I first met Hunter on a Zwift ride organized by UCAN. That specific workout had us doing some high cadence work, and I asked him about cadence.
I, like many other triathletes, tend to have a fairly low cadence and Hunter gave his advice.
Who better to get advice from that the father of training with power, a co-founder of TrainingPeaks, and a guy that has Zwift workouts named after him?
For those who may not know you, how would you introduce yourself?
I’m an endurance athlete coach specialized in training with power meters since 2002/2003, and I was a founder of TrainingPeaks software.
I helped develop the desktop software, WKO, and I’m also the first author of the gold standard book on training with a power meter.
I wrote this with Dr Coggan.
I know of his work as a HRM guy, is that right?
At one time he had the most peer reviewed studies in exercise physiology so he’s just been a prolific writer in this area.
He was also an avid competitive cyclist and he had been training with power in the lab so he got a jump start on how to train with heart rate monitors and power meters before they were widely available to the public.
You originally got started cycling through BMX, is that right? Tell us a bit about your background and how you got started in cycling.
I raced BMX from 11 to 18. It was awesome. It still is awesome.
BMX is one of our only feeder systems in cycling. Triathlon doesn’t have that.
Other sports, do, though. You play soccer when you are 4, football and baseball when you are 8, or whenever.
But what’s kids’ entry into cycling? BMX.
BMX is fun and every kids wants to ride through the mud.
Right, I guess BMX is a lot more fun for kids than time trials, right? And you worked with the 2008 BMX team at the Olympics in Beijing, too, didn’t you?
Yes, I did. Previously we never had power meters on BMXers. We didn’t understand what the power demands in BMX were.
So, I went to USA cycling and told them I’d love to get power meters for the BMX team and see what we can learn and see if we can help earn some gold medals.
We started doing this in 2006, and in 2007 we started testing the athletes. We even built an exact replica of the Beijing track in Chula Vista California. It was modelled after the one they’d be competing on in Beijing.
So we got to test all these athletes on the track and train them exactly the way we were going to have them compete.
With BMX power I imagine you aren’t looking at VI (Variability Index) and smoothness like in triathlon.
No, the jumps are so big and so long, they would get what we call micro rests in the air.
So they’d have a short rest in the air, land, and then hit the next jump.
But the riders that could do maximal explosive force followed by a rest of 2-3 seconds and then do it again were really the best ones.
There was a cadence cut-off of those who made the Olympic team and those who didn’t.
They’d do 180 RPM and 1500-1800 watts. The others that didn’t make it could only do about 160 RPM.
Would you say that everyone in BMX uses power now?
No, not at all. But the other Olympic teams do, now.
What are the brief milestones of your cycling and sporting career? Can you talk us though this chronology?
Turning pro was one of them – that was always a dream of mine, and it finally happened in the mid-90s. I and won some pretty nice size races here in the US. That’s when I slayed my dragons so to speak.
Then after that, becoming a coach. In the mid 90s, there were no coaches to take you under their wing. I realized I had some specialised knowledge and wanted to share that with as many people as I could.
What was next after that? Developing TrainingPeaks?
Yep, my client Kevin Williams and I went to the first ever power seminar, in Philadelphia, and Dr. Andy Coggan, Allen Lim from Scratch Labs, and Dean Golich were there.
And so those guys talked about training with power and each one of them said we don’t have a away to analyse this data.
That’s when Kevin said, “Hey, I can build this software.”
There was some software at the time, but it just showed you a squiggly line of a single ride and you couldn’t really analyse your cumulative training.
But then we developed it to show aggregated activity and in 2004 we launched it. That was called Cycling Peaks.
Then, we merged that with Dirk Friel and Gear Fisher’s company – TrainingBible.com. And Training Bible plus Cycling Peaks resulted in TrainingPeaks.
So is there a lot of confusion between Peaks Coaching Group and TrainingPeaks?
All the time. We get calls weekly with people asking questions about their software account.
So you could start a side business as customer support for TP it sounds like.
But you know that I think is super cool? Where the “peaks” part of the names came from: The mountain Thomas Jefferson measured in 1815 near where you live called The Peaks of Otter.
These peaks overlook the town I live in an there’s tremendous history here. All the locals that grew up here call it “The Peaks” and so I wanted to have a name that kind of honored that and the same time honored what we were striving for – a peak performance.
We can’t all win all the time, but we do want to strive for that peak performance. The best I can do on that day is what I’m striving for.
Are you involved with TrainingPeaks anymore?
No, I sold all my equity at the end of 2014.
What do you think about PKRS and the other various AI type of training systems that are emerging?
