Rate of Improvement when Training with a Power Meter

How much faster can I get?

Many cyclists spend a lot of time putting in junk miles. These are the rides where you don't have a focus - you're riding with a typical hammerfest group or you're just out on the bike rambling around. Some say that these miles are too hard to allow yourself to recover, but not hard enough to bring any gains.

Buying a power meter brings a "light bulb" moment to many cyclists. This new tool gives them something to focus on and brings training into line, increasing effectiveness and quality. It's fair to assume that an increase in training quality will result in an improved FTP.

A question was posted on Reddit Velo a few weeks ago about the rate of improvement when training with a power meter. This got me thinking: "what has my improvement looked like since I started to focus on the quality of my rides?" What can you, as a power meter user, expect to see with regards to FTP improvements when you start training with a power meter? Let's head to the database and find out.

I'll save you the time if you don't want to read: the answer is, "it depends."

Assumptions and Restrictions

Before we dig in, I've made a few assumptions and restrictions with this analysis. This isn't meant to be a scientific experiment - just anecdotal data that will give you an idea of the rate of improvement that other cyclists see. First: I'm assuming that a cyclist is able to place a greater emphasis on improving FTP when he or she starts training with a power meter. Second, I'm only looking at cyclists who have trained with a power meter for at least 18 months. Because of this, my sample consists of 202 cyclists.

Two more things. I'm looking at the max 20 minute power output per month of each cyclist. I'm assuming that each cyclist either tested monthly or put out a big 20 minute effort at least once each month. To help display this concept, I've listed my own 20 minute efforts from the first half of August 2016 in the table below. This table includes my max 20 minute power from each ride in August. Of these rides, August 14 was the highest wattage output for me. That's the number we'll include in the analysis, while all others will be ignored.

My 20 Minute Efforts: August 2016
Ride Date Max 20 Minute Output
8/2/16 183
8/4/16 172
8/5/16 216
8/6/16 195
8/7/16 244
8/9/16 236
8/11/16 231
8/12/16 141
8/14/16 259
8/16/16 252

And lastly, for the purpose of simplicity, I'm avoiding watts per kilogram and going with raw watts.

Analysis Results

Here's the summary: in the first month of riding with a power meter, on average, a cyclist's maximum 20 minute power output is 231 watts. In the 12th month, that same cyclist's maximum 20 minute output, on average, is 252 watts (represents a 9% improvement). In the 24th month, the max 20 minute output moves up to 263 watts, a 14% improvement over the starting value.


You can see that the biggest gains are within the first twelve months, as you might expect. Nearly a 10% average gain in 20 minute power! Using the handy bike calculator, the difference between 231 watts and 252 watts is just over 2 minutes faster on a 40k course.

I see even greater gains for shorter durations (5 second, 1 minute and 5 minute), but FTP is the best indicator of performance. Does this mean that you'll see similar improvements if you start a power-based training plan? Maybe.

If you run this analysis on your own data, it will be helpful to compare yourself to the average gains of others. Is your 20 minute output not improving? This may be a beneficial area of focus for you.

One final caveat: this includes cyclists who are training hard and focused as well as cyclists who continue to put in junk miles even though they're training with power. It also includes cyclists who have been training with a power meter for a long time. Because of these assumptions and caveats, I have to assume that real-world gains will be slightly higher than what you see here. Particularly if you're new to training with a plan/focus.

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