Steady-state power output and pacing are some of the most sought after attributes of a well-rounded and powerful cyclist.
These lengthy efforts, especially when performed at or near lactate-threshold, demand an Athlete be mentally tough, physically resilient, and of course, consistently powerful.
Unfortunately for most cyclists, their regular training grounds feature uneven roads, ‘punchy’ climbs, or otherwise undulating terrain that can make performing a steady-state workout extremely challenging.
So what is an Athlete that is surrounded by rolling terrain to do to develop this critical aspect of their cycling repertoire?
To answer this question we came up with four tips every Athlete can use, regardless of the ‘lumpy’ nature of their local roads, to execute well-paced and effective steady-state workouts. Enjoy!
Trainers are not the only place to perform steady-state efforts! Check out these tips to perform better sustained workouts out on the open-road. Photo Credit: Danny Munson, DMunsonPhoto.com
Tip #1: Predictive Shifting
Predictive shifting is a fancy way of saying that shifting should be done priorto the demand for a high or lower gear.
In practice, this means shifting to harder gears as the road or terrain falls away from you, or into easier gears as the ground tilts upward for a climb.
Although this seems intuitive, shifting to easier or harder gears is not always first on a riders ‘to do’ list when tackling undulating terrain.
Instead, most riders choose to stay in the same gear preferring to ‘power over’ a small climb or challenging segment.
This slows pedal cadence and requires our muscles to produce more torque to maintain the same power output, a recipe that leads to premature fatigue.
The moral here is this, by looking ahead and honing in on the terrain, a bike rider can predictively shift to minimize massive changes in their leg-speed thus maintaining a steady power output.
By looking ahead and analyzing the terrain, a cyclist can predictively shift to maintain an even and steady power output. Photo Credit: Keith Whipprecht
Tip #2: Utilize A Smooth Pedal Stroke & Cadence
As indicated in Tip #1 RPM or pedal cadence is an important component of maintaining a steady-state power output.
For an Athlete to operate in a narrow power-range, such as those at or near lactate threshold, a smooth and powerful pedal stroke is required.
In pursuit of a smooth pedal cadence an Athlete creates neuromuscular connections in the leg muscles allowing their bodies to engage and disengage the muscles powerfully and efficiently.
Once developed, a smooth pedal cadence can help moderate power transfer on undulating terrain, whether on road or off.
It is this smooth and linear power transfer, instead of a short choppy pedal stroke, that will help you execute your best steady-state efforts.
It's rare that a cyclist gets to enjoy lengthy roads featuring gradual climbs. Momentum changes due to 'punchy' terrain are inevitable. Photo Credit: James Piccoli
Tip #3: Soften Your Efforts On Climbs
One easy way to turn ‘lumpy’ terrain into a linear environment is to ‘soften’ your effort on every climb or undulation.
That is to say that instead of focusing on maintaining speed, look to keep an even power output. This is where power-meters are incredibly helpful and unparalleled in their usefulness to a cyclist.
By tempering your effort on a rise to stay within the prescribed training zone you will avoid unnecessary ‘spikes’ in power, which sap energy and could potentially cause you to ‘blow-up’.
The key to using this technique to maximum effect is to be unconcerned with speed as a metric, focusing exclusively on power output.
It should be said that this focus on power output over undulating terrain will further develop an even pedal-stroke.
Note: This technique requires the use and perfection of tip #1, predictive shifting.
Steady climbs are great for performing evenly paced efforts, but they are not always available, so it is important to learn how to make due with the terrain available. Photo Credit: Brian McCulloch
Tip #4: Maintain Pressure On The Pedals Over The Flats, Crests, & Downhills
Just as tip #3 asked you to soften power transmission going uphill, the opposite is true, meaning that when the road is flat or downhill, more power must be applied to the pedals to maintain a steady-state effort.
Unfortunately, it is all to common for cyclists to push hard on climbs only to seek rest or easy-pedaling as a rise crests.
This tactic is not only energy sapping and inefficient, it is also slower than the technique of ‘maintaining pressure on the pedals’ being described.
By using the predictive shifting tip to perpetuate a steady output on a climb, rest is not needed when a rise finally eases. This means that steady and uninterrupted pressure on the pedals can be maintained.
By continuing to apply pressure to the pedals over the crest and onto the downhill, you can extend a steady-state effort in distance and duration, both of which will pay dividends in the form of increased fitness!
Note: Pedaling on a downhill should only be done when safe. Steep or curvy downhills need not be pedaled. Always use your best judgement.
Even in a group ride setting it is important to constantly be scanning the upcoming terrain in order to shift early and soften accelerations.Photo Credit: Joy McCulloch
Steady-state efforts can often be daunting to perform, especially when local terrain does not include an adequate gradual climb to perform a prescribed workout.
By using predictive shifting, applying power via a smooth pedal stroke, and adjusting your power output to compensate for a climb, crest, or downhill you can turn any terrain into a suitable training ground for a steady-state effort.
Once mastered, these techniques are sure to help you perform excellent steady-state efforts over varying terrain, which will help you develop a robust level of fitness and an increased resiliency to fatigue…
All of which adds up to better performances in any event you do!
Until Next Time, Be Safe, Train Hard, & Have Fun!
-Brian and Joy McCulloch
Big Wheel Coaching