Learning to recognise physical sensations associated with different levels of power

Hi everyone

I’m pretty new to riding with power and heard on the podcast it can take a while to learn what different levels of power feel like. I definitely have a lot to learn! I was trying to pay attention to how different power outputs felt in my body whilst doing intervals outside today and would really like to hear about your experiences of this. What physical sensations tell you that you are riding at a particular level of power or in a particular power zone?

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The “Descriptions” in Table 1 of this link are good for reference:

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How much it hurts :laughing:

Seriously though no one can really describe it for you so that when you next go out you get a feeling for it, it’s something that just has to be instinctive through experience. Your own strengths and weakness make it so…

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In my experience the best way to learn how it feels is to go out and do it. Look at the brief descriptions from Chads link then go do it. Go try to ride at a steady 3-4h pace paying attention to how it feels then map that to the power you are doing. Same thing for threshold. Go ‘hard tempo’ for 10 minutes then start winding it up until it feels like you’re on a timer… then back off… that’s what threshold feels like.

Best way to learn to ride to RPE is to ride to RPE.

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Building on this, just try to learn and associate the power data you see in your inside training, and then attempt to apply similar feelings when you get outside. Pay attention to things like your breathing, muscular feel and overall effort at the range of training you do inside. It’s not perfect, but you can then apply those basic feelings outside to get closer to the ideals intended when training outside.

It doesn’t have to be perfect and you will benefit from paying attention in training so you can ultimately apply that in your riding outside of training (group rides, events, races, etc.).


to add to the great advice here, and YMMV, but I found HR data to be really helpful too - it is good to know where I tend to land at various zones. My HR tends to consistently respond, and when it is off there is usually an obvious reason.


It’s all about the respiratory rate/effort

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It’s all about being present in the moment


Step one: Ride your bike.

Thanks for the helpful advice. The table Chad recommended and the focus on breathing seem particularly helpful. I’ve done a few centuries and am used to riding at a steady sustainable pace without a power meter, but I’ve been surprised how poor my estimation of which power zone I’m in is at times! Definitely learning a lot through trainer road and the community here

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Honestly couldn’t tell you the physical sensations I feel, but if you asked me to ride in zone2 or sweet spot I could pretty reliably do it without seeing power data.

The Coggan descriptions make sense on paper, but my brain doesn’t work that way on the road. IMHO doing a lot of interval work outside on flat ground is the best environment for learning to ride by feel. I find it best to not have distractions, so that means quiet roads and no music. Inside also works, better in resistance mode than erg, but I find it hard to train inside without TV or music or a podcast. The key for me is being in the moment with a clear and open mind, and cross referencing what I feel to the power and HR data on my computer. Do that enough and riding by feel in the correct zone can become second nature. Also, I’ve really simplified my Garmin down to just target power range, 3-sec power on a 2-minute real-time graph of power, and time remaining for the current interval. Occasionally I’ll feel a change in breath or HR, and will momentarily flip to next screen with HR data.

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I’ve stopped looking at HR data during rides at all. In a crit my HR goes through the roof even when normalizing z2. Or if I’m riding steady z2 my HR won’t come out of recovery.

Basically HR depends too much on context to be of much use beyond trending in like for like situations.

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I hear you but in my world HR is pretty reliable and useful as a metric. Even across different efforts. :man_shrugging:

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One of the problems of recognising what power you’re at is that there is often a delay. Even when you’re starting to sprint, the first seconds usually feel good. So it helps to wait eg 30s to see what the effect is.

I had to buy a power meter to get to grips with different levels of effort, but now I think I’m usually in the right ballpark. As well as listening to your body (breathing, pain in legs), I think it also helps to pay attention to your cadence and the gear you’re in.


I have a different take on this. Essentially because I’m dong the trial of Polarized periodisation instead of Conventional or Sweet Spot.

Staying in the right zone: On TP podcast 309 this is also discussed more generally, ie, not Polarised specifically, rather doing workouts outside, one conclusion being don’t get too hung up on specific FTP, they are targets, and in fact RPE, the alternative to power for outside, offers some benefits. That the purpose of the computer tools is really to help you become more in tune with your RPE, awareness of your own body at different levels of exertion.

So one way of helping identifying these zones is the ‘Talk Test’. May not seem high tech enough for many but apparently is still a great method, and much more closely related with RPE and just as important the Ventilatory Thresholds associated with Polarised training. The 3 zone model, is basically: Low Intensity Zone 1 is below VT1, Medium Zone 2 is between VT1 and VT2, and high Zone is above VT2. The talk test, below VT1 you should be comfortably capable of saying a large part of the Alphabet before the desire to breath kicks in with the top of that zone being about A-J or the same as your Mobile number; between VT1 and VT2 by the top of the zone you may only be able to manage the first part of your mobile or A-D; beyond VT2, it start to become difficult to talk at all, from say a yes/no, teenage grunt and the like. An important aspect is having to say it out loud, this isn’t self talk! I’ve been using this on my outside rides and find it useful and closely related to the RPE and FTP targets. Some additional background explains the bodies response at VT1 and 2. Below VT1 the body just has the need to Inspire O2; beyond VT1 Expiration of CO2 becomes significant and by the top of Zone 2 you are increasingly aware of blowing out CO2; above VT2 it’s your primary focus, eventually leading to hyperventilation.

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