By Kenneth Lundgren
PowerCranks, if used properly, are a terrific training tool and arguably one of the best things you can do to truly improve performance? I?ve been speaking with a number of riders about them, and they are under the impression that when you train on them, you ride them exclusively. In fact, I was talking to a rider who is doing just that this winter, and I think that is a mistake ? although PowerCranks the company even claims you should!!! I was speaking with Mark Alden of the Blue Ribbon Cycling Team, a fierce climber in his own right, and he made a keen observation ? that you lose some of your downstroke power after riding them. And I think he makes a good point.
In all honesty, I don?t think PowerCranks drastically increase V02 or anaerobic threshold power. PowerCranks are like EPO (from what I?ve read!) ? you don?t put out more power at max effort, you just put out more power for longer periods ? staying power, I suppose? At 350w, you just don?t fatigue the same. My 20 and 30-minute maxes have improved over 5%, translating into 18 more watts that I didn?t have before. I can tell you on the time-trial bike, at same Perceived Effort, I am a completely different rider. The times are down and I feel better on the bike, much more economical, always searching for more speed, as if I can?t push hard enough ? as if I have a greater bank from which to draw strength.
I agree with Alden regarding the downstroke power. When PowerCranking, you have to pull your leg back and then up. You just cannot implement the powerful up-and-down piston stroke of traditional cranks. Because of this, I would recommend NOT riding the Cranks exclusively. I notice that when I ride the Cranks hard for a day, the next day on my traditional cranks at first my cadence is a little choppy ? I?m pulling up and it feels unnatural. If you ride the Cranks for an extended block and avoid the regular bike, you may be in a jam? You need to jump back and forth between natural cranks and PowerCranks and work them together. March is not the time to hop back on the road bike and expect to resume the necessary training!
I would recommend riding the Cranks two times a week all winter ? say Wednesday and Saturday or Sunday, trying to work them around your lifting schedule. The hammies, the hip flexors, these are smaller muscles that need strong recovery after being exhausted. Riding them a TON week after week can lead to plateau or degeneration ? as with everything, you should follow a logical plan. Tempo and force work, as well as cadence drills, are essential winter-time focuses and PowerCranks really allow you to hit these areas perfectly.
Just ?riding? the PowerCranks will help you become more economical, and you?ll see improvements, but you should tailor PowerCrank training to your goals and objectives. Road racers, all-arounders, climbers, time-trialists, and sprinters should all use them differently.
As we?re in the gym working a progressive weight program, which hopefully is geared to your strengths and goals (a sprinter and time-trialist will have two different programs), you should also progress using the PowerCranks. Early in the Foundation block, cadence and pedaling efficiency work should be focus. Cadence drills on the Cranks are murder, but they are excellent low-stress prep for the harder work to come, which include force drills and tempo sessions. As a time-trialist, I do steadier, longer work on them. As the weeks progress, a typical PowerCrank ride will include a few 5-minute threshold Power Climbs at 65-75 rpms. Another session may include longer, 15-20-minute Tempo intervals, just steady eddy in that steady golden zone over rolling terrain. Typically, I try to do a quality ride on TT bike the first day, then hit the PowerCranks the day after. For me, this seems to work best, but everyone is different and you have to find what works.
For you sprinters out there, try sprinkling in PowerCrank sprint drills. Developing a solid sprint takes considerable time, and specific sprint work should be a year-round mainstay. You should NOT be starting sprint work as you progress through Build weeks. Also, I should add, doing sprints ? whether it?s big-gear sprints, ?stuck? sprints (mildly overgeared), uphill sprints, or high-speed sprints ? are borderline impossible on the Cranks without a super-strong core. You really learn to balance the body and involve more upper body in the movement. Of course, to involve the upper body we need the core, so as we strengthen the core in the winter, look to incorporate these improved lower back and abdominal muscles for increased power. Sprinting is just not leg power and leg speed. Mixing up the sprint sessions between the traditional and PowerCranks will result in a much improved sprinting prowess?
Doing one group every other week is great for the later stages of Foundation training, as you can maintain pack-riding skills and get some mild anaerobic work. I would recommend alternating group riding between the traditional bike and the PowerCranks bike. If you opt to do a group ride every week, then one week sit in and ride steadier with the Cranks, and the second week use the road bike to complete the more specific work. If you?re a sprinter, go for the sprints. If you?re a time-trialist, do the steady, long pulls. If your strength is V02 max efforts, gas it for 2 minutes up the climbs. Once every 14 days or so, it?s important to open it up while still finishing the ride feeling fresh?
In closing, try to round out your training COMPLETELY? Too much of one thing (i.e. exclusive PowerCranking) can derail your training. I personally use the PowerCranks to strengthen my strength, but you can use them to improve all aspects of your riding. At the end of the day, you just want to make sure all the hard work is worth something when the stars start to shine?