How to make intervals smoother outdoors

I’m not inexperienced at being coached, but It’s been some years since I was in the game and I’ve spent a lot of time learning about things I never understood when I was being coached by a person.

So, I had a simple target to stay between 99-117 watts for 50 minutes for today;s first training session. I found the flattest lowest traffic road around (state park). Only 328 ft of climbing in 16 miles. But even with that I cannot very well stay in the range. Any dip and I’m at 60, any rise and I’m at least 140 watts. I chased those gears like never before.

I need tips on how to smooth out these workouts. Especially when I start doing more serious intervals for tomorrow. What advice do you have?

A couple of things:

  1. It’s ok to be outside your target window at any given time. What you want is to land near enough over the interval (10 mins). Worry less about being outside the range, the more you focus on trying to hit a constant power number, the less likely you will be to do it. Focus on your pedal stroke, not your computer screen.
  2. I’d set your computer to average your power more, mine is set to 5 secs. Your legs do not put out constant power as much as you’d like them to. If you are taking constant power readings, you’ll chase a number and over-compensate in both directions. Averaging the power reading will give you less volatility and therefore less chasing.
  3. In your TR workouts, always do the pedaling drills to have a smoother pedaling action. Applying a more constant power around your pedal stroke will make you smoother. Naturally you will dish out more power in the downward pedal stroke, but you can balance some of that out over time.

some good advice above ^^^

I’ll reinforce a couple:

  • smooth pedal stroke: work on this it will pay dividends with all workouts and rides
  • bike computer: here is my personal setup (Garmin 530):

During the ride I’m usually looking at the fields showing 140W and 150W in that screenshot. I really focus on 10-sec power (the 140W at top left), but will reference to 1-sec power (the 150W) field from time-to-time.

Use your lap button and try to keep 10-sec and lap power (top right) matched.

You may find holding power easier as you put out higher watts.

Check out this thread: Are Traditional Base outside workouts correct? - #7 by bbarrera

Hope that helps.

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As above, set screen to 5sec average power.

Say your target is 260 (as mine was the other day). If it goes below 250, pedal a bit harder. Go over 270, ease off a bit.

But mostly, try to take notice of how it feels for your legs and your lungs when you’re getting it right. Your breathing pattern; the amount of force you need to push through the pedals. This might be an idle boast, and I can’t back it up, but i did 4x20min sweetspot intervals the other day - and I’m pretty sure that by the 3rd interval, if the only display I had on screen was lap time, I’d still be able to hit pretty close to target power.

Thanks. I already had the 3 second power field going, and after today’s ride I included lap power. I’ll change to 3s or 10s instead, I wasn’t sweating hitting the target perfectly , but I was trying to be as consistent as possible.

Thankfully my pedal stroke is pretty smooth (thanks perhaps to all the indoor trainer workouts?) and almost always bang on 85rpm unless I’m climbing or trying for too many watts. Nut I’d always like to get smoother. What pedal stroke drills are you referring to?

Try changing your cadence, not your gears. If you’re on flat terrain, you should be able to keep your power constant by varying your cadence without shifting.


Isn’t the catch with setting a 5 second or 10 second power that you are hiding peaks under the smoothed figure that is being displayed! Therefore, @aikigreg might be putting out a higher power, but the display will be slower to react and show less of an effect. In effect, giving THE ILLUSION of smoother power, but masking what is really happening! Likewise it would hide troughs, when (he) needed to pick up power.

Would it not be better to stick with 3 second power (I use that) and recognise it is slightly smoothed, but is reacting to what is going on, so that he can ease back with a shorter feedback loop.

I do long distance Time trials (50m, 100m and 12hrs) and am monitoring power very carefully on these, especially up hills to ease out my load. The last thing I want is to find out 10 seconds later that I have been pushing too hard as I entered the hill. (Especially if that 10 seconds is averaged out by a short drop so I see no real difference, so I never know i went over my desired power range). I want a short feedback loop that allows me to temper my enthusiasm and allow me to manage my power.

@aikigreg I would stick with 3 seconds (as it gives more direct feedback) and concentrate on managing the power levels. In fact for the differences talked about, over a 10min interval, outside, it probably does not matter a great deal. Overall average and variability matter. Variability is measured by the power Variability Index- that is Normalised/Average power) as that gives you a better idea of how much you fluctuated across the interval). See Power Terminology For Cycling | TrainingPeaks (I have both Normalised and average power displayed on my Wahoo when training and racing).

