by Hunter Allen
When I was in New Zealand back in April of this year teaching to the elite coaches of the New Zealand cycling and triathlon federations, I was tasked to give them a clear process by which you train with power. They have been using power meters now for quite some time (over 4 years) and have quite a keen understanding of how to use them. One thing that not all of the coaches have been able to do though is really understand the process by which you train with a power meter. One of the main reasons that Dr. Coggan and I wrote the book, “Training and Racing with a Power Meter” was because we wanted to give athletes a step by step process. So often I get the question, “How do I use this thing now that I have bought it?” and while I love saying, “Hire a coach and they’ll teach you”, that’s not practical or wanted in many cases. While the book has alleviated many of the questions about how to train with a power meter, there are some very clear steps that you have to take in order to do it and then when you have taken those steps, you ARE really training with a power meter. These steps are detailed and expanded upon in the 2nd edition of “Training and Racing with a Power Meter” book released this past May, but let’s review them here and that way you can get started quickly.
Step 1: Testing and Data Collection.
The first thing that you have to do when you get a power meter is start doing some basic tests to understand exactly where your fitness is currently. Testing your FTP as you begin using a power meter will be one of the most important steps you take and I recommend that you do a 20 minute time trial to see what is your best average power for the 20 minutes. Take 5% off of this number and most likely that’s close to what you would average for an hour long time trial as well and your best wattage for an hour is what we call your functional threshold power or FTP. This will define the intensity of all your training from here out. As you gather ride data over your local routes and races, you’ll learn even more about what it means when you ride at a particular wattage during particular types of rides and knowing your FTP will help you to understand how your rides and efforts relate to this gold standard of training.. Remember to repeat this test every six to eight weeks, or whenever you think your fitness has changed.
Step 2: Training levels
Once you know your threshold power, then you can put the threshold power number into Dr. Coggan’s power training levels schema and understand how to train each different energy system. One thing that so many people have a hard time grasping is that there is a relationship between intensity and the time spent at that intensity. If I want to improve my power at VO2 max, then I have to ride between 106-120% of my FTP and I have to do it for a minimum of 3 minutes and maximum of 8 minutes. To improve my threshold power, I need to do intervals between 10 and 60 minutes with an intensity of 91-105% of FTP. If I do an effort for 4 minutes but only ride at 100% of FTP, then I am not training intensely enough to elicit enough stress on my Vo2 max system and at the same time I am not training long enough to stress the lactate threshold system for it to improve. Be smart about your training and make sure that you are training in the right zone and then long enough to make a difference.
Step 3: Determine Your Strengths and Weaknesses
Yup, that means more testing! First you need to test your “POWER PROFILE”, which are your best efforts a 5seconds(level 7), 1 minute(Level 6) and 5 minutes(Level 5) . Once you have this information, you can use the chart in our book (or use the TrainingPeaks WKO+ software) to see how you stack up against the world’s best and to figure out your true strengths and weaknesses. Are you a sprinter? Are you a good hill climber or possibly an even better time trialist? How you define your strengths and weaknesses will also be a guiding factor in your training and you will learn even more precisely the physiological systems that you need to train. The next step in learning your strengths and weaknesses is called “The Fatigue Profile” and this helps you to understand within each system what is the strongest part of that energy system. For example, let’s say you are a sprinter. What kind of a sprinter are you? Are you a sprinter that has an explosive jump and has to wait until the last 100 meters of the race to pop out from behind a wheel and then sprint to the line? Or are you a sprinter that needs to drag race to the line from 350meters out? The Fatigue Profile can help you figure this out.
Step 4: Define your workouts and go train!
Just sticking a power meter on your bike is not going to make you faster. You have to push on the pedals and do the work. You are going to have to dig deep in those anaerobic capacity intervals and learn to love the burn, and you are going to have to grit your teeth and drive the pedals down all the way to the end of that threshold interval set. It’s not easy, but the work must be done. Review the power training levels and create workouts that address your own fitness needs and goals, and that are aimed at specific power levels. For example, a great workout that is focused on improving your anaerobic capacity is this one:
Warm-up: 20 minutes at 56-70% of FTP
Main Set: Then do (6) x 2 minutes striving for 135% of your FTP with 2 minutes rest between each,
Then 5 minutes easy,
Then 6 x 1 minute efforts, striving for 150% of FTP with 1 minute rest,
Then 5 minutes easy
and finish with 6 x 30 seconds ALL out(over 150% of FTP) with 1 minute rest…..
