Top tips on Cycling to Power

Sarah on her bike.

Have you thought about trying the club’s power pedals? Are you unsure about how to use them and the benefits?

GTC member Sarah Heward offers a very helpful guide to “Cycling to Power”. She is training for 70.3 and IM distance triathlons in the F50-54 age category and this is based on her first 18 months’ experience of using this training method.

Sarah’s background

After almost 10 years’ absence from triathlon, she started working with Kevin Henderson in 2016, who introduced her to the concept of “cycling to power”. Kevin makes this a pre-requisite for all of his athletes. There are three main elements to this approach:

Gathering reliable data on a regular basis: Power Pedals.

Converting this data into meaningful information and presenting it simply and clearly, to help you understand the key elements of your cycling performance.  In Sarah’s case – Garmin 920XT to Garmin Connect then uploaded to Training Peaks. This platform allows you to analyse power, cadence and efficiency as well as heart-rate and speed etc and compare your actual performance against your planned programme.

Monitoring, reviewing and making adjustments, to improve performance: weekly and sometimes daily/regular reviews with your coach.

Sarah says: “I am very goal focused. I think that this is important if you’re going to invest the time and money required to fully utilise power-pedals. There is no doubt in my mind that training in this way has made me a faster, stronger and a more confident cyclist.”

Power pedals.

The Garmin power metre

There are a number of power meters and systems on the market. Sarah recommends doing some research to find the ones that best suit your goals and budget. She invested in Garmin Vector 2S power pedals and the Training Peaks web-based system.

Sarah says: “It’s worth noting that I had to return two sets of faulty sets to Garmin before I found a set that worked. Although this was frustrating and time-consuming, the pedals were exchanged with little fuss.

“To be honest, I am a bit of a techno-luddite, so if I can get to grips with this system then most people can.”

Garmin Forerunner 920XT.

The main challenges are: 

  • Getting used to using the pedals, which includes transferring them from bike to bike.
  • Linking them to a (Garmin) watch
  • Uploading to Training Peaks.

Sarah reports: “Now that I have the hang of this, I use each element confidently. By consistently using power-pedals, my coach and I closely monitor all key areas of performance and identify areas for adjustments, however small. This approach has been the basis for a substantial improvement in my performance over the past year.

The results

Sarah states that she now finds the information presented on the Training Peaks system easy to understand and helpful.

She adds: “I enjoy measuring progress reliably: Day-to-day, week-to-week and month-to-month.”

Measurable improvements in performance include:

Functional Threshold Power (FTP) has risen from 195 to 237 Watts in 12 months. (FTP is a reliable indicator or a snapshot of my base performance capacity at any point in time.)

Average cadence has risen from around low 70s to 85 (the start point is an estimate)

Cycling efficiency has improved. There are two elements here: Balance between power driving through right and left pedals and the amount of the rotation where power is being applied.

Positives of Cycling to Power

  • It’s a quantum leap forward from only reviewing heart-rate and speed.
  • It allows you to plan training and racing in more detail and with greater accuracy, thus allowing you to push yourself to the limit or save something in reserve when it counts.
  • It makes indoor winter training more interesting as you have up to the second power and cadence targets to ride against, and you can track your improvement.
  • It’s a great “pacemaker” for racing.
  • Having a coach helps massively to analyse results and plan training. Trying to do this without this kind of support would be very time-consuming.

Negatives of Cycling to Power

  • It’s expensive to get set up.
  • It’s not a quick fix – you need to be prepared to take a long-term view, persevere and be patient.
  • It was a frustrating experience to begin with – it takes time to get used to using it, once it’s actually all set up.
  • You need to establish your initial statistics and get used to interpreting them.
  • Be aware that if you choose to closely follow a plan, you can become fixated with hitting the targets and risk losing what you love about cycling.
  • It’s not sociable unless your cycling buddies are willing and able to follow your plan.
  • In some cases there are physical differences in set up as the power peddle cleats can be different.
  • Be careful as these cleats may not suit your cycling style and could cause injury. This actually happened to a friend of mine.

Sarah has kindly provided GTC members with a 10% discount on food orders at the award-winning Real Food Cafe in Tyndrum.

  • The power pedals are available to hire from Lochlan in the club. Message him on Facebook.