First of this isn’t a review of the Traineroad app. There are plenty of reviews for the app and if you are curious to know how does it work just watch their video ( Traineroad in 90 seconds) on YouTube. Also I do not get paid for writing this review, instead I pay ~10/month to Trainerroad. This is a review of their low volume traditional base 1,2 and 3 plan to be precise and it’s correlation in increasing my FTP. When you follow any cycling plan , the standard way of measuring improvement is measuring change in FTP, if your FTP rises you are getting fitter/stronger. So the question, does following a trainerroad plan increase your FTP ? For me, YES!
Did I expect an improvement in my FTP? Yes , since my cycling background is limited. Did I expect a significant increase in my FTP ? No, because this is a low volume plan and its the base phase, not a build/specialty. The goal of the base phase isn’t to raise your FTP, but one of the benefits for a beginner cyclist or for a person who has never followed a structured plan is that no matter what you do , you probably will see some FTP gains.
Their plans are pretty much a one size fits all/cookie cutters but the plans are event specific and you can can pick the volume. They have a base, build and a specialty version for cyclists, cyclocross , triathletes. Within those they have low , mid and high volume version, so you can see what might be a good fit. They tell you the stress and number of hours / week in each , so you should be able to decide what works best for you. I don’t think it can better than this where you have 3 version based on volume/number of hours for ~$10/month.
When I first took my FTP test on Trainerroad, I did not own a power meter , all I had was a speed cadence sensor so it was pretty much virtual power. My FTP as per Trainerroad’s virtual power was 109. I know this does not sound much, but from what I observed, the virtual power for my trainer was about 20 Watts lower, but that’s not the point here. To review the plan -the traditional base 1 had me on the bike thrice a week at around 65-75% of my FTP. The duration of the rides went up by 15 each the second week and an additional 15 minutes the third week with the fourth week reserved for recovery i.e. shorter rides. This a very classical/traditional approach where you follow 4 week blocks ( 3 for training and 1 for recovery, and the intensity/duration goes up in the first 3 weeks). After 4 weeks of traditional base Phase 1, it was time to retest my FTP and start with traditional base 2. My new FTP as per Traineroads virtual power was 122. These 4 weeks in base 1 were nothing but boring and irritating, it had me bike 3 times a week at 65-75% FTP, no intervals nothing. I knew this when I selected traditional base phase 1 but I still whine about it for some reason. But the real time feedback is somewhat like a video game and I was somehow able to complete all the workouts, had I not had an interactive interface like Trainerroad, I probably would not have been able to complete such slow,steady and boring workouts longer than 45 minutes. The 15 min increments every week do a good job in preparing you for the longer rides in base 2 and base 3. You may struggle a bit in the first 3 weeks of base 1 but by the time you in base 2 and base 3, workouts between 60-90 minutes are no biggie for you then.
I then decided to “invest” in a power meter , now the power meter I opted was the 4iii left crank based power meter. The entire process of finding a dealer remove my bikes left crank arm , order bearings etc for the new crank I had which was 4iii compatible cost me 3 weeks with no biking :(. After 3 weeks of waiting and excited like a lil kid, I took an FTP test again , but with a legit power meter this time, the 4iii power meter gave me an FTP of 145 which is about 20 Watts higher than what my improved FTP was based of virtual power after 4 weeks of traditional base 1, 3 weeks ago. So the 145 is by no means an improvement by sitting on my butt . Its a device actually measuring power and not calculated by Trainerroad based of a speed/cadence sensor and trainer type information.
