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How to improve power output on the bike

Training is all about specificity. Start with your goal, and work backwards to determine your power workouts.

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One of the key points of training is to improve your power. But what exactly does that mean? Having a specific goal allows you to specify your training. Training for something not only gives you motivation, it gives your power workouts direction and purpose, as well.

If you have a target race — be it outside when the coronavirus restrictions pass or inside on Zwift — you can create a training plan to improve your power output for that event. Or, your goal could be to PR on a local climb or for a certain Strava segment.


First, start by knowing the course and your strengths and weaknesses. If it’s a race, you should know if the course is hilly or flat, and whether it typically ends in a big sprint or if breakaways succeed. If it’s a best time on a hill or a segment that you are targeting, pay attention to the duration.

Then, reference your current fitness abilities against the demands of the course. If your race ends in a bunch, how strong is your sprint? If you need to put out tempo wattage for four hours, how strong is your aerobic fitness? If your target hill climb is 20 minutes or less, how good is your threshold?

Building your capabilities around the needs of your race is the basis of race specificity.

Identify strengths and weakness

The most straightforward way to determine your current strengths and areas for improvement is a power profile test. Without formal testing data, racing data can be the best way to create a power profile chart. Zwift racing counts! Racing data is often better because it is more relative than formal test data.

Once you set your baseline numbers, you can track your improvements.

Again, consider the demands for your goal event. Do you need to be focusing on your 5-second, 1-minute, 5-minute, or threshold power? This will help you or your coach set up your training plan.

While it is a good idea to work on weaknesses, it is also important to keep up what you are good at. Set goals around your strengths and then use your strengths to reach those goals.

Here are a few workouts that may help you improve your race specific 5-second, 1-minute, 5-minute and 20-minute power outputs. All efforts are done at an all out effort for the time period stated.

3 sets of 4 x 15 seconds on, 15 seconds off. Rest for 5 minutes between sets.

2 sets of 5 x 1 minute on, 1 minute off. Rest for 5 minutes between sets.

2 sets of 3 x 3 minutes on, 3 minutes off. Rest for 6 minutes between sets.

3 x 10 minutes. Rest for 5 minutes between.

Spend two to four weeks working on a particular weakness and track your progress.

Tracking improvements

Tracking improvements is easiest when you let software do the work for you. Many computers like newer Garmin, Wahoo, and Stages models will alert you to new records in various time durations. But training software is best for studying both the micro and the macro trends in your training.

The Power Profile Chart in TrainingPeaks is a handy way to track progress. Photo: FasCat Coaching

In TrainingPeaks, the Power Profile Chart can be configured to compare two time frames (like the last two weeks versus the whole year) for various critical power ranges. This Power Profile Chart is over the first half of a season and each bar represents peak power-to-weight ratios in a 4-week period.

The first thing we can view from this chart is that this athlete’s 5-minute and 20-minute power is their strength, while they don’t have great 5-second or 1-minute power. This rider will find it hard, if not nearly impossible, to win a short track race or a race that ends in a sprint. Their goal race should be road races, particularly one with the demands of 5- to 20-minute efforts or climbs. Or they should know that to win a race they need to be in a breakaway or try to go solo.

In Today’s Plan — which is part of Active Pass — the Peak Power Curve chart can be configured to compare various time periods, so you can see whether you are improving in your targeted areas.

In Today’s Plan — or Stages Link or VeloNews Active Pass — the Peak Power Curve chart offers a similar comparative picture. You can set three different time periods, and then see your best power output over various time durations.

In all cases, the formula is the same: measure, target, train, track — and repeat.

A good training plan will incorporate all physiological aspects even though the focus maybe in one particular area. Watch your progression throughout the year and enjoy keeping track of your improvements.

Jake Rytlewski is a former pro racer and longtime coach at FasCat Coaching.