How to Train with a Power Meter
How to train with a power meter is a question a lot of beginner cyclists or cyclists looking to get serious about their training often ask. You don’t need to be Mathieu van der Poel or FasCat Athlete Phil Gaimon pushing world tour watts to benefit from training with power because when done correctly all cyclist of all abilities can benefit from using simple and proven sport science that using a power meter provides.
There are 3 steps to take to train with a power meter and after that you can follow a power based training plan just like the pros, easily analyze your power data and most importantly use the sport science to ride faster!
Those 3 steps are:
Perform a 20 minute FTP test
Set your Power Based Training Zones
Follow a Power Based Training Plan
We’ve been coaching cyclists with power meters for close to 20 years now and have taken thousands of athletes thru these three steps. Founder and Head Coach Frank Overton recently recorded a Beginner’s Guide to training with power podcast covering these three steps and much more if you want to listen more in depth.
Step #1 is to perform a 20 minute FTP test.
‘FTP’ is short for Functional Threshold Power or the highest average watts you can sustain for 60 minutes going as hard as you can go. There’s good news tho (since 60 minutes is incredibly hard) you can do a 20 minute test outside on the road with your power meter, recording the data to determine your power at threshold also known as your FTP.
Step #2 is to set your power based training zones.
Using the power data you collected from your 20 minute FTP test, use your FTP to determine your zones. Coach Jake Rytlewski will show you how to set your training zones in this easy to follow instructional video. It is as simple as taking the average 20 minute power from your FTP test and entering that into the software which will automatically calculate your power based training zones using a percentage of your FTP. For example, if your FTP is 225 watts your zone 4 threshold is 98-105% of 225 or 221 - 236 watts. Therefore when your training plan says do zone 4 threshold intervals you know to pedal hard enough to hold your watts between 225 - 236 watts. Because you will be looking at your wattages on your bike computer on your handlebar you will know and learn how to perform intervals by power by pedaling hard and not too hard to hold your watts in between the training zone prescribed in your workout from your training plan.
Step #3 is to get on a training plan.
Follow a training plan that uses power based training zones. A well thought out training plan will tell you everything to do and not to do day by day for the length of the plan. For example our training plans are six weeks. The training plan will tell you on what days to not ride and which days to ride and how hard for how long or short. Your training plan will tell you when to do a structured interval workout and when to ride longer endurance, say for example of the weekend when you are not working.
More importantly a power based cycling training plan tells you which zones to ride in for your workouts and the intervals prescribed in your workouts. For example you training plan may say do sweet spot intervals today and you know from your power based zones to pedal between 189 and 218 watts (using 225 watts as your FTP). Training with power is really like having a sport science lab on your handlebar (!) because you can achieve precise physiological adaptations by using your own training zones that are set to your current fitness. Following a power based training plan to train with a power meter is probably the best opportunity there is to improve your cycling. All professional cyclists and amateur cyclists alike follow a training plan with a power meter to train to ride faster.
Be consistent by following your training plan; most of our plans are designed for cyclists that work Monday thru Friday and have the weekends off. The plans prescribe rest days, intervals days, short rides, long rides, when to do power based FTP tests again to measure improvement and the very important rest weeks. Rest weeks are vital to all cyclists to prevent overtraining and burn out.
If you have an atypical schedule, or one that changes frequently or want a individualized training plan designed towards you goals, you may want to hire a one on one coach. A FasCat Coach will talk with you about your goals and design a custom training plan for you every 4 weeks with the new one building upon the previous plans. A FasCat Coach will not only prescribe the right workouts but they will help you analyze your improvement and your power data which after all is why your train with a power meter - to collect the data and use the sports science to improve. A coach will also help you understand the purpose of each training workout prescribed on your training plan and most importantly hold you accountable to help you stay motivated and dedicated.
You can still follow a training plan without hiring a coach by choosing one of the many training plans we’ve designed based on our 20 years of coaching experience. You just need to tell us what kind of cyclist you are and what you are training for. For example, you are a road cyclist training for time trials, We have a power based intervals for time trial training plan. You will train with your power meter to follow the plan and the sport science you are able to achieve comes from using the workouts prescribed in the plan that are specific to time trialing.
Once you are following a plan then comes the fun part of training with a power meter : using your power data to analyze your progress and measure your improvement. The single greatest determinant of cycling performance is your FTP. From step number one, you already have what your FTP is and after 6 weeks or more of training you FTP may have improved. Perform another FTP test (often times prescribed in your training plan).
If your FTP from your field test was 225 watts and then you do another test 6 weeks later and your FTP is now 241 watts, that 7% improvement! That is real scientific data driven proof that your cycling performance has improved.
There are many many other ways to measure your improvement by training with a power meter like using your normalized power from a hard group ride. There are multiple ways to measure if your FTP has increased and hard group rides are wonderful pieces of data. Power data from a race or an event is often times very informative and you can use your power data to help you identify what types of intervals you should be doing in training to prepare.
Coach Isaiah has a video describing how you can train with a power meter to find the right training approach for your goals.
Overall when used properly , training with a power meter can take your training to the next level because it enables you to use sport science on your handlebars during your training. Training with a power meter offers precise real time measurement of exactly how hard you are pedaling so you can follow a power based training plan. Lastly training with a power meter enables you to use your own ride data to monitor your improvement, stay motivated and achieve your goals.
E.F. Coyle, A.R. Coggan, M.K. Hopper and T.J. Walters, “Determinants of endurance in well-trained cyclists.” J Appl. Physiol 64:2622-2630, 1988
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