In time trialling, even for a 10 miler, on a sporting course, I am aiming at a 1.05 or so Variability Index, which shows a relatively even overall variation, despite the higher effort pushes up short climbs and the occasional recovery down hills. (In some races I am down at 1.01 to 1.02 VI)

I think that trying to smooth over the kind of little peaks that 10sec average power might conceal isn’t really going to be helpful. You’ll just end up constantly over-correcting.

Below is about 90 seconds of an outdoor sweetspot interval I did the other day, with power smoothing set to zero. I can select 3-second sections of that where my power could be 230 or nearly 300. If I’d been trying to see those numbers and constantly correct them, I doubt whether the interval would have been any smoother.

With 5- or 10-second average power, it’s more about looking at the trend. Is the number heading in the right or wrong direction? Is it below target but going up, or above target but going down? Thumbs up, keep going. Is it too high and rising, or too low and falling? Then correct it.

And just for comparison, this is a similar section from a tempo interval, on the trainer, in erg mode - again with power smoothing set to zero. Point being - this is what a “steady” interval looks like.

Yes, exactly this. The point of power averaging is so that you ignore the natural peaks and troughs that everyone (everyone!) has. Without it, folks have a tendency to chase a power number for no good reason. With 10 sec power smoothing, if you see your power number start to tick up over a few seconds, then you need to ease off a little. Without it turned on, what should you do if your power number is reading 20 watts over? Likely you should do nothing at all, but most folks will be tempted to ease off. Now you’re readying 20 watts under … gah! The yoyo effect will increase your natural variation to a higher degree making things much worse.

I do not think that anyone is going to ruin a workout or a race due to the natural peaks and troughs in any 10 second time period. If anyone thinks that that coasting for 5 seconds and then sprinting for 5 is a good idea but their 10 second average is still spot on, well, that’s outside what I would call natural variation.


FWIW my experience with power began in Oct 2016 and I trained exclusively outside. Thru trial and error I found 10-sec power works best. Then in 2018 and 2019 most training was inside. Since August 2019 I’ve been training almost exclusively outside (some inside) and once again I found 10-sec power best.

In my experience 3-sec power averaging is too short and induces over-reactions when I look at it. That’s why I’ve settled on 10-sec power, and recently added the real-time graph with zone color coding.

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Curious and interesting. I never considered using 5 or 10 sec averaging for the reasons I gave. Maybe, I am able in my head to look at the 3 second power over time and think, that is OK, or I do need to back off a bit. Of course I do not react to every rise and fall, but I am looking for a trend. I am happy to see rises and falls, as they tll me something pretty immediately.

@martinheadon The catch with showing those graphs is that is with hindsight. I can see what you are saying as a subsequent analysis, but in reality, you are looking at figures as you cycle, and not looking at a graph as it passes by.

In simple time series analysis terms, all we are discussing is “What is a useful time to average the series over, that provide useful feedback, yet takes away the noise, so you can make sensible decisions?”

I certainly don’t keep “over correcting” with 3 second power. I am applying and managing my power on a longer cycle, but monitoring it on a much shorter cycle. I would not want my information cycle to be as long as my decision cycle. Hence 3 second for information and longer for decisions. @bbarrera I am curious about the ‘over reaction’ piece. Personally I don’t find I do that. For me it is about, “Oh is that what I am doing… I might ease back a bit… or risk a bit more…”

Sure 3s averaging is a bit more peaky, than 5 or 10 second averaging, but not as much as one second. When I hit a hill I see my power rise almost immediately. With a 10 second average, I would expect quite some delay. (I imagine counting to 5 and only then seeing the effect of my power doubling, from 200 to 400W, by it rising by only 50% to 300W). I would want quicker feedback than that, before I start overdoing it and blowing up. And to know I had just done 400W for 5 seconds…

I guess it is what you are used to. I don’t want “the trend”. (But I can see why that might be useful on a turbo). I want to know what I am realistically doing, so I can manage it.)

Interesting. Definitely not convinced to move to a longer average display.

I still back the Variability index as a measure of how much you varied in a session (afterwards). I am happy to manage my power, training outside and inside, using 3 seconds averaging.

It occurs to me that I started with a power meter, by spending a month, using 1s and 3s average power, just seeing what I was doing. Then I settled on 3s power. So perhaps I learnt, over that time to read what i was doing and how the power meter was reacting , and learnt to judge things from there.

