Training Without a Power Meter, Low Heart Rate, Effective Sweet Spot Training and More – Ask a Cycling Coach 284

It was so great to have the original crew back together this week! Also, now we know why Nevada’s vote counting took so long, Nate :wink:

How to get faster without a power meter, what a low heart rate actually means, a practical guide to Sweet Spot training and more in Episode 284 of the Ask a Cycling Coach Podcast!

YouTube Video:

Topics Covered in This Episode

  • What Nate learned at Lee McCormick’s clinic in Moab, UT
  • How to make fire road descending less sketchy
  • How to climb steep terrain on a mountain bike
  • How to recover from a concussion
  • Getting faster without a power meter
  • How much Sweet Spot training is too much?
  • How we made TrainerRoad’s Sweet Spot Base plans
  • What does low heart rate mean?

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One thing to note about the budget concern is, don’t be convinced that you have to drop a grand on a fancy setup to be able to train with power. I got a trainer for $50 on Craigslist and made sure it was one of the models that TR has a power profile for, then I think it was $15 speed sensor and made sure it is bluetooth and works Ok with my phone, then MacGyvered a phone holder from the crap I had laying around and that was a good setup for a while. Given you probably already have a phone that would work, it can be under $100 in parts to get going if you’re willing to get creative.

Fun podcast, and take care of your noggin Nate!


I would also recommend (unlike what was said in the episode (“eventually getting a smart trainer”)) going with a cheap trainer and a power meter. It can be cheaper (left side only) and you have power data outside too.


I loved this episode. Lots of sections in it are parts that I think about a lot and great to have the gang back together! My bike is a really cheap hybrid but I train hard and am seeing gains. Hopefully some day I’ll be able to afford something nicer, but here we are. I did the same method dakh suggested to get set up to train indoors with TR for less than $100.

I used to do a lot of downhill skateboarding/longboarding and helmets are a constant conversation in that sport because you crash a lot and it’s always on pavement going really fast. I’ve crashed more times than I can count going 40+ mph, often 50+. Would definitely be dead if not for good quality helmets. I don’t really have anything to add to what was said on the podcast other than to make sure you’re discarding a helmet after a hard impact. There are different types of foam, but the foams designed for hard impacts are single use and won’t offer the same protection on a second impact.

Edit: forgot that there was one more thing that I wanted to add. I was really surprised by the seemingly lower intensity of each workout when I went up from mid volume to SSBHV. It forced me to find some new podcasts to add to my rotation because I find each workout a little more boring and they’re longer.

Jonathan, your drinking phrase has to be “that sort of a thing”.

Love your work guys and gal. Great to have you all back. I’d appreciate a race report from the (what looked like a) race you did in NC a few weeks back?


By the hour mark @Nate_Pearson was hitting his podcast stride again. :smiley: Good to see him back.


Not that the podcast hasn’t been good without @Nate_Pearson but it’s %100 better with him. He just brings an element of fun and naivety to the conversation. You can see @Jonathan seems to really enjoy himself when Nate is there.


So happy to have the crew back together for this one. @Nate_Pearson ‘s crash is way scary and I’m glad he is recovering. Gonna go shop for a new mtb helmet with more coverage now.


Is the scalloping technique you discuss the same concept as counter steering?

No, it’s different. The following is my understanding of the technique - I hadn’t known it was called scalloping until I heard the TR crew reference the term.

Scalloping involves overweighting the bike and turning while the wheels are weighted. Then you straighten for a little bit, and repeat the process.

So rather than taking the turn in a smooth arc, you alternate between a tighter turn (when the wheels are weighted), and more gradual turn (when the wheels are unweighted).

It’s a useful technique for forest roads or gravel roads with variable surface. The art is to find a spot on the road (if you can) that has a better surface than elsewhere, overweight the wheels, and get “more” turning done in that spot with good traction.

You’ve got to be careful with it, as if you scallop too hard (especially on gravel, or loose over hard), you can slide out.


I feel it’s clearer to describe it as ‘placing’ your turn within a trail’s corner. You can place it late (coming in hot), place it early so you can get the power down, or if you’re on an unpredictable surface, place it in a rut / mini-berm to benefit from the surface ‘pushing back’, or not place it anywhere in particular, ie ‘open up’ the radius of the corner.

Placing your cornering is a great example of riding actively (rather than passively going wherever the trail pushes you), and this approach will flow to other areas of your riding, such as ‘placing’ your braking at spots where they have the most benefit. Work it!

