7 Steps to Get Started Training With a Power Meter

Now that you have got your brand new power meter and GPS Bike computer, take a look at the 7 Steps to Get Started Training With a Power Meter.

These are the steps I followed to get started when I got my 4iiii power meter. You may find them helpful if you are new to power meters.

Note: This post is part 3 of 5 of a series on how to start training with a power meter. If you came here as a result of a web search, make sure to go the starting post to take full advantage of the series. If you have not done so yet, please read the section About Training with Power, where we explain our approach to sharing the Training information in this website. Thank you

FIRST, SOME DEFINITIONS: FREQUENCY, DURATION, INTENSITY AND LOAD

There are 3 aspects that build up a training program: frequency, duration and intensity.

  • Frequency: How often you train, normally based on days per week, days per month and days a year.
  • Duration: How long a training session lasts, usually in hours
  • Intensity: How hard is the effort applied in a training session.
  • Load: The combination of Intensity and time or how hard you trained for how long.

 

Power meters are used to measure Intensity based on the amount of power you apply to the pedals during a training session. Power in this application is measured in watts.

It will also allow to have accurate calculations on the load of a training session.

THE LAP BUTTON IN YOUR GPS BIKE COMPUTER, YOUR FRIEND FOR USING YOUR POWER METER

In order to perform the tests described below you will use your device’s lap button. While on a ride, by pressing the Lap button you create data subsets that can be isolated from the overall data so that you can analyze just that segment of the ride. You press the Lap button at the start of the subset and press again to finish it. It will be used to identify the start/end of the testing intervals.

 

Now, let’s go to the 7 Steps to Get Started Training With a Power Meter.

STEP 1. LINK YOUR POWER METER TO YOUR BIKE COMPUTER

Make sure you have linked your power meter to your computer. The method varies with the brand of both the computer and the power meter but it is a really simple process. The steps below require the devices to be connected.

STEP 2. POWER METER CALIBRATION

Power meters shall be calibrated often, maybe every ride. It is a very simple process and varies with the Power Meter Brand and the GPS Bike computer. Find out how to do it for your devices and do it regularly.  These images show how it is done with the Garmin Edge 530 computer and the 4iiii power meter:

The computer prompts to calibrate the power meter, enter yes

Select Calibrate

Make sure you are not stepping up on the pedals and that the power meter in in the correct calibration position per the manufacturer´s instructions (vertical pointing down in my case). Press Calibrate, the process begins

When finished, the calibration confirmation screen shows

If there is a calibration error message, repeat the process.

STEP 3. FIND YOUR FTP

FTP, which stands for Functional Threshold Power is the starting point to develop a power based training program. It is defined as the highest average power you can sustain for one hour.

Once your FTP is found, it is used to establish the training zones you will use as guides to improve your fitness.

There are several methods to obtain your FTP, all of which have advantages and disadvantages.

Disclaimer: Finding your FTP is a very strenuous process. It is physically demanding, regardless of the method used. Make sure you are in good physical condition to perform it. You do it at your own risk.

 

Method 1. The 60 minutes time trial.

Based on the FTP definition, this method consists of riding steadily (that is without sudden ups/downs on efforts) for 60 minutes as hard as you can go. At the end, the average power you sustained for the duration of the test is your FTP.

This method provides the most accurate FTP value but is really hard to do. Going as hard as you can go for an hour implies finding a suitable road that would allow to ride without interruptions or preferably do it indoors where there is more control of the environment and less chance of distractions or interruptions.

My understanding is that very few people use this method.

 

Method 2. The 20 minutes time trial.

This method consists on riding steadily (that is without sudden ups/downs on efforts) as hard as you can go for 20 minutes and then multiply the resulting average power by 0.95 to get an estimate of the true FTP.

This seems to be the most known and used test method. It is not as exhaustive as the 60 minute method and provides a reliable FTP value.

 

Method 3.  The 8 minute test.

In this test you ride steadily as hard as you can go for 8 minutes, then recover for 10 minutes and repeat the 8 minute hard steady effort. In order to calculate your FTP from this method get the overall average power of the 2 efforts and multiply it by 0.90.

It is possible that your GPS Bike computer includes planned workouts for FTP testing that you can follow.

When I first started with my power meter, I used the third method. This is the protocol I followed:

  1. I used and indoor trainer to have a better control
  2. Warm up for 20 minutes.
  3. First 8 minute hard and steady effort. Avoid starting too hard and fading up at the end. You want to do an effort you can sustain for the 8 minutes. Do not forget to press your device’s Lap button both at the start and end of the 8 minutes so that you get the results.
  4. Ride for 10 minutes at a very low effort.
  5. Repeat the 8 minutes hard and steady effort. As in the first run, do not forget to press the Lap button at the start and end of the interval.
  6. Cool down for at least 15 minutes with a very easy effort.
  7. Check the results for the 2 intervals and calculate the FTP

Once you know your FTP it is time to obtain your training zones.

 

STEP 4. CALCULATE YOUR POWER BASED TRAINING ZONES

The training zones are ranges of power values that you will apply to improve your fitness by controlling the intensity of your workouts and are derived from your FTP value.

