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  1. #1
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    Keeping wattage output steady on changing gradient climbs

    There is a small ~3:30 minute climb around here that I like to use to do intervals and occasionally attempt to PR to see if I'm getting better. I recently got a power meter and this has been a nice addition. I recently PR'ed this hill an a maximum effort. When I look at my power output the graph had a low of around 220 watts and a high of 600 for a few seconds. I averaged I think 359 watts for the climb. The climb is about 7% on average but the gradient changes between 4-10% at various sections. One thing I've noticed is that when the gradient settles down my power suddenly drops and then I surge to make up time. I'm wondering if there are any exercises I can do to help keep my power output steady. One idea of mine is to do quite a few intervals one day but keep the wattage very low (i.e. even as low as 150) and attempt to keep it steady by shifting or spinning up and down, etc. Does anyone have any other ideas?

  2. #2
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    If your goal is fastest time up the hill then steady wattage is not the best way to achieve that.

    Fastest way up the hill means you go harder on the steeper parts, and also as it goes from steep to less-steep to accelerate up to higher speeds.
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  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by Creakyknees View Post
    If your goal is fastest time up the hill then steady wattage is not the best way to achieve that.

    Fastest way up the hill means you go harder on the steeper parts, and also as it goes from steep to less-steep to accelerate up to higher speeds.
    Agree, - go hard on the steep parts but save enough to gain speed quickly when it starts to flatten out.
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  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by Creakyknees View Post
    If your goal is fastest time up the hill then steady wattage is not the best way to achieve that.

    Fastest way up the hill means you go harder on the steeper parts, and also as it goes from steep to less-steep to accelerate up to higher speeds.
    Well, if you maintain consistent wattage as the gradient goes down you will speed up by definition.

    Overall, I disagree with you point, especially on longer climbs. I have PR'ed climbs while focusing on keeping steady at a much lower HR and when my legs have felt more tired.

  5. #5
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    A 3.5 minute climb is pretty short to use a pacing strategy ... Just go as hard as you can until you get to the top, turn around and repeat as many times as you can until you puke!

    On longer climbs ... 10+ minutes, pacing come more into play ... then it's a matter of holding back on the steeper parts and pushing yourself on the shallower parts of the climb. Specializing in TT's I've gotten really good at pacing myself up climbs, many times catching and passing guys using the "Go hard on steep parts and rest on less steep parts" strategy. They burn themselves out on longer climbs while I hold a steady high tempo or threshold pace. They pull away at the start of the climbs, but I slowly claw my way back and eventually drop many of them.

    A power meter will really help with pacing ... it's just a matter of staying in your zone(s), what ever that may be. Eventually you will be able to know how hard you are going by feel without ever looking at your power meter ... On a local 6.5 mile 3.25% grade climb I can usually guess my overall power output to within 5 watts over 22-25 minutes based on how I felt going up the climb.
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  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wookiebiker View Post
    A 3.5 minute climb is pretty short to use a pacing strategy ... Just go as hard as you can until you get to the top, turn around and repeat as many times as you can until you puke!
    Pacing strategies come into play for any timed cycling event longer than about 75 seconds.

    Indeed for events of only a few minutes, the relative impact of poor pacing is greater as there is inadequate time to recover from the mistake.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Alex_Simmons/RST View Post
    Pacing strategies come into play for any timed cycling event longer than about 75 seconds.

    Indeed for events of only a few minutes, the relative impact of poor pacing is greater as there is inadequate time to recover from the mistake.
    Sure ... if you are racing!

    In this case, he's using it for interval training and PR's ... nothing more. He's going to improve more by ignoring pacing and just going for it since it's for training.
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  8. #8
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    I'm not so sure about that, since pacing intervals well means you will get more work done at the right intensity and gain greater level of training stimulus targeted at the desired physiological outcome.

    As for PBs and racing, well practising bad pacing habits in training isn't all that sensible if you ask me. Like any skill, if you decide the only time to do it properly is in a race, well it won't happen.

  9. #9
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    Well ... In most races (outside of TT's) you really don't get much of a choice in pacing strategy, you either go at the pace of the group, get dropped or drop the group ... for most people it's the first two.

    So, yea ... pacing is great, but sometimes it's irrelevant in a race. This is where learning to suffer by going beyond limits in practice pays off because you know you can hold on just a little longer.

    With that said ... I've seen many people become slaves to their powermeter so much so they never learn how far they can push themselves because they just stick to the numbers ... then get dropped in races.

