In the first article of this series, I discussed training load to help you determine if you are training hard enough using TSS. In my second article, I discussed how do I set up your training zones so that you can start training with power zones. In this article, I’ll be discussing how to benchmark and measure your power data so that you can get feedback on how well your training is going. I’ll also be covering off the type of training to focus on, based on your cycling discipline so that you can be more efficient with your training using power.


Measuring your performance.

There is a saying that goes something like “if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”  If you are a competitive cyclist, you’ll probably be looking for ways to help you find out if you are improving or not. Strava has a tool that helps you track your personal records on your ride segments. It’s great because you quickly find out if you are getting better or not. It’s a simple but powerful tool. For many, checking Strava segment times is one of the main things they look forward to after a hard ride. It’s very motivating when you see a heap of PB’s on your latest ride, and this helps build motivation and confidence.

But, one of the main issues with the Strava segments is that they don’t consider the external environmental factors. You could post a faster time on a Strava segment because you had a massive tailwind on that particular day. Same thing if you sit on the back of a fast-moving bunch. These external factors affect flat segments more than they do hill segments. So, if you want to set a benchmark segment in Strava, it’s best to use a local hill climb that’s sheltered from the wind rather than a flat segment.

Training with power is much better at removing the influence of the external environmental factors and gives you a more accurate way of measuring your performance improvement. It also takes this basic principle of measuring performance to a much greater level of detail. Power meters are influenced by temperature and need to be frequently calibrated to ensure that they measure accurately. But they are by far the most accurate way to measure your cycling performance. That’s why they are the current gold standard in measuring performance.

Key power data metrics to measure and track

While TSS, CTL, ATL, TSB and IF provide a measure of training load, mean maximal power, peak maximal power and watts per kilogram measurements provide insight into the performance improvements of my athletes. Here are the basic metrics to monitor:

Mean maximal power: is the measurement of how much average power an athlete can produce over a given period. While FTP is the measurement of an athlete’s mean maximal power over sixty minutes, there is a great insight into performance gains that can be made from measuring and tracking the athlete’s mean maximal power figures for 1, 2, 5, 10 and 20 minutes as well.

Peak maximal power: is the measurement of the maximal power number that an athlete can produce instantaneously.  It’s a good indicator of how good a sprinter they are. When I’m working with my athletes to improve their sprint, I’m watching their peak maximal power and 5 and 30 second mean maximal power figures.

Watts per kilogram (W/kg): is worked out from the athlete’s FTP and is an indicator of how well they climb. It’s calculated by dividing their FTP number by their weight in kilograms. The bigger the number the faster they will climb a hill. Ideally, you’ll want to be as light as possible in weight but at the same time produce the highest amount of power. Power to weight is important because you need to produce an extra 3-5 watts for every additional kilogram of weight you carry up a hill. For example, if two athletes were climbing a hill and the first athlete weighed 60kg and the second athlete weighed 80kg then the second athlete would have to produce between 60 and 100 additional watts just to keep up with the first rider.

I also like to calculate out watts per kilogram for 5 seconds, 1 , 5, and 60 minutes. These are used to work out what power profile category you fall into. There are four main profiles, allrounder, sprinter, time trialist/hill climber or pursuiter. To calculate your W/kg for these figures you take your mean maximal power figures and divide them by your current weight. For example, if your mean maximal power number for 5 minutes was 327 watts and you weigh 67 kg, then your 5 minute W/kg would be 327 divided by 67 kg which equals a 5 minute W/kg of 4.88.


In my second article, I mentioned that I refer to my client’s last 60 – 90 days of data to calculate their benchmark numbers and then monitor their progress rather than getting my clients to do one-off FTP tests. I do this as it’s more accurate.

The different zones and how they affect performance

I use the power zones to break up the training sessions into workouts that specifically address the building of fitness based on what the athlete’s goals are.

For endurance athletes, I recommend that on average you spend 80% of your training in E1 and the rest of it in the E3-NEU zones. How you split your training up between the E3-NEU zones is determined by the phase of training that you are in and the desired training outcome that you want.

The main phases of training are transition, base, build, taper/peak and race.  I’ve placed a recap of the power zones here. You can check out my second article that discusses how to work these out.

Power zones:

Description Intensity Code Percentage of Threshold Power
Neuromuscular Power Maximal – can’t speak NEU 151 %
Anaerobic Capacity Maximal – can’t speak ANC 121-150 %
VO2max Very hard – can’t speak VO2MAX 106-120 %
Lactate Threshold Hard – difficult to speak at all E3 91-105 %
Tempo Moderate – talk in short sentences E2 76-90 %
Endurance Easily able to carry a conversation E1 56-75 %

How training programs are structured is up to the individual, their coach and the outcomes they are looking for with their training. The following table describes my general guidelines for the zone weighting during each training block broken down by discipline.

Zone weighting
Phase Audax and Ultra Endurance Events Gran Fondos Road Racing Criterium Racing Time Trial
Transition E1 E1 E1 E1 E1
Base E1, E3 E1, E3 E1, E3 E1, E3 E1, E3
Build E3 E3, VO2MAX E3, VO2MAX E3, VO2MAX E3, VO2MAX

Here are my general recommended guidelines for training focus and the zones based on various disciplines. Note that these are influenced by the phase of training you are in.

