There is more individualized data available to cyclists these days than ever before. Virtual cycling trainers that provide power data, programs such as Zwift and Rouvy that display that data in real time, and data collection programs like Training Peaks and Strava where your ride metrics are uploaded to be analyzed. The average cyclist does not know what the data means or what to focus on to make gains. The one metric that appears on every training platform and virtual application that needs to be understood is watts per kilogram (W/kg).
For cyclists who don’t ride a perfectly flat and smooth course, that’s most of us from CT, what matters just as much as your maximum power output is the amount of power that can be produced in relation to bodyweight. If you live in North Dakota and ride on completely flat roads, W/kg is not very important. Maximum power output will almost always go faster. For example, Rider A is 72kgs with an functional threshold power (FTP) of 260 watts (w) and has a power-to-weight ratio of 3.6W/kg. Rider B is a 61kg rider with a FTP of 230w and has a power-to-weight ratio of 3.77W/kg. In North Dakota Rider A will be faster than Rider B. Ride or race any course in CT with hills and Rider B will slowly pull away.
Watts/kg is a simple calculation, Watts/Mass (kg). Improving W/kg is also simple and straightforward. There are only three ways to affect change and improve your W/kg.
· Increase your power output while keeping your weight constant.
· Keep your power output constant while decreasing your weight.
· Increase your power output while also decreasing your weight.
Any of these three approaches will increase a cyclists W/kg. Depending on your goals for the season and what you want to improve such as neuromuscular function or raising your lactate threshold, you can start to train specifically to either.
How to best achieve your power-to-weight ratio depends on your cycling background and experience. For novices just riding more miles will generally raise power-to-weight ratios. This rider will mostly likely lose some weight in the process as well. For most recreational riders, this is the best approach – losing fat and maintaining the same fitness.
For fitter and more experienced riders increasing power-to-weight ratios is often a delicate balance. Seasoned riders cannot usually just add more miles and expect results. In addition, weight loss when body fat levels are probably already low can lead to muscle mass loss. Training specifically to increase maximal power output is more important to this level of rider.
One way that EVERY rider can increase W/kg is through strength training. Time in the gym and off the bike focusing on key cycling muscles will raise muscle efficiency and reduce fatigue during periods of high training volume. This is especially critical at the elite level where cyclists will look to lose weight going into the race season. Losing weight is fine, but it cannot be a detriment to muscle strength or the health of the rider.
If you only ride in North Dakota, then go ahead and focus on raising that FTP. If you live anywhere else, W/kg should be your focus. It’s easy data to use to see how you compare to other riders and what you need to do to get stronger. You spend all that time on Zwift and Rouvy focusing on your W/kg number and that of others riding around you, so use it to determine which of the three ways you need to focus on to increase your power-to-weight ratio.