Welcome to Part 3 of our sportive training series, which will focus on a vital part of getting your training right – tracking your progress.
As you have probably experienced, fitness isn’t a linear progression of steady improvement. There are good days and bad, and you can take two steps back before taking one forward.
Poor conditions, bad equipment, and your motivation levels can all affect your results, making the overall picture of improvement cloudy.
So, unless you’ve got a few modules of differential calculus under your belt, tracking your progress alone can be hugely challenging.
These days, many cyclists rely on data to provide answers, allowing them to filter out the noise and accurately track even the most marginal of gains.
Cycling and modern technology have an excellent working relationship, with an array of hardware and software now at the fingertips of cyclists everywhere.
From tracking brute power to measuring heart rate fluctuations, creating new routes, and monitoring the distances and elevations covered, data and training work together like a chain and sprocket.
There are three main elements to using data for your cycling training ahead of your sportive this year. They are…
Data gathering: How you acquire the information you need
Data analysis: What this information means
Planning: How this information will influence your training
The data gathering part of tracking your progress requires hardware, and you can go as detailed or as basic as befits your needs.
So, if all you want to find out is average speed and distance, then a decent phone app could be enough. But, if you want to get into the granular detail – and if you’re taking part in a sportive, then you probably do – a wealth of tools are available.
Here’s a look at some of the tools cyclists use to gather data.
Given their availability and relatively competitive prices, cycling standard practice is to have a bike computer. These fit onto your front stem and generally use wireless sensors to track a huge amount of information about your ride.
Garmin Edge 520 GPS Cycle Computer
With the Garmin 520, you can test your Functional Threshold Power (FTP), link up with a Heart Rate Monitor (HRM) to get your cycling-specific VO2 Max, engage with Strava live segments, and even see calls coming into your smartphone.
Garmin Edge 820 GPS Cycle Computer
Garmin’s Edge 820 is feature-packed, incredibly lightweight and compact, and features a 2.3-inch high-resolution, capacitive touch display that works with gloves and when wet. It’s also packed with tech and advanced performance-tracking features.
Garmin Edge 1030 Cycling Computer
The Edge 1030 is probably the best cycling computer on the market, packed with new and innovative tech features designed to help you push your cycling experience into new territory. and increase your cycling enjoyment.
Garmin are standard issue when it comes to cycling computers, but there is a variety of others with different features available at Chain Reaction Cycles.
With a few carefully selected apps, your smartphone can be transformed into a data hoover, with new apps and updates coming onto the market all the time. While generally proficient at tracking your progress, phone apps aren’t quite as accurate or responsive as cycling computers – the tech isn’t dedicated to tracking your bike and relies more on general GPS readings than on-bike sensors.
They can be housed in your pedals, crank, wheel hub, or even your shoes.
Essentially, they track the force being generated, which when used in combination with pedal speed, velocity, and various fitness metrics, can provide unique insights into your performance.
Once the preserve of elite riders only, power meters are becoming increasingly common as technology moves forward making the units cheaper and more readily available. However, prices still start at around the £500 mark, so while it remains a stretch, they are becoming more readily recognised as forming a part of the complete training picture.
Quarq DZero Power Meter – BB30
The DZero from Quarq accurately captures your power output readings via Bluetooth low energy or ANT+ wireless data transfer and enables you to view them live on your compatible cycle computer or smartphone. This model is designed for frames with BB30 bottom brackets, but it also comes with the washers required for use in BB386 Evo frames.
Stages Cycling Power Meter G2 – Campagnolo Chorus
Compatible with StagesLink, Training Peaks, Strava, Garmin Training Centre and others, the Stages Cycling Power Meter G2 is light, compact, and on the cutting edge of cycling technology.
Heart rate monitor
Heart rate monitors measure the frequency of your heart rate in beats per minute (BPM) generally in real time.
They have become increasingly popular as training tools as they allow athletes to maintain their level of exertion within a specific target heart rate zone, for maximum training benefit.
The monitors are particularly useful for helping you to maintain your cardiovascular ‘sweet spot’ – not so much exertion that it wears you out, yet enough to provide a benefit.
In effect, these monitors work as a ‘pacer’ telling you to work harder, or ease off the gas, according to your targets.