Discipline Areas of performance to focus on ~ 20% Primary Training Zones ~ 20% Secondary Training Zones
Audax and ultra-endurance events endurance E3
Hilly gran fondos hill climbing strength, speed and endurance E3 VO2MAX
Flat gran fondos endurance and speed E3 VO2MAX
Hilly road racing hill climbing strength, speed, explosive power, lactate buffering and endurance E3, VO2MAX ANC, NEU
Flat road racing speed, explosive power, lactate buffering and endurance E3, VO2MAX ANC, NEU
Criterium racing explosive power, lactate buffering and speed ANC, NEU VO2MAX
Time trialling sustained threshold power VO2MAX E3, ANC

I combine the guidelines of these two matrices together to build out the training programs for my clients.

Building out your training program workouts

Once you have worked out your benchmark power numbers, you can determine your strengths and weaknesses and then modify your training to focus on improving the areas of your performance that you want to address.

You then track your progress and tune your training based on the feedback that is provided when you review power numbers on a weekly basis.  The great thing about power is that you can dial into your performance numbers in far greater detail than using Strava or heart rate and get a better idea of how your performance is improving.

When building your workouts to develop specific strengths and weaknesses, I recommend using these guidelines for the interval length and cadence.

Zones Cadence Interval duration Mainly Improves
Aerobic base and endurance REC & E1 70-110 rpm on the flat or above 70 rpm where gearing permits on hills 30 minutes to 6 hours Mean maximal power figures 20 and 60 minutes
Hill climbing strength E3 40-70 rpm 10 to 30 minutes Mean maximal power figures for 5, 10, 20 and 60 minutes
Speed VO2MAX 70-150 rpm 3 to 8 minutes Mean maximal power figures for 2, 5, 10, 20 and 60 minutes
Time trialling The crossover between E3 and VO2MAX Personal optimized time trial cadence Mixed between 3 to 8 minutes and duration of time trial event Mean maximal power figures of duration of time trial event
Lactate buffering ANC 70-150 rpm 30 seconds to three minutes Mean maximal power figures for 1, 2 and 5 minutes
Explosive power NEU 80+ rpm less than 30 seconds Peak maximum power and mean maximal power figures for 1, 2

Aerobic base and endurance – this is the volume in the training program. It’s mainly done in REC and E1 zones. Aerobic base is built slowly and lost slowly. That’s why you can build on your fitness year on year. It’s the foundation on which all other training is built.

Hill climbing strength – this is done at lower cadences to build leg strength required for climbing. While the general interval length is 10 to 30 minutes, this may need to be increased for events that require longer climbs. Done in E3 with an emphasis on technique.  Strength training is like aerobic base training; it’s built slowly and lost slowly. Cadence is determined by the gradient and duration of the climb. Take caution in spending too much time in a low cadence.

Speed – is developed quickly and lost quickly. That is why we develop it in the later phases of the training program. The level of speed lift you’ll get is based on the amount of endurance and strength training you have done earlier on in the season. Done in VO2MAX at normal riding cadences.

Time trialling – this is specialized training designed to maximise power output for the duration of your specific event. Intervals are done at your personal optimized time trial cadence which will be between 85 and 100 rpm. They are done after a phase of hill climbing strength training in the time trial position and try to replicate the conditions of the time trial. Done at threshold which should be the crossover between E3 and VO2MAX for time trials longer than eight minutes.  Intervals are mixed between 3 to 8 minutes and the duration of the time trial event, usually with a full three to five minute recovery in between. Again, performance is developed quickly and lost quickly

Lactate buffering – is required for frequent short surges like that experienced in fast bunch rides and Criteriums. It’s required for bridging gaps formed by breakaway groups. The training for this is done in the ANC zone with short, punchy intervals and minimal recovery in between. Like speed, it’s developed quickly and lost quickly and is based on the amount of endurance and strength work you have done earlier on in the season.

Explosive power – required for sprinting and explosive surges to initiate a break away in a race. It is built on top of shorter hill climbing strength training done earlier on in your training. Intervals are less than 30 seconds with a focus on explosiveness. Depending on the outcome they may have short rest cycles to improve lactate buffering or longer rest cycles up to five minutes for complete recovery and maximal strength. Cadence is determined by the phase you are in and the outcome you want.

There are many ways to structure your training program, and there is no one perfect way that will work for everyone. While many people think that they just need to do one thing that will massively improve their cycling performance it’s not that simple. I hope that you now understand that’s it a process of blending many factors into your daily workout to build up your monthly and yearly cycles of training. In doing so, it enables you to get the best results.

Final Words

The power meter, if used properly, becomes a powerful tool to provide feedback on how successful your training is and will give you great insight into what’s working and what’s not working with your training so that you can quickly correct and maximise your training time.

I hope that you have enjoyed the series as much as I have in putting it together. In these articles, I’ve only glossed over the fundamentals of training with power, but I hope that it provides you with a basic understanding so that you can get the best out of your power meter.

Other articles of interest:

Slow Down To Speed Up Your Hill Climbing – Cycle Up Hills Fast

Difference Between Training with Heart Rate and Power

How To Work Out Your Cycling Heart Rate Zones

What Does Your Resting Heart Rate Mean?

Heart Rate and Performance Parameters in Elite Cyclists

Cyclist’s Survival Kit – Don’t Leave Home Without It

Hill Climbing Tips: Get Low To Climb Hills Faster

How To Improve Your Cycling VO2MAX