A cycling power meter is a powerful tool that will help you get stronger and faster. Let’s break down the basic steps to start using it properly.
I’ve seen a growing trend where athletes are training with a power meter, but not actually using the tool beyond noticing when something shiny stands out.
“Yeah dude, I hit over 1400 watts in that sprint!”
Look, I get it. I’ll occasionally hit 1400 watts in a sprint and it makes me feel like a badass. Let’s ignore that I was a full bike length behind everyone at the finish line – it’s the watts that count!
Hitting big numbers is awesome and improving those numbers is certainly a goal, but the true value of training with power comes from collecting data, analyzing the data, and making changes to the overall training program.
As an added bonus to using your power meter wisely, your numbers and thus bragging rights after the group ride will both improve. It’s a win-win.
If you’re ready to start using your power meter like a champ, here’s what you’ll want to do next.
TESTING WITH YOUR POWER METER
The very first step in developing a power-based training plan is to knock out some testing. There are a dozen different testing methods out there, but for cyclists new to training with power I prefer a simple approach.
- Day 1: 10-second & 1-minute
- Day 2: 5-minute & 20-minute
For the first day testing will focus on neuromuscular power (10-second) and anaerobic power (1-minute). Think of neuromuscular power as measuring how explosive you are, and anaerobic power as how much power you can produce without oxygen.
Testing on the second day will shift towards the aerobic side. The 5-minute test is a strong indicator of your maximum aerobic power. The 20-minute test will be used to estimate your functional threshold power (FTP). By performing the 5-minute test first you’ll burn off some anaerobic energy, thus making the 20-minute test more accurate when determining your FTP.
You can combine these two days into a single testing day, but I don’t advise it.
SET YOUR CYCLING POWER ZONES
“My easier days feel easier and my hard days feel harder”
This is the most common phrase I’ll hear after getting athletes started on a power-based training program. Many athletes get lost in no-man’s land when it comes to their training intensity, and this is often the main reason their progress has stalled.
Setting your training zones to optimize your training time and target your goals is one of the most valuable benefits to training with power. A power meter is objective and consistent day-after-day, whereas a heart rate monitor or your perceived exertion is not.
A basic approach to setting training levels:
- FTP = 20-minute power x .95.
- Set your FTP and Zones in TrainingPeaks. I recommend using the CTS Zone System.
Now that your zones are set you are ready to start designing a training plan.
DESIGN A TRAINING PLAN
You’ve done the testing, you have some goals in mind, and you’re ready to do work!
Instead of trying to distill what should be a book worth of advice into a couple of paragraphs, I’ll leave you with some nuggets of advice that I believe are integral to any good training plan.
- The majority of your training time should be spent in Zone 2 (Endurance) or easier. This isn’t going to be true 100% of the year, but the best riders know the value of building a solid aerobic base built with many hours of endurance riding.
- When you train hard, make sure you’re actually training hard. For self-coached athletes, I recommend picking 1-2 days per week that are devoted to some type of high-intensity interval work. Maybe that’s a group ride, or maybe it’s hill repeats, just make sure you know why you’re doing what you’re doing (it’s fun is a totally acceptable answer).
- You won’t get faster until you start taking recovery seriously. This means taking days off occasionally and making sure your active recovery rides are super easy.
GET TO WORK!
A cycling power meter is a powerful tool when used properly. Within a few hours’ time, you can test your strengths and weaknesses, set accurate training zones, and design a basic training plan that will help you start crushing PRs faster than ever before.