In the book Training and Racing with a Power Meter the authors define 7 zones as follows:

  • Zone 1: Very easy rides targeting active recovery.
  • Zone 2: Long moderate rides to improve endurance.
  • Zone 3: Long higher intensity rides for faster endurance rides. Also known as tempo.
  • Zone 4: Lactate threshold rides. High intensity rides to increase the FTP value.
  • Zone 5: VO2 max. Improve power for short intense sprints.
  • Zone 6: Anaerobic capacity. High Intensity Interval Training. Short all out efforts.
  • Zone 7: Neuromuscular power. High Intensity Interval Training. Short all out efforts

Your GPS Bike Computer companion app can do the calculations for you as soon as you enter the FTP value in your settings or if they have built-in test protocols, the FTP value will be automatically updated and the zones calculated.

This image shows the zones calculated by the Wahoo Elemnt APP for an FTP value of 212:

And these are the from the Gamin Connect app for the same FTP

STEP 5. CONFIGURE YOUR GPS BIKE COMPUTER TO SHOW POWER SPECIFIC FIELDS FOR TRAINING

You can setup different data fields in the GPS Bike computer and there are a handful that are Power specific related fields that you should use to gauge your training session.

To begin, and while you get more experience with power training, I would suggest using the following ones:

3 second power: As you will notice when you start seeing power values, they jump around a lot making it hard to see steady values. The 3 second power data field shows the average power of the last 3 seconds, smoothening the reading a bit. Though I have this field activated in my data screen, I rarely really use it.

Power Zone: For training purposes, this field is better. It will show in which of the calculated power zones you are riding at. If, for example your training program indicates that you should do a 20-minute Zone 2 Endurance ride, all you have to do is check that this field shows you are in zone 2 for the prescribed time. Easier than checking whether your direct power reading is within certain values.

Left/Right Power balance: If you have a dual sided power meter, this field will let you know which is your stronger leg and allow to improve your pedaling technique

STEP 6. GO OUT AND DO YOUR FIRST RIDE AND GAUGE HOW POWER FEELS

Get out and ride to start knowing how it feels to train with power metrics. Do some testing to get an idea of what the data is telling you. For example:

  1. Start your ride as usual. When you warm up, what zones is your device showing? Are you warming up in Zone 2 or Zone 5?
  2. Go to a flat section of road and notice the power values you are getting. Ride it slowly, then mid paced and finally as fast as you can. What zones are you riding in and how does it feel? Is there a difference in power riding a paved vs an unpaved one?
  3. Go to that dreaded uphill and ride it. How much power do you need to get up? How does your heart rate relate to the power you are applying? Ride it slowly, ride it fast. What power values do you see and how do they feel?
  4. Do a short, all-out sprint. How high power were you able to achieve? After you finish the sprint, notice what happens with power and heart rate.
  5. If you have a dual sided power meter, give a look at the Left/Right Power Balance to identify your stronger leg.

These small experiments will help you to get familiar with the information that a power meter provides that would eventually help you improve your fitness.

Once you are done and upon pressing the stop button, your ride data will be stored and you can do a post ride review.

STEP 7. POST RIDE DATA REVIEW, WHAT IS YOUR POWER METER TELLING YOU?

Post ride data may be reviewed in the head unit as soon as the stop button is pressed as well as in the companion app that may display more information than the head unit. Several power related fields will show and they may vary from app to app.

Some of these fields are:

Average power: The average of all the power outputs that you applied during the ride.

Max Power: the maximum power applied in the session.

L/R Balance: if you have a dual sided power meter, this field will tell you which of your legs applied mor power.

Normalized Power (NP). This is a very important metric you should know of. It calculates the equivalent amount of power that you would have applied consistently if there were no variations in the ride. It is usually higher than the average power.

Intensity Factor (IF): measures how intense your session was compared to your FTP. It is the result of dividing the Normalized Power by the FTP. Larger values mean more intense training.  As a reference value the 60-minute FTP test produced an IF=1.

  • IF less than 0.75 means an easy ride
  • IF between 0.75 and 0.85 represents a moderate endurance ride
  • IF between 0.85 and 0.95 represents a high effort endurance ride known as Tempo
  • IF between 0.95 and 1.05 represents a lactate threshold ride to increase FTP
  • IF Higher that 1.05: fast sprints, short fast races.

Training Stress Score (TSS): ¿remember we mentioned the concept of Load in the definitions above? Well, this is a metric that combines the intensity of a ride with the duration of the session resulting in a metric to assess the load or stress your body was subject to. As a reference value, the 60-minute FTP test has a TSS value of 100. It is derived from the NP, IF and FTP values as well as the elapsed time of the session.

This metric allows to have accurate comparisons between training sessions and is the foundation to measure training progress.

Work: The quantity of energy used in the training session expressed in kilo Joules.

Besides the metrics, some graphs are also shown.

The Power Over Time shows how power was applied along the ride

The Time in Power Zone graph may be used to verify whether you accomplished your targeted training intensities

 

FINAL COMMENTS

These are 7 Steps to Get Started Training With a Power Meter. Now that you know your training zones and what part of fitness they target, it is time to gather data for a few days so that strengths and weaknesses may be identified.

A heart Rate monitor is a great complement to a power meter. If possible, use them together and learn the relationships among the data both of them provide. In the long them you should be able to apply greater power at reduced heart rates.

 

 

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