Runners tend to focus on metrics like speed, heart rate, and cadence to track their performance. But when it comes to measuring your cycling performance, the better metric to track is your power.
A power meter is a piece of equipment every triathlete should have. If your aim is to increase your cycling power, we highly recommend choosing a cycling-specific one. Be careful not to accidentally choose one for running, as the algorithm won’t be the same.
Training with a power meter can give you valuable insights into what effect your training is having on your performance, and how you can tweak it to get the best out of it.
Once you have a power meter, here are a few things you should consider doing to increase your cycling power.
1. Stay Strong on Climbs
It’s tempting to shift to an easier gear when you hit an uphill climb. But if you’re working on increasing your power, you can use climbs to help build it up.
When you find yourself on a climb, instead of shifting down a gear, either stay in the gear you’re already in or shift to a gear that’s still higher than you normally take the climb in.
You should feel slightly uncomfortable, but it should be doable. Climbing the hill in your chosen gear should be a challenge, but it shouldn’t be a nightmare.
Try to maintain your cadence in this gear. If you incorporate at least one higher-gear, maintained-cadence climb in each training ride, you’ll find it easier and easier and your power will improve.
Consistency is key, though! This is something you should train on a regular basis in order to improve and be able to see a noticeable difference in your power.
2. Do Cycling-Specific Strength Training
We’re fans of cross-training for strength and flexibility. If you want to increase your cycling power, one of the best ways to do that is to strengthen the muscles that are involved in cycling.
These include the quads, hamstrings, calves, and glutes, mainly. These are the muscles that will be most pertinent when it comes to raw power when you’re on the bike.
Don’t neglect the upper body, though. Shoulders and arms are also essential, as they provide a good grip and help you to steer your bike. Your core should also be strong for balance and stability.
Weightlifting is an excellent way to build muscle in these areas. Try doing deadlifts, squats, leg extensions, weighted calf raises, and glute raises to build a strong lower body.
For upper body, bicep curls, tricep pulldowns, military press, and lateral raises are just a few helpful exercises. Weighted core exercises are better than without weight.
Make sure you’re doing each and every exercise with proper form. If you can only do a few reps with good form before you lose it, either go with a lower weight or lower your reps until you get stronger.
3. Ride Into Headwinds
This isn’t exactly something you can plan in advance. But if you do find yourself riding into the wind on a training ride, avoid the temptation to turn around and ride with it!
In fact, if you find yourself riding on a windy day, you can get in a really good training session by setting up a rectangular circuit of a mile or two. That way, you’ll be able to get good practice riding with the wind, against the wind, and in crosswinds.
Take advantage of the headwinds. Instead of powering down, ride hard into headwinds, pushing against their power. You may only be able to ride hard for a short period of time at first.
But the more you work on this, the more you’ll find that your power increases as you’re pushing against the elements.
4. Analyze Your Training Data
If you’re working on increasing your cycling power, you’ll obviously need to keep an eye on your data to see how your training is going.
Not only is it important to assess if you’re progressing, but it’s also super important to make sure you’re not overtraining. Training too much or too hard can increase the risk of exhaustion or injury, setting you back weeks.
If you have a smartwatch or fitness tracker that gives you info on recovery and training load, this is an ideal way to assess how you’re doing.
Don’t forget to factor rest into your training. It’s as important as pushing hard on the bike, and it’s important for injury prevention.
We recommend using a journal or an app to take notes after every ride. That way, you can go back and compare to see how your power is improving.
5. Mix Intensities
You should be training at different intensities in order to maximize your effort. Most of your training will take place at a pace of 70 to 80% of your FTP (functional threshold pace).
This is a steady pace that keeps in the right zone to prevent overtraining. But incorporating some high-intensity sessions can make a huge difference to your performance and your power.
Around 20 to 25% of your workout schedule should be high-intensity. This could be on the road or on a bike trainer (with a rocker, ideally). It’s an excellent way to strengthen your cardiovascular system so you can push further every time.
