You don’t need a trust fund to afford a power meter these days, nor does using a power meter require a PhD. In this adaptation from their book Training and Racing with a Power Meter, 2nd Ed., Hunter Allen and Andy Coggan outline a simple way to benefit from riding with a power meter: by tracking changes in your fitness. Yes, your power meter can tell you how fit you are, and it’s easier than you think.
Tracking changes in your fitness
Until the invention of the power meter, it was difficult for coaches and athletes to accurately track changes in cycling fitness. With the introduction of the power meter, cyclists began to have the ability to easily track quantitative changes. You can see how much you have improved in your peak 5-minute power, for example, or your peak 60-minute power. With a few simple charts you can really see the fruits of your labor, as that little line on your graph continues to climb higher and higher. One of the benefits of this new technology is that seeing these changes is very exciting and motivating. There is no more guessing that maybe you are better. It’s a definite. There’s the number right there in your power-meter software. Unfortunately, the opposite can also apply, and when you are riding poorly, it can really be depressing. Quite simply, sometimes the truth hurts! Even in this case, however, it is worth knowing precisely how your fitness has declined, and by how much, so that you can make appropriate changes in your training program to get back on track.
Though it is possible to perform some of these analyses using other programs, we have used TrainingPeaks WKO+ Software to illustrate how to track changes in your fitness.
Changes in Mean Maximal Power
One of the most important charts for you to understand is the Mean Maximal Power (MMP) Periodic Chart. This chart (Figure 10.2) compiles the data from every ride that you have done for a particular time duration. Each data point represents your mean maximal power (that is, average best power) for a particular ride for the time period you select. Each data point represents the peak wattage for each time period over the entire week. So the peak 5 seconds will be the peak 5 seconds for that entire week, the peak 1 minute will be the peak minute for the entire week, and so on.
Now we have a picture of how this cyclist’s fitness changed throughout the year and when it peaked in each of the different time periods. We see that his peak 5 seconds for the year was in early spring, when he almost cracked 1,080 watts. His peak 1 minute for the season was in early May, when he was able to produce 560 watts for 1 minute. Note how his peak 5-minute power stayed relatively the same throughout the entire racing season, finally peaking in early September at 375 watts. Now look at his peak 20-minute power. In fact, there are two peaks for this duration, one in May and one in August. Both are roughly the same wattage, at 327 and 323 watts, respectively.
Now, let’s look at his performance in the following year (Figure 10.3). As the chart shows, in little more than one month he achieved his peak 5 seconds at 1,015 watts, his peak 1 minute at 575 watts, his peak 5 minutes at 387 watts, and his peak 20 minutes at 333 watts. Obviously, his fitness was the greatest in April and May, also evidenced by six race wins in this time period. Now, what this doesn’t show is that he also did very well at Masters Nationals in year 2; however, since the event was held at altitude (at an elevation of about 8,000 feet), his peak wattages were lower than what might have been expected at sea level. He finished fourth on the time trial and in the top 15 in the other two events.
Finally, let’s look at a third consecutive season (Figure 10.4). At the beginning of this season we changed his training so that he could really peak for Masters Nationals, aiming at an FTP of 375 watts. This year the Masters Nationals competition would be held in late June instead of early August, and we shifted his training accordingly. His fitness came up steadily at all levels throughout the season, peaking in mid-June with his peak 1 minute at 631 watts, his peak 5 minutes at 417 watts, and his peak 20 minutes at 375 watts. His peak 5 seconds was the highest in early April, as in previous years — almost exactly four weeks to the day after his winter weight training program was completed.
He did well throughout the season, coming to Masters Nationals with twelve wins under his belt. Masters Nationals was held at altitude, so his true peaks weren’t reached in that event. However, his performance there was the best out of the three years. He took the Overall Omnium Win and a criterium championship and had the fastest time in the time trial for his age group (though, as seen in his downloaded power-meter file, he missed his start by 1:30!).
Now let’s compare all three years on a single chart (Figure 10.5). By charting them together, we can see this athlete made some major improvements. His first season was very good, but in the second year he experienced even more dramatic growth. Some of this growth is obscured, because his peak occurred while at altitude. Nevertheless, having the opportunity to look at all three years of data is very powerful, not only for the athlete but also for the coach.
For this article, we’ve left out two more useful techniques that help riders track their fitness: monitoring changes in the distribution of training levels (or “time in zone”) and changes in cadence. But taking all the examples in chapter 10 as a guide, you can begin to track your own fitness changes. Looking at your mean maximal power over the past 28 days is a reliable method of seeing how you are improving in different areas. Learning the intricacies of Quadrant Analysis and Multi-File comparisons is a little more complicated, but the tools are there and available for you. In any case, it should be clear that your power-meter data can help you to achieve more.
The simple collection of data is one of the most “zen” ideas about training with power. Ride, collect data, do nothing extra. Even though this motto may sound simplistic, it also brings out a concept some cyclists may find helpful: a minimalist approach to training with a power meter. The interpretation of the charts and graphs is not complex in most cases, and we hope that this chapter has helped to illuminate the simplicity of tracking fitness changes.