Read time: 4min.
By Coach Yan Busset
Today we're diving into a topic that can rock your training world: Power training in cycling. This guide aims to provide you with a better understanding of how to get started with power metrics into your routine effectively. I've learned from my experience running a state-of-the-art indoor bike studio in Helsinki, called The Triathlon Corner, about the effectiveness of training with power for beginners. We used real-time power data displayed on screens to enhance both training sessions and indoor racing, providing a cutting-edge and effective training environment. I've witnessed many beginners develop massively in this setting. Power meters are becoming more accurate and accessible, and you don't have to be a top-end age-grouper to benefit from them.
What is Power and Why Should You Care?
A simple definition of Power is the amount of energy you are producing at any given moment during your cycling, measured in watts. Do you need to invest in a power meter? If you're serious about your training, have reached a plateau in your cycling speed progression, and are aiming for longer distances, the answer is a big "yes." On the flip side, if you're just getting started in triathlon and are allergic to data and tech, then perhaps it's not an immediate necessity. However, it's worth noting that a power meter is probably the best investment you can make to improve your cycling fitness.
Advantages of Power Metrics
Real-Time Measurement: Unlike heart rate, watts give you a direct measurement of your current effort.
Pacing: A power meter helps you maintain a steady effort on race day, unaffected by external factors like wind or terrain.
Progress Tracking: If you're not measuring it, you can't improve it. Training without power is a bit like going to the gym without knowing how much weight you lift. A power meter is an excellent tool for gauging your fitness over time.
Choosing the Right Power Meter
All-in-One Stationary Bikes
Pros: They're convenient; you hop on, and you're good to go.
Cons: They can be expensive and may not offer the same body position as your road bike.
Pros: More budget-friendly and allows you to use your own bike, helping you train with the bike fit you'll use on race day.
Cons: Initial setup can take time. Especially if you don’t have a special permanent place for it.
Dedicated Power Meters
Examples: Pedal-based (Favero Assioma Uno and Duo, Garmin Rally) or crank-based meters (Stages Cycling, or 4iiii), Also top brands like Canyon bikes, have their entire Tri-bikes range coming with stock power-meter, even on the entrance level Speedmax
Pros: Generally more accurate and can be used both indoors and outdoors. They're also excellent for pacing during a race.
Cons: More susceptible to damage in the event of a crash.
Essential Equipment for Viewing Data
Getting Started with Your Power Meter
Display and Calibration
Choose a 3-second average display setting for easier reading. The real time instant reading is too jumpy and difficult to follow.
Some devices require calibration, including inputting your crank length for pedal-based meters. Make sure to complete this step for accurate measurements. If your budget allow it, prefer a model with auto-calibration, it will make your life way more easy.
Before you dive into power-based training plans, spend a week or two understanding how your wattage varies during different efforts. Ensure that you're comfortable with the technology to avoid the (painful) need to repeat any intense testing.
The Influence of Positioning
Your body's position on the bike significantly influences your power output. It's crucial to train and test in the body position you plan to use during races. This will give you the most accurate and applicable data.
Consistency Between Devices
Remember that different power meters may give different readings. Factors include:
Device Accuracy: Even devices from the same manufacturer with 1-3% accuracy may have a 2-6% variance in readings in worst case scenario.
Measurement Points: Some meters measure power at the pedal, while others may measure it at the crank or wheel hub.
So, stick to one power meter for consistent results.
Determining Your Power Zones
The 20-minute FTP (Functional Threshold Power) all out test is a commonly used method. However, it often overestimates the aerobic zones (Z1 & Z2), causing athletes to train harder than necessary in those zones. Therefore, consider subtracting 10% rather than the recommended 5% from the FTP test results for more reliable training zones.
A more nuanced approach involves multiple duration testing. At Tri Coaching Finland we use a 4-minutes and 15-minutes all-out test. This method takes into account different metabolic pathways and energy production systems.
For example, if your 4-minute average is 298 watts and your 15-minute average is 219 watts, your estimated critical power would be:
((duration of longer test * avg power)-(duration of shorter test *average power))/(duration of longer test-duration of shorter test)
((900 seconds * 219 watts)-(240 seconds * 298))/(900-240)= 190 watts. Meaning: this athlete threshold/FTP is 190w
From this we can estimate the training zones:
Zone 1 - Active Recovery: 55% FTP and below.
Zone 2 - Endurance: 56-75% FTP.
Zone 3 - Tempo: 76-90% FTP.
Zone 4 - Threshold: 91-105% FTP.
Zone 5 - VO2 Max: 106-120% FTP.
This method is most effective to nail the higher intensities zones, as mentioned in my other article related to training zones, I like to asses the Zone 2 with a complementary test to make sure my athletes spend their time to train at the right intensity to maximise the use of their time.
Implementing power-based training into your routine will offer a new level of depth and specificity that can truly boost your performance. Understanding the how power measurement works, device selection, and testing can help you train not just harder, but smarter. to get the best out of your precious time. Have fun, get yourself a power-meter and sing the 90’s classic: "I’ve got the Power!"
Thank you for reading and see you next week!
Whenever you’re ready, there are 3 ways I can help you:
1. if you are in the Helsinki area and looking for the best training group check here
2. If you are looking for an online coaching service check here.
3. If you are looking for support for your triathlon journey, I recommend you book a 30min 1on1 video consultation with me here.
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