Learning how to use power to dictate your cycling training is a crucial ability for beginner triathletes to develop. To help you, we created this cycling power zones calculator.
To use power to dictate your cycling training, you’ll need to have a power meter, and know your Functional Threshold Power (FTP) (so be willing to hurt a little in an FTP test to get your FTP.)
In this post, we’ll help you understand what cycling power is, how to determine your FTP, and how to use cycling power zones in your training.
Cycling with power 101
Physiologically, our bodies experience three “zones” whenever we’re exercising:
Under Lactate Threshold #1 (LT1 or our Aerobic Threshold) is a very low-intensity training zone.
Between Lactate Threshold #1 and Lactate Threshold #2 (LT2 or our Anaerobic Threshold) is a moderate-intensity training zone, often called sweet spot training.
Above Lactate Threshold #2 is a high-intensity training zone.
A Functional Threshold Power (FTP) test is intended to approximate your Lactate Threshold 2 (LT2) or your Anaerobic Threshold, from which we can generate our training zones.
To obtain your cycling power, and to monitor it during workouts, you'll need a power meter on your bike and a bike computer to display the power you're putting out.
To obtain your cycling power zones, you first need to get your FTP, which is theoretically the maximum amount of power that you can put out over a 60-minute max-effort. Athletes don’t typically get this number by doing a 60-minute max effort because it’s a tough thing to do. Historically, most athletes have performed a 20-minute max effort test, then taken 95% of that number as their FTP. However, recently, Zwift has determined that 75% of the 1-minute maximum power an athlete can sustain during a ramp test (a progressively harder test where power increases slightly every minute) is also very close to an FTP figure without being as physically demanding.
|📝 Hey, Taren here! I recommend athletes use the Zwift ramp test because it’s equally as accurate as the 20-minute max effort while not taking as much out of the athlete, and the athlete will also get a maximum heart rate number during the test at the same time.|
Athletes should perform their chosen FTP test once every three to five months and do so at the end of a rest week, so they can really put forth a strong effort.
How to triathlon train using power
Training Zone 1 — Very low-intensity training zone that should comprise roughly 40-50% of your total annual cycling hours. Recovery rides and long endurance rides fall into this category.
Training Zone 2 — Low but steady training zone that will comprise roughly 30-40% of your total annual cycling hours. Endurance-focused rides will be in this intensity.
🏃🏽 In training zone 2 is often where athletes will race an Ironman triathlon.
- Training Zone 3 — Should comprise roughly 10-15% of your total annual cycling hours. It is often where athletes will race a half-Ironman triathlon, and there should be some training in this zone leading up to the race to familiarize yourself with the effort.
Intervals in this power zone will be longer, often ranging from 20 minutes to two hours.
- Training Zone 4 — Fairly intense cycling zone where the low end is called sweet spot training, and the high end is called threshold training. It should comprise 5-10% of your total annual training time.
🏃🏽 In training zone 4 is where a lot of athletes will race an Olympic distance triathlon.
Intervals in this intensity zone will be shorter but still referred to as “long intervals” lasting 8-20 minutes. Athletes will often train at this intensity with low cadence (low RPM) cycling efforts to build up leg strength.
- Training Zone 5 — Very intense training zone where you’ll spend 5-10% of your total annual training time.
🏃🏽 In training zone 5 is where most athletes will race a sprint triathlon.
Intervals in this intensity level range from 30 seconds to 6 minutes and focus on building up FTP and Vo2 Max.
|📝 Hey, Taren here! If you want to learn more about triathlon cycling training, check out my worldwide top-rated triathlon cycling training book, Triathlon Bike Foundations.|
We also created a few more calculators for experienced or aspiring triathletes: