How to Start Training with Power


So you’ve bought one of those fancy training devices, installed it ever so carefully on your bike, figured out how to toggle between two buttons and four screens while riding one-handed at 25 m.p.h.,—but what the heck do you actually do with all those numbers?

Well, the answer is, lots of things. Let’s take each of those items and break them down so that you can get the biggest bang for your “training” buck so to speak.

First and foremost, you need to start some formal testing with it. The very first test you should do is a test in which you just start to find out how the thing works and establish your “fitness baseline.” I call this test your “monthly test,” as you should be doing this once a month in order to track changes in your fitness and make assessments and changes to your training program based on the results of the test.

The Monthly Test:

  1. 20-minute warm-up, which is just riding along at a moderate pace, about 65 percent of your max HR.
  2. Then do three fast pedaling efforts for 100 rpm for one minute each with one minute easy spinning between each.
  3. Then 3 minutes easy.
  4. Then Go for it – (1) 5 minute all out. Punch it and hold it! Make sure that you start at a high pace, but not so high that you die at the end. You should have a little in reserve to kick it to the finish line in the last minute.
  5. Then 10 minutes easy.
  6. Then three, 30-second “super sprints.” Jump as hard as you can and then sprint like crazy for 30 seconds. REST 3 minutes between each. WAY EASY!
  7. Then time for three, 1-minute all out efforts. REST for at least 4-5 minutes between each.
  8. Finish the ride and cool down.

Again, you are trying to produce the most average watts over the entire period. It’s not a good test, if you go out too hard and then just explode and limp home … cool down, and then download the data!

You need to do a separate test on another day for a solid 20-minute effort as hard as you can go. Same warm-up as above, including the fast pedaling intervals, but now just do the 20-minute time trial.

What these tests do is gather some information about your fitness in different time periods. Because, although you may think you are fit for that upcoming time trial, you may test very poorly in the 20-minute test, in relation to the five-minute test. So, from that info, you can change and tailor your workouts, but more about that later. This test also is your first test with a power meter and there is a little learning curve, so it’s nice to have a test from the beginning that isn’t too involved and you can get an idea of how to pace yourself better for upcoming future tests.

Once you have the data from the test, make sure to “pull” it out of the software, so that you can put it into an Excel Spreadsheet for each time interval. This will be your baseline against which you will be testing each month.

So now that you have done the “Monthly Test,”  you can start training with power, and not so much HR anymore. Based on your 20-minute test, you should have a good idea of your lactate threshold wattage, and from there you can calculate your power zones using the built-in Zone Calculator within (look on the “Zones” page under the “Account Settings”).

Establish Optimal Cadence

These are more tests that are designed to help you figure out what is your optimal cadence over different time periods. You see, not everyone is meant to spin a fast gear like Lance. Some of us are more efficient and produce more power for each heartbeat, in the 85-90 rpm range. Some are more efficient in the 95-100 rpm range. Which are you? That’s what we are going to figure out.

This involves a series of three tests. The first test is a self-selected test and you’ve already done it! That baseline test was also the first cadence test! You did the test protocol in the cadence that felt right to you. That’s all that matters. You did your best in the gear and cadence that felt like you are putting out the greatest power that you can do. This is your baseline.

Make sure to take it easy the day before, so that you do a good test. No sense in doing the test if you are sick, tired or stayed up all last night with the drinking buddies. So, be sure to do the test on a day that you are planning on being strong and psyched to go!

Now, from the basis of this first test, you need to look at the specific intervals and figure out your average cadence from each effort. Go into the TrainingPeaks WKO+ and copy the information out of the Summary window on the Journal page, after you have highlighted the significant test periods. This is really the only important thing at this point in the process.

So, once you have your average cadence for each interval, then this will help you determine the ‘restricted cadence’ of the next test. If your self-selected was 85rpm, then the next test should be a low cadence test with cadence restricted to 70rpm and below for each time interval. This means that you must set the resistance and gearing as such that you can go as hard as you possibly can, but stay under 70rpm. This will then give you a comparison to the self-selected cadence. Did you produce more power for some time intervals for the lower cadence? What about heart rate? Was your heart rate lower per watt for the self-selected? What was the power/hr ratio for this compared to your self-selected? These are things you’ll need to be asking yourself.

Now, the final test. This needs to be a high cadence test. So, go 15 rpms above the self-selected to get high cadence. Once completing this test, you can compare all three together and see at which time interval you are the most efficient. Efficiency incorporates the max watts you produced, the average watts you produced, your max heart rate and average heart rate for each time interval. For the 1-minute test, was your max HR higher for the high cadence as compared to self-selected, but the average watts were lower? So, you need to look at the whole picture when comparing the 3 tests side by side. And guess what? Some of them will be so similar that it’s a toss-up to which is better. If average watts and average HR are very similar, than I look to the max watts for a tiebreaker. If that is similar (within 15 watts), then I look to actual distance covered and see which is greater. If all are still the same, then go with what you think, but be prepared to test this time interval again in four to six weeks.

