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Building Power


How many “watts” will it take for you to be the best? That will depend on whether you want to be the best at your local race, regional competition, national races or world class races like the Tour De France. If you would like a chance of winning the Tour De France, and are a 150 pound rider, you will need to be able to produce, at least, 400-450 watts while working at your threshold heart rate ranges for long twenty to thirty minute periods of time. You will also need a very good team. It is the ability to work hard, recover fast, and produce good power aerobically, while recovering, that makes a strong athlete. The ability to measure power for endurance athletes has been around for a long time. It has again recently emerged as a great tool to measure increases in strength and as a guide to fatigue. The science behind building power, in terms of “watts”, is interesting and always evolving.


What does a “watt” mean in terms of aerobic strength? We all know that turning on a light will generate a certain amount of watts. The more watts the light generates, the brighter the light. Unfortunately, the more watts an athlete can generate will not relate to his or her brightness but it will relate to his or her speed. Generating watts in athletic terms relates to a combination of force and speed. The more force you can apply the more power you will generate. The faster you can spin the legs, in an efficient manner, the more power you will produce. Working the legs slower, producing more force, will result in greater power outputs but the adaptations you make from working force are different than the adaptations you make from a fast spin. Training with the best combination of muscle force and leg speed, depending on your race goals, is the best way to focus on increases in power. Building more endurance properties to handle more force and leg speed over a longer period of time is another important factor as well.


Increases in power can come from many different adaptations within your system. On the other hand, a loss of power can be a result of fatigue from one of the many parts of your system. You may experience a loss of power on a day where your legs feel good and your perceived exertion is low. The loss of power may be related to neuromuscular fatigue, not allowing you to fully stress all the muscle fibers available for that day. The loss of power for the day may also be related to a decline in oxygen supply to the muscle, relating to some fatigue within your cardio system. Either way, a loss of power signifies some fatigue or limits within your system. It is important to recognize trends with power loss to either continue to work smart, not overtraining certain systems or gain rest to fully recover.


It is the goal to provide good stress to your body to create adaptations. But it is not the goal to overstress any part of your system. If you continually have a fatigued part of the system, or a weak link, such as cardio systems and the ability to transfer oxygen to the working muscle, or weaker core strength, you will fatigue faster, no matter how strong your strengths are. A weak system will result in a limit to the gains you will make within each month and year. Using power along with your breathing, heart rates, and perceived exertion will teach you more about your weak systems within the body. Working to make your weaker systems stronger will allow you to make bigger gains within your strongest systems over time.


Power meters are increasingly becoming more popular within all sports. Using power to test the aerobic abilities off all athletes, such as football and hockey players, is becoming a popular way to view strength gains and study fatigue. Whether you use power or not, gains in strength are made the same way, with steady hard work over time. Power makes a nice tool to use with training but it will not help you log that extra mile or extra hour. Only your dedication will determine how strong of an athlete you can be.


Mike Schultz CSCS


Highland Training LLC


Phone: 814.289.6620 | Email: schultz@highlandtraining.net