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How to Ride With a Power Meter

Sponsored rider James Vickers’ guide to training with power (meters)

I’VE GOT THE POWER

There is only one way of training with a specific, controlled and, consistent measure of performance… That’s Power.

Like almost all of my friends and cycling brethren I used to train for events, sportives and races using a training plan that prescribed activities based on my heart rate and perceived level of effort.

I noticed very early on, that my ride data was inconsistent and something as simple as a bad night’s sleep or a cup of coffee before a ride could dramatically change the perception of my performance and my heart rate, and the knock on effect to this was I wasn’t training effectively.

A power meter is one of the most effective tools for understanding your effort and gaining improvements to specific elements of your cycling strength and, although it may seem complicated and that it should be reserved for the elite cyclists amongst us, everyone from sportive riders to cat 4 racers can benefit from using power meter data.

To make the most of any training plan you must understand the right amount of training effort required to promote the physiological adaptations your body needs to undertake to improve your fitness and strength, for example;

Riding for 5 minutes in Zone Two is going to do very little to promote gains in abilities in zone 5

But…

Riding for 5 minutes in Zone Five will promote the adaptations required to improve your Vo2 and your ability to react to hard attacks and steep short climbs.

FTP and Zones

Setting your power zones is basically the same as setting your heart rate zones, you need to understand the maximum effort you can exert for one hour, and this is known as your Functional Threshold Power. There are various tests for defining this, I use Hunter Allen’s method for defining FTP which is performed as follows.

Ride a 15 minute warm up followed by 3 x 1 minute fast pedaling drills, the warm up should work the muscles hard but not reduce the available energy required for a 20 minute ride at your maximum effort.

Reset and calibrate your power meter and recorders.

Ride for 20 minutes at your maximum sustainable effort

Take your average power from this effort and take 5% from it.

I.e. If you ride for 20 minutes at an average power output of 300 watts your FTP is calculated as follows - 300 – 5% = 285

285 is the FTP in this instance.

Now you have a Functional Threshold Power use or Power Zone Calculator to work out your power zones.

Power Zones

Power zones are as follows;

Zone

Area of Concentration

% of FTP

Notes

Zone 1

Active Recovery

<55%

It’s Easy…! You’re not even trying.

Zone 2

Endurance

56-75%

It doesn’t hurt but your breathing rate increases. You can go like this all day

Zone 3

Tempo

76-90%

Concentrate now, here comes the pain. Your breathing is rhythmic, you can do this for 1-4 hour if you try!

Zone 4

Lactate Threshold

91-105%

This will hurt – It’s just below, to just above your time trial pace. You’re not doing it for longer than one hour, if you do, retest your FTP!

You must do at least 10 minutes to induce beneficial changes to this system.

Zone 5

Vo2 Max

106-120%

This feels nasty, it must be doing some good. Your breathing is greatly exaggerated, you can try and do this for 3-6 minutes.

You must do at least 3 – 6 minutes  (depending on intensity) to induce beneficial changes to this system

Zone 6

Anaerobic Capacity

121-150%

Dig Deep Now - You won’t keep this up for longer than 3 minutes.

You must do at least 30 seconds – 3 minutes  (depending on intensity) to induce beneficial changes to this system

Zone 7

Neuromuscular Power

>150%

The sprint for the line, 10 seconds to one minute. You must do 5 to 15 seconds at your absolute MAX EFFORT to induce beneficial changes to this system.

 

 

The above table gives a brief overview of each power zone and the required duration to promote gains to each particular area of your cycling abilities. To calculate your own values click on the image below to head on over to the British Cycling website and use their power FTP range calculator.

Remember Power is constant so you can always baseline your performance and work with this data to continually improve you fitness. Heart rate and perceived intensity are all susceptible to external influencing factors. With all this in mind, it is possible to go away with a limited amount of data and create a training plan for you that you know will impact your training.

Now all you need is a suitable, accurate and reliable power meter that fits your bike and your wallet. At Planet X we've been using Quark Power meters for quite  a while now and their Riken 10R has proven to be an exceptional aide, helping our team riders achieve their true potential and maximise their performance gains. The Riken 10R comes without chainrings or BB so you can fit your own preferred options. It works with 130/110BCD chainrings and a 24mm axle BB, so it fits the widest possible range of bikes. It works with 10 speed Shimano and 10/11 speed SRAM chainrings as well so bound to be a set-up that works with your bike.

The Quark Riken 10R uses the latest ANT+ communication protocol so it's compatible with a huge range of display devices and GPS cyclometers from a number of manufacturers. Every Quark power meter is temperature compensated with a 100 point sample curve to guarantee accuracy within 1.5% no matter what conditions you ride in. Weighing under 700 grams it's a lightweight addition to your training arsenal and sure to help you achieve you goals.

 

Some Other Power Terms

Average Power – The average power output for a defined duration of time

Normalized Power – This figure is created to allow for changes in intensity throughout the ride and a more accurate depiction of the effort exerted compared to average power.

Intensity Factor – The ratio of your normalized power to threshold power during the duration of the ride

TSS (Training Stress Score) – A quantifiable figure to define the training load of a given effort or, series of efforts. This is used to define and track your fitness. A ride of 1 hour at your TT effort should produce a TSS of 100.