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On pithy power proverbs

Back around the year 2000 or so power meter usage was in its infancy with SRM and Powertap devices becoming available at almost affordable prices. At the same time access to the internet was becoming increasingly popular with the emergence of ISPs such as AOL and Compuserve.

A few relatively well-heeled and tech savvy early adopters bought power meters and joined a growing online community to share their experiences using and working with these new devices. One early community was a topica mailing list that went on to become the wattage google forum

The early discussions there focussed mostly on hardware, firmware, calibration, installation and so on. Eventually the forum became dominated by discussions related to analysis of data using CyclingPeaks metrics such as NP, TSS and so on. Looking back at the discussions there it has been saddening to see how little the literature ever featured.

Over time some of the discussions there became encoded in self-titled 'pithy power proverbs'. These were (and still are) cited by the original acolytes of that 'wattage' community with some reverence but usually to cut short discussion, implying that the matter at hand had long been settled or to belittle newcomers ignorant of the 'wisdom' that went before them.

The 'wattage' forum has become rather dormant in recent years, partly as discourse has widened on other platforms and partly due to the hostile nature displayed by some of the original 'elders' of the group that has pushed people away.

Closed groups lead to Groupthink

Choosing to give these aphorisms the monicker of 'pithy proverbs' is in itself rather revealing. Rather than distil ideas into actionable advice such as an FAQ that is typical of such forums they are instead elevated into some kind of  universal truth handed down from the wise elders.

I have always viewed them with deep scepticism. To me they often appear to be a product of groupthink; often so vague they are meaningless or so blatantly obvious they tell us nothing new. The most egregious are those that are laden with opinion but dressed as fact. 

Viewing them more as an artefact of in-group dynamics; a shared lexicon borne of a shared experience is possibly a more positive slant to put on them. Certainly for some 'wattagers' they are not to be taken too seriously, for others this article seems to have touched a nerve.

But they represent a (small and very localised) history of discourse related to use of power meters and must surely contain some truths. So I thought it would be interesting to review them all and see if at least some of them revealed any deeper truth or actionable advice. 

On pithy power proverbs

The list below is taken directly from the blog of one of the 'wattage' acolytes Alex Simmons, I have tried to extract the central ideas they attempt to encode and summarised any actionable insight where possible.

Central idea
Actionable Insight
It's an aerobic sport, dammit!
(1) Cycling is an endurance sport so aerobic capacity is the key determinant of performance.

(2) Of course ‘anaerobic’ capacity is highly influencial in sprint disciplines on the track, in CX and BMX.

Category: stating the bleedin’ obvious.
Improving aerobic capacity should be a priority for all endurance athletes
(but not the sole focus)
Training is testing, testing is training
(1) Performance tests are an excellent form of training, they are hard workouts in their own right and therefore good training.

(2) Over the course of general training you will perform maximal efforts that are a form of testing.

Taken literally this is clearly false. It is used by some to justify avoiding formal testing and by others to justify use of MMP data for modelling.
Embed tests in your general training for on-going performance tracking.
The best predictor of performance is performance itself.
(1) If you want to predict your e.g. 40km TT performance the best way to do that is to do a 40km TT.

This is of course a non-sequitur since the desire to make a prediction is to avoid testing – which is impractical at a wide range of durations or for the majority of race events.
Simulate race conditions in training to assess likely performance rather than relying on models to predict it.
The more you train, the more you can train.
(1) There is a direct correlation between training volume and frequency and capability.

This is in the category of stating the bleedin’ obvious

Over the course of a training season you should increase volume and frequency as your capacity for training also increases.

FTP = how fast you can go. CTL = how long you can go fast.
(1) Accumulated volume is associated with improvments in endurance capability.

This is just another way of saying (D)

The Anaerobic Threshold is neither.
(1) The Anaerobic term is abused to the point of being almost meaningless.

(2) There is no such thing as threshold.

Sounds clever but ultimately its just plain false.


(1) Famous and oft repeated response on ‘wattage’ to false or misleading statements.

Alls you can do is alls you can do.

(1) All athletes have a limit to their performance.

(2) All athletes should train to their limits

Your limits are all that should matter to you, do not worry that others may be stronger or weaker.
Cadence is a red herring.
(1) There is no such thing as a single ‘optimal’ cadence, it will vary with what you are trying to do.

(2) At lower intensities for longer durations high cadence is uneconomical, a lower cadence may be a more optimal choice.

(3) At higher intensities for shorter durations high cadence may yield your highest power output.

(4) When climbing, regardless of gearing, lower cadences may prove more optimal and this may be relate to the types of muscle groups involved.

This argument could also be extended to show that pedalling technique is also a red-herring.
Focusing on a specific target cadence e.g. 90+ RPM is an urban myth. Look at Cadence and Torque together with the intensity and terrain you are riding.
If you're on the bike and the wheels are turning, you're riding
(1) All work performed on your bike should be accounted for when measuring training load

This is generally used to cut off debates regarding the nature of stress and recovery over the course of a ride. Especially the impact of freewheeling and descending on training impulse metrics like TSS

Specificity, specificity, specificity
(1) Training should be performed in a way that is specific to the event you are participating in.

This is in the category of the bleedin’ obvious and well known by almost anyone involved in sport.

The real insight needed is how to draw a balance between specific training for a given event with more general conditioning training such as gross efficiency and endurance.
Include training that simulates the demands of your event in your training plan.
Lydiard got it right
(1) Intended to imply that Arthur Lydiard had his athletes perform large amounts of SST in their training

This is basically an appeal to authority to justify the concept of so-called sweet spot training.