It was refreshing and interesting to hear them talk about the importance of being able to judge/use rpe over power and/or hr.


Totally agree, I always train with power (and pace/rpe for running) but for races (time trials and duathlons mainly) I use power meter for first mile or 2 to stop myself going too hard…then ignore it and RPE all the way.


@ambermalika, I didn’t know you’re a water nerd! I work in the water industry as a journalist, and my brother works for an oceanography company that develops sensors and tools for academic studies. It is one of the most fascinating fields, and it is so cool to hear that was part of your focus! I’m constantly learning new things and also bridging gaps between utilities and the public on water’s value. People really take water in every facet for granted, and I really make it part of my personal mission to change that. Sorry to gush, but it got me so excited to hear you were doing ocean studies! #valuewater #waterislife

Where is the water nerd discussion in the podcast? I listen while working and missed it. My oldest just got her environmental/civil masters and is a field engineer cleaning up groundwater. I’m fascinated that vegetable oil and molasses are being injected (with a fracking machine) to cause chemical reactions that breakdown toxic solvents used in the past by the dry cleaning industry. Last week we got picks from a job site in Monterey! Frack that molasses! #waterislife

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It was within the first five minutes. They briefly discussed Amber’s bachelor’s and masters degrees, and she said her master was in oceanography, including currents and flows and stuff. Different than a lot of what I cover, but still in the water realm.

Yeah, people don’t really realize all that’s going into fracking, the technology advancements in reuse of water, etc. I recently wrote an article on Bear Republic Brewing in California, which is down to a 3:1 water to beer ratio during production. That is well above the industry standard of 4:1, and is better than even Carlsberg in Europe which is at a 3.5:1 ratio.

There will be huge shifts in how water supply is discussed, treated and stored in the next 10 years as water becomes more scarce. To feel as though I’m on the forefront of those conversations and a cornerstone in spreading technical information is such a privilege and makes the job quite exciting. (Note: scarcity can mean water is abundant but not clean; therefore it is scarce for potable use.)

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I thought it was “thereafter” :smiley:

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I was quite interested with the discussion about helmet types and their safety aspects. Even more surprising that what Nate said about MTB visors had no safety value was true. I did try to look it up and not much said about it. I personally had been saved from major facial injuries by the visor (peaks) twice during crashes. Must say that they were full face helmets with relatively longer visors. Both times i was going face first, once into a dirt wall and another a berm. The visors pushed my face to one side and snapped out…

I really think the role of goggles as a safety device should be emphasised more. Remember some racers go “full enduro”? I have the exact same helmet Bell Super Air as our climate here is hot and humid. I always carry my goggles and occasionally when i decide to “go for it”, goggles go on. I wished i saved the pic of an EWS rider in Chile where a metal rod struck a rider in the goggles during a crash. Saved his life likely…

With regards to Nate’s injury itself, as an ophthalmologist, his initial blurring of vision really got me worried as you can get injury to the optic nerve, even on trivial traumas, let alone a concussion. Traumatic Optic Neuritis would have needed emergency treatment with IV steroids to reverse the trauma effects. Glad that wasn’t needed. I’ve seen enough casss missed as everyone was too engrossed with other injuries/ or patient didn’t think much about it…



I thought the most interesting part of the crash discussion was at the end - where Nate described the things he could/should have done to avoid the crash.

In MTB, your riding destiny is generally fully within your control - meaning most crashes are caused, or can be avoided, by decisions you make. This is distinct from road, where others around you (on bikes and cars) can cause you to crash, no matter what you do.

In my 10 years riding MTB, I’ve had only three potential consequential crashes - where I crashed at high speed and was lucky to escape with just scrapes and bruises. All three were caused by my own inattention, and could have been avoided.

I’ve had a lot of “slow speed” crashes where I’ve come off on technical sections (usually flat or uphill, some on technical downhills), but nothing worse than a bruised ego.

On technical downhills, I think the most important skill to have is to quickly read the trail and know if you have the ability to ride it, and how fast to ride it. If it looks like it’s on or above the threshold of what you can safely ride, get off and walk, or pick your way down carefully at at a low enough speed where you have time to make line choices, and coming off will be less consequential.

This is what’s allowed me to avoid many crashes. With practice, I’ve gotten much better at technical descents, and there’s much less sections I get off and walk these days vs years ago.

I should add that I’m writing the above as a middle aged guy who doesn’t bounce like I used to in my 20s. And I’m not racing for any big podiums.

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