How to Use a Power Meter to Help Fix Your Cycling Weaknesses

“Train your weaknesses, race your strengths” should be your cycling mantra. With the use of a power meter, you can effectively target your weak areas, then roll into a more balanced program. Here’s how.

Start by getting familiar with your power curve, the visual plot of your best efforts over different time periods. The slope of the curve, plus information you already know about yourself as a rider, can help you determine the best place to start the improvement process.

Below are three common athlete types with info on how to identify which one you are both practically, through riding behavior, and through observing your power curve. Once you’ve figured out the diagnosis, it’s time to tailor your riding so you can come out ahead of the pack.

Fast fader

The symptoms: You may try not to start out too fast, but you almost can’t help it because it feels so easy. Inevitably, though, you always end up fading before the finish. You can drop training partners on a long 3- to 8-minute stretch during a ride but by the end, they’re a ZIP code ahead of you.

When you plot your power curve your five-minute power is high, but it then slopes off sharply in comparison at time periods any longer than that.

The diagnosis: These riders have a lot of fast-twitch fibers and a high VO2 max, but fade fast. A high VO2 can make the appropriate effort feel too easy, so going too hard is an easy trap to fall into. Fast-twitch fibers have two subtypes, 2A and 2B. The characteristics of subtype 2A can be altered to behave more like slow-twitch fibers through more endurance work, so that’s what you’re going to do.

The workout:
After a 15- to 30-minute warm-up at about 60 percent with a few high-cadence spin-ups and 30 seconds on/off efforts, try the following main sets:

Three-hour ride, with the last hour including 2×20 minutes at around 90 percent on 5 minutes recovery

90-minute ride with 1×45 seconds at 85 seconds + 5 seconds as hard as you can go to prep your legs for the main set of 3×10 minutes just about all-out with 5 minutes of recovery in between

One-gear wonder

The symptoms: You struggle to break out of Ironman speed during shorter races. When looking at your power profile you’ll see a nearly flat curve with very little drop-off toward the right side after 60 minutes.

The diagnosis: One-speed athletes typically have a high preponderance of slow-twitch fibers and great endurance, which is helpful for longer races. But to increase performance in shorter distances (which will then trickle down to longer distances) you need to improve your top-end speed.

The workout:
After a 15- to 30-minute warm-up at about 60 percent with a few high-cadence spin-ups and 30 seconds on/off efforts, try the following main sets:

6×3 minutes all out on 3 minutes recovery

5×4 minutes all out on 4 minutes recovery

All-rounder

The symptoms: These athletes adapt well to any type of training whether it’s sprints, steady state, or longer efforts, but tend to have trouble kicking butt at any one of them. Your power curve is even and steady, putting you near the middle for all time ranges.

The diagnosis: Being an all-rounder is great in some ways because you have no glaring weaknesses to fix. But if that desire to be excellent at one thing is nagging you, read on.

The workout:
Determine the demands of your A priority race then tailor your training to match. Hilly courses require strength, so use hill repeats and big-gear efforts to work on leg and back strength. Sprint- and Olympic-distance events require a high level of intensity, so start with short intervals of 3 to 6 minutes done at or harder than 90 percent, and add more time and efforts as you progress.

Half and full Ironman races place a high demand on your aerobic capacity and pacing. Long rides done at a steady pace should be the majority of your training.

How to Test Your Functional Threshold Power

As a triathlete, the most important test you’ll perform is a functional threshold power (FTP) test. FTP is the maximum power you can sustain for one hour. Think of VO2 power as the upper limit of aerobic energy production and FTP as a percentage of that limit you can sustain.

Testing your FTP does several important things for your training. Most importantly, it allows you to properly set your training zones. Second, it can be used to create the best pacing strategy for a race. Third, it sets the benchmark for your fitness so you can measure your gains. Testing should be performed every six to eight weeks in order to keep your zones up to date. Here is the protocol to test FTP as outlined by Hunter Allen and Andrew Coggan, Ph.D. in Training and Racing with a Power Meter.

20 minutes at your Endurance Pace
3×1 minute fast pedaling with 1 min recovery
5 minutes easy pedal
5 minutes all-out effort
10 minutes easy riding
20 minutes time trial at max sustainable effort
10- to 15-minute cool-down

Take 5 percent off your 20-minute time trial to estimate functional threshold power.