How to Get Started with a New Power Meter

How to Get Started with a New Power Meter

Quick Start:

Using Your New Power Meter

By Hunter Allen, Coach and Power Training Expert at Peaks Coaching Group

Power meter locations

One of the questions that I have gotten hundreds of times over the past 15 years is: “How do I get started now that I have my new power meter?”

It’s so common that Dr. Coggan and I wrote a book on it!

But, alas, many of us (myself included!) don’t always have the time or desire to sit down and read a book to figure out some new technology. Isn’t there like a “Quick Start” or something I can read in 15-minutes and get going?

Well, that’s what this guide is all about - so let's shortcut your road to success and make you a more powerful rider!

Cyclist ready to ride

Step 1: Collect Data

Time to go riding. You first need to establish your baseline of fitness and begin to learn what 100 watts means to you.

Create a personal relationship with your data, so that when you download it and review the graph, you will be able to pick out when you went up that evil hill near your house, or when you flew down the road in the tailwind or when you attacked your buddy for the town sprint line. Understand what those squeeqily lines mean to you.

So, go do your “normal” training for a week. Do your hill repeats, your 2 x 20’s, group rides or riding indoors on your smart trainer, and don’t worry about the numbers. Your goal is to begin associating your perceived exertion with the wattage you create.

Cyclist riding with bike power meter

Step 2: Testing

Now that you have ridden for a week and calibrated your perceived exertion with those wattage numbers, it’s time for some structured testing. The first tests you have to do are called the Functional Threshold Power (FTP) test and the Power Profile test.

FTP Test

FTP is defined as the highest average power you can maintain in a quasi-steady state before fatiguing.

This test is generally around an hour as an hour closely equates to the standard 40-kilometer time trial distance. Cycling is a highly aerobic event, and your level of aerobic fitness highly correlates to your success, and by doing a 1-hour time trial you learn your current fitness level.

Over the years many people have asked me, “Is it really necessary to do an hour long time trial?” If you truly want to know your FTP, then the answer is “Yes!” But for those of you who like shortcuts (and if you’re reading this, chances are good that you’ll be interested in this suggestion), then you should consider a 20-minute FTP test.

Another reason to consider the 20-minute test is that it can be difficult find a good location to do an hour-long test without going through stop lights, traffic over mountains, etc. With that in mind, a 20-minutes test might be more “do-able” as you’ll likely be able to find a suitable 20-minute course.

If you choose to do the 20-minute test, know that your true FTP power could be between 3-8% below your test number. In general, if you subtract 5% off of your 20-minute power average, you should be close enough to your FTP to set your training zones. Once you’ve established your FTP, it’s then time to complete the Power Profile tests.

Cycling riding uphill

Power Profile Tests

These tests, in combination with your FTP number, help determine your strengths and weaknesses. In order to better understand your unique physiology, you need to test three additional specific energy systems.

  • The first one is the Anaerobic Capacity system, which is an all-out test of one minute.

  • The next test is your Neuromuscular Power, or a couple of hard sprints for 15 seconds each.

  • Finally, you will need to test your VO2 Max or your best average power for 5 minutes, so we can better understand your potential or improvement in your FTP in addition to how many watts you can produce while at your maximum oxygen consumption rate.


Here’s the full testing protocol done over three days:

Day 1: 20-Minute FTP Test

It is important to hit your "lap" button on your bike computer in order to note when the effort started and stopped.

NOTE: let the 20-minute test go 5 seconds longer in order to ensure you get in the full test.

Warm-Up

  • Warm up for 15-minutes of riding, starting out at Active Recovery (Power Z1, HR Z1, RPE <2) and gradually moving into Endurance (Power Z2, HR Z2, RPE 2-3).
  • During the warm-up complete 3 x 1-minute efforts of “fast pedaling” at 110 RPM cadence or above.

Riding up hill on a bike

Main Set

  • Once warmed up, complete a 20-minute test.
  • When you start, be sure to mark/use lap button to start and stop the effort. Really go hard here, but don’t start too hard!
  • A secret tip: hold back a little bit in the first 2-3 minutes then really push! Let your body prepare to handle the lactate generated by this type of effort. In the final two minutes, begin to ramp up the power 10 watts at a time and really dig deep to finish strong and raise that average power.

Cool-Down
Spin for 15 easy minutes to shake off the pain!

Day 2: Easy Day

Take a one-hour easy ride, keeping intensity below 70% of your FTP, or just in the lower section of your endurance pace.

Day 3: Power Profile Test

As a reminder, it is important to hit your "lap" button on your bike computer in order to note when the effort started and stopped.

NOTE: let the 1-minute and 5-minute tests go 5 seconds longer in order to ensure you get in the full test, so test for 1:05 and 5:05.

