Updated: Feb 13, 2021
If you are a cyclist, you know what it means to “burn all your matches.”
"Burning a match" is pushing yourself into the red zone by working too hard, too long or both. The goal is to conserve energy and save those big power efforts when you need it for that big climb or final sprint. For example, smart riders will take advantage of the draft and limit their time in the wind. Here is the issue, we only have a limited number of matches to burn. The more experienced and fit riders may have more, but we all have a limited supply. Once your burn all your matches, like throwing down big watts too often, your ride or race will be painfully cooked, done, over! We all have been there!
What defines a "match" anyway?
When we begin cycling, we don’t have many matches to burn due to our lack of fitness. As we train, we gain the fitness to burn "hotter" matches and for more extended periods of time.
Question: Can we actually measure a "match" in terms of power and duration? Thanks to the legendary coach/author and owner of Peaks Coaching Group, Hunter Allen, we now have some insight into that question. Hunter defines a “match” as effort equal to:
120% of FTP longer than 1- minute
140% of FTP longer than 30 seconds
200% of FTP longer than 10 seconds
I plugged in my own FTP numbers and calculated my "match" power limits. Although the power numbers are not massive, these watts' repeated over and over will take a toll on my body during my races and workouts. Take a moment to calculate and define your "match" levels to manage your training and racing strategies properly.
How can we get more matches?
Increase our FTP power is a great place to start! The more sustained power you have, the hotter and longer your matches will burn. Work on "sweet spot" (85-90%) training with 5-20 minute sustain intervals to build power. Remember, this process will take some time to build. The key is being consistent in your training and have patience in your progress.
Second, focus on increasing your V02 power or Zone 5 power. Work on boosting your 1-minute peak power. Riders with high 1-2 minute power w/kg are some of the best bike riders I know. They are the cyclist who can punch over the hills, bridge gaps quickly, create attacks, and rarely overextending their efforts. They have built enough reserve power to push on the gas when they need it and avoid burning valuble matches. When it is time to empty the tank, you'll have the power to burn.
These 1-minute intervals are challenging and require all-out effort. 5-6w/kg for 1 minute is a tangible goal to aim for if you are competing. Find your 60-second target power and start to build it one rep at a time! 2-5 intervals are reasonable to start with. Rest properly in between intervals, so you are ready for the next all-out effort. Track your results over time to manage your progress! It's a great gear everyone should work to improve.
Once you have built a solid FTP power base with the ability to perform repeated bursts at 130+% of FTP without breaking, you will be able to hold your own on most rides and races and have more matches to burn!