Beginner’s Journey to Power Meter Training and Racing: Part 2

power meter

Beginner’s Journey to Power Meter Training and Racing: Testing

Since Part 1, you’ve chosen a power meter, set it up on your bike and have begun to accumulate a library of power files from your rides.  In Part 2 of a Beginner’s Journey to Power Meter Training and Racing we will get started on how to use your power meter for training by exploring the topic of testing your fitness, setting training zones, and identifying strengths and weaknesses.

Some Recommendations

Apart from a power meter, there are a couple other pieces of equipment required to complete the puzzle in order to get the most out of your training with power.

First, you will need some form of software to use to analyze the power profiles produced from your rides.  Without the software you will not be able to realize the full potential of training with a power meter.  I am personally using Training Peaks Premium.  It does require a subscription but it has all the tools you will ever need.  Golden Cheetah is a popular open source option if you don’t want to have to pay.

Second, I would recommend that you read “Training and Racing with a Power Meter” by Hunter Allen and Andrew Coggan because a lot of the information in the next couple parts of this series are drawn from that book.  But what I am writing here only scratches the surface of what Allen and Coggan go into in this definitive book on training with a power meter.

Functional Threshold Power

In order to get started with training with your power meter, you need to establish a fitness baseline which is based on your Functional Threshold Power (FTP).  Functional Threshold Power is defined as, according to Allen and Coggan, “the highest power that a rider can maintain in a quasi-steady state for approximately one hour without fatiguing.”

aero on a budgetThere are a number of ways to determine your FTP.  The most straight forward being doing an hour long time trial but most riders lack the discipline to complete such an effort outside of an event.  Therefore it is easier to do a 20 minute time trial as a test and do some simple calculations to find your FTP.

The Test

Since we are using FTP as a baseline for determining our fitness it is a good idea to complete this test every 4 to 6 weeks in order to track progress and recalculate training zones.  Whenever you do this test, try to repeat the conditions of your previous tests (same route, similar weather, same amount of rest, etc.).

  1. Start the testing procedure with a 20 minute warmup.  Include a couple 1 minute intervals of fast pedaling to help warm your legs up.
  2. “Open your legs” with a 5 minute all out effort followed by 10 minutes of recovery.
  3. Start the 20 minutes.  Find a road that will allow for a strong, steady effort (no interruptions like traffic junctions, relatively flat, or a steady climb).  Build your pace steadily, don’t start too hard or you’ll blow up before the end of the 20 minutes.  Find a pace that you think you can maintain through the entirety of the test, about a 7 out of 10 based on perceived effort.
  4. Cool down for at least 10 minutes after you’ve completed the 20 minute test.

Calculating FTP and Setting Training Zones

Once you have completed your 20 minute test, upload the power file to the software of your choice and find your average power for the 20 minute effort.  Take that number and subtract 5 percent from it to find your Functional Threshold Power.

Functional Threshold Power = 20 minute average power – 5%

Lets use my numbers as an example.  I used a club time trial as an opportunity to do the test.  During the 15km TT, my highest average 20 minute power was 231 watts.  5 percent of 231 (231 x 0.05) is 11.55, rounded down to 11.  Therefore, my FTP is 220 (231 – 11 = 220).

Now that you have found your FTP, you can use that number to set your training zones that will be used while training.  Once again we will use my numbers as an example.

Zone % of FTP My Zones
1. Active Recovery <55 0-123
2. Endurance 56-75 124-167
3. Tempo 76-90 168-200
4. Lactate Threshold 91-105 201-233
5. VO2 Max 106-120 234-266
6. Anaerobic Capacity 121-150 267-330
7. Neuromuscular Power 150+ (all out) 331+

Hang on to these numbers as you will be coming back to them in Part 3 of this series and through out your training.

More Testing

Once you have completed the 20 minute test in order to calculate your FTP, there are a few more tests that you can use your power meter to do in order to create a power profile.  This power profile will show your maximum power over 4 durations (5 seconds, 1 minute, 5 minute, and FTP) and can be used to identify your strengths and weaknesses as a rider.

base training vs. high intensityWe have already gone over the testing protocol for finding your FTP so now we will look at how to test your 5 second, 1 minute, and 5 minute power.  Don’t worry, these tests are very straight forward, nothing like the ones you did in school.

  1. 5 second: after a good warm up, complete a couple 15 second all out sprints from a rolling start.  Choose a gear that you can get going but wont spin out before the interval is complete.
  2. 1 minute: after a good warm up, complete a pair of 1 minute all out efforts from a rolling start.  Due to their length, there is no need to pace yourself at the start.
  3. 5 minute: after a good warm up, complete one 5 minute maximum effort.  Pace yourself at the beginning so as to not blow up and then empty the tank in the final minute.

These three tests can be done all on one ride or split between a couple rides.  They can also be done on any road but I personally find it easier to complete strong, steady efforts for the 1 and 5 minute tests on a hill since you have the added resistance of gravity.

Once you have completed the tests, upload the power file from the ride to your software of choice and find your highest average powers for 5 seconds, 1 minute, and 5 minutes.  Once you have these numbers, we want to determine your power-to-weight ratio (w/kg) for each duration so that you can start comparing yourself with other riders.

Power-to-weight (w/kg) = power (w) / weight (kg)

As an example, we will once again use my numbers which I gathered from tests performed in two separate rides on back-to-back days.

Duration Average Power w/kg @ 94kg
5 seconds 795 8.46
1 minute 450 4.78
5 minute 280 2.98
FTP 220 2.34

Now that you have your power profile, you can take these numbers and find where you rank compared to other cyclists on the below chart.  Its great to see how you stack up but this chart is also very useful for identifying your strengths and weaknesses.

So how do your numbers stack up when compared to other cyclists?  What are your strengths and weaknesses?  Personally, I discovered that I have a lot of work to do if I want to be a competitive cyclist but my races have already shown me that.  Also, it showed me that my strength is time trialing while sprinting is a big weakness since my 5 minute and FTP numbers are much higher than my 5 second and 1 minute numbers.


We have now calculated our FTP, determined our training zones and have identified some of our strengths and weaknesses.  In Part 3 of a Beginner’s Journey to Power Meter Training and Racing, we will take the information we gathered in this part and apply it to our training.  In the meantime, keep riding and using your power meter, try to get a feel for the efforts associated with each training zone.

Thanks once again to Stages Cycling for supporting this series by providing a power meter for me to use!

Beginner’s Journey to Power Meter Training and Racing: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

Please like & share: