Using your power meter in cyclocross.

Using your power meter in cyclocross is not only effective, but arguably one of your best weapons in pushing yourself to the next level. Cyclocross brings its own set of demands in that you must be able to create quick bursts of effort over small obstacles, leap off the bicycle and run while carrying it for sections as long as 30 seconds – all the while maintaining a your race pace.  Cyclocross might not seem like the best place to utilize a power meter, since there is hardly time to get a sip of water from your bottle, much less look at those tiny numbers on the handlebar, but there are quite a few ways you can use a powermeter to improve in cross.  What if you knew the best tire pressure to run for optimal power output , traction and puncture resistance?  What if you knew the  correct gearing  to use in that upcoming race when you have to cross the tilled farmers field?   How important is your warm-up and how much does that impact your race?   The answers and more can be found with simple power analysis of your training and racing files and that’s the true “power” of a power meter for cross.  You are going to use it more as a post-ride/race tool and not so much focus your hard-core cross race rehearsal or race itself and from that perspective you can use that information to tailor your training so you’ll be ready for the next race.

While the data from a cross race is invaluable, I won’t try and fool you, there are barriers to utilizing a power meter and it’s data as well.  First off, you need to understand what all those squiggly lines mean in the download and how they relate to the terrain, your effort and even your line on the course.  Coaches like myself have been using power meter data now for over 10 years to help their athlete improve in a variety of cycling disciplines and while consulting a coach can definitely shorten your learning curve, it’s not required.  For those of you that are more artsy, fartsy(as my mom used to say), and less analytically inclined, all this data might be a bit much and conversely… for all you engineers out there, you might become too obsessed with the numbers!  On the whole, once past the learning curve, I know you’ll really enjoy training with a power meter and the new dimension it brings to your passion in cycling.

Power meter files from ’cross races typically average about 20 to 40 watts below an athlete’s actual FTP, since there’s so much “down time” when the athlete is either coasting down a technical hill, off the bike and running or just experiencing a lack of traction. The difficulty of putting the power to the ground skews the power numbers down, and one has to take this into consideration when reviewing cyclocross power files. Because of these running and technical coasting sections, it’s hard to determine the exact muscular demands of cyclocross. When viewed in a Quadrant Analysis plot, which breaks down a ride based on time spent with different force outputs and cadences, a ’cross race contains the largest amount of amount of the effort in Quadrant II, which represents slow pedaling and higher force, but Quadrant III (slow pedaling, low force) and Quadrant IV (fast pedaling and low force) are also heavily  represented.

When you examine your power file from a ’cross race, one of the first things you might notice is that it looks a lot like some of those criteriums many of you did earlier in the year: loads of stochastic power spikes, easily discernible laps and big “race winning” type efforts are all commonalities to criteriums. A cyclocross power file will define the power bursts needed in the race, reveal the amount of rest in each lap and show the overall training stress accumulated in the race. One thing that’s important to identify in a cyclocross power file is the number of efforts you have above your FTP and how long each of these efforts is. In other words, how many matches you needed to burn. A cyclocross “match” is a little different than a match in a road race or a criterium because most likely you will already be at your FTP and then have to do hard efforts above it, depending on the terrain and your competition. In this case, the matches are really just bursts of flames coming up from the already raging fire! However, identifying these flames and their intensity will allow you to train more specifically for the effort.

  After reviewing hundreds of cyclocross race and training power files, I have determined that a specific training workout good for ’cross is one that I call the “30-30-30” workout; it’s made up of 30 seconds at 150% of FTP, 30 seconds coasting (0% of FTP) and 30 seconds of running. The “30-30-30” workout is done continuously for 10 minutes and then a rest is taken for five minutes before doing two to four more sets total.

The “30-30-30” Cyclocross workout

15 minute warm-up, level 2.

(1) – 5 minute hard effort at 110% of FTP

5 minutes easy- Level 2.

2 x 10 minutes —  30- 30 -30. Which is 30 seconds RIDING hard as you can, 30 seconds not pedaling and coasting, 30 seconds dismount  and running fast…. REPEAT.

10 minutes Level 2 after each  30-30-30 block of efforts.

4 x 2 minutes- at 150% of FTP. Anaerobic Capacity work.

REST 2 minutes after each.