    There are times to pace and times not to pace ... in this instance where it sounds like the OP wants to get faster, it's best to push the entire way up the climb. It's not a long climb, it's a high VO2 effort and by pushing hard up the climb ... the OP will learn to push harder on the shallow sections and less so on the steeper sections ... just by the sheer fact that he won't have the power to go 600 watts on every steep section if he's doing 350 on the shallow sections.

    His idea of 150 watt efforts won't do much in this instance ... It might teach a little pacing, but at that low of a level, it's not going to make him any faster in the end. Now if he's going 110% - 120% or more of his FTP and doing hill repeats at this level for pacing ... that will likely help, but I still say ... go as hard as you can for the climb, repeat until you puke!
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  10. #10
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    I've found that constant wattage works really well for me on variable grade climbs. Other riders will overtake me and grind away from me on the steeps and I have to stay disciplined to let them go. But then I get to overtake ridiculous numbers of riders on the easy grades and flats. For example, on the climb below I was getting nowhere at 400W on the steep sections at the beginning and had to dial it back, but then a consistent 300W on the flats paid lots of dividends.

    Old La Honda in less than 20 minutes! Or you can watch race video from the low-key hill climb on Welch Creek. More at www.biketelemetry.com.

    "I think," said Christopher Robin, "that we ought to eat all our Provisions now, so that we shan't have so much to carry.", Winnie-the-Pooh, A. A. Milne.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wookiebiker View Post
    Well ... In most races (outside of TT's) you really don't get much of a choice in pacing strategy, you either go at the pace of the group, get dropped or drop the group ... for most people it's the first two.

    So, yea ... pacing is great, but sometimes it's irrelevant in a race. This is where learning to suffer by going beyond limits in practice pays off because you know you can hold on just a little longer.

    With that said ... I've seen many people become slaves to their powermeter so much so they never learn how far they can push themselves because they just stick to the numbers ... then get dropped in races.

    There are times to pace and times not to pace ... in this instance where it sounds like the OP wants to get faster, it's best to push the entire way up the climb. It's not a long climb, it's a high VO2 effort and by pushing hard up the climb ... the OP will learn to push harder on the shallow sections and less so on the steeper sections ... just by the sheer fact that he won't have the power to go 600 watts on every steep section if he's doing 350 on the shallow sections.

    His idea of 150 watt efforts won't do much in this instance ... It might teach a little pacing, but at that low of a level, it's not going to make him any faster in the end. Now if he's going 110% - 120% or more of his FTP and doing hill repeats at this level for pacing ... that will likely help, but I still say ... go as hard as you can for the climb, repeat until you puke!
    The OP was doing it for training and for performance measurement, not race simulation.

    Given
    (i) the sole purpose of pacing is to elicit best performance, and
    (ii) the sole purpose of training is to elicit the desired physiological adaptations, then:

    I suggest they pace themselves accordingly since well paced intervals will provide a greater overall training stimulus, and meets both objectives.

    I agree, low power levels are not appropriate for such efforts, and suggest they find a hard level they can sustainably repeat several times (3-7 times) without undue fatigue during each effort, and from the initial to final efforts. If you are fading in either circumstance, then you went too hard to start with (or were too fatigued to start with).

    In the case of hillclimbs, then close to mean maximal isopower for the duration will always be very close to optimal pacing even on variable gradients, although for training I suggest not going quite that hard, as the overall training stimulus will be less (can't do as many intervals that way).

    If they need to find out how to handle a mass start race situation, then they need to simulate that, or race.

    Sometimes in races it does make sense to let people go, and ride your own race pace, because you will probably pass many later when they blow having attempted something unrealistic for them, when their ambitions outweigh their ability. Working out when that makes sense, and when hanging on as if your life depended on it is a matter of experience and race nouse.

    As to people being a slave to their power meter, you know, I've heard this claim thrown about a lot on training forums, but honestly, I just don't see much evidence of it. But if people really are doing this, then it's an example of training by power, not with power.

  12. #12
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    As with any hill; accelerate through the top/crest. Even on the shallower parts of a pitchy climb, accelerate through those portions.

    Like was said, constant wattage is not going to be a factor if you're after a PR. If your focused on a specific interval then, sure, constant wattage can be targeted. On a pitchy climb that you're really going after, wattage or HR serve only to let you know further what you already know...when you're going into the red.

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    Just to be clear, I know this climb is short. I was just using it as an example because it's what I did the other day and was looking at the power data. My end goal is to be able to keep a constant wattage at high efforts over different gradients. Personally, I find that keeping a constant pace helps me do better over longer climbs. Also, I'm going to be using these some climbs in the area for interval training and would like to stay within a certain wattage even as the gradient changes.