After measuring my true power I decided to proceed with traditional base low volume II ( after a 3 week break from base 1). This has you on the bike 3 times a week, with the longer rides( ~2 hours) on the weekend and yes they are boring , they were at 65 – 75% FTP, but they weren’t all that bad because I gotten use to spending time on the trainer thanks to base 1 and the other 2 rides in the middle of the week were tempo and sweetspot based and shorter in duration. The tempo rides went up by 15 min in week 2 and week 3, the longer endurance rides start at 2 hours in the first week and then increase by 15 min in week 2 and week 3. So you end up biking 4,4.5 and 5 hours in weeks 1,2 and 3 with the 4th week reserved for recovery( Again the classical 4 week training block, 3 hard 1 easy). I was religious with the regiment and stuck to it. After 4 weeks it was time to test my FTP again, my new FTP was 160! This was a 15 Watt improvement and I was on the bike only 3 times a week , about 4.1 hours on average/week over a 4 week duration.
Now it was time to proceed with the traditional base low volume 3. Over here you are on the bike 4 times a week , the long rides are on a weekend at 2.5 hours, there are some tempo rides and some short 5 min interval sessions close to/at your FTP. The base 3 format is slightly different but still traditional, the overall duration of the rides in the 3 weeks is exactly the same at 5:30/week, what changes are length of the intervals and the intensity of intervals around your FTP(I.e. 90, 95,100,105 % FTP for 5 minutes), and you guessed it the fourth week is reserved for recovery. The plan has you do some threshold intervals,sweet spot intervals,tempos and a 2.5 hours endurance ride. The endurance rides remain unchanged through weeks 1-3, the threshold intervals go up in intensity but are for the same duration @ 5 minutes. The sweet spot intervals ( 85% FTP) are of different durations ( 12 min, 15 min etc) but the length of the workout does not change. I did an extra 1 hour ride during one of the weeks because I just felt good and was not a part of the Trainerroad plan , but the same week I did not pay attention to my on nutrition and blew up in one of my long rides on the weekend. I had to cut it short by an hour or so. Fast forward to the FTP test after 4 weeks, my new FTP was at 171 as per Trainerroad . I did go out too hard on the first interval and saw a steady decline towards the end of it , and the second interval was fairly even paced. Since Traineroad averages the 2 , and I was toast from the first one and looking at my FTP test history, one of the 8 min intervals is always lower than the other by about 6-8 Watts, so I think 171 is still pretty accurate. For some reason the first minute I was ~230 Watts on my first 8 min interval and I felt I could hold and was elated because the last time I did this test I had hit 180 in the 8 min interval, so in my head I was thinking I’ve made a 50 watt jump in 4 weeks, but soon shit got real I started fading :(. Pacing yourself for all out 8 min intervals is tough and you learn from it. I don’t know why , but when I hit 230 I felt it was sustainable at the time.
Here is a pic of my 8 min test at the end of base 3 using a legit power meter(4iii) and you can see me fade in the first 8 min interval.
Here is a pic of the first time I took the 8 min test at beginning of phase 2 using a legit power meter ( 4iii)
As you can see, I was around the 159/166 mark in the 8 min interval compared to one above where I was around 184 even after blowing up on the first all out 8 min interval. To put things in perspective, 145 was my FTP ( calculated at 90 percent of the average power held in the two 8 min intervals) at the beginning of Base 2, a power I could probably sustain for an hour. Now my FTP is 171 ( calculated at 90 percent of the average power held in the two 8 min intervals) and 145 is about 85% of my present FTP ( 171), in about 8 weeks 145 went from being my FTP to now my sweet spot interval! Efforts which I should be able to sustain well over an hour without fatiguing too much and still being able to bounce back the next day.
It is going to be inaccurate to say I jumped from 109 to 171 in 12 weeks , as the 109 was measured by virtual power and the 171 was measured by an actual power meter. To summarize – yes my FTP went up even in the traditional base low volume base phase and it went up every 4 weeks. To give you an idea to my riding ability, I rode a 3:01 at Muncie 70.3 which is a flat course before I ever used Traineroad. So consider me an average or slightly below average rider. That was my first time biking 56 miles, I had just trained randomly using Spinervals and/or watching netflix and all based of perceived effort. So if your riding ability is close to mine or not as good as mine, you can be rest assured than even a low volume base plan will lead to pretty decent improvements.
