Maximum power isn’t just about the sprint at the end, in fact the sprint at the end doesn’t really come into maximum power and is separately described as sprint power. Sprint power is an absolute maximum you can sustain for seconds. Maximum power is more about minutes. Sprinters of course have high sprinting power but climbers have high maximum power. Look at the leg muscles in the pro peloton. The sprinters have more muscle and are built bigger than the skinny climbers and of course the weight difference between sprinters and climbers will play a massive part in where their strengths lie.
Whether you compete yourself or are a casual weekend rider in the odd sportive boosting your maximum power output will be of massive benefit. The riders’ at your club who always win the sprint to the sign post probably do quite a lot of training to boost their power. The riders’ who go up hills effortlessly probably do quite a lot of training to boost their power. The good news is that the sessions to build power are short, the bad news is they are hard, very hard…
First you need to know what your maximum minute power (MMP) is. You can get this from a performance or fitness test. Getting this done in a controlled environment with a qualified coach will give you the most accurate readings, but tests can be done from home on a turbo trainer. Once you know your MMP boosting power output is done by completing intervals at close to or above this figure. In order to boost sprint power you need to train in what is known as the supra-maximal zone or higher than your MMP, unfortunately if you aren’t using power you are unable to track this zone via heart rate but you should be aiming to be extremely stressed, gasping and sweating heavily.
Boosting maximum power is done by training between 85-100% of MMP. If you don’t have a power meter your heart rate should be above 94% of maximum. If you don’t use a heart rate monitor you should be experiencing similar affects as above, stressed, gasping, and sweating. This is training in zone 6.
Regardless of whether you want to build sprint or maximum power it is my opinion you should do this indoors. The sessions are so sensitive and short that you need to be training in the exact parameters to get the best effects. Outside you have traffic, weather, and hills and so on. You could do hill climb intervals but again when you have to keep an eye on what’s going on around you, you might be missing what’s happening with your power outputs and heart rate.
The benefits of training in zones 6 and supra-maximal are more than just the increase in power. You will be developing your control of pedalling at high cadences and more efficient in the rotation of your legs, you are developing race specific skills such as starting power, sprint speed, and even an increase in your ability to jump away from the bunch, or catch someone who has just started a break.
As mentioned above the types of sessions you need to be doing are short. The interval lengths are very short. The shorter the harder but remember you need to be as close to MMP or maximum heart rate (MHR). With supra-maximal you may only be sprinting for 20 seconds, with zone 6 efforts of only a few minutes. The quality is important here, you should be very tired by the end of the session, and you may not actually finish the final interval. Ensure you warm-up well before, and do a cool-down after. You should experiment with interval sessions and keep a training diary. With effective training in these zones you’ll no longer get dropped in a sprint, and you’ll surely be the first to that village sign!