All other things being equal, the more power you can produce, the faster you can ride a bicycle over a given distance. That’s why increasing cycling power is so important for competitive cyclists and triathletes.
While there are other steps you can take to help boost power, here are five reasons you should be training with a power meter.
More: 4 Tips for Using a Power Meter Wisely
#1. Access to Significant Information
A power meter provides you with extensive information about every ride you take. This includes basic information such as distance, cadence and miles per hour. It also includes more sophisticated data such as average power for various segments of the ride (measured in watts), time spent in your power-based training zones, time spent at various cadences, the relative intensity of the ride and total work performed (measured in kilojoules).
You can use this information to better understand your strengths and weaknesses as an athlete, and to develop training specifically designed to enhance those weaknesses.
# 2. Accurate Goal Measurement
Training with a power meter makes it easier to determine if you have achieved your goals for a workout, race, mesocycle, race season or calendar year.
More: Improve Your Power
For example, if you are performing a series of 10-minute intervals and your goal is to maintain an average power of 250 watts, it will be clear whether you have achieved this goal. No matter the conditions or terrain, you have either maintained an average power of 250 watts for each interval or you have not. There is no ambiguity.
Likewise, if you want to compare your training load from one mesocycle to the next, you can review your Training Stress Score (a composite number that uses the duration and intensity of each ride to arrive at an estimate of overall training load) for each mesocycle to clearly determine the amount of work you are performing for a given time period. Once again, there is no ambiguity.
That is the beauty of training and racing with a power meter. You get consistent, accurate data from one workout to the next.
More: Threshold Workouts to Improve Your Bike Speed
#3. True Rate of Work
A power meter gives you an accurate and consistent indication of your rate of work (power production), unlike other measures such as heart rate which can be affected by many variables that have little to do with actual work rate such as hydration, air temperature and stress level.
For example, if you ride for one hour and your average power is 275 watts, you can be sure this is an accurate indication of your work rate on the bike. The conditions don’t matter. The actual power you produce is the same as any other one hour ride resulting in an average power of 275 watts.
Conversely, a measure such as heart rate can be affected by a variety of factors. An average heart rate of 160 bpm for a one hour ride may not indicate the same rate of work as another hour ride with an identical heart rate.
For instance, if one ride was done in hot, humid conditions while the other ride took place on a cool day, it is likely that the ride in cooler conditions produced a higher work rate. That’s because riding in hot, humid conditions will typically result in a lower relative power output and a higher average heart rate. A power meter eliminates this problem by removing intervening variables such as heat, humidity and terrain.
More: Why Is My Brother More Powerful Than Me?
#4. Consistent Performance Measurement
As a coach, this is probably my favorite reason for training with a power meter. Simply stated, a power meter allows you to measure specific performance changes over time more accurately than any other method.
If you are trying to increase your functional threshold power (the highest average power a cyclist can maintain for 60 minutes), you can use a power meter to accurately determine your current FTP (this is typically done through a field test such as an all-out, 30-minute time trial or an actual 40K race). You can then measure your FTP at a later date to see how you are progressing. If your first field test yields an average power of 240 watts and subsequent tests show an average power of 250 watts, you can be absolutely certain that you have increased your functional threshold power.
More: Lactate Threshold and V02 max Explained
#5. Improved Cycling Position
One of the most important steps you can take to improve your performance on a bike is to find an effective cycling position, which is a position that maximizes comfort, power generation and aerodynamics.
While a session with a bike fitting specialist is of paramount importance, a power meter can also help you find an aerodynamic position. It allows you to determine how your position on the bike is impacting your overall speed and to identify changes that need to be made to produce the most watts with the least aerodynamic drag.
This is particularly helpful for time-trialists, track specialists and triathletes who compete without the benefit of drafting and require the most aerodynamic position possible.
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