A power meter is probably the best tool ever develop to help you reach your cycling goals.
What Is A Power Meter?
It measures in real time the actual force/energy your legs are using to pedal the bicycle and can be installed almost anywhere on the its drivetrain. Done correctly, anyone and everyone can benefit from the increased accuracy, consistency and time efficiency that a power meter will add to their training.
Power Meter Options
Crank arm type: Stages, 4iiii Precision and Avio
Spider type: SRM, Power2Max, Qaurq, PowerBox, Shimano and Rotor
BB spindle type: Easton and Rotor
Pedal type: Garmin, Powertap, SRM and Favero
Rear hub type: PowerTap
To learn more about the different power meter options, click here.
Why not just train with heart rate?
Although heart rate may be the most accessible and affordable means of quantifying your training, it is not as effective and productive as training with power. Heart rate lags, meaning when you suddenly increase the intensity, it takes some time for heart rate to climb to the target level. It drifts upwards; this is a natural increase in heart rate despite little or no change in pace/speed. Heart rate is affected by internal and external factors such as fatigue, sleep, hydration, body temperature, air temperature humidity, motivation, caffeine, altitude, stress. For instance, when you are tired/fatigue you will struggle to get you heart rate up, an endurance ride targeting zone 2 heart rate could easily become a zone 3 power workout.
Training to heart rate is still effective and provides a valid means of monitoring and measuring the intensity and workloads, and it gives us even greater insight into how the body responds to the workload and the stress that we're putting it under when combined with power.
To learn more about training with heart rate, click here.
How to get started
So you’ve bought a power meter, what’s next. Well you'll need to perform a test to calculate your Functional Threshold Power (FTP); this is generally defined as the maximum power you can sustain for an hour. The test result provide relevant information needed to make intelligent decision on training, so the test needs to be fairly accurate. It is best to execute in a controlled environment, an indoor trainer with optimal cooling is ideal. An alternative would be an uninterrupted stretch of road with no intersection, stop streets, traffic lights and little to no traffic.
There are multiple ways to go about testing your FTP, but before you test, make sure that you are in good health, well rested, not injured, have not raced recently and your nutrition and hydration level are optimal.
60 minute test
Since FTP is generally defined as the power you can hold for 60 minutes, do a 60 minute effort. The upside of this test is that is the most accurate, however if you don’t have the mental capacity then it will be extremely challenging to perform.
20 minute test
The most common method for determining your FTP is the 20 minute test. Start with a solid warm-up and then ride hard, at intensity you think you can sustain for 20 minutes. Take that average power for the 20 minutes and multiply it by 0.95 to calculate an estimation of your FTP.
2 x 8 minute test
A 2 x 8 minute test protocol which is mental easier to do, but is not as accurate as the estimation you would get from a 20 minute test. As always start with good warm-up, and then do 2 x 8 minute maximum effort with 10 minutes of recovery in between. Average out the 2 eight minute efforts and then multiply by 0.90 to calculate an estimation of your FTP.
A Ramp test is best performed in erg mode on an interactive trainer. This is the most popular method used where the resistance increases by 10 watts every minute until you can no longer pedal. Take the average power for the final minute and multiply by 0.75 to calculate an estimation of your FTP.
Lets Talk About Zones
Once you have your FTP, you can then use it to calculate your training zones. Listed below are 7 commonly use power based training zones.
Active recovery, 0 to 55% of FTP
What it feels like: Easy spin or light pressure on the pedals, minimal sensation of leg effort or fatigue.
Endurance. 56% to 75% of FTP
What it feels like: All day effort, breathing is more regular than during an easy ride and still are able to hold a continuous conversation.
Tempo, 76 to 90% of FTP
What it feels like: A "spirited" group ride, breathing is deeper and more rhythmic than during an endurance ride, conversation may be somewhat challenging.
Threshold, 91% to 105% of FTP
What it feels like: Race pace, continuous sensation of moderate or even greater leg fatigue, deep and shortness of breathe, difficult to hold a conversation.
Vo2 Max,106% to 120% of FTP
What it feels like: Vigorous efforts with a strong to severe sensations of leg effort or fatigue, breathing is ragged and conversation is short.
Anaerobic, 121% to 150% of FTP
What it feels like: Very hard and short efforts, with severe sensation of leg fatigue, can barely breath and able to speak a few words.
Neuromuscular, above 150% of FTP