Initial Difficulties

In this post I will discuss the difficulties I first encountered with the CompuTrainer and explain how I resolved them. First, I would like to present the TrainingPeaks version of the graph of my FTP test data from my Garmin 500. In my post on the FTP test I presented the graph drawn up by Garmin Training Centre and it auto-smoothed the data giving it a bit of a cyclical appearance. Just for you Thierry, I upgraded to a Premium TrainingPeaks membership so I could zoom in on the data. The effect seems to be completely gone:

Garmin 500 Data in Training Peaks

On a related note, TrainingPeaks Premium is so cool! If you like numbers, you will not be disappointed!

A large part of this blog will be devoted to documenting my entire experience on the CompuTrainer- the good, the bad and the ugly. So, from the get go I will be completely honest. I was very overwhelmed by the software. I felt like I had went back about fifteen years into the past. My grandfather was an electronics technician, and I remember quite vividly going over to his house on many occasions and him having those big grey magnifying glasses on while he was soldering things onto a motherboard. That being said, I was exposed to computers at a very young age, so young I can still remember using 5-1/4” floppys- when floppys were actually floppy; and having to navigate via MS-DOS Prompt. But, it has been quite a while since those days now, and my university experience has not required me to take any courses in programming.

I say this because I awoke on Thursday October 17th ready and motivated to do 8x30s at 465 watts with a minute and a half recovery. Being someone who doesn’t read user-manuals I immediately turned on the CompuTrainer and expected to be doing this workout within a few minutes. I did a quick Google search and discovered that I would have to use the CompuTrainer Coaching Software, so I installed it. And then the blast from the past happened. I opened it and this was what I saw:

CS Main Menu

There was no button I could click to tell it to do 8x30s at 465w with a minute and a half recovery!!! So I delved a little deeper and discovered that I would have to either pay $75 for software through TrainingPeaks that would allow me to write this workout, or I would have to learn the syntax of the CompuTrainer CS software and write the workout myself by hand in Wordpad. Being cheap, I chose the latter. But, avoiding the manual at all costs, I tried to search for a free way to do this without having to teach myself something new. Here is a link to a little program that does an okay job of doing this:

http://63.134.234.143/tri/erg.asp

There are limitations to that program though; for instance, you cannot tell it to start at 0 watts and gradually increase to 200 watts over the span of ten minutes. Eventually, I caved and read the six sentences or so in the manual that explains how to do this yourself. I felt like a bit of a fool afterwards because it really is quite easy. I will briefly explain how to do it, but I would recommend reading the six sentences in the manual that eloquently explain the process.

First off, if you want to do a workout, you have to click on the “source” menu and then make sure “real time” is selected. Once you have done this you then click on the “start” menu and then click “charts.”At this point the CompuTrainer must be on and connected to the computer. A box will then pop up asking you to select a file. This particular aspect of the software runs files of the .erg extension. To create a file with this extension all you have to do is open a new Wordpad document and then write the name of the file followed by the .erg extension. So for example: CompuTrainerFile.erg.

Now that you have a blank .erg file all you have to do is type this template into it:

Template

Next, in between the “course data” and “end course data” sections you must type out every instance of your workout. The format that the software accepts is as follows. Say you want to start with a load of 0 and to increase the load to 200 watts gradually for 10 minutes. The CompuTrainer will do this if you type this:

Warmup Example

From left to right, top to bottom it reads: “at time 0 start at 0 watts and then constantly increase the wattage until the 10th minute at which point I want the wattage to be 200.”

That is basically it. So let’s say after your 10 minute warmup you want to do 2x5m at 300 watts with 2 minutes recovery in between at 100 watts. It would look like this:

Workout Example

So far, I can’t really think of any workout I would ever want to do where this simple formula wouldn’t work. If you’ve got the money, then I’d probably recommend investing in TrainingPeaks Erg+ software which does this whole process for you, all you have to do is tell it the workout you want to do.

Once I learned how to write up a workout and finally got onto the CompuTrainer to do it, I was completely blown away by how amazing it is. You don’t have to think about anything. You can just spin your legs and suddenly the load is 500 watts and all you have to focus on is keeping the legs turning for the next 30 seconds. There is no way to describe it other than amazing. You don’t realize how much energy you expend when you have to focus on holding the power at a particular wattage. The CompuTrainer frees up a ton of energy and allows you to just focus on what matters: working hard!! I totally see how and why the people at CompuTrainer offer a Performance Improvement Guarantee. I am already doing workouts that I would never have been able to do on a standard indoor set-up.

