No race on television goes by without the commentators talking about power. More and more training plans are based on power. Maybe your training buddy just bought a new power meter. As a cyclist you can’t ignore it, these days it’s all about power in cycling and often in the same sentence FTP. Why do you need power (and therefore a power meter)? In this article you will learn more about the advantages of training with a power meter and knowing your FTP.
Training load monitoring
A power meter is simply the best way to determine the training load.
There was a time when athletes and cyclists wanted to monitor their training load, they started to do so in speed (km/h) and/or in time. But as you probably know, your speed is influenced by wind, temperature, altitude etc. So speed is not the best way to analyze a training session or to monitor the training load.
The heart rate monitor was introduced in the 1970s and 1980s. A beautiful development, the environment and circumstances have a much lesser influence. By measuring the heart rate, they thought they could measure exactly how hard your body actually works. But the knowledge about training grew and the heart rate turned out to be very variable. Your heart rate is influenced by factors such as temperature, altitude, stress, fatigue and day to day variation. Drinking a cup of coffee can boost your heart rate, while training doesn’t get any harder. So the heart rate as a valid and reliable way to measure training load was quickly questioned.
As a result, they started looking for another way to determine the training load. If the heart rate had proved to be a valid and reliable way, the power meter would probably never have been invented. The power meter was introduced in the early 1990s. Lance Armstrong was one of the first professional cyclists to use a power meter to monitor his training load.
What is power anyway? In mechanics, the formula is power: Power = Force x Speed (P=F*v). This means on a bike; the force on your pedals multiplied by the distance your pedals cover (to be displayed in cadence). Power is a direct measure of your output, which is not influenced by external factors. Power instead of heart rate is also capable of monitoring improvement. As you improve, power will improve over a certain time interval. This is not possible if you use speed or heart rate, your heart rate and speed could be the same while delivering more power.
Functional Threshold Power
So with power, we can finally see what you’re really doing. In order to have a picture of how heavy a certain ability is for you personally or to be able to apply a training schedule, we use training zones. There are different ways to classify the power zones. In the Cyclinglab we use eight zones based on your FTP. Your FTP can be determined by doing an exercise test. An exercise test shows you what you are good at and what you are less good at and can give you insight into your aerobic and anaerobic threshold. A slightly less accurate way to determine your FTP is a 20 minute test which you can do yourself (for example on the Tacx). This is actually a time trial of 20 minutes after a good warm-up. 95% of the average power over those 20 minutes is a good estimation of your FTP.
Often power is divided by your weight, so you get a relative power in watts per kilogram. This is a good way to let the role of your weight play, which certainly plays an important role. For a sprint, on the other hand, it’s the absolute power that counts!
Nowadays you can find cheaper and cheaper power meters. The most reliable power meters are power meters in your bottom bracket or in advanced smarttrainers. Most power meters promise a maximum deviation of + / – 2%, with the smarttrainers this is only + / – 1%. Power meters can also be located on the crank or in pedals and when power is measured on both sides they can show the balance between right and left. Some power meters only measure left, a cheaper alternative, but not the most reliable.
Power zones on percentage FTP:
How to get better?
Getting better is all about timing. There are actually not good or bad workouts. There is only a bad combination or the wrong workout on the wrong time. The path of progression is therefore a training plan with the right training stimulus according to your level, goal and available time. To help you with that we developed an algorithm in the JOIN Cycling application. It provides you with a highly flexible training plan to makes sure you get the most out of your rides. You can download JOIN in the App Store and Play store. Or check this page for more info.