Eddy Merckx was once asked what to do if you don’t have enough time to train all day like the Pros do? His response was to “ride smart, by varying the intensities”. Wise words indeed from a man who raced before the advent of heart rate monitors and power metres. In the 60s and 70s, riders rode based on perceived exertion. The top cyclists were highly attuned to it, while the rest would often sabotage their own racing and training: going too deep when they should be pacing, and going too easy when they should be hammering it. It’s a problem most amateurs experience if we’re honest. But the good news is that with modern power metres, those days can be left behind.
USING POWER WITH YOUR SMART TRAINER
In our busy lives, few of us have the time to train as much as we’d like. In order to remain competitive, we must remember the wise words of the master Merckx and vary the intensities.
Power is an ingenious method of training that allows for that. Like a mathematical web that interconnects and abstracts our efforts into quantifiable zones, it allows us to effectively train particular body systems with the precision required for our events.
Several different variations exist, but the standards established by Dr. Andrew Coggan — co-author of the book Training and Racing with a Power Meter — are the ones most commonly used.
Split into 7 separate zones of varying intensity, each serves a specific purpose. The precision offered by a smart trainer provides one of the most effective ways to train with power where each body system can be accurately honed. All our smart trainers will enable you to accurately train with power, while our top performers — the NEO 2T Smart and Flux 2 Smart — measure it the most precisely.
THE 7 POWER ZONES
Power zones are calculated based on your Functional Threshold Power (FTP) — the maximum power you can sustain for 60 minutes. Each of the 7 zones are neatly defined as a percentage of your FTP. This ensures it’s unique to you while also allowing for easy comparison with others.
ZONE 1: ACTIVE RECOVERY (<55% OF FTP)
One common mistake many cyclists make is to ride too hard on their recovery rides. Riding below 55% of your FTP encourages recovery without placing additional stress on the body. Riding here is easy and can be sustained indefinitely. For many however, it becomes all too easy to ramp up the intensity and start stressing your system further when you should be recovering. With a power meter incorporated into your smart trainer or bike, you be sure that a recovery ride remains a recovery ride!
ZONE 2: ENDURANCE (56% – 75% OF FTP)
Ironmen and triathletes spend a lot of time training in the endurance zone. While it’s not so useful for crits or road races, trained cyclists should be able to ride here for 3-8 hours with proper refuelling. Those putting in big miles during winter base training will invariably spend a lot of their time in this zone. While during the season, many riders will add on several hours of endurance riding once the high-intensity intervals are complete.
ZONE 3: TEMPO (76% – 90% OF FTP)
Commonly seen as a “dead zone” by many, there are few benefits for road cyclists who spend considerable time in zone 3. Those competing in long-course triathlons and half-ironman events will target this zone, but for the rest of us, it’s an in-between zone. It’s hard enough to ensure we tire quickly, but not intense enough to bring about the required adaptations to excel in road racing or time trialling.
ZONE 4: LACTATE THRESHOLD (91% – 105% OF FTP)
Every road cyclist must spend considerable time training at threshold. It’s a tough place to hang out, and by definition, you should only be able to maintain your threshold power for 60 minutes. Your threshold defines the remaining power zones, so it’s important to monitor your threshold as it increases with training.
ZONE 5: VO2 MAX (106% – 120% OF FTP)
The amount of time riders can spend in the Vo2 max zone varies between 3 and 8 minutes. Anyone competing in road races should be targeting this zone in their training. Repeated intervals here are both intense and short-lived. They simulate the hard efforts in road racing where you attack or close a gap at crucial points in a race. It’s easy to overtrain in this zone, and a close eye should be kept on the accumulated training stress. Ample recovery should be allowed for and Vo2 max intervals should only be attempted when a rider feels fresh.
ZONE 6: ANAEROBIC CAPACITY (121% – 150% OF FTP)
Most athletes dread training their anaerobic capacity zone. Targeting this zone in training involves short but intense efforts of between 30 seconds and 2 minutes. Most cyclists say that the first 30 seconds feels manageable before the efforts become harder. Ample recovery of 5-6 minutes should be allowed for between efforts. A well-honed anaerobic capacity will enable you to launch a stinging attack that no one can follow in a race.
ZONE 7: NEUROMUSCULAR POWER (>150% OF FTP)
The shortest, but most painful intervals that a cyclist can do lie in this red zone. There’s no specific wattage to target, it’s simply a question of pushing as hard as you can for between 5 and 30 seconds.
Used to hone your sprint, this all-important zone is neglected by many cyclists due to the sheer discomfort of training it correctly. Those who embrace the pain can expect to greatly enhance their kick as they approach the line. Every well-rounded road racer with the goal of victory must complement their abilities with a solid sprint. Where a strong Vo2 max system will allow you to get off the front in a race, any lack in the neuromuscular zone will quickly be exposed in a sprint finish.
THE DEFINING METRIC
Whether used alone or in conjunction with Tacx Software solutions or Zwift for extra motivation, training effectively with power will enhance your performance. In addition, it opens you up to the world of power training programs and a host of other metrics that quickly become rabbit holes of their own!