The Simple Beauty of the Best Efforts Power Curve


, by Chris Case

The Best Efforts Power Curve will tell you about the type of cyclist you are. Photography by: Lee Basford

The Power Curve plots your peak performances across various time periods, helping you understand the type of rider you are and how to improve.

Think you’re a sprinter? A puncheur? A time trial machine?

To gain a more complete understanding of the type of cyclist you might be, the Best Efforts Power Curve graphically illustrates your best average power for periods of 1 second up to the length of your longest ride.

The shape of this simple curve can reveal a lot about the type of rider you are, and your greatest strengths and weaknesses. This, of course, can inform your training, race strategy, and more.


But first, it’s helpful to understand a bit more about the functionality of Strava’s tool, which is modeled after the Power Duration Curve found, originally developed by Dr. Andy Coggan.

How does Strava create this shape? After every ride you do—assuming you ride with a power meter—the data is scanned to find the best efforts you may have done for a given period of time. The times are plotted on a logarithmic scale, providing more detail on the steeper part of the curve.

You can compare your best efforts, from year to year for example, by plotting two different time periods separately on the same chart—and customize the date range for each one. You’re also able to toggle on or off Strava's estimation of your Functional Threshold Power (FTP). Finally, choose between displaying the chart in Watts and Watts per Kilogram (assuming you have entered your body weight on your Profile Settings page).

Any power goals you have set will appear as small orange circles at the relevant spot on your power curve.

Clicking on any point in the graph will “focus” on that time interval—and show a link to the activity during which your peak power for each selected time range was achieved.

RELATED: How to Use Strava’s Fitness & Freshness Tool

Determining rider type

While raw power numbers have their value, the true beauty of the Power Curve is the ability to create a picture of your athletic makeup and potential in one simple snapshot.

A word of caution (and it’s the same caution that comes with any data analytics, such as the Fitness and Freshness tool): When creating any power-based metric, the importance of accurate data can’t be overemphasized. The graph is only as good as the data you put in, which means that you need to be consistently feeding it good data for it to be able to accurately graph the results. Make sure your power meter is in good working order by calibrating if necessary and change batteries when needed.

With some interpretation, the Power Curve allows you to see trends as to your strengths and weaknesses. With that information you can make informed decisions as to the type of training you may want to focus on to elicit the desired adaptations. It will also inform race strategy—sprinters aren’t climbers, and vice versa. If you have massive 5-second power, use patience and wait for the sprint to come to you.

Photography by: Pixfly

The picture created by the shape of the curve tells the story. This is known as a rider’s phenotype. Various coaches and physiologists offer their take on the different rider types, with most describing four distinct phenotypes. Check out “Training and Racing with a Power Meter: Third Edition” by Dr. Andrew Coggan, Hunter Allen, and Stephen McGregor for more details.

RELATED: How to Use Strava Flyby to Hone Race Craft

While some software can help you identify your phenotype based on crunching the numbers, Strava’s simplistic Power Curve still allows you to make basic characterizations.

The four types of rider are:

  • Sprinters tend to have very high wattages under 20 seconds, and the curve will have a more pronounced ‘S’ shape. If you’re a sprinter, you're packed with fast-twitch muscle fibers and can produce explosive bursts of power. Nothing surprising there.

  • Pursuiters have large VO2 max power; they can generate high watts for roughly 3 to 8 minutes, typically producing 120 percent or more of their FTP wattage for 5 minutes.

  • All-rounders perform well in nearly all event types. They often have both a good sprint and the ability to time trial well for an hour because of their high FTP. Importantly, according to Hunter Allen, all-rounders also have the ability to “change” phenotypes depending on the focus of their training.

  • Time trialists (or steady staters) have a high FTP, typically accompanied by poor neuromuscular power. They can sustain their power output for more than 30 minutes, and sustain excellent endurance for hours.

Which type of rider are you? You can tell a lot from a simple curve. Other resources online allow you to compare your numbers to other riders at various levels, which will give you an even better sense of your strengths and weaknesses.

DID YOU READ? How to Use Strava to Optimize Your Training

Remember that the Power Curve is not meant to be used as a tool to predict your best power at various durations. The numbers you see on the graph are tied to your specific physiological attributes. All this means that they are trainable characteristics, tied specifically to your athletic makeup—your energy systems.

Continue to monitor your Power Curve as your fitness builds—with it, you have a robust tool to test the efficacy of your training method.

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