#42 Cycling Power is Critical

#42 Cycling Power is Critical

The PowerDot smart muscle stimulator provides the best muscle stimulating workouts, specifically for cyclists. As a cyclist, it’s “critical” for optimum performance to sustain high power outputs during a race or training session.

PowerDot uses neuromuscular electrical muscle stimulation (NMES) to send high Hz rate electrical signals deep within the muscle cells stimulating both fiber types to contract. Evidence supports the utilization of NMES to increase strength, muscle mass, and aerobic capacity. The use of electrical muscle stimulation may complement other forms of training that have displayed the ability to improve cycling performance. However, this all adds up to extra hours of training that you may not have time for. 

What if there was a better, more efficient way to utilize NMES in your training? To achieve the benefits that come from multiple training sessions in just one training session? 

A new “hybrid training system” has been developed as a unique technique that combines resistance and aerobic exercise. All you have to do is cycle with the PowerDot muscle stimulator on your legs. This may be a novel, time saving approach to increase Critical Power (CP) in cyclists. 

Now...You may be asking yourself, what is CP?

CP is an actual cycling power output and also a concept that has been around for centuries! However, it's only been in the last 50 years that this concept has been studied in cyclists to inform pacing strategy, predict time trial performance, and used to prescribe High-Intensity Interval (HIT) training.

Critical power may be an even better indicator of cycling performance than VO2max (link VO2max blog)! Let’s dive into the CP concept and how you can utilize it to improve your cycling performance. 

Critical Power and The Roman Legionary 

All the way back to the times when general Maximus Decimus Meridius (for all our Gladiator movie fans) would lead his Roman legionary in training and battle, the CP concept was vital for survival. Though not cycling (the bicycle wasn’t invented until the early 1800’s), we can see where this concept was important. 

Roman legionary/soldiers use to do loaded marches to prepare themselves physically for going to war, carrying anywhere from 45-75lbs. Within 5 hours, they had to march between 18-22 miles at a constant pace of about 3.5-4.5 mph. This can be quite metabolically taxing when carrying all that weight!

This was part of their training. In your training, there’s probably been a time where you work to sustain a pace or power output for an extended period of time. What differs between your training and the Roman soldiers training is that those who could not keep this pace were killed! So, you can see how even back to the Roman Era that speed, pace, and power were indeed critical (pun intended).

What Is the Critical Power (CP) Concept?

The CP concept provides cyclists with both a measure of aerobic (CP - critical power) and anaerobic (W’ - Anaerobic Work Capacity) performance. 

CP, the aerobic component, is theoretically a maximal wholly oxidative intensity in which exhaustion is never reached. You could, in a perfect world, cycle and sustain this power output or intensity forever without exhaustion. 

But what about the anaerobic work capacity also known as W’? As athletes, we have to use anaerobic energy to compete at the highest level. But, we need to be careful as to how we expend this energy. W’ represents the total amount of work, or the power, that can be performed above CP… but eventually, exhaustion will set in. W’ is a finite amount of energy, meaning, it can be depleted. 

Have you ever hit a wall because you went out too fast? You depleted your W’. You depleted your quick acting anaerobic energy.

Think of it like Fast and the Furious. In every Fast and the Furious movie there’s a drag race. Each car has an engine that allows it to sustain a maximal speed (CP); though, each car is also equipped with NOS (W’). The NOS runs out...it’s finite. 

There’s a part in every drag race scene where someone uses their NOS too soon and eventually slows down before the race is over. Then there’s Dominic Torreto (Vin Diesel), who uses his NOS the right way, so his car doesn’t go too slow too soon. 

You can’t win the drag race with just the engine (CP), you need to use your NOS (W’) and use it strategically.

How to Measure CP and W’

As a cyclist, it’s good to know your maximum sustainable power output (CP) as well as what you have in your NOS tank (W’).

There’s two ways to measure CP and W’: using a linear or a non-linear model. We will focus on the linear model as you can perform this test yourself. For the linear model, you cycle for 12, 7 and 3-minutes as fast as you can (take 30-minutes rest in between) and plot work (y-axis) vs. time (x-axis). This creates a regression line graph providing you with the equation:

Y = mx + b    (we know you remember this equation from middle school)

This equates to:

Y = CPx + W’

Now have your Critical Power and W’.

What do these Values Mean and How do they Inform Pacing strategy

As previously mentioned, CP is aerobic and W’ is anaerobic. So, if a cyclist has a high CP, they will have a lower W’. They are more of an aerobic athlete. This athlete doesn’t have a huge “kick”, so sprinting at the end of a race is not an ideal strategy. This athlete should approach a race with a front end racing strategy. Meaning, they should have a faster pace at the start and throughout the race. Consequently, other cyclists will deplete their W’. 

Deplete other cyclists W’?

Yes, remember, W’ is a finite amount of energy. If a cyclist starts cycling at power outputs above CP they are tapping into their NOS and it’s only a matter of time before they run out and slow down.

The cyclist with the higher D’ will have a lower CP and would benefit from taking a back-end racing strategy. This cyclist is going to want to try and control the pace of the race. This way, they can utilize their big “kick” at the end and no one will be able to keep up with them. 

Use Your Values for Training 

There’s 4 different exercise intensity domains: moderate, heavy, severe, and extreme. Training within each of these domains improves your physiology to optimize cycling performance. These domains are separated by common thresholds such as: lactate threshold, critical power, and VO2max.

The moderate intensity domain is an easy pace. You can keep this pace or sustain power outputs within this domain for a very, very long time, without feeling fatigued. This domain is below your lactate threshold. 

As you increase the intensity, you eventually reach the heavy domain. You have now passed your lactate threshold. Now, within the heavy domain, you have some blood lactate accumulation but nothing to prevent your from feeling the need to slow down. 

As you approach the top of the heavy domain you begin to reach power outputs closer to CP. Remember anything at or below CP is a tough, yet, sustainable pace. As you cycle at power outputs above CP, entering the severe or even extreme domains, you begin to deplete W’.

So what does this have to do with training?

Remember, each threshold separating the different domains is associated with a specific power output. For instance, your lactate threshold may be at 200W, your CP at 275W, and VO2max at 350W. So, if you were cycling below 200W you would be in the moderate domain, between 200W-275W you would be in the heavy domain, and between 275W and 350W the severe domain.

Now, in order to increase your lactate threshold or increase your CP, you would need to cycle at power outputs above those intensities utilizing HIT. Now, there’s a lot of math we can use to prescribe HIT using equations that researchers have provided for us, but let’s use the KIS model (Keep It Simple) and make it applicable.

Knowing that your CP is a better indicator of cycling performance than VO2max and lactate threshold, let’s focus on using HIT to increase CP.

Looking back at our example, let’s say you have a CP of 275W. Performing 3-4 intervals at a intensities above CP (ie. 300W) will increase your maximum sustainable power output. An example would be cycling for 3-minutes at 300W and then recovering for 3-minutes at 190W (below lactate threshold). Do this for 3-4 intervals, at a work to rest ratio of 1:1, and see your cycling performance sky-rocket! 

Elevate Your Cycling with PowerDot

As demonstrated, knowing your numbers (specifically CP) can significantly improve your training and cycling performance. However, to achieve optimum training adaptations, NMES should be a staple within your training. 

We mentioned earlier, using NMES (ie. PowerDot) is an essential tool to be added to your training. Using it while cycling, following the hybrid training system, provides the best of both worlds combining resistance and aerobic exercise all in one.

If you are serious about taking your critical power and cycling performance to the next level, snag PowerDot, as it will only make you better.

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