Watt did you do during lockdown?

A great Blog by Jon Tilt about Jon’s and his brother Matt Fitness journey over the last year

A year of virtual training

By Jon Tilt

March 2020, my partner Julie, and I were walking in the New Forest when my phone pinged to tell us Boris had announced the first COVID lockdown. My first thought was to call my brother Matt, a chef in Kenton (near Exeter, Devon). He was already on it, transforming his fine dining restaurant into a take-away in time for Mother’s Day.

A few days later it was Matt’s turn to call me saying we needed to find a way to keep healthy. We had both been keen rugby players, but our last games were more than a few years ago. Recently Matt had been doing some rowing on his Concept 2 and I enjoy athletics, coaching at Southampton AC and competing at Masters level in the 400m and 400m hurdles.

Matt’s ankles are shot thanks to Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease, a genetic condition that damages peripheral nerves, and I was recently diagnosed with Osteoarthritis in the knee, so regular running was out of the question for both of us.

Fortunately, I had invested in a Wattbike Atom when I retired from IBM in 2019, so we both had enough home equipment to get going.

First day, Wednesday 1st April, 8am we set out on our first session together. FaceTime, on our iPad and the Wattbike app on my phone.

To start, I would choose a session of the app (randomly!) and I would ride whilst Matt rowed, with me shouting instructions on when to change pace or power.

The training was not particularly sophisticated, but we were establishing a routine and experimenting with what worked and what did not. My biggest lesson (and something I should already know!) was the importance of recovery.

After a month I found I was shattered and checking my training logs I realised I had not taken a single day off in April. I now have at least one day a week for regeneration’.


Structure, consistency, and progression, including recovery is the backbone of a fitness plan.  Adaptation and improvement occur during rest and recovery

After a week of ‘playing’ we decided to take on one of the Wattbike plans. We thought the Health Intermediate Training plan would be a good start. Four days a week on the plan, then another doing something different on the Saturday. The plan was ideal as it gave us a mixture of speed and endurance work in sessions of 30-40 minutes. Great sense of satisfaction when we completed it without missing a session 13 weeks later.


I designed the Wattbike Health Training Plans to give the best balance of dose-response. I’m so pleased it worked.

When the first lockdown eased, I was able to get back to running one day a week, but Matt and I decided to keep going with the morning training. We had done the rugby match simulation sessions a few times and really enjoyed them (although the game has changed a lot since we played – nowhere in the session did it involve waiting half an hour for the forwards to wallow around in the mud and then being expected to run the length of the pitch with frozen legs!).

The next obvious step was to try the Rugby General Conditioning plan. 9 weeks of 4 sessions a week. Slightly longer work outs, but with a great variety of endurance and intensity.

I committed a schoolboy error in about week 3 of the plan when I decided to do an FTP test and used the sub max test to measure it. I will be honest; I have no idea what an RPE of 7 is and I ended up doing it as a max test which meant my FTP was set ridiculously high. The next few rugby sessions were hell, so I retested using a Max ramp test and that sorted it.

We enjoyed the rugby plan so much we did it again for another 9 weeks before attempting the Health Advanced Training plan.


The Rugby General Conditioning Plan was based on real sessions I designed for several rugby union/league clubs and national teams.  Setting your training parameters is important – for trained individuals assessing maximum power and heart with a full ramp test is the way forward.   For less fit individuals a submax test can be effective and then starting with one of the Health Beginners Plan to ease into training

Periodically we put ourselves through a test session to see where we were. Matt entered the British and Canadian indoor rowing champs and the Somerset 525 Virtual rowing competition. He set a new lifetime best of 6.57.7 for the 2000m!

Not bad for a 56-year-old with dodgy ankles.

I was able to squeeze in two 400m races on the track in September 2020, running 56.6 to top the UK rankings for my age group. Pleased with that considering I did not do a single-track training session.

What we learned on the way

The Wattbike has two main metrics, Power (Watts) and Cadence (RPM). The plans help you train at the right power and cadence and you start to develop a ‘feel’ for balancing the two.

Whilst the Concept 2 has a power measure, Matt found that time/500m was the most useful metric for him to use. His 2k pace is around 1.45, and flat out about 1.28, so when I am recovering at 144w he drops to about 2.00 pace.

Over time he developed a good understanding of what pace was required to equal the power I was working at.

Interestingly we found that at the end of the session I covered almost exactly twice the distance on the bike. We assume this is because the bike delivers constant power, whereas the rower only on the pull.


The Concept 2 rower works on power, but rowers prefer to use pace per 500 m – there is a nonlinear relationship between power and pace so working out power first and then the pace is important. The distance covered is coincidental.

Max power metric is slightly different when testing on a Rower and Wattbike. Due to the different nature of cycling max power tend to be 25-50 W higher on a bike.

We both improved our form over the year, I am no rowing expert, but watching Matt over FaceTime I was able to spot a couple of things like stroke length and relaxing the neck that gave him some marginal gains.

The Wattbike shows pedal efficiency as a wacky figure of eight or sausage shape as well as an overall PES (pedal efficiency score). I found that at slow speeds my PES is atrocious, dropping down into the low 40s. I also have a marked difference in legs, my damaged side several points worse than my good side.

However, when I upped the speed, my efficiency improved significantly. Usually in the mid-60s and occasionally over 70. The difference in legs also disappeared.

My hypothesis is that because I am a sprinter, my body knows how to generate ‘good enough’ form when it needs to (you cannot run fast with poor form!) and that at slow speeds it just gets lazy. Something I will investigate more.


Getting your pedal technique right is the significant gain you can achieve. It starts at the ‘slow’ speeds – for me more about leg speed of 90 rpm minimum even at recovery zone so resistance/gear selection also key.

I will not pretend we set out with any sort of process or plan. Afterall we were told it would all be over by the summer! However, looking back the following steps describe how we approached it:

  1. Establish a routine

Initially it does not matter what you do, just do something regularly. Having a set time and someone to work with really helps.

2. Follow a plan

Once the routine is in place start to think more about what you want to achieve. Set some goals, plan. We found the Wattbike plans very well structured and provided the variety we needed.

3. Regeneration!
When things are going well it is easy to get excited and overtrain. Remember to schedule in recovery. The body only regenerates when you stop beating it up!

4. Test
Make sure you have some tests periodically, a race, a time trial or one of the Wattbike challenges can provide great motivation and help you see how far your training is taking you.

5. Iterate
Never stop learning, do not be afraid to go back to the start and do it all again in a different way.

Here we are a whole year on, hundreds of thousands of metres pulled and pedalled and hopefully a little wiser, even at our age. We have just had another test week and are about to embark on the Rugby plan for a third time.

Thank you Wattbike and Concept 2 for getting us through the year!

Jon Tilt is a UK Athletics Performance coach at Southampton AC

He is a World Masters Champion at 400m and 400m hurdles and holds the British M55 400m hurdles record.

Email: jon.tilt@gmail.com

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