Performance Measurement: Training with a Power Meter

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The technical edge: power-controlled riding takes road bike training to a new level. Because road cyclists can control their sessions perfectly with a power meter.

No cycling pro rides without a power meter – in training and in competition. Meanwhile, power meters have become affordable also for non-professional athletes. The cheapest devices are available for less than 500 Euros. But who benefits from buying one after all?

For a goal-oriented training according to a plan, controlling intensities via power is extremely advantageous. Training becomes much more efficient, and the individual sessions can be evaluated better afterwards. But, if you train with a power meter, you really have to want it, i.e., you must develop a certain technical affinity for it and be a nerd with numbers to some extent.

Power is a completely incorruptible and objective parameter. It translates the organism’s metabolic processes into numbers, so to speak. In other words: a power meter measures the propulsion the muscle generates. The great advantage of this measuring method compared to heart rate is its objectivity. Not only external influences such as cold or heat, but also internal factors such as excitement, caffeine consumption and glycogen depletion are faded out. Only the (watt) number counts.

Power Meter: Professional Tool for Non-Professional Athletes

Many coaches recommend their athletes, whether professional or amateur, to use a power meter. The advantages of training with a power meter are the efficient control during a training session and the intelligent evaluation afterwards.

On the one hand, a power meter helps athletes to correctly control the “prescribed” load during the interval; on the other hand, it afterwards also shows well the overall energy used as well as idle times – in this respect a power meter differs extremely from a heart rate monitor or a speed measurement device.

Less “Junk Miles” thanks to Power Meter Training

Depending on the type of rider and the course it is not unlikely that a quarter to a third of the miles are “standstill” or junk miles – i.e. metres without any effect. If you are conscious of this when evaluating your training sessions, you will most likely pay more attention to it next time.

Precise Load Control via Power Meter

Even an ambitious amateur athlete can precisely control the load intensities of the individual sessions with a power meter and, if the values are carefully observed, avoid under- and overloading. Prerequisite: The athlete must know what the goal of the session is.

Especially for intervals, for mountain-, speed-, sprint- and all anaerobic training sessions the intensity control via power is very target-oriented, because in most cases the heart rate is not paid any attention to.

At intensities at and above the individual anaerobic threshold, the heart rate initially always lags behind the load, because it responds somewhat delayed. Therefore, the athlete runs the risk to start rather too hard and maybe cannot maintain the initial performance level or even has to interrupt the interval.

In case of shorter high-intensity intervals, the heart rate even increases only after the interval phase is over – and is therefore a completely unsuitable means of training control.

FTP Test & Co.: Self-Tests per Power Meter

In addition to training control, a power meter can also be used to check performance – in training as well as in competition. On the one hand, athletes can determine the training zones by means of a field test, such as an FTP test. With some know-how, also improvements in certain areas can be made visible on the other hand.

Pacing with a Power Meter

Riding by numbers can also help to avoid overpacing in competition. Especially amateur athletes can use a power meter for pacing on longer distances like marathons or Gran Fondos, because it also assigns energy consumption to the respective wattage.

It is known that carbohydrates are a finite source of energy. To know at what power to ride in order to reduce the body’s carbohydrate consumption and ride on fats instead can prevent hitting the wall.

Despite this ode to power, athletes should not neglect heart rate and body sensation completely. Both of these subjective parameters should be put in relation to power. For example, if the heart rate rises sharply in threshold intervals, this may indicate that the interval was too hard for the respective athlete or that the rest period was too short.

It can furthermore be a sign of fatigue or impending illness, if the heart rate changes despite riding training sessions of similar intensity.

In spite of all the advantages a power meter offers, it does not replace training. A power meter supports it, makes it more efficient and improves its quality. However, successful power-controlled training also requires a training plan with well-coordinated sessions and rest phases as well as exact control and evaluation. Especially the latter requires time and know-how. This is where experienced coaches can help, as they understand the figures and – even more importantly – can put them into context.