By Hunter Allen

 

Cycling with a power meter has become the gold standard for cyclists looking to improve their performance. While heart rate, speed, and perceived exertion are valuable metrics, power is the most accurate and objective way to measure your effort on the bike. As a coach and pioneer in the field of power-based training, I’ve worked with countless athletes to help them understand the basics of training with a power meter. 

 

In this article, I’ll cover the fundamentals of power-based training, including the benefits of using a power meter, how to set your training zones, and how to use power data to plan and how to use power data to guide your training. 
 

 

What is a power meter in cycling?

A power meter is a device that measures the power output of a cyclist in watts. Power meters can be built into the pedals, crankset, hub, or chainring, and they use strain gauges or accelerometers to measure the force applied to the pedals, cranks or wheel.

Power meter pedals are a more precise and objective measure of a cyclist's effort than heart rate or perceived exertion. Heart rate can be affected by factors like stress, hydration, and temperature, while perceived exertion can be subjective and influenced by motivation and fatigue. Power, on the other hand, is a direct measure of the work a cyclist is doing and can be used to compare efforts across different rides and riders.


 

 

Using power data to guide your training

Once your power meter is connected to your bike computer and zeroed, you can start cycling with a power meter to guide your training.

 

 

Step 1: Finding your Functional Threshold Power (FTP)

FTP is the maximum power that a cyclist can sustain for one hour. It is a key metric for training because it represents the upper limit of a cyclist's aerobic endurance. To determine your FTP, you should read the article here about finding your FTP.
After your FTP testing, you can set set training zones and measure progress over time.

 

 

Step 2: Determine your Training Zones

Training zones are a range of power outputs that correspond to different levels of effort and physiological responses. There are several different systems for defining training zones, but one of the most common is the seven-zone system developped by Dr. Andy Coggan.

 

  • Zone 1 – Active Recovery: Less than 55% of FTP 
  • Zone 2 – Endurance: 56-75% of FTP 
  • Zone 3 – Tempo: 76-90% of FTP 
  • Zone 4 – Threshold: 91-105% of FTP 
  • Zone 5 – VO2 Max: 106-120% of FTP 
  • Zone 6 – Anaerobic Capacity: More than 120% of FTP 

 

 

Step 3: Structure Your Training

Structuring your training is critical for achieving your training goals. A well-structured training plan involves balancing different types of workouts and intensities to achieve the desired training adaptations.
Endurance workouts are long, steady rides that develop aerobic capacity and endurance. These workouts are typically done in Zone 2 and are the foundation of a cyclist's training.
Tempo workouts are moderate-intensity rides that improve lactate threshold and the ability to sustain high-intensity efforts for longer periods. These workouts are typically done in Zone 3.
Interval workouts are short, high-intensity efforts that improve power output and anaerobic capacity. These workouts are typically done in Zones 4-6 and include workouts such as 30/30s, 2x20s, and Micro-bursts. These workouts are intense and should be done sparingly.

 

 

Step 4: Use Key Workouts

Key workouts are critical workouts that target specific training adaptations. These workouts are typically done once or twice a week and should be a focus of your training plan.
One key workout is the Sweet-spot workout.  The “Sweet-spot” is 88-93% of your FTP and is just below your FTP.  You receive a lot of “Training bang for your buck” so to speak.   You can maintain this intensity for a much longer time and it is “doable”.    Strive to do 3 x 20 minute efforts at Sweet-Spot. 
 

 

Step 5.  Track Your Progress

Tracking your progress is essential for understanding the effectiveness of your training program. Power meters provide a wealth of data that can be used to track progress and make adjustments to your training.
One way to track progress is to analyze your power data after each ride. This allows you to see how your power output is changing over time and identify areas where you need to focus your training.  We use software like TrainingPeaks in order to analyze our downloaded power data and to ensure improvement over time, along with ensuring a proper peak.  

 

 

Key terms of cycling with a power meter

  1. Training Stress Score (TSS): TSS is a metric that takes into account both the duration and intensity of your workouts. It provides a numerical value that represents the amount of stress your body is experiencing during a workout or over a longer period of time. TSS can help you track your overall training load and avoid overtraining. If you ride as hard as you can (at your FTP) for 1 hour, you would accumulate 100TSS. This gives you a reference point to compare all workouts against. 
     
  2. Normalized Power (NP): NP is a metric that takes into account the variability of your power output during a workout. It provides an estimate of the power output you could have sustained if your effort had been constant, rather than variable. NP is a good metric to use when analyzing hard efforts, like intervals, because it provides a more accurate picture of what the body felt like it was doing or the metabolic cost of the workout. 
     
  3. Intensity Factor: Intensity Factor (IF) is a metric that compares the intensity of a workout to the cyclist's FTP. It provides a measure of how hard the cyclist was working during the workout and can be used to plan and monitor training intensity.
     
  4. Variability Index (VI): VI is a metric that compares the variability of power output during a ride to the rider's NP. A high VI indicates that the rider is not pacing themselves effectively during the ride. A triathlete should strive to keep their VI below 1.06 during a long course race.
     
  5. Power-to-Weight Ratio (watts per kilogram): Your watts per kilogram (w/kg) is a metric that compares the rider's power output to their body weight. It is a key metric for assessing climbing ability and allows you to compare “apples to apples” with other riders that have a different weight than you. 

Hunter Allen - Training with Power

 

Hunter Allen has FTP online training programs available at FTP Archives - Shop Peaks Coaching Group.
He is the co-author of “Training and Racing with a Power Meter”, “Cutting Edge Cycling” and “Triathlon Training with Power”.
They are available at www.shoppeaks.com.
You can contact Hunter directly at www.PeaksCoachingGroup.com for personal coaching and camps