There once was a day when training with power was something reserved for the elite – pro racers with sponsors and contracts, who made their living from riding a bike. That’s not the case anymore – powermeters are being used a lot on the domestic racing scene, and we’re now seeing them fan out into the sportive market.

Why train with power?

A powermeter measures your output in watts. There are other ways of measuring improvements and effort – such as speed, but that’s influenced by weather and terrain, and heart rate, which is influenced by everything from temperature to fatigue, and the length of an interval.

Power, in watts, tells you exactly what your output is – and that number is completely independent of any other variable. When you carry out a twenty minute interval using a heart rate monitor, your heart rate will usually increase over the duration, as your body works harder to maintain the pace. Training using power, provided you sustain the same effort, the wattage will remain the same, so you get an accurate reading throughout.

The beauty of Power as a metric is that you can repeat intervals and track your progress – knowing that no other variables will have an impact. If average wattage over an interval goes up, you’re riding strong, if it goes down, it is time for you to take some recovery days to let your body repair itself and get stronger.

The weighty issue: power to weight ratio

The power you produce tells only half the story, as that power has to propel you over the terrain. All things being equal, a 70kg rider, putting out 300 watts, will go further than an 80kg rider, and not as far as a 60kg rider. That is why power to weight is important.

Power to weight ratio is expressed in the average number of watts a rider can produce over one hour (Functional Threshold Power – FTP), divided by their weight in KG. A male Tour de France GC contender can probably do about 6W/KG. As a female Time Trial rider who is in the ‘not good, not bad’ bracket, I can do 3.4W/KG for an hour. Knowing that number means I can work on improving it.

How to measure power?

There are lots of ways to measure power, and they each have advantages and disadvantages.

Stages Cranks start at £599. They’ve been adopted by the marginal gains crew over at Team Sky, so we think that must be a good sign. Power is measured by taking the watts produced through one crank arm, and doubling it. Some people had their doubts about this, but our staff rider Joel tested one against a PowerTap, and found he got near identical readings.

PowerTap – CycleOps produce the Powertap which measures power through the hub. The PowerTap is said to be accurate with +/- 1.5%, so it’s a reliable method. The con of the PowerTap is (unless you plan to frequently change your hubs) you are restricted in terms of wheels. If you want to train with power, and race with it – you need to use the same rear wheel (as I do, in fact), or have 2 pairs of wheels with PowerTaps. I reviewed mine here.

Garmin Vector Pedals – these are easily transferrable between bikes, which is a major plus. The downsides are that the pedals are LOOK cleat compatible, so you either need to already use LOOK cleats, or you’ll need to start using them.

Quarq SRAM powermeters- this system is reliable and doesn’t restrict you as the PowerTap or pedals in terms of equiptemnt, but if you want to swap it between bikes, you’ll need to change your cranks, which isn’t something you want to do often.

What to do once you have a powermeter?

So you’ve got a powermeter. What now? First – you need to know your FTP. This stands for Functional Threshold Power, and it means the power you can sustain for one hour. From this, you can work out your training zones, and then you can work at increasing the watts you can hold over set periods.

There are a few ways of working out your FTP. You can do a one hour time trial, and take the average watts over that hour as your FTP. Alternatively, you can do a one hour race, and use the Normalised Power – this is the power you would have produced without surges – as your FTP. or you can do the following test:

FTP TEST

1) Warm up for 20-30 minutes, include some cadence drills – and make sure you’re ready to work hard
2) Go ALL OUT for 5 minutes
3) Do 10 minutes at a moderate pace
4) Do a 20 minute time trial – produce the highest watts you can for this duration
5) Cool down
6) Take the average watts for your 20minute test, and take 5% – this gives you your FTP.

Once you have your FTP, you can train with the following zones:

Level 1: Active Recovery : <55% FTP
Level 2: Endurance : 56-75% FTP
Level 3: Tempo : 76-90% FTP
Level 4: Lactate Threshold : 91-105%
Level 5: VO2 Max : 106-120% FTP
Level 6: Anaerobic Capacity : 121-150% FTP
Level 7: Neuromuscular Power : N/A FTP – As hard as you can!

NOTE: Indoors vs Outdoors 

It’s worth noting that it really matters if you did your FTP test inside or outside. In fact, ideally, you’ll have a figure for both. Most people produce fewer watts inside, for a host of reasons, so if you plan to use the powermeter inside and out, you need to know your zones in each condition.

Sessions to try

Now you’ve got your zones set, here are a couple of sessions to have a go at:

2×20: This sessions is about working at your FTP, and improving your ability to sustain it. It’s ideal for time trialists, or someone who wants to break away and stay away in a race:

10 minute warm up @ 56-75% FTP
5 min with 30seconds high candence, 30 seconds low cadence
20 minutes @ FTP
10 minutes @ 55% FTP
20 minutes @ FTP
10 minutes @ 55% FTP

V02 Pyramid: This session is about increasing your ability to put in a burst of speed, and maintain it – it’s great for getting away in a road race, and for time trialists, it will help to increase your FTP (the magic number). If you want to better your sportive riding, this session will make you stronger, and will help you out on those shorter steep hills.

10 minute warm up @ 56-75% FTP
3 minutes @ 106-120% FTP
5 minutes @ 55% FTP
4 minutes @ 106-120% FTP
5 minutes @ 55% FTP
5 minutes @ 106-120% FTP
5 minutes @ 55% FTP
4 minutes @ 106-120% FTP
5 minutes @ 55% FTP
3 minutes @ 106-120% FTP
5 minutes @ 55% FTP
10 minutes @ 55% FTP

What next?! Get faster!

For more info on training with power, check out:

Joel’s review of the Stages Powermeter

Training with power – a begginer’s journey

Training with power – using the data

Training with power – the season and beyond