How to test your neuromuscular power with your power meter.
You have read about the 1-minute test, the 20 minute test and now here’s the shortest test you can do in cycling! Woo hoo! For all those that do not like testing, there is always the 5 second test! I can promise you it is over fast!
What is the purpose of the 5-second test? It’s to measure your neuromuscular power, or how quickly you can contract and relax your muscles with maximum force. In cycling, this is your sprint power. How many maximum watts can you produce for 5-seconds.
Why 5-seconds? Our power meters measure in 1-second samples, but we do not know where exactly in the pedal stroke the sample starts and where it stops, so you might crack out 1534 watts for 1-second in one test, but never be able to repeat that same power. The earth, the moon, the stars all aligned perfectly in that 1 sample to give you a high maximum wattage, but it’s not a true measure as it measured just the perfect slice of your pedal stroke. When we measure over 5-seconds, you are guaranteed to include at least 5 complete pedal strokes of both legs, and this average for the 5-seconds is more representative of your actual neuromuscular power.
Do we actually test for only 5 seconds? No, you guessed correctly, you are going to have to test a little longer. You will do at least a 12-second sprint and out of that 12-second sprint, you will take the best 5-seconds average power as your neuromuscular power. You need to test a little longer, as sometimes it takes 2-3 pedal strokes to get up to speed and jumping on the gear. Do not worry about hitting the “lap” button on your bike computer, for this test, you will have to rely on your post ride data analysis in order to see your best 5 seconds.
How do you test? You should test in both the small chain ring and in the big chain ring. Each sprint starts from a slow speed and for the small chainring, you should start from less than 8mph, so that you can really stomp on the pedals and create the most torque(force) that you can. You will likely shift a couple of gears during the small ring test, but do not shift too early, be sure to shift after you reach 110+ rpm and then shift one gear harder to maintain your pedaling momentum. You should do at least (3) of these small chain ring sprints to ensure that you capture your best 5 seconds. Some riders have more “explosivity” and they will create their highest watts in the small chain ring sprint. Other riders will need to sprint in the big chain ring to create their highest 5-second average power. For this test, you should start around 12-15mph and in a gear that allows you to really stomp on the pedals and then change to the next gear quickly. You will want to sprint for at least 12 seconds, as you might create the highest wattages from second 7 to 12. Do (3) of the big chain ring sprints as well, so that you will ensure you capture the highest wattage. For rest between sprints, it is important to pedal easily at 80-90rpm for 5minutes between EACH sprint. This allows the muscles to recover and helps you to reproduce another great sprint. Many times, your third sprint will end up being your best, so give each sprint your 100% effort and adequate recovery.
Here is an example of a good 5-second sprint. In your downloaded power file, you are looking for a sharp (straight vertical line) increase in power indicating you started quickly and hard enough.
What do you do with this data? Well, this helps you to understand if you are a sprinter or not and put your neuromuscular into a relationship with the other energy systems. Is this one your strengths? Or an area you need to improve? The old adage is true, “Sprinters are born and not made”, so your neuromuscular ability come from your genetics. Of course, you can always improve, but if you can only do 900 watts in your sprint and your competitor does 1400watts, it’s highly doubtful that you’ll ever be able to bridge that gap. Which means you should be careful where you put time into your training. Someone that is not a great sprinter might ought to focus more on improving their FTP, so they can just ride away from all the sprinters!