Speak to any cyclist and one word comes to mind, watts. People love watts. legend has it that if you tell a roadie that riding naked will give you an extra 5 watts they would do it.

With watts being seemingly so important to cycling, today's blog is going to look into this. What are they? are they that important? and, how can you improve your wattage?

So, let's get into it!

What are watts?

Essentially. Watts are the units measured to record the amount of force you put through the pedals via your legs. It is your power output, much like horsepower for a car. The more watts you can put down, the faster you can ride a bike (in theory).

Are watts really that important?

Research does suggest that if you do use wattage it can help you gain a better understanding of how you transfer the power from your legs, to your pedals.  research also suggests that tracking your training using watts doesn't take into account other factors that influence performance such as sleep levels, stress, nutrition etc.

However, I would argue that this is part of competing, riding and life in general so these things would be affected.

Yes, your muscle doesn't feel these things however. The mind muscle connection is strong and if you undertake a max power test when you don't really feel it. You won't put down as much power purely because you can't be bothered.

However. It is true that watts are always watts. 

How do watts work?

When you look at watts. You need to take into account the relative factors: Your weight, height, fitness and strength levels. 

This is where the watts per kilo equation comes into it:

You can work out your watts per kilo both for max, and average watts by testing them on pieces of equipment like a WATTBIKE, or on your own bike if you have power sensors on your pedals. You can also use a turbo trainer and smart apps to work out your functional threshold power, or FTP for short.

You can follow this method to work it out:

"To find your personal power numbers, start by determining your baseline with a 20-minute time trial on a stationary bike. “Hit the gas to see what's your average watts. Once you get that number, take off 10 percent to calculate your baseline number, or functional threshold power (FTP),”. So if your average power is 200 watts, then your FTP is 180".

Once you have this number. You can then work out your watts per kilo by following the equation below: 

"To work out your power-to-weight ratio figure, simply divide your maximum power output (in watts) by your body mass in kilograms (kg). For example, an 80kg rider with a maximum sustainable power output of 280 watts has a power-to-weight ratio of 3.5 watts per kilo (commonly abbreviated as 3.5W/kg or 3.5W. kg-1)".

Once you have these worked out. You can then work on improving these numbers. Below are two ways you can do this:


1: Lose weight:

Losing bodyweight and maintaining strength is the easiest and most common way to improve your watts per kilogram.

Simply put, the less weight you have to carry the easier, and faster you can do it. Making you a more efficient rider, but also a faster one. Not to mention, on the mountain bike (and road bike) being lighter is also easier when you have near misses and make mistakes on the bike, less weight being thrown about means you are less likely to crash.

When you want to lose weight, you want to keep your body in a calorie deficit. Long story short, don't be in a deficit of more than 500 calories, especially if performance is key in your mind. I would go at a 200-300 calorie deficit per day (this works out as just over one mars bar).

The key thing here is to maintain strength by keeping the heavy reps up. This will ensure that the weight comes down, while the strength either stays the same or increases.

Lighter rider X more powerful muscles = Faster cycling.

2: Power work:

Increasing your power can also be done by training in a way that reflects this. Hill sprints on the bike, heavy weight lifting (squats, deadlifts), plyometrics like box jumps and sprints and WATT BIKE sessions are all ways you can improve your power on the bike.

People often say that to improve your cycling fitness you don't need a gym. And I couldn't disagree more.

When it comes to cycling. There is some debate as to whether watts are as important as people say they are. Simply put, they are one (of many) means to work out your performance levels and track improvement. I hope this article has explained them to you clearly and has been beneficial to you.

Ride safe.