So, now you should get a clear picture (or spreadsheet) of your cadence, power and heart rate for each time interval. You should be able to now see which cadence is more efficient for 1 minute and all of the rest of the time periods. Now, you ask, why is this important? It’s important because there will be many times in a race or training ride, in which you will have a good ballpark idea of how long an interval will be. This way you can select the correct gear for the upcoming effort and know that you are maximizing your effort. Know that there is a 30 second out of the saddle burst you have to do on every lap? Know you are going to attack 100 meters before a corner and then accelerate hard for the next 2 minutes? Know you have a little rise in the road that you have to pop over? Got a 40k TT coming up? Now, you can select the right gear for each situation.

The other side of this is that you find out what your weaknesses are regarding cadence also. If your watts fall by 30-40 watts when riding in a bigger gear, than you might want to start incorporating some low cadence/high force workouts into your routine. If your watts fall by 20-30 when spinning a smaller gear, or if you know you have trouble with little accelerations, then maybe you want to incorporate some fast pedaling intervals into the equation.

By Testing your cadence you now have a baseline and a place to go. Time to start working on those weaknesses. Testing your optimal cadence now allows you to really figure out where you can improve your power output at different time levels.

How to Use Your Power Meter in Training

Make sure to set your power meter on the smallest sampling interval you can do in order to get the greatest accuracy in recording your ride. For some power meters, this limits the total time that it can record your ride, so be sure to set the recording rate on a higher rate if you are doing a longer ride. For the PowerTap™, set it on one second recording intervals if you are doing a 3 hour ride or shorter. For anything longer, set it on 2 seconds, so that you can get up to a 7 hour recording memory.

When you have your wheel circumference measured, and make sure to measure it exactly with your weight on the bike and correct tire pressure in the tire, then you are ready to go training.

The first thing you’ll notice is that your power is highly fluctuating. Andy Coggan, Ph.D., has coined the usage of the word “stochastic” to describe cycling. This means that cycling is highly variable and not quite random, but darn close. So, you spend plenty of time not pedaling, pedaling a whole lot, pedaling with a huge wattage and also just kinda noodling along. Lots of things will affect your power: wind, hills, type of rider(s) you are riding with and many more things.

So, if your power output is highly variable, then how are you going to train in some certain range of power?

Well, a lot of times, you’re not. You simply just won’t be able to hold a steady range of power on the terrain that you are riding. There will be too many external influences that won’t allow you to ride in a specified range.

However there will be plenty of times that you will be able to. In order to do this, you’ll have to plan for that and really get yourself psyched to go out and do a workout based on power. Other times, you are going to use your power meter as a retro tool, a way to view the info on your ride after the ride is over. Both are valid and should be used. Sometimes, you think you are pedaling 90rpm, but when you downloaded the data from the power meter you find that you were only pedaling 85rpm. The power meter download allows you have this retro-look.

More information on download analysis can be found here!

Training Opportunities in Which to Train Using Your Power Meter

  • Trainer- Easy to regulate your wattage as there are no external influences.
  • Flat Roads- utilizing a specific wattage protocol
  • Time Trials -Pacing tool and to select the best cadence.
  • Hill Climbs-Pacing tool and to select the best cadence.
  • Specific Intervals and training protocols.
  • “Race Winning Intervals”

Each of these have many ways in which you can use your power meter.

For a time trial, you will use it as a pacing tool, and make sure you are not exceeding a certain wattage during your time trial and therefore blowing up and losing valuable time.

For a hill climb, you will be able to push a certain number of watts in order to maintain the highest pace you can sustain in the climb. You will also be able to adjust you cadence in order to see you power go up and then also see your HR go down.

What to Look at in Your Downloads

First things first, take off as much smoothing as possible in the software program. You really need to look at the true data and not smoothed data. Get used to seeing the real data and tell all your friends how many watts you really produce and not some guesstimate based on your smoothed data.

Look at:

  • Periods of significant efforts. For example: A 15 minute interval that you did at Sub LT HR.
  • Significant fluctuations in power and count them.
  • Cadence when you have time periods of high power output.
  • How many kilojoules of energy did you put out?
  • MAX wattage, and average wattage for selected duration of interest.
  • Heart Rate at significant time periods.
  • Try to pinpoint areas of a race that have significance and look at them to see what made or broke that part of the race.
  • Look at the area of time that you got dropped and see what happened. Maybe your cadence was too low for 10 minutes before. Maybe your pedaling stroke became sloppy as you got more fatigued and your torque got too high compared to the power output.

Once again, more information on download analysis can be found here!

About the Author

Hunter Allen

Hunter is a USA Cycling Level 1 coach and former professional cyclist. He is the co-author of 'Training and Racing with a Power Meter', co-developer of TrainingPeaks WKO+ Software, and is the CEO and Founder of the Peaks Coaching Group. He specializes in coaching cyclists with power meters and is on the forefront of coaching with cycling's newest tool. You can contact Hunter directly at

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