Warm-Up

  • Warm up for 15-minutes of riding, starting out at Active Recovery (Power Z1, HR Z1, RPE <2) and gradually moving into Endurance (Power Z2, HR Z2, RPE 2-3).
  • During the warm-up complete 3 x 1-minute efforts of “fast pedaling” at 110 RPM cadence or above.

Riding up hill on a bike

Main Set 1: The 1-Minute Test

  • This test is best done on a hill that has a gradient between 4-7%. If the climb is too steep, it will reduce your average watts, but if it’s not steep enough, you won’t have enough gravity to “push” against.
  • Once warmed up, complete a 1-minute effort - all out. Attack hard and crush this for the first 30 seconds and then struggle to complete the last 10 seconds. Feeling this way means you have done the test correctly.
  • Once complete, ride in your Active Recovery (Power Z1, HR Z1, RPE <2) for 5 minutes, spinning and recovering then move to Main Set 2.

Main Set 2

  • Complete 2 x 15 second sprints.
  • These are all out sprints for 15 seconds and you should be really going for it. Do your best!
  • Recover between/after each for 3 minutes of easy pedaling.

Riding up hill on a bike

Main Set 3: The 5-Minute Test

  • Now that you are fully open and warmed up, it's time to do your 5-minute VO2 Max test.
  • You will need to pace yourself here, so don't go "all-out." It's better to start at a wattage or pace that you believe you'll be able to maintain for the entire 5 minutes, and if you find it's too easy after a minute, then you can increase the wattage.
  • IF you have an idea of your FTP power already, then your 5-minute power should be around 115% of that, so set that as a goal wattage to hold.
  • After you have completed the 5-minute test, then ride easy for as much as you need and begin your cool down

Cool-Down
Spin for 15 easy minutes to shake off the pain!

Final reminder: Testing is training and training is testing! Today is a great training day!

Power profile example

Your Power Profile will give you insights into your strengths and limiters.

Step 3: Set Your Training Zones

With the testing protocol complete, take your 20-minute test, subtract 5% and use that number as your FTP. From here, you will be able to establish your Power Training Zones.

The Power Training Zones were created by Dr. Coggan and are an excellent guideline to develop your fitness. A very important part of these zones or levels is that there is a relationship between intensity and interval duration.

For example, if you want to improve your FTP, then you will need to complete intervals from 91% to 105% of your FTP and for a minimum of 10 minutes. If you do intervals for 5 minutes at 95% of FTP, then you will not create enough training stress on your body in order to adapt and improve at your FTP.

In short, it’s imperative that you always align the intensity of the interval with the energy system you are working to improve.

Level Name/Purpose % of Threshold Power % of Threshold HR RPE Time
1 Active Recovery ≤55% ≤68% <2 70–80 years
2 Endurance 56–75% 69–83% 2–3 2.5 hours to 14 days
3 Tempo 76–90% 84–94% 3–4 30 min to 8 hours
4 Lactate Threshold 91–105% 95–105% 4–5 10–60 min
5 VO2max 106–120% >106% 6–7 3–8 min
6 Anaerobic Capacity 121–150% N/A >7 30 sec to 2 min
7 Neuromuscular Power N/A N/A Maximal 5–15 sec

 
Power Training Zones as developed by Dr. Coggan.

Step 4: Determine Your Power Profile

By uploading your data into the TrainingPeaks Software, either online or in WKO4, you’ll automatically have your Power Profile calculated. You can also use this simple spreadsheet that you can download HERE.

download spreadsheet

Download Power Profile Calculator


There are multiple shapes of the Power Profile. For example, if you are upward sloping to the right, then you will be considered a “Time Trialist/Climber/Steady State” rider, or if you are downward sloping to the right, then you are a “Sprinter.”

More flat across all four durations means you are an “all-arounder.” Or if you are an inverted “V”, then you will be considered a “Pursuiter.”

Various shapes the graph can take

An example of the many shapes an individual’s Power Profile can take.

Step 5: Go Training!

That’s it! Now, its time to go training!

You now know where to train to ensure you are working in the correct training zone and which area to work on. You also know your baseline, so you can easily quantify your improvements. Oh, and of course you have the best power meter on your bike, so you know you are collecting accurate and consistent data.

Two cyclists riding bikes

For more information, please grab a copy of my and Dr. Coggan’s book, “Training and Racing with a Power Meter.” There are tons and tons of workouts in the back of the book that you can do, along with two training plans that you can follow.

You can also fine more pre-built training plans on the Peaks Coaching Group website store. Of course, we’d also love to earn your coaching business and have lots of different options for every budget. Check out my Peaks Coaching Group and be sure to take a look at the “Learn about Power” section.

Next: Measuring and Training with Power Data

Go step by step through power definitions and explanations that will give you the edge in making your power meter work for you.

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