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Loss of fitness: the cold, hard numbers–two workouts compared.

After nearly four weeks off from structured cycling training (2 weeks of vacation followed by the flu), yesterday I resumed the cycling training program I’m currently following on TrainerRoad, Intermediate Base II.

Note that I continued to cycle and mountain bike during those weeks “off”, but the number of miles I rode was significantly reduced (from December 27, 2012 through January 20, 2013 I only rode 186.7 miles), and I only did one cycling-specific training workout. The one training workout that I did was just about the time the flu was sinking its hooks into me, and it was not a good one.

dataBecause I’ve lost some fitness over the past few weeks, I decided to backtrack five workouts in the Intermediate Base II training program. I considered temporarily reducing my FTP (Functional Threshold Power–see my Coggan’s Power-Based Training article for more information) a small amount (and probably still will), but for yesterday’s workout I decided to leave my FTP set at 288.

The workout I did yesterday was “Newcomb”, and because I’d done this same workout back on December 18, 2012 (when I was pretty much at my peak conditioning level), I thought it would be interesting to compare the raw data from both workouts.

The “Newcomb” workout includes 4 sets of 2×4 minute force intervals between 90-95% FTP; 2 minutes active recovery between intervals and 2 minutes AR between sets. This workout involves low cadence (mid-to-high 60s/low 70s)/high force/high power efforts.

First, let’s take a look at the power data from both workouts:



 December 18, 2012
Actual (Target)
January 22, 2013
Actual (Target)
Interval 1266 (258)265 (258)-1 watt
Interval 2270 (258)264 (258)-6 watts
Interval 3282 (273)278 (273)-4 watts
Interval 4270 (258)263 (258)-7 watts
Interval 5284 (273)279 (273)-5 watts
Interval 6272 (258)267 (258)-5 watts
Interval 7286 (273)280 (273)-6 watts
Interval 8272 (258)269 (258)-3 watts
Interval 9324 (273)308 (273)-16 watts
TOTAL WORKOUT220 (204)215 (204)-5 watts

I had no problem exceeding the target power on both workouts, but as you can see I was consistently putting out more power on each interval back in December. The average power difference over the entire workout was 5 watts less yesterday compared to December’s workout. Also, during the final interval I generally “drain the tank” and put everything I have left into it. On that last interval yesterday I averaged 16 watts less than I did back in December.

Now, let’s examine my heart rate on those same intervals.



 December 18, 2012January 22, 2013Difference
Interval 1141 BPM147 BPM+6 BPM
Interval 2145 BPM150 BPM+5 BPM
Interval 3151 BPM159 BPM+8 BPM
Interval 4150 BPM160 BPM+10 BPM
Interval 5158 BPM165 BPM+7 BPM
Interval 6156 BPM166 BPM+10 BPM
Interval 7162 BPM169 BPM+7 BPM
Interval 8160 BPM169 BPM+9 BPM
Interval 9169 BPM176 BPM+7 BPM

The heart rate data, when juxtaposed with the power data, creates a complete picture. My average heart rate yesterday for the entire workout was 154 BPM–that’s 8 BPM higher than it was back in December. Not only was my heart rate lower back in December, but I was also putting out more power! That’s definitive proof that I’ve lost some fitness. The heart rate data from each interval reinforces that.

This data also demonstrates just how effective the training programs I’ve been following on TrainerRoad are.

Of course I didn’t need to break out all of this data to know I’d lost some cycling ability, but I’m a geek and I like to back up my posts with evidence.

When I complete the Intermediate Base II Program it might be interesting to go back and do this workout again and compare the numbers one more time.