The Importance of Power and Zone Training

Posted on March 19th, 2013 in Blog.

Zone training is one of the most effective ways to target specific workout goals based on the amount of effort you are exerting. Unlike heart rate, which measures your beats per minute (bpm) to show how hard your body is working, power based training allows you to identify different levels of performance effort within certain training zones. Many variables can change your overall performance during your workout, including wind and elevation, so it’s important to analyze the amount of effort needed when tackling steep climbs or focusing on recovery. Power data analysis, which can be found in the recently launched MVP offering, allows for the plotting and quantifying of your peak efforts as well as total time spent in each power zone. Simply put, power is measured from two basic components: torque (how hard you pedal) + cadence (how fast you pedal).

Follow these steps below to start training with power:

1.) Set-up: To start training with power, you will need an external device to track and measure your effort, such as a PowerCal or PowerTap system. Once installed, go out for a few rides to collect data.

2.) Analyze: Power zones are defined as a percentage of your “Functional Threshold Power” or FTP which is the highest power you can expect to average for one hour. In order to estimate your power zones, you need to establish your Functional Threshold Power (FTP), which is measured in watts (w). The easiest way to determine your power threshold is to perform a short time trial of at least 20 minutes. A 20-minute test done alone, without external motivation, equates very well to what one could attain during competition for 60 minutes.

  • To perform a 20 minute threshold test:
  • Warm up for 20-30 minutes prior to taking the test.
  • Take the 20-minute time trial.
  • Upload your data to analyze the results and establish your training zones.


3.) Adjust: For experienced cyclists it is a good idea to supplement the threshold test with a shorter test to establish a peak 5-minute power value. This will give more accurate ‘Race Pace’ and ‘Max’ power zones than with the threshold calculation alone. To perform a 5-minute power test, follow the same steps as the 20-minute test including warm up. Upload your data to analyze the results and establish your training zones.

4.) Train: Become familiar with training in terms of power zones. While on a ride, remember power is about averages and continuous blocks of time spent in the right zone. The higher zones, the ones that bring on racing form, are best targeted via interval training. Check out this article to learn more about interval training with power.

By training with power in specific zones, you can target various intensity limits when on a ride. You can compare your strength with others and see peak power, total effort and trends in your workouts. Training with power provides an effective baseline to track your results over time and find optimal performance, so get going!