5 Ways Power Training Will be a Game Changer in Your Indoor Cycling Classes

More and more clubs are equipping their cycling studios with bikes that measure or estimate power, opening up exciting new ways for cycling instructors to motivate participants and help them achieve gains in fitness.

Unfortunately, many instructors and participants are intimidated by power training at first because they think it’s too technical, too complicated, or only useful for “serious” cyclists. But once you understand the basics, it’s actually a very straightforward tool, and a great way to challenge and engage participants, regardless of whether they ride outside or not.

I first started training with power more than a decade ago as a middle-of-the-pack age group triathlete trying to get faster on the bike. I quickly discovered that using a power meter made it easy to work at just the right intensity to achieve that goal.

Now that many of us have access to power technology in our indoor cycling classes, we have the ability to help our participants improve in the same way. Whether they ride indoors or out, setting goals and measuring progress can be a huge motivator, and training with power makes that possible.


Power is a measure of work, or energy, produced over time. On a bike, power meters measure the energy expended turning the pedals, and express that energy in watts. Watts are the exact same unit used to measure the energy required to operate electrical appliances, light bulbs, etc. You can see a powerful demonstration of that here:


Power meters give us a way to objectively assess how hard we’re working on the bike, which means we can compare an effort today to an effort next week, next month, or next year. Without any way to measure output, it’s difficult to know on a stationary bike if fitness is improving, declining, or staying the same.

In the weight room, we know we’re getting stronger when we can lift heavier weights or do more reps of the same weight. Runners and outdoor riders know they’re improving when they can run or ride farther or faster. Until power meters were introduced to indoor cycling, the only way to judge fitness was subjectively—based on how a workout felt.

This ability to know exactly how hard we’re working at any given moment provides unique benefits for indoor cycling instructors and participants, including:

Removing the Guesswork

Before power meters, we had to rely on rate of perceived exertion (RPE; how hard an effort feels) or indirect measures of effort like heart rate to judge how hard we were working on the bike. Power meters now give us a way to directly measure effort, taking away the guesswork. RPE and heart rate are still valid tools, but they are greatly enhanced when used in conjunction with a power meter.

Clearly Communicating Desired Intensity

Without power meters, cueing how hard an effort should be can be difficult. We can use descriptive language about how it should feel, or suggest how hard it should be on a scale of 1 to 10, or as a percent of “max effort,” but in the end, each of our students will interpret those cues their own way—which usually means everyone in the room is working at a different intensity. Power technology allows us to define exactly how hard an effort should be, and allows our students to know with certainty that they are working in the zone you intended.  

Training at the Right Effort

Training in different power zones provides different physiological benefits. The best way to help our students improve over time is to provide workouts that include efforts across a range of intensities. Since power meters allow you define precisely how hard you want your riders to work, you can help them ride at the correct intensity for the desired training effect.

Establishing Baseline Fitness, Setting Goals, and Tracking Progress

Power meters allow you to easily test fitness and periodically re-assess to measure progress. This also makes it easy for you and your students to set and pursue quantifiable goals; for example, improving average 1-minute, 5-minute, or threshold power.

Instant Feedback

The benefit of training with a power meter is particularly evident with short, hard (anaerobic) intervals. When you increase your effort, heart rate does not respond immediately. It typically takes about 30 seconds or more for heart rate to “catch up” to increases in workload. By the time you’ve completed your first 15-, 20-, or 30-second interval, heart rate might still be well below your steady-state threshold heart rate, making heart rate almost useless for short, high-intensity intervals. Power, on the other hand, responds instantly, allowing you to know if you are hitting and holding the desired level of effort—even for short, hard intervals.

The Indoor Cycling Association has numerous helpful articles on training with power in its archives, and will be providing more power training education to its members in upcoming articles.

Power to the Masses Part 1

Getting started with training with power.

Power to the Masses, Part 2

Is FTP testing practical with your riders?

Power to the Masses, Part 3
Power-to-weight ratio, and setting benchmarks.

Power to the Masses, Part 4
A convenient form to download to track power based on different factors.

The Power Couple: Combining Heart Rate and Watts
This educational article offers three drills to help your riders understand how heart rate and power work together.

Ask the Expert: Lower Cadence + Same Power = Lower Heart Rate
Strength work on the bike often elicits a lower heart rate for a given power output. Here is why.

Ask the Expert: Do My Legs Have a Zone 5?
A clever way of cueing strength work and understanding power output.

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  1. Great Article,

    Looking forward to understanding Power.

  2. Impressive Video!

    Would really like to see material that compares power training using “Strain Gage” technology to measure power output (like that used on the “Spinner Blade ION”) compared to “Formula Based” mechanisms (like those used on some other indoor bike computers).

    1. Author

      In terms of training, the most important important factor is is consistency. In other words, does 150 watts today feel the same as it did yesterday or last week or two weeks ago. The absolute accuracy of the power reading is less important from a training perspective.

      Every device measures (or estimates) differently, and will provide slightly different power readings. That’s okay, as long as the information you’re getting is consistent. Where you run into problems is when power readings are NOT consistent – when your computer reads 150 watts, but that effort feels much easier or harder than it did yesterday or last week.

      Consistency would be something that would be interesting to take a look at!

      For what it’s worth, the Blade ION technology is interesting – it’s kind of a hybrid of measured & estimated power. It uses a strain gauge, but measures force at the brake pad, not along the drive train (pedals, crank, spindle, hub), where most outdoor power meters measure torque. So it essentially measures resistance applied by the brake, and uses that to estimate power.

  3. Whenever I mention power output to my classes (in the context of riding our SPINNERS sans power) I’ll oftentimes mention how easy it is to imagine you’re powering the lights at a football stadium…..but in fact be closer to powering a night-light (I found that out the hard way at my very first power training workshop) Watching the video makes me think I should set the comparison bar a bit lower.

    Thanks for a great article JSA……plenty of food for thought here even if we can only pretend we have power


  4. That video is NUTS. Love it. Incredible.

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