10 minutes Level 2

Finish with 10 x 1minute FAST PEDALING at 110rpm+. 1 minute on, 1 minute off at 80rpm

15 minutes cool-down

One of the most important reasons to use a power meter is to training for the demands of the event, and this reason is highly applicable in the case of cyclocross. Addressing the specific needs for a strong anaerobic capacity along with highly-tuned technical skills (dismount the bike, run with the bike and remount) creates a perfect blend of a workout in the “30-30-30,” which you’ll find below. Along with this anaerobic capacity workout, cyclocross demands a strong FTP, so the traditional Level 4 threshold workouts done at 4 x 10, 3 x15, and 2 x 20 minutes at FTP are important for the successful ’cross racer. As Sam Krieg, a coach for the Peaks Coaching Group and Elite ’cross racer said, “The ability to train with power on your ’cross bike and develop specific ’cross workouts has allowed me to not only coach ’cross riders more specifically, but also improve my own fitness. My favorite workout is the ’30-30-30′ that Hunter developed because of the structure it provides – the nearly identical similarities to my ’cross races – and it forces me to go hard for the entire 10-minute set.”

Kris Walker, the 2009 national champion in the Masters (45-49) Time Trial and 2008 Masters Cyclocross events adds, “As a classic steady state rider, my forte is my ability to hold a constant power for the entire event, and cyclocross is very challenging to me because I have to train my weakness , anaerobic capacity. After reviewing my power files with Hunter, we were able to determine just exactly how much anaerobic work I was going to need in order to be on the top step of the Cyclocross National Championship podium.”

Cyclocross is another discipline within cycling where using a power meter in order to train more quantitatively and also more specifically to the demands of the sport allows racers to improve their performances. A key component of this improvement hinges on the ability of the athlete to mimic the demands of upcoming ’cross races and develop training routines for them. As the popularity of cyclocross continues to gain momentum, more and more racers will be using a power meter to collect data, analyze the demands of the events and then train for them.

Check out Hunter’s CX online training plans HERE  Cyclocross Training Plans – Shop Peaks Coaching Group     

Peaks Coaching Group also has a special 3 month CX coaching package available at a discount!  

Silver Cyclocross Coaching Package – Shop Peaks Coaching Group

Two Killer Cyclocross Workouts

By PCG Founder & Coach Hunter Allen

Cyclocross hurts, and so do the workouts that matter! Head out to your local CX course (or create one at a school or park) and give these two workouts a try.

Workout One: The 30-30-30


Ride 15 minutes in your endurance zone with a solid five-minute tempo effort to open up your legs. 

Main set

Complete the following:

  • 1 x 5-minute blow-out with watts at 115% of FTP
  • 2 x 10-minute sets of 30-30-30: 30 seconds riding as hard as you can, 30 seconds coasting and not pedaling, 30 seconds dismounted and running fast. Repeat.
  • 5 minutes easy
  • 4 x 2 minutes AC work at 130% of FTP. Push hard and fast. Rest 2 minutes after each.
  • 10 minutes easy
  • Finish with 10 x 1 minute fast pedaling: 1 minute on, 1 minute off (cadence goal: 110 rpm).


15 minutes easy riding

Workout Two: Race Prep


Warm up for 10 minutes at 56-76% of FTP. 

Main set

Complete the following:

  • 20 minutes of tempo (85-90% of FTP) with 5 bursts (10 seconds each) to 200% of FTP and return to 85-90% of FTP. Ride at endurance for 5 minutes at 70%. 
  • Now do 4 x 2 minutes, with 2 minutes between each. Try for 135% of FTP watts on each one. Do 2 additional efforts if your fourth one is still at least 120% of FTP.
  • Now ride at sweet-spot (88-93%) of FTP for 30 minutes, smooth and steady, and do 10 bursts within this 30 minutes: 200% of FTP for 15 seconds before coming back to 88-93% of FTP.
  • Finish with 2 hard efforts, each 5 minutes long with watts at 110% of FTP. Rest for 5 minutes between each.


10 minutes easy riding

Be sure to get in a good recovery shake afterward!

Hunter Allen is a USA Cycling Level 1 coach and former professional cyclist. He is the coauthor of “Training and Racing with a Power Meter” and “Cutting-Edge Cycling,” co-developer of TrainingPeaks’ WKO software, and CEO and founder of Peaks Coaching Group. He and his coaches create custom training plans for all levels of athletes.