How To Use A Power Meter To Test Your Fitness Levels

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.

74 comments on “How To Use A Power Meter To Test Your Fitness Levels

  1. Hugh Pelly Post author

    Don't have a Powermeter or the money to buy one – Still watch GCN all the way through! Keep it up lads

  2. Peter Bartley Post author

    I plan to get a stages within the next few months.  Looking forward all the more now.  However, could you tell me exactly which software/website you used upon downloading your data to be able to accurately pinpoint the values for the 4 tests you conducted?

  3. trinisuprazee Post author

    Just finished watching every "how to" video on this channel. I'm buying a Fuji Nevada 1.5 D next week and CAN'T wait to get out on the roads/trails! What a great channel

  4. Peter Bartley Post author

    Will try golden cheetah as it's free. Am on free trial of training peaks right now but not finding it so intuitive right now. Their wko software not on mac yet however v4 apparently will have.
    It would be great if you could do a longer video on training & racing with power. Layman's terms for people with kids & busy careers please!

  5. cannastar Post author

    What were Daniel's power numbers in raw terms and w/kg.

    Power meters are the bomb! Although after injury it's pretty shit seeing the numbers down and weight up….plays with the head

  6. Alex G Post author

    You forgot to mention to stay seated during anything over a sprint or your cheating.  Great video.  The tip about doing the sprint on the end of a downhill is a great tip.  

  7. Lemond75 Post author

    So what were your numbers then Dan, and how much of your Pro Tour fitness have you been able to hang onto since you retired?

  8. Moloneyer Post author

    Is there any chance you could do a review of different powermeters? Such as stages and power2max meters and so on, just because it might give people more options of which one to buy

  9. Nick Bowd Post author

    Thankyou. Being a premium member of strava has great graphing capabilities and fatigue monitoring.

  10. gilo green Post author

    dear gcn, when are you going to do a follow up video? there are a few guides on you tube and on the internet on how to use one, but a really up to date, comprehensive guide on how to use one not only for pacing on a climb but on a flat aswell would be really really handy. this video has a great foundation on how to use one and its very helpfull, thankyou

  11. mark felstead Post author

    Great video but why are profi (and ex profi Dan) cyclists so cagey about letting us Johnny normals know their values?  I would love to know the results of the five tests fron Dan even though it would probably be depressing enough!
    I have spent the last two years being regularly tested by STAPS in cologne ( Tony Martin's go to trainers) and precise training plans bring results, no question.  but my tip..the Graham O'bree training book.  brilliant. i improved threshold by 20% in a couple of months.

  12. Marcos V F Araujo Post author

    Killer combo for serious begginers:
    1 – Record all your rides;
    2 – Load them all to something like Golden Cheetah;
    3 – Understand, by reading "Training and Racing with a Power Meter 2nd Ed." by Hunter Allen and Andrew Coggan;

    This Power Meter knowledge is not like learning how to cook something, and from this point repeat it.  It's more like to know how to interpret your results continually and from this, get what to do next, in order to reach a racing goal, or to work your weaknesses. 

  13. Matthew Christopher Post author

    Good video… That looked like the Monmouthshire area. Where was this video taken at?

  14. Matthew Christopher Post author

    Good video… That looked like the Monmouthshire area. Where was this video taken at?

  15. Per Holgersen Post author

    Training a racing with a power meter is a great book! I would suggest it to everyone training with a power meter

  16. Shawn Collier Post author

    thank god for stages just ordered one of their power meters for 699.00 plus shipping its a 4 to 5 week wait time i guess even grandma and grandpa has ordered one as well…lol

  17. sigmiami Post author

    Im a single dad with not a whole lot of money – is there any power meter out there that's good I can purchase for $300 or less? 

  18. plainbagel Post author

    @Global Cycling Network Great video, much appreciated! Have you posted the additional videos on training with power yet?

  19. Catcrumbs Post author

    Reaching for the lap button at the end of your effort? Amateur hour (or 10 s/1 min/5 min/20 min :P): program the test into a workout beforehand and get neat lap data as well as a countdown before/after each test. It goes without saying that you shouldn't be able to see your power output during these tests too.

  20. Tristan Haskins Post author

    If I buy these from Amazon, will I have a problem fitting them? Should I go to a LBS?  I wanted to get them from my LBS, but these seemed like a great price.. just want to make sure they are the REAL DEAL !?

  21. Richard Dort Post author

    Question about how to get them numbers post ride. After the ride, when you are analyzing the data and trying to determine the number for the sprint test, are you simply taking an average of the highest peak within the time specified (5 sec), or just taking the peak number? Thank you.

  22. Graham Hubbard Post author

    how did the values you saw on the power meters compare with lab tests which can measure things accurately and avoid any subjectivity especially for threshols

  23. HookDraw Post author

    Hi guys,
    Have you heard of the stages power meter?, and you thoughts in regards to the product.
    Ive hear that the sky racing team have started using the product.

  24. Lee Nick Post author

    Hi there, hope you guys make an episode on how to balance the two legs on pedaling. always feel like my right leg outputs 60% of the total power output and with my life leg only contribute 40% of the  total power output. Moreover, tension accumulates much quicker on my left leg hamstring which frustrates me a lot. 

  25. Owen Puckey Post author

    Hi guys what power meter would you recommend I'd like a cheap one as I'm only 13 but saving hard!

  26. Lester beltran Post author

    Can you do these test out of the saddle ?
    I think I read that you have to be seated  for the results to be valid.

  27. Ricardo Luz Post author

    What is the ideal avg inclination to do the climb test?
    Can I do the VO2 Max on a 5km climb with avg 10%?
    Can I do the Threshold test on a climb too?

    Thanks 🙂 Good job, this will help me alot .

  28. Tearstank Post author


    As far as I know Qrings dont play well with any powermeter not made by Rotor, the values he gets in the video is erraneous due to the assumprion Garmin makes with a constant cadence per revolution. Qrings skews the data due to the ovality where the cadence varies more during a revolution. Am I right or totally wrong?

  29. marios0cha Post author

    #askgcnanything #torqueback Hi guys, when pacing a TT effort should you use Average Power or Normalised Power? And is it different for a flat TT and a hilly/rolling TT? Thanks.

  30. Roberto Federici Post author

    Does anybody knows if Garmin Vector S goes fine with my Garmin Fênix Watch? Meaning, can I use Fenix as my display?

  31. Mark Sinnott Post author

    At the beginning of the video it recommends doing these 4 tests over 2 days. Does it matter which ones you pair on the same day? It would seem logical to do the 1st 3 (Sprint, Climb, VO2 Max) on Day 1, then the Threshold on Day 2. Or is there a different recommended combo?

  32. André Pereira Post author

    Hi Lloyd!!! That's nice vid!!! How can I find out my training zone and how can I use that tests results? Yestarday I did the FTP test, but sprint, 1 minute and 5 minute I didn't yet. Where I'll apply it? Regards!!!

  33. hcw199 Post author

    When did cycling become a science lecture… Why would the average cyclist waste there time and money on this?

  34. Davi Rosa Post author

    Yea, GCN, can you remake it? Puting the result values and give a short brief strategies for future workouts? Comparing a Sprinter Vs time trialist? Thank you!


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