Power in Motion: Using Watts to Amp Up Indoor Cycling Drills (2023)

Posted byKrista Popowych

Power in Motion: Using Watts to Amp Up Indoor Cycling Drills (1)

Originally published in the spring 2018 issue of American Fitness Magazine.

We have all seen “those riders” who pedal super-fast on their indoor cycles with little or no resistance. They’re smiling, sweating and bouncing around in the saddle, brimming with an unbridled enthusiasm that we love. Their workout appears intense and productive, but is it? How do you know?

Power in Motion: Using Watts to Amp Up Indoor Cycling Drills (2)

(Video) What's a Watt w/ Trainer Mike - Indoor Cycling Watts and RPMs

(Spoiler alert: It’s not. More on that later.)

How do you convince these riders to literally change gears to improve their performance? For an indoor cycling instructor, one of the many challenges is knowing which cues will enable participants to reach their workout goals. Gym members aren’t snapping into the toe clips of their bikes with the object of burning as few calories as possible. Yet, without the correct ratio of gear to revolutions per minute, riders may be doing just that.

The key to helping indoor cycling enthusiasts turn up their burn lies in two buzzwords you’ve surely heard sweeping the group indoor cycling scene: power and watts. Here’s a quick brush-up on physics, power and watts—with tips on how to help members use the bike’s digital display to get the ride of their lives.

And don't forget form! To learn everything you need to know about cycling form, follow the link.

A Powerful Equation

Generally speaking, POWER is a function of FORCE multiplied by the VELOCITY at which the rider is pedaling:

In the case of cycling, wattage (power) is equal to gear (force) multiplied by revolutions per minute (velocity):

Wattage = Gear × RPM

As this equation illustrates, power is not a reflection of either gear or rpm by itself. An increase in both velocity and force will result in a higher intensity than an increase in either of them alone.

(Video) How To Boost Your Power On The Bike | GCN Pro Tips

Many exercisers think of power training as something that happens in a weight room and involves relatively high-speed, high-load exercises that are performed with an explosive intention. But we can apply that same concept to the cycling studio.

A Powerful Connection

In the scenario of those furiously pedaling, seat-bouncing cyclists using a low gear, velocity is high, but force is low, so wattage will be low, too. We can reason a similar outcome for riders pedaling at very challenging loads but barely turning the crank arms—a habit called “mashing” the pedals.

For pedal mashers, force is heavy, but velocity and wattage are also low. These riders, like the bouncers, appear to be working hard as they struggle to complete a revolution. But in both cases (bouncing and mashing), the riders are not truly maximizing their power output. What’s more, riding at high speeds is often compromised by poor technique, and using heavy gears and low cadence can set the stage for knee injuries (Young 2016).

While you may be able to spot these issues (and cue riders so they can correct them), the display on an indoor cycle offers a concrete crosscheck that is easy to see quickly and objectively. In fact, this is precisely why power training has become the gold standard for outdoor cyclists who once tracked progress with mileage and heart rate.

Whereas heart rate training can vary greatly—based on the body’s physiological responses to temperature, hydration, exercise duration, caffeine, endorphins, overtraining and other factors—training with power is a mechanical response. It measures how hard you can push at what velocity, regardless of whether you’re jacked up on caffeine or had a bad night’s sleep. And the only way to manipulate power outputs, unlike heart rate results, is to do the work.

Power is a great tool for setting goals and measuring improvement. If a rider usually averages 130 watts per hour, for example, and a month later is averaging 150 watts per hour, he or she is definitely getting stronger.

If you have riders who can’t seem to move out of the middle of the pack on the club’s leader­board, regardless of how hard they are pedaling, encourage them to focus on their own gains, not on their rank.

Using Watts to Boost Workouts

Riders who are familiar with wattage only in terms of lightbulbs may know little about how watts work. But participants don’t really need to understand the physics to see how they can manipulate variables to raise or lower their average watts. In short, higher watts means greater calorie burn! Use these steps to show riders how variations in force and velocity affect power:

(Video) Improving Indoor Cycling Speed and Endurance. How to get faster for cycling classes online. Leggo!

