Performance Spin Time Trial - testing for improvement. - Phil Cox

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The first part of this blog described Performance Spin, a great new class at my gym. TFD have provided an excellent class to help cyclists/triathletes improve leg strength, power and endurance on the bike. The training is tough but it has paid dividends for those who have attended regularly, we know this from the 20 minute time trial that is performed every 6-8 weeks.

I am a keen to see my gym work pay off; the only real way to gauge improvements in performance is to test. I get disappointed when the test results are not what I was looking for but at least I know that I am not where I want to be. Chugging along in the gym with the same programme doesn’t tell me anything, I try to be scientific about all the work I do to get the most benefit given the limited time I have available to train.

The 20 minute time trial is conducted on a spin bike, I tend to choose the same one to mitigate calibration differences etc. The Keiser 3’s use an electro-magnet to apply resistance so, in theory, the selected gear is practically identical for every session. I can also adjust the saddle and bars to my preferred setting giving me a comfortable position, this ensures I am getting optimum power through the cranks. Bike adjustment is a PHD in itself and not for this post; suffice to say that I have arrived at my settings by trial and error but it seems to work.

The bikes take an SPD shoe, there is a reasonable amount of float in the pedals but they are used by lots of different people. Having said this, my feet sit squarely in the pedal and I am not aware of much lateral movement even when working hard. The combination of being attached to the pedal and the stiff soles of the shoes has an efficiency benefit compared to simply strapping your feet in.

The point of the time trial is to measure average power output (in watts) over the 20 minutes. Pedalling harder generates more watts, pedalling harder for longer improves the average wattage. I aim to keep my wattage at an even level for the duration of the test until the last two minutes where I apply extra gears and get out of the saddle for a ‘sprint finish’. My strategy is to work in gear 16 with a cadence of around 97 revs per minute. The sprint finish sees gear 18 and then gear 20 with an eye on the wattage figure. Getting out of the saddle is less efficient than being seated so I try and ensure that the wattage reading goes up or there is little point.

That is the theory; the reality of the test is a little unpleasant; mental toughness plays a big role in completing it to the plan above. It takes a couple of minutes for my heart rate to increase to around 83% of its max, give or take a few beats this slightly under threshold for me. As the test progresses my heart rate increases to 154 bpm, the sprint at the end sees it somewhere close to 165 BPM. Although warm, my legs take a good 4 minutes to settle into the cadence and feel comfortable. So far so good, the suffering starts around 13 minutes and it’s simply a case of hanging in there from then on.

I find the following helpful when it comes to completing the test:

Reset the bike computer before starting

Don’t dilute your average power output with all the warm up stuff!


Avoid clock watching!

I am always disappointed when I look at the time elapsed so I try not to check the time too often When it comes to the last 3 minutes I do need to check to time the sprint right.


Music/Podcasts help

I guess this is the ‘disassociation’ thing. I try to concentrate on the lyrics or listen intently to the discussion – this seems to pass the time and take the edge off of the discomfort.


Ensure proper hydration and fuelling before the test

Even if I tried to drink I would probably be sick or not be able to get enough air in. The last thing I need to worry about is fiddling with a bottle when I am knackered. Nutrition does play a big part and is a subject in its own right…another blog I think!


Keep good pedalling form

More difficult to do as you become tired but it does help with the power output. The drills we have covered over the weeks help with this.


Put yourself under a little mental pressure

As I get towards the end of the test, I remind myself that the work done so far will be wasted unless more effort goes into the final minutes.

The last 5 minutes are hateful. Legs feel very fatigued and want to give up, getting air in becomes a priority leading to shallow gasping instead of deep breaths and nausea begins to creep in. This is where timing of the sprint becomes key. I have reached the point of vomiting in classes before but have simply stopped pedalling to avoid making a mess; clearly this would have a bad effect on your average wattage during this test so ‘know your problem, you keep it all in’ as somebody once wrote. When the clock does stop, I stop pedalling immediately to get an accurate wattage reading, once I have this I will continue to spin out for a good 5 minutes to get my pulse down to normal levels.

With luck, the average power should have increased from the last test. This has a downside in that work above the 100% mark in Performance Spin now becomes harder…happy days!

Further reading…..

If you liked this blog please take a moment to check out my book describing the solo Land’s End to John O’Groats ride in 2012, all profit from sales to

Please click the cover image for the Kindle version or click here to order a paperback copy. Thank you!


2 Comments Responses to Performance Spin Time Trial – testing for improvement.
pcox2014-06-11 15:07:26Reply
Thanks Simon, I might give that a go next time and see what happens! Looking forwrad to a blog about Ultra Marathoning from you at some point.
Simon2014-06-11 15:01:43Reply
I like it, good stuff. As an alternative to disassociation, I like the 'be present' approach - 'ah yes, that hurts but not as much as it did last time, now that really hurts, but I'm not in distress' etc. - make friends with the pain and manage it!
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