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TrainerRoad software review; Functional Threshold Power.

Monday, October 15, 2012 by  
Filed under Daily Blog

October
15
2012


I’ve discovered a piece of new cycling training software, and after spending a couple of days with it I am extremely impressed.

The software is called TrainerRoad, and I believe it’s going to help take my cycling, cardio and overall athleticism to entirely new levels.

To use the TrainerRoad software you’ll need a bike, a compatible indoor trainer (most are supported, but I highly recommend the Kurt Kinetic Road Machine–my review on the Kinetic Road Machine is here), at least one ANT+ device (heart rate monitor, speed sensor, cadence sensor, power meter), a computer and an ANT+ USB stick.

Power meters are very expensive, but if you don’t have one don’t worry: TrainerRoad’s VirtualPower is an incredibly accurate substitute. To use VirtualPower all you need is a compatible trainer, an ANT+ USB stick and an ANT+ speed sensor.

This hardware gives TrainerRoad the real-time data it requires to work its magic.

So, what does the software actually do? Well, quite a lot…

  • Live graphs while you train, with instant feedback and wattage-based targets.
  • Accurate power readings without an expensive power meter.
  • Focused, goal-based workouts that are automatically adjusted to your fitness level.
  • Structured training plans designed by a USA Cycling certified level II coach.
  • A huge library of workouts, including race simulations and more (300+ workouts and growing).
  • Workouts are automatically synced to the cloud and include comprehensive post-ride analytics.
  • A “Career” page (here’s mine) that tracks all your progress and stats.
  • Social media integration.
  • Compatible with the entire line of SufferFest videos: drop a video in the player and it syncs to the TrainerRoad workout, giving you wattage-based targets.
  • Much more! Check out the full tour here.

TrainerRoad has done an absolutely masterful job of making their extremely comprehensive software easy to use. There was never a point where I was scratching my head or wondering what to do next. Clearly a lot of thought was put into the user experience.

All my ANT+ devices (heart rate monitor, speed sensor, cadence sensor) paired without issue, and I was up and running quickly and painlessly.

Once you get everything set up and working, the first thing you’ll want to do is establish your Functional Threshold Power, or FTP. Functional Threshold Power is the maximum average power you can hold for one hour. FTP is the best single marker for fitness in cycling: the higher your FTP is, the stronger you are.

The default FTP on TrainerRoad is set to 200, which is going to be too high for some and too low for others. Your FTP score is used to scale all of the workouts on TrainerRoad to your fitness level, so it’s important to establish that right off the bat.

There are a couple of well-established tests that are used to determine your FTP: the “8 Minute Test” and the “20 Minute Test”. Each of these tests are actually an hour in length, but the time spent actually assessing threshold power is less than that (2×8 minutes and 20 minutes, respectively).

I decided to kick things off with one of the 6-week Training Plans. This Training Plan is called Intermediate Base I, and it’s a great place to start.

The first workout in the plan I’m following is the “8 Minute Test”, and so I did that workout yesterday to establish my FTP. Here’s the graph from that test (you can checkout the complete data here):

My first 8 minute FTP test. My baseline FTP was determined to be 270.

My first 8 minute FTP test. My baseline FTP was determined to be 270.

 

While I performed the test the software gave clear and helpful on-screen instructions that guided me through the entire workout.

My FTP score was 270, which is pretty good. I didn’t go easy on the two 8-minute test sections, but I clearly had some gas left in the tank towards the end of those intervals. That’s because I was unfamiliar with how much effort to put out while reserving enough energy to go the full eight minutes. The next time I take the test (six weeks from now) I’ll have a better idea of how hard to push.

So I found this power profiling chart, and I thought it was interesting to see how I stack up based on yesterday’s FTP test. I didn’t go all out (while fresh) for 5s or 1m, but I think the 5m column is probably a good indicator since I rode hard for 8 minutes. Of course I could ride harder if I was just doing 5 minutes and not 8, so that penalized me a bit:

My 5-minute watts/Kg score yesterday is 4.10, which puts me close to the middle of Cat 3.

My 5-minute watts/Kg score yesterday is 4.10, which puts me close to the middle of Cat 3.

 

My current weight is 77.02 Kg (169.8 pounds). My 5 minute wattage output during yesterday’s FTP test was 316 watts. That means my 5 minute watts/Kg is 4.10, which puts me close to the middle of the Cat 3 racing category. Clearly I’m in good shape, but there’s also a lot of room for improvement!

What I like about the TrainerRoad software is that it gives you all the the tools you need to become a stronger athlete, and the means to definitively measure those improvements.

Do you think I’m looking at that chart and thinking, “Wow, Cat 3–good job!” Hell no. I’m looking at that chart and thinking, “I wonder how long it will take me to reach UCI Division III Pro?” I don’t know, but I’m going to find out. 🙂

So here’s the thing about TrainerRoad. It gives you all this (and more), and it’s stupidly inexpensive: $10.00/month. If you’re not impressed you can even cancel at any time during the first 30 days and you’ll receive a full refund. Another thing I like is you can suspend your account at any time, and you won’t lose any data. Injured? Sick? Moving? These things can happen, and I like that the TrainerRoad guys thought of that.

Finally, I am not affiliated with TrainerRoad. I’m not being compensated in any way for this review. I simply think this software is an incredible value, I’m excited about what it’s going to do for my cycling and I wanted to share my thoughts with the JSF community.

By the way, my bike torture chamber is almost complete. I am really happy with how it’s shaping up. I’ll have a detailed tour with plenty of pictures on Wednesday or Thursday!

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