Ride faster, feel better, and see performance gains this season by training with power
Is power a word that you’ve heard tossed around amongst cycling friends, but you have no idea what it really means? Well, you’re not alone. Power metersin today’s market give you plenty of metrics: cadence, left-right leg efficiency, average power, max power, and everything in between. Often times, you end up with far more data than necessary to add some simple structure to your training for strength and performance gains. Here’s what you need to know to get started, and check out our Big Book of Training for more details.
RELATED: A Guide to Power Meter Metrics
It’s simplest to find your functional threshold power by warming up for 20 minutes, then completing a 20-minute all-out time-trial effort. Cycling coach extraordinaire and author of numerous training books, Joe Friel, recommends using a false flat or gentle uphill to run your first FTP test because steeper hills have a tendency to contort the data. Doing your test on a trainer indoors is also a good option, though it can be more difficult to stay focused and motivated. Finally, re-testing your FTP once or twice a year is important: as you gain strength, your FTP will rise and you’ll need to adjust your training zones to see continued improvement in your workouts.
Calculating your other power training zones is easy; simply figure out the corresponding percentages of your lactate threshold:
- Zone 1- Active Recovery = < 55% of LT
- Zone 2- Endurance = 56-75% of LT
- Zone 3- Tempo = 76-90% of LT
- Zone 4- Lactate Threshold = 91-105% of LT
- Zone 5- VO2 Max = 106-120% of LT
- Zone 6- Anaerobic Capacity = 121-150% of LT
- Zone 7- Neuromuscular Power = max effort
A good coach will work with his athlete to make a detailed assessment of their goals—your starting point, level of experience, and focus will all dictate how you should approach your training. A track athlete, for example, will focus on cadence and shorter anaerobic efforts, while a cross country mountain biker will be more interested in conditioning their aerobic endurance.
Just remember that it should still be fun. Dena Eaton, a USA Cycling coach with over 20 years of racing experience in various disciplines says, “First, remember that no matter how hard you drive yourself toward the top step of the podium, sport is meant to be fun. It’s important that a coach doesn’t inhibit this feeling of joy. In fact, a coach should be there to intertwine your love of sport with your lifestyle.” Training with power or following a structured training plan from a coach should never replace the pure joy you get from riding a bike.
RELATED: 7 Tips for Being Your Own Cycling Coach
Another important variable when playing with power is cadence. You can think of cadence as revolutions per minute (RPMs) that you make with your legs when pedaling. Try riding with different cadences to see what works best for you when targeting various power zones. Some athletes have the muscle to push massive watts when turning over a big (hard) gear at 50 RPMs. Others have the aerobic capacity to spin 120 RPMs and keep consistently high power numbers. There is no right or wrong – it’s important to find whatever cadence allows your body to put out consistent levels of power.
There are many types of power training programs on the market that can guide you to greater levels of fitness. Now that you have the knowledge of some of the basics, it’s up to you to decide on the right program for your time commitment and cycling goals. As always, it’s not a matter of the quantity you train, but the quality of the time you spend training. When using power basics in a systematic training approach, results can come quickly. Introducing more detailed metrics and working with a professional coach can further refine your skills, helping you maximize your performance.
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