Low Power/High Heart Hate

I am a 38 year old male, and this year I have been following a structured/periodized training schedule for the first time, with the goal of raising my sustainable power. Prior to this year, I just went out and rode, mostly mountain bike rides. Most of my training is now done on a compu-trainer, with weekly mountain bike rides. My training has been very consistent, following a three week on, one week recovery pattern.

I started with endurance (>80 percent of Lactate Threshold Heart Rate) and strength training, moved on to tempo (80-90 percent LTHR), and then sub threshold (93-100 percent LTHR) workouts. During tempo workouts I did both high rpm (90-105) spins and low rpm (60-75) in the hopes of raising my wattage. I test myself every 6-8 weeks with a 30 minute time trial, using the data from the final 20 minutes of the test.

After my first training block I saw the kind of improvement I was hoping for - I raised my wattage significantly. Since then, however, I've only seen an increase in my sustainable heart rate, not power. My average HR during tests has gone up from 176 bpm to 181 bpm, then to 184 bpm, and most recently, 188 bpm. Average wattage during the test has remained roughly the same. When I try to up the wattage, either by gearing up or raising rpm, my legs begin loading beyond what I can sustain. The wattage meter on the compu-trainer indicates I can generate loads of power in short bursts, so I don't think leg strength is an issue. I'm only sustaining about 180 watts (based on the compu-trainer) right now, even though I feel like I'm in good shape.

I have two basic questions, one about power, and the other about heart rate:

Shouldn't I be seeing an increase in power (wattage) as I improve my fitness? I find it weird that my sustainable HR is going up, but not my wattage or speed. Could this indicate that I am not fully recovered? Is it still too early into my training (7 months) to see the kind of power gains I am hoping for (steady, gradual increase)? Am I just a wimp?

Given my age, are these heart rates unusually high? On mountain bike rides, I sustain even higher HRs than in training. My max HR has been about 195 bpm for some time, but when reviewing my HR monitor after a mtn. bike ride this weekend, it showed I reached a max HR of 229 bpm! All other data was consistent with training and other ride data, so I don't think the monitor malfunctioned. But 229 bpm? Is that physiologically possible?

T. Miller

Dave Palese replies:

If I were training an athlete who's testing sessions were yielding results similar to what you are getting, my first inclination would be that the rider is overreaching and may be tired. Going into their testing sessions. You should be sure to schedule your testing sessions at the end of a rest week so that you are properly prepared to give your pest performance.

It isn't unusual to see big gains in output soon after switching to more structured training plan. Gains, as time passes, are harder to achieve. That is just the nature of adaptation and physiology. I would suggest reviewing your training diary and look for elevated heart rates during your training sessions and while at rest. Check to see that as your rest weeks go along, you are seeing a trend downward in resting heart rate. If your HR is not dropping through the week, your recovery protocols may need to be adjusted. I always error on the side of going too easy.

The other thing to consider is how your performance is. Is the quality of your performance in events rising? Results in testing sessions don't always tell the whole story.