  1. HOLD SPEED STEADY AND INCREASE GEAR. Ask riders to hold a specific cadence (e.g., 80 rpm) and then gradually increase gears. Tell them to note that wattage rises following each gear increase.
  2. HOLD GEAR STEADY AND INCREASE SPEED. Cue participants to drop a few gears and then gradually increase rpm while leaving the gear alone. Again, cue riders to watch their watts on the display; they will go up.
  3. SELECT A FAST SPEED AND DUMP THE GEAR. While riders are pedaling at a high rpm, have them quickly drop gears, or “dump the gear” down to a very light resistance. They will see their watts drop drastically even though they are pedaling fast. They will also experience how their riding technique starts to fall apart at high speed and low gear, thus emphasizing the importance of cycling with some resistance. This is a good time to point out how they can use physical cues to determine when it’s time to switch gears.

Giving Riders More Control of Their Training

Focusing on watts provides an individualized approach to monitoring intensity. For example, let’s say you cue an interval drill with a goal to increase watts by 40 from one interval to the next. In this scenario, riders have three choices:

  • Stay at their current cadence and add gear.
  • Stay at their current gear and speed up.
  • Adjust both gear and cadence.

How each rider hits the wattage goal is a matter of preference: Increase speed, increase gear, or do both. Having this control is particularly beneficial for riders who prefer a certain cadence and don’t want to deviate much from that speed.

Helping Riders Get in the Zone

Wattage goals will vary from person to person. No exact watt number is appropriate for all riders.

Generally speaking, a beginner cyclist may average around 75–100 watts in a 1-hour workout. A fit participant will average more than 100 watts, and pro cyclists can reach 400 watts per hour.

Establishing a rider’s wattage goals can be done through power testing, which can also be used as a basis for power zone training.

FUNCTIONAL THRESHOLD POWER is the highest power a rider can maintain in a quasi-steady state for 1 hour without fatiguing (Allen & Coggan 2010). When power exceeds FTP, a rider will tire more quickly than if he rides just below his FTP. Power zone training uses a rider’s baseline FTP to establish specific individualized watt ranges (zones) for goals such as active recovery, endurance, tempo, anaerobic threshold and more.

Some instructors lead riders in a 20-minute test during class with a correction factor of minus 5% (so it correlates with the 1-hour test). Or, with the benefit of today’s technology, riders can perform their own FTP test using a guided app on their smartwatch or smartphone.

Of course, none of this is necessary if your facility has gamified leaderboards that track watts and project them on a screen behind the instructor. Just remind participants that their rank doesn’t tell the whole story. They should compare their watts to their watts, not someone else’s.

(Video) How to pedal properly on an indoor cycling bike. Gain power Spinning® by using both legs.

Go Ahead: Harness the Power

Just about any favorite drill can be rejigged to focus on power. Training with power in the indoor cycling setting adds a new dimension to group classes. At the end of the day, group exercise participants want variety, individualized workouts and, most of all, results. Power training can pave the way to effective and inspiring rides and measurable improvements that can keep you and your class riding high.

Sample Power Drill: Watt-Based Intervals for Indoor Cycling

Here’s a quick overview of how you might use power training as one drill in a longer indoor cycling session.


At this gear, riders should be easily able to hold revolutions per minute at 90 for more than a minute, but not be able to go past this point without a push. If they are cycling beyond this cadence, cue them to add gear until they are not. Ask riders to make a mental note of their base watts.


Cue riders to increase watts beyond baseline in whatever way they choose during the drill: Add gear, add speed, or do both. When they do this, they should maintain cadence for the duration of the increase.

  • Increase watts by 25% past baseline. Ride for 60 seconds.
  • Recover at baseline watts for 60 seconds.
  • Increase watts by 50% past baseline. Ride for 45 seconds.
  • Recover at baseline watts for 60 seconds.
  • Push to increase watts by 75% past baseline. Ride for 30 seconds.
  • Recover at baseline watts for 60 seconds.
  • Final challenge! Attempt to double baseline watts! Ride hard for 15–30 seconds.


Cue riders to dump the gear to base or below (active recovery). Ride 2 minutes while hydrating before starting the next drill. Watts should drop way down during this time.

Learn More: G.E.A.R.: Indoor Cycling

Teach at the depth you know you’re capable of with G.E.A.R. This online course focuses on theoretical knowledge, practical training and creative ideas to help you design safe and effective indoor cycling classes. Find out more at: afaa.com/courses/g-e-a-r-indoor-cycling

Topics:Group Fitness,Workout Plans,American Fitness Magazine


How can I increase my indoor cycling wattage? ›

In order to increase your cycling wattage, it's best to follow the 75 percent rule. This training principle states that throughout the week, 75 percent of your cycle training should be done below 75 percent of your maximum heart rate (MHR).

