Why should you use a power meter?
More and more cyclists are using a power meter, despite being quite expensive. And for a good reason! A power meter may give you detailed clues about your performance and race readiness. Of course, it takes some time to get familiar with it. But once you get the hang of it, you are likely to produce better results as a serious cyclist.
As a cyclist who is focused on good results, you probably train to perform. In other words: you are preparing to become fitter and faster to improve those results. You will accomplish this with purposeful workouts. Each workout contributes to that final result: getting over the finish line first. But what is a purposeful workout?
As a cyclist, you probably already know that just riding hard constantly during every ride isn’t going to get you that far. Maybe in kilometres, but not in race readiness. You need a well-structured training schedule in order to gradually become better in several areas. One way to structure your training, is to use a heart rate monitor. Another, and probably a more efficient way, is by using a power meter.
The power meter
Using a power meter during training and competitive rides will result in a lot of data. This data can be used to enhance your performance and race readiness in several ways:
- It’s easier to match the demands of the race during your training sessions. Training is all about preparing for that one goal. In order to perform well on race day, you must have trained like a race day. That’s why your workouts should become ‘more race-like’ when you get closer to your main event. When you know what’s needed during race day, you will be able to copy this in your training in terms of intensity and duration. You can do this more accurate with a power meter.
- It will give you a huge advantage in pacing. As a cyclist you’ve probably been there: starting too fast, leaving you shattered half-way your training session. Pacing is crucial, especially during long steady state races like a time trial or a century ride. But even pacing on a long climb, or with a strong wind might be very difficult. What is your limit? When will you crack? With a power meter you’ll know exactly what you are capable of and at what intensity you are able to maintain your pace. Essentially you will eliminate the element of guessing and its unwanted surprises to a great extent.
- You will know your exact limits and will be able to train them more accurately. What do you expect from the race? What do you need to win? A fast sprint, or a long steady power output? When you know the exact needs for a race in terms of intensity, duration and frequency (of for example sprints and attacks), you will be able to train those exact needs in order to respond to them in your race. When the winner attacked on a specific climb in your main race last year, you’ll know exactly what you need to produce this year to respond to such an attack and stay with that person to the finish line.
- With a power meter, you can organize/ structure your season. Periodization is just manipulating training intensity and volume in order to produce great race fitness and race readiness. With a power meter, you will be able to accurately manipulate the workout intensity and volume.
- It’s easier to track fitness changes over the course of your training period. Are you becoming fitter and faster? Is the training really working? And how do you compare with others or with your previous results? A power meter, in combination with other systems, will take away a lot of these uncertainties.
- Many other benefits. When using a power meter, you will be able to set specific training goals, set personal power zones, quantify fatigue, determine caloric expenditure quite accurately and create a personal nutritional recovery plan. In addition, it’s easier to communicate with your coach in terms of power, than in terms of for example heart rate.
What about heart rate?
Heart rate is sort of reactive: it responds to what the muscles do. As Joe Friel describes it very nicely: the heart might be seen as the fuel pump, whereas the muscles are the engine. In other words: heart rate is indirectly related to performance. Instead, power is a direct result of the work of the muscles. Furthermore, because heart rate is reactive, it’s not a very suitable measure of intensity during (high) intensity, short interval training. The heart rate will go up more slowly, while you are already performing a (near) maximal effort! In addition, heart rate can be affected by a lot of external variables. Excitement, psychological stress, time and even nutrition may have an effect on your heart rate.
Does this mean that you shouldn’t wear a heart rate monitor? No, you will certainly need one. As I mentioned before: power makes more sense in combination with other systems. You know you are improving when the same power output feels less intense (a lower rating of perceived exertion (RPE) and/or lower heart rate). Power and speed may be seen as output. They are directly related to performance. Feeling (RPE) and heart rate are input: they represent the effort that is needed to produce the output. When combined, input and output will say a lot about your fitness!
Nevertheless, don’t get fixated on the numbers too much! It goes without saying that you should always keep your attention on your surroundings, not on your power meter.
Want to know your own VO2max or Lactate Threshold? Or do you need help with your training? Let us know via firstname.lastname@example.org or have a look at https://de-vitaliteitspraktijk.nl/inspanningstesten/conditietest/.
Friel J. The power meter handbook. Boulder, Colorado: Velopress; 2012