposed to be and the speed you’re going on the screen responds accordingly. When you are in recovery between intervals, power goes way down and speed responds accordingly, too. This can mean you go from flying up a climb to crawling up it on screen. – Jim Rutberg, CTS Pro Coach

  7. Chris (and CTS),
    What do you think of the latest Zwift craze? I struggle with it as winter is my time to get dedicated efforts in on the trainer for the best bang to time ROI. Sure, there are times for group rides and strava segments but is Zwift extending the season too long?

    1. Post

      We like Zwift and most of the CTS Coaches are using Zwift with Wahoo KICKR or KICKR SNAP smart trainers this winter. I think the best way to think about Zwift is as a way to add one more day or one more ride to a person’s schedule. Some athletes are great at finding the intrinsic motivation to get on the trainer, especially during cold or snowy weather. Others struggle with that a bit more, and anything that gets those riders on the bike for an additional ride each week, or encourages them to stay on the bike longer during a training session, is a good thing.

      Zwift does a good job of providing a range of different information on the screen so there is always something you can pay attention to for motivation. You could focus on your watts, or your watts/kg, your time on a climb or elapsed time for a lap, who you’re riding near or catching up to, the grade you’re on and the grade you’re about to get to, etc. Many of our coaches and athletes report feeling like the hour goes by quicker using Zwift because of the level of engagement, and when we look at the data from their power files from those rides, they are good, solid training efforts. On both the Watopia course and the Richmond World Championship course there are climbs that last a few minutes, some shorter and sharper climbs, and steady-effort areas you can choose to ride at endurance pace, lactate threshold pace, or full-on time trial. We have been working with the new workout mode as well, but we don’t have as much feedback on that yet. – Jim Rutberg, CTS Pro Coach

  8. Great information! As of late I have been focused on cadence and power only. Time to look at the numbers differently. Thanks!!

  9. Hey Chris,
    You’re hitting home with this observation and recommendation! I’ve been gearing up for a great race season making these very “oversights,” ( my ego doesn’t want to hear MISTAKES), so your description of how to approach training for results and not strava fame is “Dead-on Balls accurate!” Thank you for the wake up call.

    Ted P

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