Considering that you’d be lucky to have a boost less than 20 watts “hitting a hill”, then you’ll see a rise almost instantly, as it’s a rolling average. 20 watts extra and you’ll see the power go up 4 watts in 2 seconds.

That’s why I talk about looking at the trend - you hit the rise at 250, look down a second or two later, see you’re at 254, now 257, now 261, so you change down gears and/or adjust cadence until the power starts steadily trending in the right direction.

But of course it’s your preference and if you’re getting the smoothness and VI you’re after, then fair play.

What I was showing the graphs for was to compare the results between “monitoring an interval with 5-10 second power” and “monitoring an interval with smart turbo erg mode”. And it turned out, not that much.

I ride mostly by feel with some referencing of bike computer. Over time I’ve developed a pretty good feel for different power zones. This week I did 4x12-min sweet spot and looking back the variability index (VI) for intervals ranging between 1.00 and 1.02. Here it is on TR with sweet spot highlighting:

Here is a recent 1x50-min threshold, just after getting an FTP update:

and wind conditions since its pretty flat:

that is and I stopped using it, here were the actual conditions from a weather station at a winery along the route:

its my ~50-min threshold course in light blue from mile markers 4 thru 20.

Cadence was 80rpm and VI on that is 1.00, there is some graph smoothing in that TP screenshot, so it looks a bit bumpier in TrainerRoad. But VI of 1.00 is pretty smooth like you said.

Here is what I believe is needed to be smoother outside:

  • teach your brain what power zones feel like, don’t rely on looking at the bike computer
  • lower cadence a bit so you have something to push against
  • apply power smoothly around the circle
  • don’t over-react when a gust hits you or the road tilts up
  • lower cadence on downhills so you have something to push against

I think the 3s, 5s, or 10s averaging comes down to personal preference. I’ve been doing intervals outside (with power) since 2014 and have only ever used 3s power and lap power for my two power fields. In fact, my interval screen shows: lap time, lap avg power, 3s power, cadence, and HR. That’s it. I try my best to keep my 3s power within about 10W of the overall target power, and watch the avg power to try to make sure it is staying reasonably close. Outside just isn’t going to be quite as exact as riding indoors, especially in ERG mode, so tell yourself it’s ok if you’re not EXACTLY on the money.

Other suggestions I have are basically what others have said. Try to play around with cadence to try to maintain your power. That is really helpful in real-world situations when you’re riding with other people. If you can vary your cadence to stay with people, rather than always having to change gears, it will serve you well. Also, I’ve found that sometimes I just need to go to a really big gear and maybe a lower cadence to hit a higher wattage if I have a strong tailwind. I prefer doing intervals with a headwind–this is sort of like a slight (or sometimes not-so-slight, depending on the wind!) uphill. It gives something to push against.

You’ll figure it out. It takes a bit of practice, but you’ll get the feel of what it’s like to lock into a power and hold it.

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:+1:t3: :+1:t3: :+1:t3:

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Can you go back to previous step/interval if you accidentally pressed lap button twice? I know you can restart a current step.

Edit: I guess worst case you can always advance to the end and restart entire workout and then press lap until you get to the step you should be on.

What data field is that in the biggest section with 150W showing? Just getting to grips with outdoor workouts and trying to find the best screen setup.

I don’t know.

Believe it is found here:
Graphical > Power Graph

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Well this has been super informative! I had a good tough session today with higher wattage targets so it was a lot easier to hold anyway, but one other issue that I have is that every road in Texas is utter rubbish. I think for every foot of flat road I experience 6 inches of up and down bounce!

I had no idea what NP and variability were, in spite of having had a power meter since like 2009. Incidentally, my variability for my intervals was 1.02-1.03. It got harder to hold the closer we got to 100*. and fatigue settled in.

Thank you folks!


@aikigreg It is well worth getting hold of one of the two power meter books.

  1. The Power meter Handbook (Joe Friel)
  2. Training and Racing with a Power meter Hunter Allen & Andrew coggan
    (Other people might know of others).

I have both, and both are useful, but my recommendation would be the Joe Friel Book. Hunter Allen seems to take 10 pages to explain something that could be explained in one, whereas Joe Friel only takes 3 pages to explain the same thing :slight_smile: (It depends what style you like)

Both have training plans around power and explain all the various ways you can use it and what all the different metrics and derived measures mean and can be used for. I bought the Joe Friel book, and read most of it, before I bought the power meter on the basis that £15 was cheaper that £800!