LifeLine Heart Rate Transmitter
Wearing the Lifeline Heart Rate Transmitter during your training session or race removes the guesswork from your session. It wirelessly relays your instant heart rate data to a compatible device, such as your bike computer.
Garmin HRM-Tri Heart Rate Strap
Garmin’s HRM-Tri accurately monitors your heart rate whether you’re swimming, cycling or running. The strap has been built to be comfortable and to work with you as your train – staying out of your way as you ride.
So what is all this data for, where does it go, and what does it mean? Generally, the data you’ve acquired from a combination of your cycling computer, power meter, and heart rate monitor is fed into a range of bespoke cycling apps or programmes.
It’s then turned into tables, charts, and other visualisations so that you can see if you’re doing better or worse, if your training is working, and which areas you need to improve.
Here’s a quick and non-exhaustive guide to some of the different data sets you’ll likely encounter.
Rate of Perceived Exertion
The Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale is one of the few pieces of data that requires no technology. Predating digital data, it has been used for many years to easily measure the intensity of your exercise by comparing it to levels of exertion.
The scale runs from 1 – 10 showing varying levels of effort. For example, level 1 is how exerted you are by sitting on the sofa, while 10 is your exertion level while you’re sprinting for the line after a long race.
The numbers relate to descriptions or feelings used to rate how easy or difficult you find the activity you are doing. Some training programmes will ask you to maintain certain exertion levels during parts of your training.
|1||Sitting on a sofa doing nothing.|
|2||Getting up to make a cup of tea.|
|3||Easy paced recreational riding, slight feeling of exertion.|
|4||All-day paced riding, not easy but definitely sustainable. Able to maintain a full uninterrupted conversation.|
|5||Riding consciously quicker but still able to talk easily.|
|6||Upping the effort, only able to talk in short sentences.|
|7||Building on Level 6, you could probably just about respond “I’m fine!” if someone asked you how you felt.|
|8||Riding hard, you can only sustain this for a couple of minutes and only communicate with single word answers.|
|9||Almost as hard as you can possibly push your pedals|
|10||100% sprint for the line.|
FTP, or Functional Threshold Power, is an internationally recognised data field that is usually defined as the maximum average power a cyclist can sustain for an hour, measured in watts. It’s often used to mark out training zones by those training with a power meter.
Platform Centre Offset
This is a power meter specific data set that riders can use to see how they distribute their power on each pedal, and can be a key way of improving technique and efficiency.
VO2 max is the highest volume of oxygen, per kilo of body weight, an individual can process per minute. The higher this is, the more efficient the body is at turning fuel into energy. This data set is commonly found on running watches and can be estimated by some cycling computers.
Heart-rate data indicates how much effort it requires for you to generate power. Your heart rate doesn’t lie, so it is an easy and accurate way of tracking a vital element of your fitness and efficiency.
Cadence is the rate at which a cyclist pedals. It’s the number of pedal revolutions per minute (RPMs). If you increase and train your cadence, you improve your cycling efficiency, allowing you to pedal for longer, faster. Average cyclists have a cadence of about 60 RPM; advanced and elite cyclists pedal anywhere from 80 to 100 RPMs.
Training stress / total effort
Training Stress is a way of measuring how much stress is put on the body from a ride, calculated from total power, intensity, and ride duration. This data can help determine the best combination of workouts and rest periods to maximise your time spent training.
Amount of calories burned by your body during your ride, basically, how much fuel you’ve used.
This is an important measure of the elevations climbed during an outside ride and requires a device with an altimeter.
There are a lot of apps on the market to help assimilate all this data, and more, into comprehensible data which you can use to adjust your training, overcoming your weaknesses, and harnessing your strengths.
Many of the apps discussed in the article mentioned above offer detailed information and visualisations of all the data gathered.
A lot of what you do with the data will depend on what hardware and software you choose to use. There are many free and trial versions of the software packages available, so you can experiment with a range of platforms before committing.
Once the data starts pouring in, the more sophisticated packages, like Strava or Training Peaks, will point the way forward, pinpointing your peak training periods, and offering bespoke schedules to help you improve your performance. Your job is to get on the bike and pump those platforms full of glorious data, and let the numbers lead the way.