Rather ironically, Lydiard was most famous for encouraging his athletes to perform high volumes of base training. Even athletes with relatively short events such as the 800meters were prescribed over 110km a week training.

All watts are not created equal
(1) Athletes speed will differ according to more than their power output since their weight and aerodynamics will vary.

(2) When pacing a hilly or technical course the overall time taken may vary for the same work depending on where work and recovery happen.
Consider your pacing strategy, w/kg and aerodynamics when preparing for your event, not just power.
The body responds like a Swiss watch. You just have to figure out how to wind it.
(1) We are all different and respond differently to training impulses.

(2) Understanding what works for the individual is vital when planning training.

This is pretty much in the category of stating the bleedin’ obvious.
Avoid generic training plans in preference to ones individualised to the athlete.
Toss that HR monitor strap!

(1) HR dynamics are misleading, we now have a direct measure of performance and work.

(2) Managing training load with power is very different to with HR, you need to adapt when transitioning from HR to Power based training.

Ultimately, HR is a highly useful measure in tandem with Power so should be retained.
Keep your HR strap when transitioning to training with power, but you must adapt how you manage your training.
Power calibrates PE, PE modulates power.
(1) Session RPE is a surrogate measure for power.

(2) Session RPE can be used to manage intensity

Tracking session RPE alongside power is useful to identify changes in fitness and fatigue in the near term.

It's all about the pedal force.

This is both meaningless and incorrect, better to see (I) above.

Training with a Power Meter, does it work? No, you work!
(1) Using a power meter does not automatically make you faster. You must adapt your training to make use of the data provided by a power meter.

(2) If you train with power you are more likely to work harder as the feedback is more immediate and direct.
A power meter is a useful tool for moderating and managing training.
waaaaah my powermeter doesn't work

(1) in the "early" days of 'wattage' power meters were new and less reliable. This phrase was intended to be empathetic of the issues new users faced.

Relayed in 'wattage' in response to this post. Not sure 'waaaaah' is particularly empathetic, but they're a strange bunch over there.

more is more ... until it isn't
(1) See (D) – perfomance gains directly related to volume and frequency

(2) At some point more volume will cease to have an impact on performance.

This is laden with opinion and typically used to defend lower volume and higher intensity training distributions.
(i) there isn’t much evidence in thje literature to back this statement up (ii) amateurs top out at 10-15 hours a week with most doing less than 10 so is never an issue for them.

The best thing about a power-meter? It tells you where you are. The worst thing about a power-meter? It tells you where you are

(1) Power meters provide an integrative measure of your overall performance – something you cannot get using any other device.

Just another way of saying ( R)

Fitness is an integral

(1) Fitness is closely related to accumulated training.

This is just another way of saying (D) with the added benefit of sounding clever and confusing newcomers.

For riders of every level, power is limited but speed is precious

(1) Speed is the ultimate measure of performance, power is one part of that.

This is just another way of saying (M) although in its favour it is far less oblique.

The less power you have the more gearing you need

Another variation of the central ideas in (I) above.

In God we trust, all others bring data

Well known quote, usually misattributed to W. Edwards Deming when it arises in the ‘wattage’ forum.

Typically used as a lazy rebuttal by ‘wattage elders’ when their argument is challenged by newcomers (who are unlikely to have a corpus of research data at their disposal)

The plural of 'anecdote' is not 'data.

Well known quote, originally by Kenneth Kernaghan. See (Y)

(The) most successful riders spend the most time at zero cadence during races.
(1) Conserving energy during a race leads to greater chance of winning at the end.

Category: bleedin’ obvious.

At some point, you have to increase the power
(1) As your capability improves the intensity at which you train will also need to rise.

(2) You cannot improve solely by increasing frequency and volume of riding, intensity will also need to be increased.

See (L) above, this is laden with opinion regarding the importance of intensity versus volume and frequency when planning training.

If it *feels* hard, it *is* hard

A simplistic and ultimately meaningless version of (P).

If you're wondering whether you've underestimated your functional threshold power, you probably have.
(1) When training is indexed off FTP and starts to feel a little too easy, you will feel like you may have got your FTP set wrong.

(2) If you regularly seeing an IF at or near to 1 for regular riding you may question the setting of FTP

(3) You know yourself best, if intensity feels too hard/too easy, then you’re probably right.

Trust your instincts when tracking FTP, there is no harm in re-testing.
Train, don't strain

Another quote, this time from Arthur Lydiard.

The PowerTap is a tool, not a bolt on motor

A more candid version of ( R)

The PM chart is a one picture summary of the truth, as useful and brutal as honesty can be.
(1) The macro level view of training impulse (CTL) and performance outcome (peak bests) coupled with fatigue levels (TSB) provide a good summary of your season.

On its 'usefulness', the PMC is a macro level view so is a very blunt perspective that will not help when reviewing the TID or impact of specific types of workouts or process outcomes of a season.

Wow, I need to train more! - Frank Overton (after looking at his previous season's Performance Manager chart)
Not really clear without seeing the PMC in question – possibly just echoing (D) and (E) above.

The (power) training levels are descriptive, not prescriptive, guidelines.

(1) the 7 (!!) levels in the WKO/Trainingpeaks scheme are intended to reflect the different types of training required

(2) training at level 7 will elicits responses that you see at training at level 6-2

(1) If there are three exclamation points at the end of a sentence, the entire sentence is supposed to be shouted at top volume.

This seems an incredibly apt PPP to end on.

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