Power Meter Guide: The Power Curve, Fitness and Freshness and Hitting Your Peak


, by Nikalas Cook

Wow, haven’t these six articles flown by? Hopefully I’ve managed to dissuade you from buying a new wheelset or titanium bottle cage bolts and instead invest in a power meter. You’ve learned how to test for FTP, create training/pacing zones, set-up your head unit, understand what the key power metrics you’ll see post ride on Strava mean and are now seeing a positive impact on your riding.

In this final article in the series, we look at your Best Effort Power Curve, examine your Fitness and Freshness graph and see how to use it to avoid over-training/under recovery and peak for an important event or ride.

Best Effort Power Curve

As you log rides using your power meter, you’ll start to create a Best Efforts Power Curve. This simply shows your best average power (in Watts or W/kg) for time periods of 1-second up to the length of the ride and compare them to similar length efforts historically. It’ll also display an estimated FTP based on your power data and, although I’d still recommend a dedicated test session, if you’ve put in some close to max 20-30 minute efforts on rides, it’ll be pretty accurate and can be useful to give you a rough idea of what you should be aiming for pacing wise when conducting an FTP test.

FIND OUT MORE: Using Your Best Efforts Power Curve

Fitness and Freshness Graph

Along with your Best Effort Power Curve, the Training Load of your rides logged using your power meter will start to build up your Fitness & Freshness graph. Remember, Training Load takes into account your FTP, Average Power and Weighted Average Power for a ride and uses this to calculate a tangible score for the load of a workout.

Fitness is simply a rolling average of your Training Load and, as you consistently ride more, it’ll increase. Similarly, if you have time off from riding, you’ll see your fitness score fall off.

LEARN MORE: Understanding Fitness & Freshness

So, in theory, you could just keep doing more and more riding and building up your Fitness score but, unfortunately, attempting this is a one-way ticket to hitting a plateau, poor performance, overtraining/under recovery and potentially illness/injury.

The reason for this is, as you build Fitness, you’ll also accumulate Fatigue – the tiredness that blunts your performance. The good news is that Fatigue will drop fairly quickly with some time off and, although your Fitness will drop slightly too, the rest/recovery will give your legs some zing back and you’ll find some Form.

In the old days, Form was a mysterious and ephemeral thing but now, with power data and training platforms like Strava, you can clearly see the effect of your training, your recovery and remove the guesswork.

Planning your training (and recovery)

This relationship between Fitness, Fatigue and Form is why a planned and structured approach to training is important if you want to see continued improvement in your riding.

MORE FROM NIK: Power Meters: Fueling, Cramping and Understanding the Metrics

You need to ensure that you’re planning rest/recovery days during each week and also regular “recovery weeks” where you dial your training volume right down. For most riders, I’d recommend following a three weeks of build followed by an easier recovery week. On your Fitness & Freshness graph, it’s the overall trend that’s important rather than the actual numbers so be okay on those recovery weeks with your Fitness score dropping off and remember that it’s when you take this time off that’s when your body adapts to the training you’ve done and you really make “fitness” gains.

Peaking for an event

Your Fitness & Freshness graph also gives you a visual representation of how, when and why you should taper for an important event. Tapering is a planned reduction in training to minimise Fatigue, maximise Form and, in doing so, guarantee peak performance.

For that sportive/Gran Fondo that you’ve been targeting, you should be looking to start tapering down your training 2-3 weeks before your event and definitely getting your final big endurance ride done at least two weeks out. Don’t stress about your Fitness score falling, have faith in the training you’ve done and take confidence from seeing your Fatigue also drop and your Form rise. Don’t be tempted to try to squeeze in one last panic big ride, all you’ll be doing is adding Fatigue. Even if your training hasn’t been perfect, it’s better to be underprepared but fresh rather than prepared but fatigued.

Read the full Power Meter Guide series:

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