The Two Components of Power

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Power is becoming a commonplace concept in cycling and triathlon today, mainly because the technology and associated products used to measure power output on a bike have come down substantially in price the last couple of years, making it a more easily accessible training tool for more people.  There is no doubt training and racing with a power meter can make a huge impact on your ability to improve.

From a physics perspective, the general definition is that power equals work per unit time.  If we look at this idea as applied to the mechanical aspects of cycling, a rotational system, it breaks down to 2 components: torque and angular velocity.

Power = (Torque) * (Angular Velocity)

More simply, power production comes from how HARD you are pushing the pedals (force) and how FAST you are making them turn (cadence).  If you pedal at the same “HARD”-ness (i.e. force), but increase the “FAST”-ness (i.e. cadence), you will increase power production.  However, you will also increase power output if you maintain the same cadence and increase the force.

These two components of power can be trained separately and using your power meter is a great way to do so.  The best time to do this is in the early season and often the best place to do it is indoors on the trainer where you have a controlled environment.  In addition, early in the season, many parts of the country still have weather that makes it difficult to ride outside.  On the trainer, it is easier to spend time specifically developing the neuromuscular skill required to turn the pedals in circles (more quickly) and also building the sport-specific strength to apply more force to the pedals as you turn them, all the while using your power meter to guide these processes.  As the season progresses, the idea is to bring these two components together, producing more power via more force at a higher cadence.

There are probably an infinite number of sessions to address cadence in cycling.  One way to approach it is to progress upward in cadence while maintaining a constant power, as follows:


  • 10-15 minute warmup; include 3×30 second pickups with plenty of recovery;

  • 3×12 minutes as:

    • 2 minutes @ 60 rpm

    • 2 minutes @ 70 rpm

    • 2 minutes @ 80 rpm

    • 2 minutes @ 90 rpm

    • 1 minute @ 100 rpm

    • 1 minute @ 110 rpm

    • 2 minutes choice

  • 10-15 minute cooldown at 50-60% FTP, choice cadence

  • increase in target power each cycle (~65% FTP, then ~72%, then ~80%)


As you increase cadence on the bike, stay focused on not bouncing on the saddle and keeping the pedal stroke as smooth as possible, connecting with pressure throughout the complete 360 degree pedal stroke.  If you begin bouncing too much, then back off a bit on the cadence and just keep it as high as you can go while staying controlled.

The other side of the proverbial power coin is strength, or the ability to push the pedals with more force.  Strength training in the gym can be a beneficial part of an endurance training program, especially as we age.  Perhaps even more important, however, is using the early season to translate strength to a sport-specific platform.  Here’s an example session you can use to focus on bike-strength:


  • Warmup for 10 minutes (60-65% FTP)

  • 4×12 minutes in big gear with cadence <= 60 rpm and target power ~80-85% FTP, 3 minute recovery at choice effort and cadence

  • Cooldown for 5-10 minutes (50-55% FTP)


For this type of session, work on keeping your heart rate down as much as possible.  You are getting the work done (i.e. accumulating the kilojoules) via your legs and not your cardiovascular system, allowing you to get more work done without as much recovery cost.

Depending on your time available, use each of these sessions (or sessions like them) 1-2 times per week early in your season.  Then, as race season approaches and your training progresses, you will be more prepared for the demands of race-specific training and you will be an improved cyclist!


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