How do you calculate power in cycling? ›

In its simplest form, the equation for cycling power is: Power = Torque x Cadence.

How do you calculate power cycling watts? ›

To calculate power-to-weight ratio, divide a cyclist's power output in Watts by the rider's weight in kilograms. In other words, a cyclist who produces 250 Watts and weighs 70 kilograms would have a PWR of 250 / 70 = 3.57 W/kg. However, it is important to remember that PWR is not a static number.

Is power the same as watts in cycling? ›

Power is the rate at which energy is used (energy over time) and is measured in watts. In cycling, energy is expressed in terms of work (such as how hard you have to work to ascend a climb). It's a constant snapshot of your work rate at any given moment.

How do I increase my cycling threshold power? ›

5 tips for improving your FTP from the experts
  1. Stay consistent and establish a training routine. Stick hard to your training plan. ...
  2. Train hard, but smart. Interval training can help, but only when used wisely. ...
  3. Rest is just as important as training. ...
  4. Go long. ...
  5. Mix it up.
22 Jan 2019

Is 250 watts good for cycling? ›

However, there are other factors to consider, such as weight and efficiency. Bike for commuting, a motor of 250 watts should be plenty. It will get you up to speed quickly and help you maintain a good pace. You may want more power if you plan to use your e-bike for off-roading or hills.

Is 200w a lot of power in cycling? ›

Is 200 watts good for cycling? As a maximum, all out effort the answer is no. 200 watts as sustained effort over 2, 3 or more hours, that is pretty good. It is not elite or pro level good, but an average person who cycles semi-regularly, should be able to hold 200 watts for 30 to 60 minutes.

How is power measured on a stationary bike? ›

Just Buy A Power Meter

If you really want to measure your power output on the bike, buy a power meter for it. The attraction of this option is that you can measure power whether you're indoors on the trainer or out in the real world (NonZwiftLand). So it's the most flexible of the accurate options.

How do you calculate power output on a cycle ergometer? ›

To calculate the power output of cycle ergometers with varying sized flywheels, the circumference of the resistance track on the flywheel is multiplied by the number of flywheel revolutions produced with one complete revolution of the pedal.

Is 400 watts a lot of power cycling? ›

No exact watt number is appropriate for all riders. Generally speaking, a beginner cyclist may average around 75–100 watts in a 1-hour workout. A fit participant will average more than 100 watts, and pro cyclists can reach 400 watts per hour.

Do watts matter in cycling? ›

Watts per kilogram is an important measurement in determining your cycling potential. On the surface, it's a simple measurement, but it can give a ton of information about your performance and strengths.

What are watts in indoor cycling? ›

Watts refer to a specific unit of power that you can increase or decrease when riding your bike. Although many indoor stationary bikes will monitor both your watts and cadence, each one reveals a unique aspect of your cycling and overall body strength.

Is 300 watts good cycling? ›

The article claims that a typical fit cyclist might be able to crank out 250 to 300 watts as an average for a 20 minute FTP (functional threshold point) test, while the pros usually average 400 watts.

How many watts do Tour de France riders average? ›

During a normal stage of the Tour de France, pro riders can pump out around 230-250 watts on average, which equates to burning about 900 calories per hour. But on some of the harder stages they can average over 300 watts, or 1,100 calories per hour.

What is a good FTP for a female cyclist? ›

Forty six percent of women riders using Cycling Analytics (generally serious recreational cyclists) have an FTP of below 200W, 44 percent have an FTP of 210W or more, and 10 percent have an FTP between 200W and 210W.

What is a good functional threshold power? ›

An amateur cyclist will have an FTP of between 1.5 and 2.5 watts/kg, whilst more experienced cyclists could be around 3.0 – 4.5 per/kg. Bicycling.com says that new riders with some fitness level will be approximately 2.0. For comparison's sake, it then points out that the world's top cyclists have an FTP of around 7.0.

How long does it take to increase cycling power? ›

Putting it all together

Perform these exercises twice a week for between eight and 10 weeks and you will likely see an improvement in your power output on the bike. – Select a weight that brings about fatigue between 6 and 10 repetitions.

