Do you wish you could improve your cycling fitness, establish a precise training plan that makes you a more efficient rider, increase your speed, or pace yourself well? You can achieve all this by improving your cycling power, or functional threshold power (FTP). Focusing on power enables you to make the most of your rides. You can know how hard you’re working as you pedal and how you can maximize your efficiency by understanding what FTP is, how to measure it, and how to increase your cycling power. We’ve provided 10 proven ways to target power in your training routine and reach your cycling potential.
What is cycling power?
Cycling power is the effort it takes you to move your bike forward or the amount of force, energy, or intensity that you are capable of exerting during your ride. You are the engine that supplies power to your bike–it can’t get anywhere without you. Serious cycling takes work, and this work is defined as cycling power and measured in watts. Watts are the rate at which you’re able to supply the power or do the work. The cyclists with the fastest speeds and greatest endurance have the most power, and they train to increase or maintain it. Measuring cycling power helps you make the most of your training.
Just getting started? Check out our 4, 8, and 12 Week Cycling Training Plans.
What is FTP for cycling?
FTP, or Functional Threshold Power, is the cycling power (measured in watts) that you can maintain continuously for 1 hour. Measuring FTP is a more accurate indicator of performance than heart rate. It measures your power output, or exertion, in real-time, while heart rate measures your body’s response to the work after it is done. FTP helps you pace yourself well because you can measure it to see whether or not you’re exerting too much or too little work at any given moment. Heart rate only indicates that you’ve worked too hard after the work is done.
FTP keeps you from over or under-training and serves as your foundation for improving your power.
FTP should be used in addition to heart rate, not in place of. Monitoring heart rate is important because it tells you when something isn’t right or when it’s time to rest. And, if your heart rate is lower but your power is increasing, that’s a good sign you’re making progress.
Does increasing cycling power make you a faster cyclist?
Yes! The more power you generate, the faster you move. Increasing your cadence means more pedal strokes, which make you more powerful.
Racing well requires exerting more power when needed without slowing down. To face hills and winds head-on while keeping pace, you need both strength and speed at the same time. Power is how much force you give the pedals and speed is how fast you force them to go.
Greater power doesn’t require bigger muscles. Strength can be defined as the amount of force you exert per muscle contraction. Speed is the rate at which these contractions occur (think of it as the number of reps of a workout you could do in a set time frame). Speed is measured by the number of revolutions per minute (rpm). As cyclists, we try to target the speed of our muscle contractions rather than building muscle mass.
Bulking up can make you a slower cyclist, even if you have a higher FTP. For instance, a heavier cyclist will have to produce more power on climbs to reach the same speed as a lighter person. Additionally, there’s no ideal cadence because it’s unique to each person depending on their power-to-weight ratio.
So how do you measure cycling ability?
Look at your power-to-weight ratio in W/kg to determine your level of cycling fitness. Divide your FTP (watts) by your weight (kg). This formula accounts for any differences in weight between two cyclists.
What is a good average watts for cycling?
Andrew Coggan’s cycling power output chart is a standard comparison for finding your level of cycling excellence. The elite of elite cyclists produce 50% more power than an untrained cyclist on average. International pros can produce up to 5.5–6 W/kg of FTP, while untrained cyclists produce 2.5–3 W/kg. The average peloton output is roughly 200 W. A good indoor or outdoor average depends on the efficiency of the work you’re doing.
After establishing a base FTP your goal should be to increase your FTP while lowering your heart rate. A power meter will help you train well and meet your goals, both with or without one, you know your performance or fitness is improving if your power is increasing in conjunction with a lower heart rate.
How to measure cycling power
You can know how much cycling power you’re capable of sustaining with a power meter. A power meter uses gauges to detect force and measure workload. Power meters multiply torque by speed to get cycling power in the equation, Power=Force x Distance / Time. In this equation, Force is the torque or the force of your legs pedaling, and Distance / Time is speed or the rate at which power is applied per minute (rpm).
Remember, FTP looks at how much power you can sustain for 1 hour. So first, you need to establish a base FTP in one of two ways.
- A 20-minute time trial
- A 60-minute time trial
The 20-minute time trial is the standard FTP test.
- 5 min at anaerobic capacity
- 10-min recovery
- 20 min time trial (give it your all)
- 1 min at anaerobic capacity
- Cool down
You then calculate the average power of the 20-min time trial and multiply that number by .95. You’ll want to repeat this test a few times over a few months until you get a consistent baseline.
