Riding with your power meter – The Power Curve.
So now that you have a power meter, how can you use it? That seems to be a question that I come across quite a bit with many cyclists. The power meter can help you train better, race better, recover, and avoid being dropped in a group ride. If you have been riding with a power meter for a bit and you upload your data, chances are that you have a power curve associated with your rides. Aside of an FTP test, a power curve can be very insightful on how to train, race, or ride. It can help you pace yourself for maximum performance during a group ride.
After a shoulder injury (non-bike related), I was not able to ride much and my power curve looked like the one below. The gray area was my best performance from the previous year. The blue area was my current performance in Feb – Mar 2021. I had a significant drop in performance in all of my power zones. (We will discuss zones another time!) Each zone uses a different metabolic system that you can develop with various workouts. These zones include speed and turnover, muscular endurance, force, and ultimately power.
So how did I use the meter to gain back fitness? From this power curve, the largest decline was from efforts 2 min and lower. There was a steep drop off after 5 seconds! The good news is that endurance was still there. Once the shoulder recovered in March, I rejoined the group rides with my local group, staying in the draft, and working on my lower zones to build endurance. I also performed power interval workouts on a trainer to help gain back power at the higher power zones.
How was the curved used?
I interpreted the following from the graph above:
The curve shows the ability to hold a sustained power of 200W for an hour, which is enough to keep up.
Taking a pull for 2 min at 250W was also possible.
A sprint was out of the question. Sprinting for 20 seconds at 300W is nothing, so this was avoided (for now!).
Avoid high sustained efforts for more than 5 seconds.
Riding within these parameters allowed me to develop the needed areas by riding to my limit without concerns of getting dropped. (The CTR cycling group rides at a good clip!) After a few months of base and power zone specific trainer workouts (which will be discussed in later blogs), my power curve improved to this:
I now felt comfortable pulling a few more times at 250W for 2-3 min at a time and sprinting is now in play! On the most recent group ride, I did take off in a sprint (though a bit late) but managed to catch up. Had I responded a bit sooner, I could have possibly overtaken the lead, but the sprint was over. Below is a clip of the sprint as recorded by the power meter. At the acceleration, applying 940W accelerated the bicycle to 33mph. This was my limit according to the curve above. Even after this sprint, I was able to ride back in a small breakaway at the end of the ride.
The power meter helped me improve by allowing me to:
See where improvement was needed
Ride within limits while developing fitness
Avoid getting dropped
Indicating limits when pulling
Performing trainer specific power workouts to work on limiters
We hope that this article has been helpful in helping you ride better and more confidently while looking at power. Future blogs will show specific workouts on how to increase you power curve and interpret it a bit more.
Ride hard, ride fast, dig deep!
Taking a pull (or 3!)
Racing with power
Riding a century