Training and racing with a power meter has revolutionized an athlete’s ability to accurately and objectively track performance on the bike. A power meter offers athletes a reliable, consistent and accurate measurement of what they are actually doing in their training. It’s an ideal way to analyze your performance on the bike and gets away from the highly flawed, yet still regularly used, performance parameter of average speed.
Here are a few of the ways that power can help make you a better athlete:
Quantitative and objective feedback of performance
Power provides an accurate and repeatable measure of performance for all your rides, so you get a true and objective picture of how your numbers are progressing. Using average speed as a marker is a very poor measure of performance. Factors such as traffic lights, flat or hilly roads, wind, air temperature, whether you’re on a road or tri bike, in or out of your aero bars, riding by yourself or in a group can all greatly affect average speed, which can make that parameter almost useless. Trying to compare yourself to your training partners is an even worse way to gauge your fitness since you never know how fit they are or how hard they are working. This often leads to “racing in training” as you try to drop your training partners to prove how fit you are.
Power really helps to make sure you are executing your workouts correctly. Are you going too hard on your recovery days or too easy on your hard days? Are you warming up properly? Are you fading in your long rides or pacing well and maintaining power? Are you holding a consistent power output for all your intervals? Do you hammer every hill and coast down the other side? A power meter will give you an objective way to identify what you are really doing, as opposed to what you think you are doing. One of the biggest mistakes athletes make in their training is to work in the same, very narrow, band of intensity all the time. They go too hard on their easy days and then are too tired to really work hard on their hard days. A power meter will tell you if you fit into this category.
Indoor Trainer Feedback
With a power meter on your bike you are able to get a lot more out of your indoor training sessions. You will get daily feedback on what power you are producing at what effort levels and be able to monitor progression over time. It also helps you focus over those long winter months as you can set accurate, quantifiable power goals to aim for. But, having a power meter only on your trainer means you won’t be able to gauge how you’re doing on the road. Getting power information out on the road tells you a lot more about how well you are riding in real-world conditions where maintaining steady power and pacing properly is much more difficult. Given the choice, it’s better to get a power meter on your bike that you can use both inside and out.
Race Day Pacing and Execution
Proper pacing is a huge part of racing to your potential, and is critical across all distances, from sprint triathlons to Ironman. Using a power meter can help you execute your race plan better. Going into a race, you should have goal power numbers that have been derived from training and testing so that you know what the optimal power ranges are for any given event. This allows you to better monitor your execution in real time on the road, and you can see right away if you are on, or off, target. A power meter allows you to race your own race, and this is critical since your execution on the bike will undoubtedly determine whether you can run to your potential or not. Too many athletes hammer the bike and die on the run. In retrospect they blame their slow run split on a weak run while, in fact, it’s poor pacing on the bike that was the culprit.
Post Race Analysis
After your race it is can be very helpful to look back at your power file and get feedback on whether you executed your plan properly or not. This will also give you a reference for future use. Power also provides the best way to track your bike performance in races over time as you can compare your power numbers from one year to the next. This is much more accurate than comparing splits, since weather conditions can have a huge affect on your time from one year to the next, even on the exact same course. It also allows much better comparisons across courses.
Calibrating Perceived Exertion (PE)
PE is the ability to gauge different training and racing intensities and assess how one feels on any given day by listening to body cues. You will see that a few of the top professionals don’t ride with power. They can do so because their PE is so well tuned that they work better by focusing on PE alone. (Note that these athletes would still benefit from post-training and -racing analysis even if they did not use their power meter to dictate their race execution.) But, for most athletes, PE is not very accurate and this is where power can help. Over the years I have seen power files from athletes who claim that they started their long rides very “easy,” but still had a downward power curve – their power steadily declined over the course of the ride. They were unable to maintain a power that they felt was “easy” in the early stages. In this scenario, the athlete’s PE is off and needs to be recalibrated. One can use power numbers to help set some goal power ranges for different training intensities. In the beginning the athlete will use these ranges to develop a feel for what each intensity should feel like. Ultimately the goal is for the athlete to accurately develop their own PE for each intensity level. Power then provides a method of quantitative performance analysis.
From a coaching perspective having an athlete train and race with a power meter can make a significant difference in setting up an athlete’s training program. Being able to accurately track, measure and analyze an athlete’s power both in training and racing provides a coach with an invaluable tool.
Overall, when used properly, power can be an invaluable tool to help you get the most out of both your training and racing.
Nigel Gray is the Head Coach of NRG Performance Training and has been coaching for the last 15 years and working with power for the last 10. Please visit www.nrgpt.com for more information