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Three ways to get the most out of your new power meter

So you got a power meter for 2016 — here's how you can use it to get faster and achieve your cycling goals this season.

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So you’ve decided to make 2016 your best year yet. You finally got a new power meter — maybe even Santa brought you one — but what do you do, now that you own the best training tool? Maybe you have a goal of completing your first century, winning a local race series, or just getting faster to beat up on some riding buddies. Regardless of your goals, there are three ways you can make 2016 a success, not just another unfilled New Year’s resolution.

1. Set up wattage-based training zones

Determining threshold power with a field test is the most important first step to a power-based training program. A simple 20-minute field test can determine your power at threshold, which is the best starting point for a power-based training plan. Your threshold wattage informs training zones, pacing, and lets you analyze training data using software such as Training Peaks.

A field test is a real-world, scientifically supported method for cyclists to determine threshold power. Essentially, you ride as hard as you can for 20 minutes, like a time trial. The average wattage from the test is used to determine the rider’s power at threshold.

Ideally, the test is conducted on an uninterrupted stretch of road that will take 20 minutes to complete, like a climb that averages 3-8 percent or an out-and-back road to avoid wind from the same direction. Pick a course that you can repeat throughout the year to retest your threshold.

Even though this is a full-gas effort, you need to pace yourself. You may feel great for the first few minutes, but the effort will catch up to you. Try to start and finish at the same wattage.

If you hit the lap button on your head unit, you can see your average lap power, once you download your data. On the graph above, you can see the 20-minute field test highlighted. This athlete averaged 350 watts, but they did start off a bit hard, as their power faded 10 watts from start to finish.

Now that you have that 20-minute power, how do you apply that to your Functional Threshold Power (FTP)? Since the test is a 20-minute snapshot for your true 60-minute FTP, you will use 90-95 percent of your 20-minute power average. For this example, 350 watts for 20 minutes is equivalent to 332 watts FTP.

2. Sign up for TrainingPeaks

TrainingPeaks account is the easiest way to plan, track and analyze your training. You can enter your FTP into TrainingPeaks to calculate your training zones (see second image above for zones, based on our example). You can sign up for a free, basic account, which works well for beginners, or spring for the premium version to get more training analysis features.

3. Applying a training plan

Now that you have a power meter, power-based training zones, and a TrainingPeaks account, you can apply a training plan. Because what is the point of buying and using a power meter without a solid plan to reach your goals? It would be like baking without measuring ingredients —Your cookies may be good, but they won’t make Phil Gaimon’s top-10 list.

In TrainingPeaks, there are thousands of plans to choose from — we have compiled a list of our own FasCat TrainingPeaks plans, which work well for our riders. I have also designed a free, four-week training block to help you get started in 2016. The first week of the plan is designed to get you started with a field test so you can set up your training zones. Then, the following weeks are aerobic base-building. You will do a mix of sweet spot and tempo burst. The last week of the block is a rest week — don’t overlook this part, because it is when your body will get stronger from all the hard training.

Jake Rytlewski is an associate coach for FasCat Coaching in Boulder, Colorado. He is a full-time professional USA Cycling and TrainingPeaks certified coach. Visit the FasCat website for more training tips.