Do you think there’s a place for an automated coach that’s intelligent enough to adapt a plan to your input, either by data or let’s say by text messages, tags, or qualitative / subjective feedback?
For example, you tell it, “that hurt” or “felt my IT band flaring up again” and it adapts?
I think it definitely is coming, for sure. When you think about AI the first stages are just a bunch of algorithms and decision points and rules, but that’s coming. It’ll be interesting to see.
I think there’s a group who will like that because they don’t necessarily want to have that relationship with the coach. They don’t need it or want it but others still will.
But it will take time. We live in a capitalist society so it has to be monetary reason to do it.
What’s the biggest mistake you see most TT or tri cyclists making?
Kind of like you – they pedal too slow. I think in triathlon we see a lot of riders pedaling at 80 RPM or less and they think that by pushing this bigger gear they’re saving energy but in reality that’s not the case.
They’re pushing too big of a gear, putting too much force on the pedals and anytime you are putting more force on the pedals you are using more muscle glycogen.
So you are using too much muscular force, when you could shift that stress to your cardiovascular system.
Your job on the bike is to preserve your muscles on the bike so you can run fast. If we can pedal at 90 RPM or very close we’re saving a lot of energy and setting ourselves up much better for the run.
But I FEEL more comfortable at 80 RPM.
But that’s a practice thing, Andrew. You need to do those cadence drills and begin getting the body used to it. You need to start to gradually do that.
Do 10 sets of 1 min fast pedals every day for two weeks and then do 20 min of fast pedaling without stopping. Don’t worry about your power, just your cadence. And that becomes habit.
Is it all about having the right IF (Intensity Factor, or percentage of FTP) and then a smooth VI?
VI is super important, absolutely. You have to be very smooth and steady to preserve that muscle glycogen on the run. And that’s where some of that slow RPM stuff has come from.
Because it is easier to be smooth, but being smooth with a higher force is counter-productive for a strong run.
So both you and Joe Friel have top-rated books on power meters. But yours was first, right?
Yes, and it was received really well. There was a pent-up demand in 2006 because when had this information around now and by then a lot more people bought power meters and were trying to figure it out.
So finally people could read how to use it with the system that Andy and I developed.
What’s your chosen power meter?
I’ve got them all, or most of them. All of them have their own pros or cons, but the PowerTap hub which has been around since 1998 or 1999 just works. I’ve got it on a really nice sent of ENVE wheels and it works every time.
I’ve got the Infocrank, Rotor, SRM, PowerTap pedals, Favero pedals, Stages and probably a few more I have forgotten…
Tell me about your nutrition when you race. What do you use?
I’m definitely a UCAN guy for sure, I really like UCAN. I came to them because I do a lot better with lower blood sugar spikes. I’ve always been very sensitive to that and as a pro I had to keep energy levels up and would bonk easily.
I became carbo addicted. So I was trying to change my body back to more of a fat burn and I worked on that for many years but nothing ever in the sports drink industry could do that – it was all just sugar and that still puts you on that roller coaster.
Sometimes you’ve got to have it, but I just don’t have that roller coaster effect with UCAN and don’t need as many calories and I just feel better.
It’s pretty revolutionary. I’ve been this industry along time and have seen so many sports drinks come and go but UCAN has done something revolutionary.
What is your nutritional philosophy or approach for everyday eating?
I tend to be protein heavy and eat as many fruits and vegetables as I possibly can. I do like my fish, chicken, and red meat. All my meals have to have a good source of protein where I’m not on this roller coaster of carbs.
OK so more protein but you’re not like a high-fat, low-carb type.
I think that would work for other body types but that would just make me fat. Haha.
Which athletes, triathlete or other do you admire the most? Or that you have enjoyed following over the years?
He’s not a pro anymore but I really like TJ Tollakson. He won the 2014 Lake Placid Ironman and maybe 2009.
He’s the owner and founder of Dimond bikes. He’s one of these guys who has worked really, really hard, used a lot of power training principles and science, and has brought those things together to be an Ironman.
Do you have any tips, tricks, or hacks to a faster race?
There are a couple things I would suggest.
First of all, you have to be comfortable on your bike. That’s the first thing that I do with all my triathletes. You have to get a fit that you are comfortable in.
You need to feel at home and be able to relax on the bike. You have to feel like you’re on your favorite couch at home.
Well, maybe not that comfortable, but if you’re not very comfortable you can’t stay aero as long as you need to be.
I also think you need to spend 12 weeks in the off-season working on strength and flexibility. Get in the gym, do the functional strength, take a yoga class and harmonize and balance the muscles.
Check out Peaks Coaching Group here.
Nice interview! Thanks Hunter for all your knowledge in the world of power meters. It definitely has helped my coaching!