How to train with a power meter

How to train with a power meter

Many cyclists waste hours of riding due to ineffective training plans and ‘junk miles’. Although it’s great to simply ride, if you want to improve, you’ll need to create structured training plans that target specific areas of performance.

To do this requires an understanding of your abilities, something that can be achieved by using a power meter. With these, you can establish power training zones, which will guide your training sessions.

Follow our guidance below to understand how to use a power meter for training and what training zones are.

What is a power meter?

A power meter is a device that attaches to a bike and measures the power output of the rider. They come in various styles with the majority calculating your power (watts) using strain gauges. Turbo trainers usually contain an in-built power meter.

Connecting to cycling computers and other devices, power meters will send live power data so you can see how hard you’re working. It makes them great for training.

How can a power meter be used for training?

Training using power data is easy, but does require an understanding of training zones. These are 6 levels of exertion relative to your ability. Each of these zones targets a certain area of performance, so knowing them helps tailor training plans to the needs of the rider.

To calculate your training zones, you will need to complete a functional threshold power (FTP) test. Essentially, this test calculates the maximum amount of power you are capable of in a one-hour period. It’s a lung bursting effort. One you’d better become familiar with because it will need to be repeated as your fitness levels improve.

How to train with a power meter

An FTP test can be conducted outdoors or on a turbo trainer. If you’re doing it outdoors, try to get a long, uninterrupted stretch of road. If you’re having to stop, you’ll be left with a misleading FTP.

FTP test:

  • Do a 10-minute warm-up
  • Complete a 30-minute maximum effort (make sure to pace yourself; if you blow up, your FTP results won’t be of any use)
  • At the end of the effort, upload your power date. Take the average power for the last 20 minutes and take 5% away from this amount. This figure will be your functional threshold power
  • For example, if your average watts for the last 20 minutes was 260, your FTP will be 247 watts.

Power training zones

Now that you have your FTP, it’s time to establish your power training zones. Use your FTP and the percentages below to work out your power range for each zone:

Zone 1: Active recovery

  • <55% of FTP
  • For recovery rides
  • Improves recovery after hard training sessions

Zone 2: Endurance

  • 55-76% of FTP
  • Exertion you can maintain for long rides
  • Improves endurance

Zone 3: Tempo

  • 76-90% of FTP
  • Hard riding that is noticeably difficult, but can be maintained for long periods
  • Improves aerobic capacity, power and strength

Zone 4: Threshold

  • 90-105% of FTP
  • An effort that can’t be maintained for too long as it is close to your limit
  • Improves lung capacity and high-speed endurance

Zone 5: VO2 max

  • 105-120% of FTP
  • A real leg burning effort that can only be maintained for a matter of minutes
  • Improves the heart’s ability to quickly pump oxygen to the muscles

Zone 6: Anaerobic capacity

  • >120% of FTP
  • The maximum possible effort
  • Improves short-term power

As you can see, each zone has its performance benefits.  With your power range for each zone established, you can target certain zones depending on what you’re aiming to improve. For example, zone 2 is great for long endurance rides. To improve sprint speed, short repetitions of zone 6 efforts will help.

Creating training sessions

Creating your own training sessions can be difficult. Most of us aren’t experts in this field.

Using an app or training software makes this easy. The majority ask you to select your end goal and training period and will provide you with the perfect training schedule. There are lots of apps available and we’ve created a list of the best.

Some apps may also require an understanding of heart rate training zones, and you can learn more about these over on our advice guide.

To discover a range of power meters and turbo trainers, head over to