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Power Histograms: A Visual Comparison of Two Seasons

November 4, 2013

A few years ago a good friend of mine, David Luscan, had a fairly remarkable season time-trialing his bike.  In a nutshell, he was a long time triathlete who was experiencing a 2 year plateau in biking power, and having thoroughly exhausted the “20-minute-intervals-to-a-more-powerful-you” approach, decided to try out some high volume cycling.  A month of 20 hour per week training on the bike, followed by two months of what might be called a “taper” or “sharpening period” left him 40 watts stronger and 4 minutes faster for a 40k TT (the full store is detailed here: http://www.findingfreestyle.com/?q=blog_breakingthrough2010 ).  The following year he resumed the use of focused threshold intervals, and while he was more or less stagnant in terms of power gains, he spent less hours on the bike, and ran and swam to boot.

What does it all mean?  Does it mean that it may take a lot of volume to break through a hard-earned plateau (2010), but that you can maintain those gains with a lower volume, higher intensity approach in subsequent years?  Or, “it takes a lot to improve but less to maintain”  I don’t know, but here is what it looks like.  The figures below show his breakthrough season (2010) on the top (Figure 1), and his subsequent “no stronger but less training” season on the bottom (Figure 2).  Histograms like this tell us how a given set of things are distributed.  So, in this case we have a plot of all the time Dave spent cycling in 2010 and 2011, categorized according to how many watts he was putting out at the time.  The wattages are broken into 5 watt ranges (the x axis), and the percent of time that he spent in that watt range shown on the y-axis.  For example, Figure 1 tells us that Dave spent 4% of his total time in 2010 riding between 205-210 watts, and in 2011, only  1.5% of his time was spent between 205-210 watts.  If you add up a block of these you can get some more information.  For example, in 2010, Figure 1 shows that Dave spent about 30% of this time riding between 200-250 watts, whereas he spent about half that amount, roughly 15% of his time riding at 200-250 watts during 2011.  These graphs are a stock output from the Training Peaks software.

luscan_2010-cropped

Figure 1: Histogram showing percent of training time spent at a range of wattage levels. Plot is for David Luscan during his 2010 season where he biked exclusively.  Plots generated with Training Peaks – http://www.trainingpeaks.com

luscan_2011-cropped

Figure 2: Histogram showing percent of training time spent at a range of wattage levels. Plot is for David Luscan during his 2011 season where he swam biked and ran.  Plots generated with Training Peaks – http://www.trainingpeaks.com

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