How to Start Training With A Power Meter to Improve Your Performance
Training with power has become an essential part of cycling for those who want to improve their performance. It is a great way to measure how hard you’re pushing yourself and how much energy you are using. This article will teach you how to get started with power to improve your performance.
First things first
The first (and most obvious) step is what equipment you need, namely a power meter and a bike computer or App. Make sure that your bike computer or App has either ANT+ or Bluetooth and supports power and calibration. Your power meter doesn’t need to be very expensive (hint: the Limits Bia is incredibly affordable!), but whatever power meter you use, make sure that it’s accurate, properly installed and calibrated!
Establish your baseline with a Functional Threshold Power Test
Next, you need to get your starting point or baseline. This is done through a Functional Threshold Power (FTP) test. Your Functional Threshold represents the highest physical intensity that you can maintain for an hour and is a great measuring stick for your overall performance.
Now to do one, you’ll need to ride pretty hard, so be prepared to really push yourself. This should hurt!
There are 2 big considerations when you’re planning to do an FTP test.
First is the duration. In an ideal world, a full FTP test would measure your power over an hour. However, we recommend doing the 20 minute method. Why? The main reason is that it’s really only the pros who can hold a threshold effort for an hour. If us mere mortals try, we will bomb at some point (somewhere after 20mins!) and your test would be skewed.
So here, we’ll describe how to do the 20 minute method!
Indoor or Outdoor
The second consideration is whether to do it indoors on a turbo, or outdoors on a road. For something that is reasonably scientific like an FTP, it’s best to control as many of the variables as possible. So, although it would be wonderful if you had a perfect stretch of road that’s totally flat, has no junctions or roundabouts, no traffic and no wind…that’s seldom possible.
For that reason, if you have one, we recommend using an indoor turbo. Those variables are much easier to manage and you can measure your progress more easily. And it’s way more convenient. If you don’t have a turbo (or access to one), then try to minimise the variables as much as possible, and keep to the same stretch of road for all your FTP tests.
How to do an FTP
Here is a simple 6 step process to finding out your FTP:
- Warm up for 20 minutes…make sure that you do some pretty hard intervals (3 or 4 during that time)
- Ride as hard as you can for 30 minutes
- Start recording yourself after 10 minutes, so that you record the last 20 minutes – go flat out…you can do it!!
- Aim for a cadence of 90 to 100 rpm. This helps keep consistency in all your tests.
- Cool down for 10 to 20 minutes
- Multiply your 20 minute average power by 0.95…that is your FTP!
If you want an easy way to see your zones (more on that below) and watts per Kg, plug your power into this useful calculator (scroll down a little for power), from British Cycling.
We’d also recommend measuring your progress by doing an FTP test every 8-weeks.
Ok, so you’ve done your test and have your FTP…now what?
Next, it’s important to understand the training zones you are riding in. Zones are simply percentages of your FTP and let you understand how easy or hard you’re riding.
Let’s look at them…
Zone 1 [>55% of your FTP]: Active Recovery
Feels very easy and won’t feel like an effort at all. Use this when you are warming up and cooling down.
Zone 2 [56-75% of your FTP]: Endurance
You should feel pretty comfortable in this zone, able to sustain your riding for a long period of time. This is the zone you’ll use most for longer rides and sportives.
Zone 3 [76-90% of your FTP]: Tempo
A more intensive effort, you’ll definitely know you’re pushing yourself. You would typically be in this zone for sustained climbs and it unusually last 20 to 40 minutes
Zone 4 [91-105% of your FTP]: Threshold
This is how you felt during your FTP test. Not easy! Typically use this when you know you need to push really hard for 15 to 20 minutes. Remember that this is your FTP, so holding it for too long will cause problems later!
Zone 5 [106-120% of your FTP] VO2 Max
This is where you are working at your aerobic limit and is going to feel really hard (you won’t be able to speak!). You would typically only be in this zone for short periods of time, well under 10 minutes. You might be really pushing yourself to get to the front, but it’ll really take a lot from your reserves.
Zone 6 [121-150% of your FTP]: Anaerobic Capacity.
Full effort sprinting! Use this zone when you need a sudden, short, all-out burst.
Zone 7 [151%+]: Neuromuscular Power
Very short, very intensive and very uncomfortable. Used in standing starts, super short sprints.
Enjoy training smarter, not harder!