What is a good functional power threshold? ›

FTP in watts per kilogram for males

48.6% of people have an FTP below 3.4W/kg. 42.1% of people have an FTP of 3.6W/kg or more. 9.3% of people have an FTP between 3.4W/kg and 3.6W/kg.

What is the difference between a 250 watt and 500 watt electric bike? ›

Differences in Power

The biggest difference between these motors is the ability to go uphill. An e-bike equipped with a 500W motor will be easier to ride than a 250W because it has more power. If you're planning on using the bike for commuting, find out if you will be facing any hills.

What is the difference between a 250w and 350w motor? ›

Remember the 250w Bosch motors give exactly the same assistance and torque levels as the 350w motors. In fact, a 250w motor with a dongle installed will travel at faster-assisted speeds than a 350w motor on its own.

Is 500 watts good for bike? ›

Smaller hills may become conquerable for heavier riders. Again though, such riders won't see a huge difference as compared to lower powered 250 W motors when it comes to any decent hill. It should also be noted that 500 W is usually the minimum power necessary for an e-bike to surpass 32 km/h (20 mph) of speed.

How many watts does a human produce cycling? ›

Normal human metabolism produces heat at a basal metabolic rate of around 80 watts. During a bicycle race, an elite cyclist can produce close to 400 watts of mechanical power over an hour and in short bursts over double that—1000 to 1100 watts; modern racing bicycles have greater than 95% mechanical efficiency.

Is 200 lumens enough for cycling? ›

Cyclists travelling through well-lit areas should aim for a 100- or 200- lumen light. If you're cycling through unlit areas and need to increase visibility, you'll need a higher lumen count. Anywhere between 200 to 600 lumens is ideal, especially for commuters.

How many watts is 30 mph? ›

You can also use a 'cycling power calculator' (eg this one here) to come up with an estimate of your power.
Cycling Power.
Speed - kmh (mph)Power (watts)Increase in power needed to increase speed by 2.5kmh
30 (18.7)18032
32.5 (20.3)21838
35 (21.9)26246
37.5 (23.4)31149
5 more rows

How many watts is vigorous exercise? ›

Again, 200 watts is the benchmark here; McCall says it should be at a "vigorous effort." Many rowing machines list watts on the display.

How accurate are watts on an exercise bike? ›

The power measurement must be precise and repeatable. A 3-5 watt error is not significant, but if a system is not reliable there may be deviations of many tens of watts, i.e. equal to or greater than the amount of power that is gained from one year's training.

How much power can be generated by pedaling? ›

Pedaling a bike at a reasonable pace generates about 100 watts of power. That's the same energy-per-time used by a 100-watt lightbulb. So if you pedaled eight hours every day for 30 days (no weekends off), then doing the math, you'd generate 24 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of energy.

How do you calculate power output? ›

To calculate the power output, you should multiply the Load/Amperage by the Line Voltage.

How fast is 200 watts on a bike? ›

As a Clydesdale rider, a 200 watt average on mixed terrain for 2 hour ride/loop is usually an average speed of 16-17 mph with 900'-1500' of total climbing.

Do heavier riders produce more watts? ›

In general, people that are heavier and fit have bigger muscles, which usually means they can create more force on the pedals, thereby producing more absolute watts when riding.

Does watt bike build leg muscle? ›

Goal: Strength

They'll cause a surge in your human growth hormone and testosterone levels and increase the number of fast-twitch fibres in your leg muscles. The result: stronger, more powerful quads, hamstrings, glutes and calves.”

Why do cyclists use watts? ›

Power, which is measured in watts (W), represents energy output over time. When you're cycling, the energy you output from your body is what propels the bike forwards. At any given point on your ride your power number (e.g. 250W) is snapshot of the work that you're putting in on the bike at that very moment.

How many watts is an Olympic cyclist? ›

For most humans, the optimal pedalling cadence is around 115-130 rotations per minute. When pedalling at these cadences, world-class sprint track cyclists can produce incredible levels of power: more than 2,200 watts for men and more than 1,400 watts for women.

Is 750 watts good for an electric bike? ›

750W & 1000W Electric Bikes

750W will give much more exciting acceleration off the line for light riders. This level will also start to offer good hill-climbing performance. For heavier riders, 750W is when flat land performance becomes more enjoyable, and hills become consistently possible.

