As I shared with you previously, I am now using a Cycling Coach to help me prepare for the upcoming cycling season.
No, that’s not quite accurate. I am being coached to remain capable of the physical requirements of my job.
Owning and operating a bicycle tour company offers many things to love (meeting new people, cycling many miles, etc…), a few things to dislike (washing the van is one of them), and lots of work. Just like many other small business owners, I stay busy with a wide variety of tasks.
But unlike many other founders, I cannot let my health and fitness slip by the wayside as I focus on my business. Because if I am not fit enough to ride strong, I will not have a business.
So to ensure that I have the highest level of fitness possible, I hired David Hoag of Vision Quest Coaching. Before long, I had a stack of recommended reading, new food bars to try, and most importantly, a Training Peaks account complete with a calendar full of prescribed workouts. I’m having a blast.
Power To Weight Ratio
And then Coach David talked to me about my Power to Weight ratio. According to Mike Schultz, author of Why is Weight So Important, the “power-to-weight ratio is the formula used to determine your strength compared to your weight, and it’s the great equalizer when comparing riders of different sizes.”
And even more essential: “The higher your power-to-weight ratio the faster you will go.”
So when you find a cycling buddy that is a good fit for you from a strength perspective, there is a good chance that you have similar power to weight ratios, even if you have different physiques and a different size.
This is also the measurement that can cause some cyclists to become “weight wienies”. Chances are, you know someone who constantly obsesses about lighter and lighter equipment. The next time you see a cyclist wearing a full race kit, examine his or her bike. Do you see a tire pump, saddle bag, or valve stem caps? Probably not, because these items add precious weight to be pulled up each mountain.
But the focus on the power to weight ratio can also cause some cyclists to take extreme measures when it comes to body weight and diet.
Every pound makes a difference, and you can see dramatic examples of this in the body composition of professional cyclists. Often their legs are very muscular while their chest, arms and shoulders are quite lean. Top and bottom seem out of proportion to one another.
Years ago, I devoted a lot of life energy to concern over my body weight. When I say, ‘a lot of life energy’, I mean a LOT. I not only measured everything, but I logged it. I logged what I wore on each ride. How much I weighed. Everything.
But when I moved to Asheville 7 years ago, I discarded my heart rate monitor, fitness log, bike computer and weight scale. I mean I literally discarded: I threw them away.
I no longer wanted my sports to be ruled by rules. I wanted to cycle and run for the pure joy of it. No plan, no schedule…make it up on the fly.
So it was with a bit of trepidation, that I faced the assigned task of computing my power to weight ratio.
Measuring Your Power
To compute your power to weight ratio, you need two numbers: your power and your weight. In this context, your “power” is your functional threshold power (“FTP”).
Measuring power is no big deal. Well, it’s actually quite challenging, but I enjoy taking the test. Coach David asked me to take a 20 minute test (there are numerous accepted methods to test FTP, this is just one of them). The first time I took this test, I used the CompuTrainer equipment at Beer City Bicycles.
The second time I took the test, I used one of my favorite climbs, Point Lookout Trail. To take the test, you warm up for about 15-20 minutes and then you ride as hard as possible for 20 minutes. The results of the data captured by your power meter reveal your average power in watts.
Subtract 5% from this number (your average over 20 minutes) and you have the basis for your future training workouts – your FTP.
Computing The Ratio
Obviously, measuring your weight is simple. Let’s just say your weight is 150 lbs. Convert the weight in lbs to Kilograms (150 lbs x .453592 = 68.04 kg). Computing the ratio is simple: FTP divided by weight in Kilograms (Kg).
Example: 170 watts (FTP) divided by 68.04 Kg = 2.50
To make things really simple, here is a calculator that will do the math for you once you know the two variables.
And I have good news: My power as my measured FTP has already improved by 10% and I am experiencing improved performance, especially in endurance and recovery. Thanks Coach David! Note that I was quite resistant to using a power meter before entering a coaching relationship, but more on that in a future blog.
