Question: I read one of your recent training articles on power testing, and now I want to test myself. I have a power meter but not much time. Are there any “quick and dirty” testing protocols that I can use every couple of weeks?
Coach Fred Matheny Replies: If you have a power meter, testing is easy. Download the data with the software that came with your unit. Or use an alternative software, like that from Training Peaks. Then you can analyze every conceivable parameter of your rides.
But for a fast and simple look at your progress, you can do 5- and 20-minute all-out efforts. Record maximum and average watts for each, along with average heart rate. These tests are best done on a gradual and steady climb of about 3 percent or into the wind so you have relatively consistent resistance.
The 5-minute effort is a proxy for VO2 max. So it’s invaluable for checking your power for such things as climbing medium-length hills, bridging small gaps or establishing breaks.
Also, some excellent research tells us that a great workout is 5×3 minutes at the power you can maintain for 5 minutes. So if you can average 250 watts for 5 minutes, that’s the wattage you want to sustain for your five 3-minute intervals.
The 20-minute effort is a reasonable approximation of power at lactate threshold. This is usually tested over 60 minutes, but the shorter time span is easier mentally and physically. The resulting 20-minute watts average is usually about 3% higher than you’d record over 60 minutes.
You don’t need to dedicate a day solely for testing. You can do a hard 5- or 20-minute effort during any solo ride. And some group rides, if they include hard hills or you’re hanging onto a paceline, are great testing platforms.
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