What I find really interesting about the CompuTrainer is that you really have no choice whether or not you are going to do the workout you planned on doing. Well, that’s not entirely true…either you do it, or you don’t do it at all. Unlike the standard indoor trainer where if you’re not feeling it that day you have the option of holding a lesser wattage, the CompuTrainer gives you the load and you must push it. If it’s too much, then your cadence will slow down so much that it will be impossible to push. I am already tempted to write up some insane workouts and see if I can even do it. A new issue I am battling with now is that workouts are so much fun! I did a workout this morning, and right now at 10:30 p.m. I am looking over at the bike contemplating doing another one. It very much reminds me of playing a video game.

In my next post I will describe the first couple of workouts I did and discuss the changes to my training plan that occurred afterwards.

9 thoughts on “Initial Difficulties

  1. Glad you like the computrainer. I love mine, even if the software is lacking a lot (even the newer software is not awesome even if better…) compared to some of the newer offering. I have to say, ERG videos takes the computrainer to a whole new level, if you can try one. While I do not love working on a preset power curve shape (ERG Video) compared to RacerMate’s own “Real Course Videos” where you can decide how you want to ride it, the quality of the videos are much better.

    About creating ERG files, I do that a LOT too. This way I do not have to worry about watching the clock and changing power manually when needed (another option, if you work in a different mode). Good to watch DVD’s hehe! To create ERG files, I made myself an excel spreadsheet that assists in that task. It’s pretty flexible, can do ramps and only takes me a few minutes to generate a workout from scratch. I include a screenshot below that I just made of it:

    Let me know if interested (you must have MS Excel). Not sure how EZ it is to use the first time if I am not beside you (I wrote it for me…) but I have no problems sharing 🙂

    As you mention, writing your ERG files makes you commit… you have no choice but trying to push the programmed power. No weaseling out in the middle of it hehe! Been burned a few times being too enthusiastic writing the program…
    Keep up the writing!!! 🙂

    • I will have to look a little deeper into Ergvideo, as I would like the CompuTrainer Real Course Video to have a preset power level that I could just hold!

      The Excel sheet is a great idea. I am going to copy you!! Though, I have no clue how you would create the visual element!!! Thanks for the idea though!!!

      Have you discovered any way to hold a constant power output in the 3D Cycling, other than trying to follow the pacer? That is a feature I really wish I had.

      As for the power curve on TP, it is so cool! Once I amass more data on the website, it will have a bit more meaning. Plus, I set my power zones up to be exactly the ones I calculated in a previous blog post, so now all my graphs are accurate! Already worth the membership fee!!

    • I am late to the party. Found this on the Google in my search for a decent ERG file creator, and this spreadsheet looks amazing! Can you send me a copy at will [dot] schupp [at] gmail? Thanks much,

      Will

  2. …and the Premium Features of Training Peaks are hard to live without once you get used to them and you customized your dashboard accordingly. I love the Mean/Max power curve. Right after a workout, you see right away the comparison of your best 30″, 1′, 2′, etc in the last 2 years compared to the ride you just uploaded. You know right away if you have a new PR or how close you came to match your best ever. 🙂

    p.s. The non-smoothed curve looks a lot better… The cyclic appearance you had before in the readings was sketchy.

  3. No way to hold power in 3D mode…

    Erg Video’s are different in the sense that there’s a pre-determined power curve that drives the resistance on the CPUTRAINER (it’s relative… the power curve is specified as a % of http://FTP... so it is auto adjusted for each user’s strength). You can adjust it on the fly in the sense that you can temporarily “lie” by fudging your FTP: press “+” to increase power by a set increment, “-” key to make it easier.

    But you are a slave of the pre-set power curve in the sense that if a particular video has a lot of variation in the set power curve (high VI), then the load on the computrainer keeps changing accordingly.

    If you want to use the IRCV (Real Course Video) on a set power, a trick would be to run the computrainer with COMP CS, but manually start the video (it’s an AVI file) in the windows media player in a separate window. This way, you can have the video and you have the computrainer forcing you to hold a certain power level through COMP CS rather than letting you decide how to ride it on the fly (that’s how it works if you use the normal IRCV software).

    My computrainer PC has 2 screens, so I can have COMP CS in one screen, and the video (or something else like a DVD) running in the second screen.

    Have fun 🙂

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