Using Power Meters in the REAL World
Not the Pro Peloton
Worried that it’s just another expensive piece of kit that won’t get you the results you’re after?
In the wrong hands or with the wrong mindset, that’s probably true. But…
Since writing Power Meters what’s the point? we’ve introduced power training into Mega Spin Mega Advanced and our new Mega Spin Hour of Power using our Kinetic Smart Rock & Roll trainers. I’ve also invested in a Quarq ELSA power meter to improve my training and performance so we thought it was time to update our information on power meters with personal experience and that of our training clients.
A quick overview for those of you who are new to power meters –
A power meter is generally a replacement crank or crank arm fitted to your bike. Power meters use strain gauges that deflect slightly when a force is applied. By measuring this torque and combining it with angular velocity, power (measured in watts) can be calculated. Different power meters provide different levels of accuracy so the power meter you choose really depends on your needs – how accurate you need it to be, why you’re using it and your budget.
Back to Training with a Power Meter…
One of the major reasons for training with a Power Meter is accuracy – watts measure your actual workload compared with heart rate which measures your body’s response to workload. Changes in workload are shown instantly with a power meter whereas heart rate takes time to respond to these changes so will show that you’re working at a different level than you actually are. Why does this matter?
One of the most common pieces of feedback we get when a client starts using a power meter is – “there’s nowhere to hide”. As the graph below shows, when an effort stops, power drops immediately but heart rate only changes gradually, without a power meter you would appear to be working at a higher level than you actually are.
Power Training Zones – established through a 20 minute Functional Threshold Power (FTP) Test – allow you to train far more effectively than heart rate training zones, again due to the lag inherent in heart rate. This means you can train to maximise your results and minimise the amount of time you spend training – quality over quantity.
A power meter will show you:
- when you’re slacking off
- when you’re using poor technique
- when you’re training too hard
It gives you the most accurate and up-to-date feedback and for this reason alone it is the most powerful tool you can use in your cycling training.
Once you start riding in your power zones, you’ll probably find that after an initial surge, improvement is gradual but constant monitoring, regular threshold testing and an appropriate training programme will yield the results you’re after.
If you’re serious about taking your cycling to the next level and achieving your next cycling goal then investing in a power meter, using a structured training programme and monitoring your data will help you achieve that goal.
Amongst many recreational cyclists there is a perception that power meters are just for the professionals, but the reality is that if you use a cycling computer to measure speed, cadence and heart rate then a power meter is just the next step. Training without a power meter will only get you so far, training with power will take you beyond your previous level of fitness and performance.
If your goal is to climb the Mortirolo, Angliru or Mont Ventoux, complete a Peaks Challenge or the Alpine Classic then you’ll be able to reduce the amount of time you spend preparing, by training more efficiently with power.
As power meters have become more popular more companies have started developing them so there are now decent options available from around $700, cheaper than upgrading your wheels and infinitely more effective in improving your performance.