5 'Pro' ways to use a Power Meter
Training with a power
meter has gone from a mysterious and exclusive tool used by
scientific researchers and a few professional riders to an essential
part of many rider's training at all levels. At Custom Cycle Coaching
the majority of our athletes are now training with a power meter to
record every pedal stroke and enable us to maximise their training
time. We analyse the data along with heart rate, heart rate
variability and of course good old fashioned feel to measure workload
and plan sustainable progression in their coaching programme.
To begin with a power
meter can seem like a random number generator changing with every
pedal stroke, but as you become accustomed to using it most people
find that training with a power meter opens their eyes to some
aspects of their riding that are otherwise hard to distinguish.
Some uses of a power
meter that might not be obvious:
strengths and weaknesses. When you have used your power meter for a while and recorded data that includes
maximal efforts of a variety of durations (or with specific testing) it is possible to
construct a power curve, showing your best power performances from
1s right the way through to your longest ride. This can help
identify your strengths and weaknesses compared to your competitors. A
sprinter would be expected to rank highly in the shorter durations, while a time trial specialist or a triathlete would be better at
longer duration powers. Your training can be planned accordingly to minimise your weaknesses and maximise your strengths!
Keep a track of
your fitness and fatigue. By training with a power meter on every
ride we get a very accurate picture of your current training load
and how it compares to your training history. Different training
software have their own metrics to monitor this and this can be
useful to predict performance and avoid overtraining based on the 'Training Stress Score' of each ride.
power to weight ratio (w/kg). It's easy to get too focussed on the
weight side of this equation, but losing too much weight can be
counterproductive. As well as health issues from extreme weight loss, even losing a little too much weight can impact on muscle mass and
therefore your power. Training with a power meter and monitoring your power curve can help to detect
this and therefore truly maximise your w/kg!
Ensure you are
eating enough! Hidden somewhere on your Garmin or Wahoo pages you'll
see a kJ field. This is a measure of the amount of energy you have
put in to the pedals on that ride. However, since a cyclist is
approximately 25% efficient, in reality your body has expended around 4x that amount of energy. There's no need to worry about the maths though. Since there are 4.184 kJ in one kcal (the Calories we more often talk about as a measure of 'food energy'), the kJ you see on your computer are
pretty much equal to the kcal of 'food energy' you have expended. Did you eat enough? Tracking kJ expended in a ride is also a more accurate measure of how hard you've trained than simply the number of hours or distance you've ridden, as it takes into account both the duration and intensity of a ride.
Whether it's a time trial or triathlon and you need to ensure you
don't start off too hard, or a World Tour race where you know you
need to save some matches for the final hour, training with a power
meter can help. Professional riders often track kJ or Training Stress Score DURING a race to track how hard it has been for them and others and decide when to launch that race-winning attack. Training with a power meter can be particularly
useful in time trials. If you know you can sustain 300w for a
10-mile time trial use your power meter to make sure you don't start
off at an adrenaline fuelled 350w. If it's a hilly course like the 2021 British Cycling National Championships we can help design a
pacing strategy and then try it in training to get everything out and not 'blow up'.