Here is a breakdown of my improvements:
Traditional base low volume 1
Initial FTP – 109 ( Virtual Power)
FTP after 4 weeks – 122 ( Virtual Power)
Improvement – 11.92% or 13 Watts
( 3 week break to install a power meter)
Traditional base low volume 2
Initial FTP – 145 ( 4iii precision)
FTP after 4 weeks – 160 Watts
Improvement – 10.35% or 15 Watts
Traditional base low volume 3
Initial FTP – 160 ( end of base 2)
FTP after 4 weeks – 171 Watts
Improvement – 6. 87 % or 11 Watts
Improvement in last 8 weeks – 145 Watts to 171 ( i.e. 17.93 % or 26 Watts )
Improvement in Watts/Kg in last 8 weeks at FTP – 2.28 to 2.68.
Whats next? Its a week before New Years and I need to travel for a week to see my better half which means no more of pain cave for the next week or so. Once I am back , I plan to follow the last 4 weeks of Trainerroads triathlon base plan for about 12 weeks ( they just added this). I asked them if I should just repeat traditional base phase 3 multiple times till march or should I switch to their triathlon base plan which is about 12 weeks. Trainerroad recommended I continue training using the last 4-6 weeks from the triathlon base phase instead of starting from week 1 and repeat it till I decide to move on to the build phase( march).
So in terms of improvement and the plan review, I believe your FTP is expected to rise the maximum in the build phase and that is what Traineroad says as well and I do believe it will rise for me and the majority of you if you stick to their plan. For a mediocre cyclist like me, even a low volume traditional base plan lead to some FTP gains. They have a variety of base plans to chose from ( sweet spot, traditional, sprint, olympic, half and full iron distances). I expect that you would probably see better gains if you select a higher volume plan but you need to stick to it. So would I recommend Trainerroad plans? YES!! . Will their plans work for the majority of the cycling/multi sport community. I am inclined to say a Yes, for someone who is already very good and usually podiums I am sure they know what they are doing and probably need to work on specific weaknesses and probably need to select a higher volume plan. For the majority of the mortals with a job and are who are just entering into the realm of endurance sports, Traineroad is a no brainer at a fraction of the cost of a coach and yes it is better than you aimlessly spinning or going of perceived effort.
Will Traineroad plan get you to Kona? That is a lil tricky to answer for me for various reasons ,1- I am not a certified coach and 2- I’ve not been to Kona. But I believe if you follow their high volume plan and cycling is your weakest leg, it’s a very good starting point without a coach and if you just Facebook them or shoot them an email, they can tell you if something needs to be added/tweaked to the traineroad plan you are following. Folks at Trainerroad are very responsive to messages, however they are not your personal coach but if you need a general guideline in terms of increasing the number/duration/intensity of workouts, folks at Traineroad will be more than happy to help you with that. I’ve personally asked them questions before and I usually get a response the same day or the next day and they actually go out of the way and ask you if your issue/concern was solved!! Also they have a shitload of workouts to pick from each with a specific purpose , so if you are knowledgeable and know what aspect of your cycling fitness you want to work on, you can just pick a workout from their never ending list and do it.
So for those of you reading this, wondering if you should spend ~$10/ month on Traineeroad and wondering if the software or the plans are worth it. I would say , its probably the single best investment you can make. If you are paying ~$30/ month for a gym membership and you attend spin classes over there, I would suggest cancel that and spend ~$10/month on traineroad.
I will probably do a build plan review as well, but that means 8 weeks from the time I decide to do it. I hope my gains are more in build phase and I cross the 3.0 mark in Watts/Kg at FTP. If I can do that I will probably have a shot at a sub 6 IM bike split.
If you wanted to see the workouts I did and do some of your own analysis, here is the link to my career:
My base 1 started on Sept 1, 2015 and I was done with base 3 on Dec 19, 2015 and took my FTP test on Dec 20, 2015.