How To Use A Power Meter To Test Your Fitness Levels


In the past, road cycling was a sport where
it was quite difficult to quantify changes in fitness, unless you were simply comparing
yourself to your peers in training or racing. It’s not like athletics or swimming where
you’re generally doing set distances under the same conditions. However that all changed
with the invention of power meters. We are now able to quantify changes in fitness over
time out on the road without needing to go into a specific sports science laboratory. They
are starting to come down in price but they are a luxury item, still relatively expensive,
but if you’re lucky enough to own one, here is GCN’s basic guide on how to get started with a power
meter. Today I’m lucky enough to be using a pair
of the brand new Garmin Vector pedals, which have just come on the market. They’re of similar
accuracy to the other power metres that are on the market at the moment, the likes of
SRM, PowerTap or Quarq. I’ve got a Garmin 810 HED unit which is going to record all
of the data that we get from today’s ride. I’m going to do four tests today. Normally
you’d do these tests over two separate days because if you do them all properly, they’re
too hard to do on one training ride. But the first thing I’m going to do is a sprint test
– a couple of 10 second efforts to find out what my maximum power is. Think of the likes
of Mark Cavendish when he goes towards the line in the last 200 metres. The next test
is a one minute climb, again the sort of effort that somebody might make on a short, sharp
climb towards the end of a stage, or perhaps a kilometre sprinter on the track. Next we’re
going to do a VO2 max test of around about 5 minutes, which is the sort of effort that
an individual pursuiter might make on the track, or somebody like Philippe Gilbert on
one of the climbs in the Ardennes classics. Finally we’re going to do a threshold test.
It’s going to be 20 minutes long, one of the hardest things that you can do. Think of the
likes of Chris Froome on the climbs, or Tony Martin in a time trial. The first test that we’re going to do is the
sprint test. I normally try and do 3 of these for a test, that way I’ll find on one of them
that I’ve got the absolute maximum out of myself, and the aim of this test is to find
out what our maximum 5 second power is. In terms of where you want to do it: I
tend to find that the end of a downhill is good, if you can find a downhill which runs
off onto the flat, you can get some good speed up, 30mph, 50km/h plus, that way you’ll have
to put out your maximum power just to keep that speed going. If you do it from a slower
start, then after 2 or 3 seconds you’re going to find that you’ll spin the gear out and
you’ll need to change up, and that will effect your peak 5 second value. Let’s go and do
a couple now. OK, next up we’re going to do the one minute
test. Now for this one you want to find a climb which is of course going to take at
least 60 seconds from the bottom to where you finish, but also that it’s on a steady
gradient so that you’re not having to change gears and lose power on the way up. Like the
sprint, there’s no need to pace this one, you just want to get an explosive start and
keep going as hard as possible until the 60 seconds up. And also like the sprint,
there’s no need to watch your power metre on the way up, you just want to make sure
you’ve got everything out of yourself by the time that time is up. Well I think I can safely say that I got everything
out of myself, and you want to get that one right first time, because it’s not something
you want to repeat twice on the same ride. OK, now we’re ready to start the 5 minute
test. Like the 1 minute one, if you’ve got a climb of 5 minutes in duration on a steady gradient
that would be absolutely perfect. But if you haven’t, do it on a straight, flat road without
any junctions and not too much traffic. Unlike the first 2 tests, this one does need to be
paced – if you start off too hard in that first 30 seconds or 1 minute you’re really
going to pay for it over the 2nd half. If you’ve got no idea what power you’re going
to average, then I would suggest that at the end of the first minute you should be feeling
uncomfortable but by no means near your limit. That way after 2 minutes or so, your brain
will have caught up with what your body’s been doing and then you can feel free to go at
your absolute maximum from that point on. Well that was equally as excruciating as the
1 minute one. But if you pace things well, over that last minute of the 5 minute test,
you should be able to do roughly the same power that you’ve been doing for the first
half of it. But, as I said, it will be excruciating. OK, last test of the day and it’s the 20 minute
one which we’re going to use to calculate our FTP – Functional Threshold Power – which
is defined as the maximum that somebody can do for 60 minutes in duration. We’re going
to take the result from the 20 minute test, take 5% off and that’s going to give us a
great indication. Again, if you’ve got a 20 minute climb that’s absolutely perfect. If
you haven’t, try and find a road with a minimal number of junctions, no traffic lights and
no downhills preferably, so you can get that power down consistently for the entire duration
of the test. Now this is the one where it’s most important to pace yourself. If you’re
on your limit after 2 or even 4 minutes, then you’re going to start dying and you’ve got a long
time for which to suffer. Ideally after 5 minutes it should be feeling hard
but not too uncomfortable, then once you get over the halfway point of 10 minutes, that’s
when it should start to feel really difficult. I’d forgotten how hard those were. That’s
exactly why, when you do these tests, especially on the longer ones, you need to be really
fresh and motivated just to be able to get everything out of yourself. I’ll see you in
a minute. Well with all the tests completed, I feel
suitably shattered. But as I said at the start of the video, it’s best not to do them all
on the same day because you won’t get the maximum out of yourself. I would suggest doing
the sprint and the 5 minute test on one day and on a separate day doing the 1 minute and
20 minute tests, giving yourself adequate recovery between each. Once you’ve got those
test results, what do you do with them? Well I’m afraid that’s a huge subject which we
will get round to covering in future videos, but in the meantime there is a lot of information
out there on the internet and also in books. Really, you just need to be logical. If you’re
a sprinter, then you might want to concentrate on doing the shorter efforts, but bear in
mind that in order to use your sprint at the end of the race, you’re going to have to have
an adequately high functional threshold power. Likewise if you’re a time-trialist or somebody
who focusses on sportives with long mountains, a sprint is not really going to do too much
for you, so you might want to concentrate more on improving your functional threshold power.
Whatever your goals though, if you do these tests, one or all of them regularly, every
6 to 8 weeks, you’ll make sure that everything is going in the right direction.

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