Defining Your Cycling Power Zone (Triathlon Power Training)

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Triathlon power training

Tailwind Endurance is New York’s premier cycling and triathlon studio. We offer all sorts of cycling classes, individual coaching, open water swim classes, and many other training resources. Our goal is to help beginners and experienced racers alike prepare for all kinds of events, including the Ironman Triathlon. When preparing for a triathlon, power zone training is crucial. It’s important to be aware of your own maximum power output, and train at various power levels to achieve the maximum efficiency. In this guide, we will discuss what functional threshold power means for a triathlete, and the various power zones you should train in to succeed.

What Does Power Mean When It Comes To A Triathlon?

When training for a triathlon, a cyclist will perform a variety of structured bike workouts, each focused on one or more target intensities. A cyclist’s work can be measured in the form of watts (how hard you pedal multiplied by how fast you are pedaling), otherwise known as power. In order to train most effectively, it is important to understand the relationship between workload and recovery. By doing so, you can see the progression of your training and create a clear path to your goal. Having a power meter makes it very easy to find and hold the appropriate intensity in each workout.

The initial step when training with power is to discover your functional threshold power, or FTP. Once you know your FTP, you can start to develop training plans around it. Each time you turn your pedals, the work created is measured by the power meter and is recorded for analysis.

We like to see athletes come in and ride 1-2 classes to become comfortable with the environment and the trainers. Once comfortable, a Functional Threshold Power (FTP) Test can be conducted.

What Power Zone Are You Working In Today?

Depending on your goals and the workout schedule, we can prepare for you for anything from a road race to an ultra distance triathlon.

ZONE 1) Active Recovery: “Easy Spinning” or “light pedal pressure”, i.e. very low-level exercise, too low to induce significant physiological adaptations.
This zone requires no concentration to maintain the pace, and continuous conversation is possible. This is typically used for active recovery after strenuous training days (or races), between interval efforts or for socializing. (<56% of your Functional Threshold Power)

ZONE 2) Endurance: “All Day” pace, or classic long slow distance (LSD) training.
The sensation of leg effort/fatigue is generally low, but may rise periodically to higher levels (e.g. when climbing). Concentration is usually only required at the highest end of the range and/or during longer training sessions. Breathing is more regular than at level 1, but continuous conversation is still possible. Frequent (daily) training sessions of moderate duration (e.g 2 hours) at level 2 are possible, but complete recovery from very long workouts may take more than 24 hours. (56-75% of your Functional Threshold Power)

ZONE 3) Tempo: Typical intensity of a fartlek workout, ‘spirited’ group ride, or briskly moving paceline.
There is a more frequent/greater sensation of leg effort/fatigue than at level 2. This zone requires concentration to maintain, especially at the upper end of the range, to prevent from falling back to level 2. Breathing is deeper and more rhythmic than at level 2, such that any conversation must be somewhat halting, but not as difficult as in level 4. Recovery from level 3 training sessions are more difficult than after level 2 workouts, but consecutive days of level 3 training are still possible if the duration is not excessive. (75-91% of your Functional Threshold Power)

ZONE 4) Lactate Threshold: Just below to just above Time Trial effort, taking into account duration, current fitness, environmental condition, etc.
There is a continuous sensation of moderate or greater leg effort/fatigue. Continuous conversations are difficult at best due to the depth/frequency of breathing. The effort is sufficiently high that sustained exercise at this level is mentally very taxing – therefore, this level is typically performed as multiple ‘repeats’, ‘modules’, or ‘blocks’ of 10-30 minutes in duration. Consecutive days of training at level 4 are possible, but such workouts are generally only performed when you are sufficiently rested/recovered from prior training so as to be able to maintain the intensity. (91-105% of your Functional Threshold Power)

ZONE 5) Vo2 Max: Typical intensity of longer (3-8 minute) intervals intended to increase Vo2 Max.
You will experience strong to severe sensations of leg effort/fatigue such that the completion of more than 30-40 minutes of total training time is difficult at best. Conversations are not possible due to often “ragged” breathing. This should generally be attempted only when you are adequately recovered from prior training – consecutive days of level 5 work are not necessarily desirable, even if it’s possible. (105-120% of your Functional Threshold Power)
NOTE: At this level, the average heart rate may not be due to the slowness of heart rate response and/or the ceiling imposed by maximum heart rate.

ZONE 6) Anaerobic Capacity: Short (30 seconds to 3 min), high-intensity intervals designed to increase anaerobic capacity.
Your heart rate is generally not useful as a guide to intensity, due to the non-steady-state nature of the effort. There will be a severe sensation of leg effort/fatigue and conversation is impossible. Consecutive days of extended level 6 training are usually not attempted. (120-150% of your Functional Threshold Power)

ZONE 7) Neuromuscular Power: Very Short, very high-intensity efforts (e.g. jumps, standing starts, short sprints) that generally place greater stress on musculoskeletal rather than metabolic systems. Power is useful as a guide, but only in reference to prior similar efforts, not TT pace. (As hard as you can go for :10 seconds!)

Why Is Power So Important?

Power measures the sum of all the forces resisting you from moving forward on a bicycle. The power generated by a cyclist is used to overcome aerodynamic, inertial, rolling, gravitational, and other forms of resistance. A cyclist’s speed is fundamentally confined to how much power they can produce.

Power meters are one of the best training tools, aside from hiring a coach. They offer:

Accurate Performance Assessment: The more watts you put out over a given time, the stronger you become. Watts are a direct measure of performance.

Fast Training Schedule Adjustments: A power meter is unforgiving. Knowing all the information about your strengths and weaknesses, you can immediately ramp up the recovery and rest side of your schedule and let the high-end watts return when you’re ready.

Motivation: It’s extremely motivating to see a weekly rise in mean maximum power output. This motivation helps with performance.

Race Analysis: Using a power meter gives you a blueprint of what you need to do to be better next time, or what you did right. You can break down the race to examine the vital parts. Power files can be gold mines of information.

Effective Intervals: With a power meter you can train at exactly the power level you want.

Communication With Your Coach: You can relay relevant information to your coach from a power file, such as the watts, speed, heart rate, and cadence over time.

Training Load Tracking: Everyone has an optimal training load at which they perform best. You can track training load using a power meter.

Technical Riding Improvement: A power meter can show you exactly where the best draft is found. In fact, just a few inches can make a 50-watt difference.

Race Pacing: It’s crucial to pace yourself during a triathlon. A power meter is a huge advantage and will ensure you start at a pace that you can maintain for the duration of the race.

Coordinating Energy Intake: Understand exactly how much work you are doing (kJ) and calculate your kilocalorie usage. Break down rides into segments which allow you to plan to eat/drink the correct amount of calories per segment, therefore maintaining energy levels.

Now that you’ve learned all about power zone training, sign up for a cycling class today or contact us (212-706-2166 or for more information on our various race training resources.