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How to train to power

With power meters being more and more popular for the everyday cyclist, it is becoming more important to understand how to use them and make the most of your investment.

Currently, it is the most accurate way of measuring training intensity and an individual athlete’s effort during a session. There are a few key phrases which are good to understand when utilising your power meter:

Functional Threshold Power (FTP)

This is the foundation to which most training models are based and a phrase which is often misunderstood. Simply put, FTP is the highest average wattage an athlete can maintain for 60 minutes. There are a number of ways to test and calculate this number depending on the athlete and equipment available. Knowing this figure is often fundamental to training with and understanding the data collected from your training.

Measuring and setting your FTP

Now that I have told you that knowing your FTP is important, you must know how to set it accurately. The most simple way of doing this is a 20 minute test. There are varying warm-up protocols and sessions to be completed but the key is the 20 minute "all-out" part where the highest possible average wattage over 20 minutes is measured. Normally, this figure is then multiplied by 0.95 to gain the highest average wattage that athlete could maintain for 60 minutes. Other ways of measuring FTP include creating a power duration curve (multiple all-out tests across a number of time ranges) or carrying out physiological lab testing (where gas exchange is measured).

Setting power zones from your FTP

Having established an accurate FTP, it is now time to calculate your bespoke training zones. These will be used to set the intensity of every training session and provide accurate zones which can then be used to train different energy systems provoking the adaptations we want. There are a number of different models used to calculate the training zones but ultimately you want a detailed yet not over-complicated system. Below is an example I prefer to use:

Zone 1 Active Recovery = < 55% of FTP

Zone 2 Endurance = 56%-75% of FTP

Zone 3 Tempo = 76%-90% of FTP

Zone 4 Lactate Threshold = 91%-105% of FTP

Zone 5 VO2max = 106%-120% of FTP

Zone 6 Anaerobic Capacity = 121%-150% of FTP

Zone 7 Neuromuscular Power = Maximal Power

Training with power

There are a huge number of varying power-based sessions out there, but there are some key areas which should be concentrated on in most endurance athlete’s training plan.

Threshold (FTP) - intervals performed at your current FTP setting. These will directly improve your FTP figure by accumulating time at this wattage.

V02max – sessions performed in Z5 (106% - 120% of FTP) for a length of time between 3 and 8 minutes in length. Obviously as the length of time increases, the intensity in that range has to be reduced. These intervals are great for race specificity and replicating the intensity of an attack or the first few minutes of a Cross race.

Endurance – rides performed in Z2 (56% - 75% of FTP). The main purpose of these sessions is to increase the number of mitochondria and their efficiency. These adaptations provide multiple benefits to the athlete but fundamentally they increase the athletes’ efficiency across the board. Often referred to as "base training", this is the zone you will spend most time in and shouldn’t be over-looked.

Monitoring your training

To get more benefits from your power meter, you should gather and monitor data from training sessions or races. This can show you strengths and weaknesses you didn’t realise you had or simply highlight areas of training you maybe neglect. Keeping track of how a certain session at a certain power feels in terms of perceived exertion is helpful as well. If a specific wattage is consistently feeling easier, this can be noted down as an area of improvement. Conversely if a type of effort length at a given wattage is becoming harder to hold (or even unachievable) some changes to your training need to be made.

Other areas of note that are linked to training with power and terminology are further explained in another one of my blogs -

If you'd like to discuss your training with me, please get in touch! Email or call 07917 859 407.

Ian Field


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