Is 250 lumens enough for cycling? ›

An average trail rider will likely be fine with about 200 lumens minimum; ideal is about 250-400 lumens. Some riders can ride really fast offroad at night but we find anything above 400 lumens doesn't help us go faster but burns battery life faster.

What is a good cycling speed for a 60 year old? ›

What's a good average for a 60-year-old cyclist? 60-year-old senior cyclists should be able to maintain an average speed of 9 to 11 miles per hour easily.

Is peloton output equal to Watts? ›

Your Output, measured in Watts, is how much power you are exerting at any point in time. You can increase your output by increasing your cadence, your resistance, or both. Total Output, measured in KJ (kilojoules), is how much work you've done over the whole ride.

How many Watts is a peloton? ›

Generally, a Peloton bike uses about 50 watts (W) of electricity. Pelotons connect to a standard 120 volt outlet, and pull a maximum of 3.25 amps.

What percentage of FTP is sweet spot? ›

Simply put, sweet spot training is efforts that range around 86-95% of your current Functional Threshold Power (FTP) on the bike. You may also like to think of these efforts as “slightly harder” tempo efforts. These efforts are difficult and require effort and focus, but are manageable for longer periods of time.

At what of FTP is an endurance ride? ›

What Is A Power Zone For Endurance Rides? As you can see from the power zone chart from above, endurance rides should be between 56-75% of FTP.

What is a good average speed for a female cyclist? ›

What Is The Global Average Cycling Speed? - Simple Answer
Average Global Cycling Speed - Strava 2018
Women:12.1 mph (19.47 km/h)
Men:13.7 mph (22.04 km/h)
Global Average:13.5 mph (21.72 km/h)

How many watts can a stationary bike generate? ›

If you pedal for two hours then you should produce around 400 watt-hours of power. That's enough to power a 200 watt television for two hours, or a 100 watt light bulb for four hours. A 20 watt laptop PC could be charged for 20 hours and a 15 watt fluorescent bulb for almost 27 hours.

How can I increase my watts per kg? ›


There are three main ways to do this, these being: Increasing your power output whilst keeping a constant weight. Keeping your power output constant whilst losing weight. Increasing your power whilst also decreasing weight.

Does Weight Affect Watts cycling? ›

Your body weight and bike weight have a lot to do with how many watts you produce and how fast you can ride your bicycle. A heavier rider will be able to (and will have to) produce more watts than a lighter rider going the same speed up a hill.

Can you generate electricity from an exercise bike? ›

Energym launches an electricity generating bike

The RE:GEN captures the power generated during a workout and then stores it inside a 100Wh battery called the Ohm. Once the user has finished exercising, the Ohm is unclipped from the bike and ready to start charging electronic devices.

Can a exercise bike produce electricity? ›

It's a power generating exercise bike for homes, commercial gyms, and office space. You can't power an entire house from a single bike, that's true, but if you're drawing power from the entire fitness community - those exercising at home and inside gyms - then that power adds up.

Is 200 watts a lot cycling? ›

Is 200 watts good for cycling? As a maximum, all out effort the answer is no. 200 watts as sustained effort over 2, 3 or more hours, that is pretty good. It is not elite or pro level good, but an average person who cycles semi-regularly, should be able to hold 200 watts for 30 to 60 minutes.

How many watts can a human endure? ›

The average human, at rest, produces around 100 watts of power. [2] Over periods of a few minutes, humans can comfortably sustain 300-400 watts; and in the case of very short bursts of energy, such as sprinting, some humans can output over 2,000 watts.

What is a good wattage for a female cyclist? ›

Generally, untrained riders have an FTP below 2.0 W/kg for men and 1.5 W/kg for women, while professional racers may be capable of sustaining more than 6.0 W/kg for men and 5.5 for women.


1. 45 Minute Cycle Training Workout - Sprint Training
(Global Cycling Network)
2. How To Do A Functional Threshold Power (FTP) Test
(Global Cycling Network)
3. 40 Minute Sprint Intervals: Sufferfest's 'Equalizer' | Indoor Cycling Workout
(Global Cycling Network)
4. HIIT Indoor Cycling Workout | 45 Minute VO2 Max Intervals
(Global Cycling Network)
5. Quick, Easy & Proper Bike Setup for Spinning ® / Indoor Cycling
(Studio SWEAT onDemand)
6. HIIT Indoor Cycling Workout | 30 Minute Intervals: Fitness Training
(Global Cycling Network)
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