The optimum way to train on the bike is using a power meter. The fully sponsored members of Team raceAthlete ride the BMC TT02 equipped with the top-of-the-line Power Tap SL 2.4 from CycleOps. While the bike will certainly lead to improvements for many, the ability to train with a power meter is sure to have bigger benefits. Particularly for those previously training without that tool.
For those of us with budgets lacking a line for "Power Tap," other information must be used. In most cases, the alternative to power is heart rate. Early in my training program, coach Mike Ricci of D3 Multisports scheduled a time trial on the bike. This allows heart rate zones to be set for future training sessions.
It is amazing how quickly improvements can be made when paying attention to power, or at least proper heart rate zones. Using the results of that early time trial, I have worked hard to hit the zones scheduled in given workouts. After several months, the benefits are beginning to show.
Yesterday's bike workout called for 2 minute intervals in zone 4 (155-164 for me). In the past, zone 4 could easily be hit by maintaining 80-90 RPM using the big ring and 4th or 5th gear. That would have been high zone 4. Yesterday, I was nearly unable to hit zone 4. Using the big ring in 8th gear at 95-100 RPM, I could get there, only to fall below the 155 bpm point if I eased off at all.
Mike's response when I voiced my concern was, "Sounds like you need another time trial. Welcome to improved fitness."
That a new time trial would eventually become necessary was understood. That gains would be seen so quickly was a bit of a shock. I plan on performing that time trial as quickly as possible, and seeing if the progress can be sustained for another couple months.
If you are currently "winging it" with training, consider using at least heart rate zones for determining intensity. I spent a lot of time training on perceived effort. While useful in its own way, perceived effort pales in comparison to being able to see how your body is reacting.
And, sadly, this also leads me to wonder if perhaps there are even great gains to be made if I invest in a power meter.
Triathlon, she is a demanding mistress.