6. Do Power Bursts
Power bursts are like short high-intensity intervals. On a large gear, pedal hard until you reach 80 rpm. Then shift to a smaller gear and ride for about three minutes at 90 rpm. Repeat this cycle up to 10 times.
It’s important to warm up properly before you attempt power bursts. They can be hard on the knees, so it’s important to get the muscles nice and warm before starting.
It may be easier to do these on a spin bike or a bike trainer, rather than on the road. That way, there are no external factors that can interrupt you.
7. Do Cadence Intervals
An alternative to power bursts is cadence intervals. These intervals generally aren’t as intense as power bursts, although you can do them at whatever level you prefer.
The first time you do them, the workout should be done at a moderate intensity level with a warm-up first.
Use low, easy gearing. You shouldn’t be aiming to get your heart rate up too much. Instead, this is practice for increasing your cadence, improving your mind-muscle connection, and recovering after short bursts of higher cadence.
Start at an easy cadence of 80 to 85 rpm. Work it up to around 95 rpm before starting your cadence intervals. Here are some ways to incorporate cadence intervals:
- Ride at your base pace and every 5 minutes increase your cadence to 120 – 125 for about 30 to 45 seconds.
- Warm-up at 80 to 85 rpm. When you’re warm, up your cadence to between 110 and 125 rpm. Keep it there for as long as you can. Work up to an hour or two hours at the higher cadence.
8. Ride Long Distances
Regularly riding long distances helps to improve endurance. The higher your endurance, the more power you’ll be able to muster.
Long rides are excellent for both cardiovascular and muscular endurance. You should aim to have at least one long day out every few weeks. More, if you enjoy it!
Generally, this improves your overall fitness level. An increased fitness level naturally leads to increased cycling power.
Don’t just leap right into riding 100 miles if the farthest you’ve ever ridden is 40 miles. Increase your volume slowly and make sure you have enough time on the day to take a relaxed ride. There’s no need to rush through long rides.
Start with just slightly longer than the longest ride you’ve ever taken. Aim to increase either your distance, time, or pace every time you go out. An increase of 5 to 10% each time is ideal.
9. Change Your Cadence and Gearing Patterns
Switching things up every now and then is good for the body. Although you can always push harder and ride further, change is important.
Doing the same workouts again and again can lead to a plateau, which can be extremely frustrating. It may seem like you’re stuck in one place and you aren’t making progress.
One easy way to make a change without actually putting together a new workout is to simply alter your cadence or your gearing pattern.
This means you don’t need to go to the effort of adding new stuff into your training, but your body has something new to do and focus on.
10. Try Something New
Trying something new can break you out of a rut. If changing up your cadence and gearing isn’t having an effect, it may be time to try a new workout or a new training routine entirely.
You don’t need to change your whole program and keep it that way indefinitely. You could just try a new workout or two and see how it goes. You could take one day a week and do something different and interesting just on that day.
Diversity in your training program also helps to prevent boredom! Boredom can be a bigger progress killer than plateauing.
Changing things up can keep it fresh and exciting, challenge you in new ways, and prevent your body from getting too used to the same movements, same pace, same cadence, and so on.
Doing something different also doesn’t have to be a huge, drastic thing. It could be as simple as riding for 4 hours instead of 3, or splitting a long ride into two. You may decide to try a new route, ride with a friend, or even try a new bike or a piece of new equipment.
Small changes can make a big difference. Even something as simple as trying a new workout you saw on YouTube can supercharge your motivation and your performance.
Lastly, remember to have fun. We ride because it’s enjoyable and challenging. Don’t forget this the next time you’re training for a big race or aiming for a new power record!
Even if running is your sport of choice and you’re only trying to increase your cycling power for the purposes of improving your triathlon time, if you aren’t enjoying it, you’re never going to perform as well as you could.
Find ways to make it fun for yourself. It will be different for everyone, so it may take some experimenting, but it will be worth it!