To improve your Power To Weight Ratio, you can either increase your power… or decrease your weight. While I continue to increase power, I have also considered how I might decrease weight.
And this is proving to be quite difficult. In fact, the moment the subject was broached, old feelings and dark thoughts returned. Overnight, the person in the mirror was transformed from someone who looked strong, to someone who appeared overweight. I began having trouble sleeping and my first thoughts when I awoke were about… my weight.
I’d like to say that I found some magic solution, or switch that turned off the negative thoughts and flooded my mind and body with a pure light that revealed my true self. That would be a believable Ashevillesque type of story. But it’s not my story….at least, not yet. Life is a journey and I am (thankfully) still on it.
In the quest to find ways to reduce my weight, I have been experimenting with changes in my diet and lifestyle. So far, this is what I have tried along with the results:
- Alcohol – I participated in Dry January and found that, while I didn’t lose any weight (I know, bummer), I have more energy and sleep better when I consume less alcohol. And, cutting it out for the month was easy, which is always nice to know. So, I have continued to keep alcohol consumption low by reserving it for special occasions with friends and not using it as a way to relax every evening.
- Carbohydrates – I have no reason to believe that I need to restrict gluten, but Joe Friel, author of Fast After 50, makes a pretty good case for cutting down on carbs as you reach and pass midlife — he’s not alone. Reducing carbs is one of the latest dietary movements. So I am giving it a try by reducing processed carbs and focusing on whole food sources through vegetables and fruits. For example, having a Hickory Nut Gap Farm burger on a fresh green salad instead of a white bread bun is easy-peasy for me. Giving up my favorite breakfast of muesli and blueberries, not so much. While I haven’t noticed any big changes, I do love that some carbs have been replaced with vegetables.
- Protein – Raised on grass-fed beef and free range chicken, I lost my taste for protein when I moved away from the family farm. David (the husband, not the coach), restored my love of meat by using only good protein sources and we have plenty of options here in Western North Carolina. Increasing protein intake has caused a bit of stomach upset and a feeling of having more energy. Bad and good.
- Dairy – I am lactose intolerant (this was a prize that I received when I entered my forties). I’ve been using lactose free milk and half & half for several years with success. Some believe that dairy products should be eliminated from the diet. I am not yet ready to give up milk and cheese, but this may be my next experiment.
- Muscle Mass – Although I haven’t had my body mass measured in many years, I feel that I have a pretty high muscle mass for a woman my age. I have developed a good bit of muscle in my upper body (arms and shoulders) from power yoga and strength training. I cannot afford to lose this strength because, as a bike guide, I often have to lift and maneuver heavy objects like bicycles, luggage and coolers. If something has to give, it’s not going to be upper body strength.
- Body Fat – The voices in my head nearly constantly remind me that I have body fat and exactly where it lives. Fat is like a narcissistic movie star…no matter what, it demands to be in the spotlight. It will sun itself while lying right on top of six pack abs. It’s so unfair. Opinions vary as to how much fat is “okay” for any given person. I am very interested in having a DEXA scan to measure body composition, including bone density. This is on the list for later this year.
I wish the results of my experiments provided more hope and encouragement. Some people have suggested using a chemical powder drink mix as part of a body cleanse. I am certain that this approach works for some.
In fact, both Davids (the husband and the coach) have had good weight loss results using this approach (which I consider a “chemical cleanse”). Still, I am having a hard time laying aside a whole foods diet, in favor of a chemical shake to shake some pounds. It doesn’t seem like it could be a sustainable solution. But I may change my mind and give it a try…stay tuned.
For now, I am left wondering if my weight, which has been fairly consistent since I threw out the weight scale back in 2009, is just about right.
I think I will keep working on driving the power number up, keep an eye on the number on the scale once per week, and let my skinny pants be the truth teller while I continue to conduct experiments. Your ideas and input are welcomed.