  14. #14
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    why don't you just try to maintain a constant 360 watts throughout the interval- use the display setting options on your compute so it will show running average power in interval mode, or even a 30 second average power. It would be easier to do on a more constant grade - Is there something else in your question?

    Quote Originally Posted by deviousalex View Post
    Just to be clear, I know this climb is short. I was just using it as an example because it's what I did the other day and was looking at the power data. My end goal is to be able to keep a constant wattage at high efforts over different gradients. Personally, I find that keeping a constant pace helps me do better over longer climbs. Also, I'm going to be using these some climbs in the area for interval training and would like to stay within a certain wattage even as the gradient changes.

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by stevesbike View Post
    why don't you just try to maintain a constant 360 watts throughout the interval- use the display setting options on your compute so it will show running average power in interval mode, or even a 30 second average power. It would be easier to do on a more constant grade - Is there something else in your question?
    My question is does anyone have any tips on how to maintain steady wattage....

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by deviousalex View Post
    My question is does anyone have any tips on how to maintain steady wattage....
    Practice. It requires concentration when the road starts to flatten out, and anticipating when a gear change will be needed as you accelerate so it can be done smoothly enabling you to get back to the power quickly.

    It also requires checking of your ego at the base of the climb so that you don't go too hard to start with.

    Also, think of the effort as being within a target range (e.g. +/- 15-20W), and not a specific power. From a training perspective, what matters is being at the right level, not a precise wattage.

    If you do decide to watch the power meter frequently*, then avoid being caught in a game of "chasing your power tail", i.e. making over corrections when you see the power numbers go up and down. It's usually a matter of subtle changes to effort and not attempting to change your effort instantly, but more gradually.

    Keep in mind that second by second power output is naturally variable, but also if using a Powertap there can also be some additional artificial variability in reported second by second power numbers known as aliasing, which is due to time based torque sampling of Powertaps. This phenomenon is exacerbated at some cadences, such as ~70-80rpm and 100-110rpm on current models. The cadence ranges this occurs at are different for the older models.

    Usually the way to minimise this is to use some form of power display filter, like a rolling average. 3 second rolling average is probably not quite enough to smooth out the impacts of aliasing. 5-seconds would be better.


    * Not that this is really necessary, however I think the power meter is handy for helping manage effort when conditions change, such as changes in gradient, and especially to avoid overcooking the start. Otherwise just keep the pressure on and concentrate.

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by Alex_Simmons/RST View Post
    Usually the way to minimise this is to use some form of power display filter, like a rolling average. 3 second rolling average is probably not quite enough to smooth out the impacts of aliasing. 5-seconds would be better.
    This was the key for me in learning how to better manage my efforts using my PM.
    "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then is not an act, but a habit." -Aristotle on intervals

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by ukbloke View Post
    I've found that constant wattage works really well for me on variable grade climbs. Other riders will overtake me and grind away from me on the steeps and I have to stay disciplined to let them go. But then I get to overtake ridiculous numbers of riders on the easy grades and flats. For example, on the climb below I was getting nowhere at 400W on the steep sections at the beginning and had to dial it back, but then a consistent 300W on the flats paid lots of dividends.

    what a cool road? where is that?
    * posted by Creakybot 2013 all rights reserved.
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  19. #19
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    Welch Creek Road, just off Calaveras Road near Sunol, CA. It's a road to nowhere:

    Old La Honda in less than 20 minutes! Or you can watch race video from the low-key hill climb on Welch Creek. More at www.biketelemetry.com.

    "I think," said Christopher Robin, "that we ought to eat all our Provisions now, so that we shan't have so much to carry.", Winnie-the-Pooh, A. A. Milne.

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by Creakyknees View Post
    what a cool road? where is that?
    found it... so cool!
    * posted by Creakybot 2013 all rights reserved.
    * not actually waterproof.

  21. #21
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    Also fun going downhill!

    Old La Honda in less than 20 minutes! Or you can watch race video from the low-key hill climb on Welch Creek. More at www.biketelemetry.com.

    "I think," said Christopher Robin, "that we ought to eat all our Provisions now, so that we shan't have so much to carry.", Winnie-the-Pooh, A. A. Milne.

  22. #22
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    A power meter can help. Keep in mind that there's a slight delay with the power readings. By the time you adjust your gearing and cadence, the pitch can change and your power is already different again.

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