CD: Cool down for 15 minutes of easy spinning.
In designing your workouts, you want to think about the energy system that you want to improve, look at the intensity that is needed in order to challenge that energy system and then make sure you are doing the effort for the right time period so that you create enough stress for adaptation and improvement.
Step 5: Data Analysis
Once you have completed the workout, then you need to download it and spend a few minutes analyzing it. Ask yourself these questions: Did I complete the workout in the correct zones? Did I accumulate enough training stress? Did I do enough intervals? How does this ride fit with all my other rides? Were there any personal bests? How does this impact my fatigue for the week? For the month? It’s important that you download every ride, every race, every time do a recovery ride. Each ride is important no matter how hard or easy. Your data is important, and interpreting it correctly will help you to make the right decisions about the next day’s training, the next month’s training, and even the next year’s training. In many of my past column’s I have written extensively about how to analyze the data. If you have missed these columns, get some of the back issues or check out “Training and Racing with a Power Meter” book. Either way, one thing is for sure: You need to spend some time analyzing and understanding how your power meter data can help you.
Step 6: Learn Analysis Tools for better and more complete understanding.
What does Quadrant Analysis mean and what exactly is a Performance Manager chart? What is a Training Stress Score? How can my Normalized power increase? What are all these advanced tools that I can use to help me and how can they help define the demands of my events and shed light on the additional factors that are necessary for success. Cycling is an incredibly complicated sport with many “unknowns,” and the more unknowns you can eliminate, the better your chance of success.
Step 7: Define the demands of your events
What are the exact demands of your events? You know that you have to ride 60 miles in the race and there are 5 significant hills in the race, but what about all the smaller hills and the attacks by your competitors or what if there is a big cross-wind section? By racing with your power meter you can learn exactly the demands of your events and your best data will come from races, your best efforts will come in races, and you stand to learn the most from your race data. Reviewing your race data is critical to future success. Once you know how many efforts you need to do in order to just finish the race, then you can start focusing your training on what it takes to be successful in the race. Defining the demands of the event applies to every discipline within cycling whether its track cycling, mountain biking or road cycling, so even if you are just starting with a power meter, complete the previous steps and then begin defining the demands of your event. And…. contrary to what you might think, some of the very best data will come from your failures. If you can figure out exactly why you failed, then you’ll be able to take steps to avoid making the same mistakes again.
Step 8: Make Changes to Achieve Your Goals
Guess what? You are now training with a power meter! If you have completed all the previous steps, then you are doing it. You see, it wasn’t so hard! The secret’s out! Now, you have to start making decisions about your training though. Do you change your training? What do you change? If you haven’t improved, then you have to make some changes. If you are continuing to improve, then stay the course. Many times once we start doing something we fear a change as we fear the unknown. Will my wheels fall off if I do more intervals at Vo2 max than I ever have? Will I get stronger if I start doing some big gear bursts? How sore is sore? Can I push one more day and make it a productive training day? Training with a power meter is about results. It is worth doing only if you have a clear understanding of what needs to be done. Now that you have a good working knowledge of what needs to be done, you must be ready and willing to change. So, based on what you’ve learned in taking the steps listed above, go ahead and make the needed changes, and watch your cycling improve.
Some Final Thoughts
While training and racing with your power meter, avoid the “paralysis by analysis” syndrome. Training with a power meter can be very easy to do, but sometimes your power meter may seem to be more of a hassle than it’s worth. Remember to keep an eye on the big picture. Each training day fits into an overall set of objectives and sometimes you may want to download your ride, keep it in your database, and not even look at the actual workout file. Keep looking at the long-term graphs to get a sense of how all your systems are improving. If you feel like you are getting lost along the path, then come back to these steps and repeat them again. Testing, training zones, strengths and weaknesses and defining the demands of the event are all key components to a successful training plan. However you decide to use your power meter make sure that you turn it into a tool and not just an expensive speedometer…