Performing a 60-minute time trial will get the more accurate FTP of the two tests, but it’s exhausting and often too difficult for anyone other than experienced cyclists. If you choose this test, just take the average power for the hour.
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5 best cycling power meters
When choosing a power meter, know there’s no one-size-fits-all. You need to make sure the power meter you’re considering is compatible with your bike before making a purchase. Power meters have a gauge that measures force and a head unit that captures the data. There are many different types of power meters to choose from. Some are pedal attachments, and others attach to the bottom bracket or crank arm. Single-sided power meters only measure the power output of one leg, while dual-sided meters measure both sides and give a more accurate representation. Dual-sided meters, however, are more expensive.
This pedal-based power meter is as easy to transfer on bikes as installing any other pedal. The dual-sided meter brings balance and greater insights into where you apply power to help you build on your strengths and weaknesses. It’s compatible with the Shimano SPD-SL cleats and your favorite apps.
This pedal-based system is also dual-sided and claims to have +/- 1% accuracy, and that’s not affected by irregular pedaling. It’s lightweight and can be moved to bikes without extra tools. This Favero meter offers unique power phase and rider position metrics for improved technique. It’s also completely waterproof and connects to your smartphone.
Cost: $284.99 – $334.99
This crank-based meter is the lightest (only 9 grams) and the cheapest for the level of accuracy that it provides. It’s single-sided but adjustable to account for any imbalances between legs. It also has a 120-hour battery life.
This dual-crank meter is small and waterproof. It offers Bluetooth and advanced technology that compensates for both temperature and elevation changes, so you aren’t limited in your training environments.
This crank power meter is a versatile option, compatible with all 10 or 11-speed chainrings. It’s been redesigned with a simpler system for improved performance and easy installation with a suitable bottom bracket.
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10 proven ways to increase your cycling power
- Intervals in a higher gear: Cycling in a bigger gear increases strength and power. Warm up on a low gear and then increase it and pedal hard for 2–3 minutes, and then shift into a lower gear for a 3-minute recovery. Repeat this exercise 10 times.
- Contrast training (post-activation potentiation): Contrast training involves heavy loading the muscles right before subjecting them to explosive exercises. The idea is to activate or condition the muscles before they’re used for performance. To do this well, you must have already built up some strength and not be new at strength-training exercises. Bulking up will not enhance performance. The goal here is to bolster performance right beforehand.
- Ramp test: Just as the name suggests, the ramp test gradually ramps up intensity. Start with a 5-minute warm-up. Then, increase your power every minute until you are too tired to continue. This is a good way to assess your level of fitness with the power meter.
- Long rides: Building aerobic fitness is just as important to increasing power as anaerobic fitness. One of the best ways to become a better cyclist is to cycle more. The key is maintaining a consistent pace throughout your ride. Over time, work on gradually increasing your sustained power.
- Fast downhill pedaling: It’s beneficial to train for consistency at every point of your training, including recovery. Fast downhill pedaling will improve your cadence and increase your hip strength.
- Cadence intervals: These intervals improve your pedaling efficiency and neuromuscular coordination. Use a lower gear and increase your cadence in 45-second bursts with recovery in between.
- Ride into headwinds: The weather rarely operates according to our training schedule, but if you find yourself facing headwinds, don’t back down. Keep pedaling with consistent, controlled effort. This is a great, natural way to build power.
- Increase your speed in a consistent gear: When riding faster, you use more power. A great way to become a more powerful and faster cyclist is by training to maintain a faster pace.
- Ride in a bigger gear at a consistent speed: Increasing your gear but maintaining your speed means you produce more power. Riding in a higher gear takes progressive practice, improving a few minutes at a time.
- Fuel right: Nutrition does affect performance. Eat lots of protein to fuel your muscles and avoid sugary foods that will make you feel sluggish.
Bad weather keeping you indoors? Check out these 3 Indoor Cycling Workouts to Make You Faster and Stronger
As you build up your cycling power, test it every 4–6 weeks to prove that you’re improving. It’s helpful to have a goal in mind as you train. Register for a Gran Fondo Hincapie or one from our list of 20 best Fondos to put your power to the test.
As you train, check out one of our recommended trails in these southern states.
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