12 REASONS YOU SHOULD TRAIN WITH POWER
Starting to train with power is a great way to improve your performance on a bike. Giant ambassador Matt Bottrill has been training with power for a number of years, so we spoke to him and his coach, Bob Tobin from Cyclepowermeters, giving us their 12 top reasons to start your own journey into the world of power and power meters. I first started riding with a power meter in 2010. Although I was sceptical to begin with, I wanted to understand the benefits for myself after seeing other athletes using the technology and getting great results. My journey into power meters started with a guy called Bob at CyclePowerMeters, who explained the key reasons why improvements could be made using power when training. That was a huge turning point in my career. I became obsessed with learning how to optimise my performance for aero gains and saving energy - It's safe to say that I haven't looked back!
Training with a power meter has been a real game-changer for me. Once you understand how to use it, you will get so much more from your training time. It helps to optimise each session, and from a coaches perspective, you can support your athletes through training to ensure they're at their peak for events. My coach Bob Tobin shared some helpful information on how to train with power below - hopefully, you find it convincing enough to start your adventures into the world of power meters!
With a power meter, you can test your fitness whenever you like, for whatever duration you want. Most athletes use a test to understand their 'FTP' (functional threshold power). FTP is essentially how much power you can hold for an hour and is a standard benchmark among cyclists. The most common FTP test is the 20-minute version; however, there are various other methods, and it depends on what your overall cycling goals are on which test is right for you.
GAUGE YOUR STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES Having tested your fitness, you can then determine your personal strengths and weaknesses. Train to improve your weaknesses and race to your strengths. For example, if you know you have an average top-end power but good fatigue resistance, you can soften up your breakaway companions with a series of attacks so it doesn't end up as a sprint finish. Understanding your ability is one of the critical benefits of a power meter and can improve your race day performance dramatically with the proper knowledge.
CONSISTENT MEASUREMENT AND MOTIVATION
Power is an absolute measure. It directly correlates with performance. If your power goes up and your weight and aerodynamics don't change, you will go faster. The wind and hills will affect speed, and many things affect heart rate, but power is comparable across time and between people. Seeing your power data going up is incredibly motivating to keep on training and makes you look forward to your goal race, knowing for sure that you were fitter than you ever were before.
DETERMINE IF YOUR TRAINING IS WORKING
As power is a consistent measure, you can use it to track if your training has the desired effect. If you spend two months working on increasing your threshold and you are still where you started, then you need to have a serious rethink of your training. If a week of a particular type of training suddenly yields a major improvement, then maybe you should think about revisiting those sessions in the near future as your body has responded well to that stimulus. With power data, it's clear when you are doing well and your power is up. Conversely, it will also show you when your form has disappeared. It can also help to identify any potential issues in your training. When your perceived effort at a power level you would usually find comfortable is higher than usual, you need to be very vigilant with your body. It could be you are overly tired or coming down with an illness. This is a warning sign that you need to have a few days rest to see how your body recovers.
With power meter data, you can determine your optimal training load. You can use advanced metrics and algorithms like TSS® and Performance Manager® from Trainingpeaks®. With these, you can plan your training to give you a consistent progressive overload. Push your body hard enough to get better, but not so hard that you risk illness. You may well find you end up training less than you used to by removing the junk miles and making every session count.
PEAKING AND TAPERING
Not only can you plan your training load, but you can also plan to be at your best. How long should you taper, if at all, for your goal race? For a short race like a kilo or hill climb, you might taper for a few weeks, so you are very fresh. For a longer race, you might have as little as a few easy days in the week before the race.
TRAINING AT THE CORRECT INTENSITIES
A power meter gives you instant feedback. You can use it to keep yourself at the right intensity for the duration of your effort. Whether that is a 5-minute interval at 110% of threshold or a 40-minute sweetspot ride, if you back off for even a second, the power numbers will drop. You can also train specifically for the demands of your goal event. Heart rate is affected by numerous factors other than the intensity you are riding (temperature, stimulants like caffeine, hydration, time of day, fatigue, etc.). It lags compared to the effort you are putting in, which can skew the data.
EQUIPMENT AND POSITION OPTIMISATION
You can use your power meter to optimise your equipment in terms of aerodynamics and rolling resistance. Using techniques like the 'Chung Method' or repeated rides up and down a section of a quiet road, you can analyse ride data to determine the aerodynamic effects of equipment or position changes. While it is not as accurate as a wind tunnel, it will enable you to make significant gains and get you into the right ballpark.
NUTRITION You can use your power meter data to determine precisely how many calories you burned during your ride. You can use this information to guide your nutrition before, during and after races and training. If you are planning to lose weight, you can accurately monitor your calorie deficit, so you lose weight slowly and consistently.
PACING It is crucial to pace yourself accurately from the start in triathlons, time trials, and mountain bike races. There is no bunch or group in which to recover from major exertions. The power meter is a huge advantage at the start of these types of events where you can set yourself a limit on your power output so you can maintain the pace for the duration.
RACE ANALYSIS You can use the power data from race files to:
Determine if you did a good job of pacing
Guide your future training
Work out what went wrong or right – did you get dropped by the group? Couldn't make it to the breakaway?
Looking back at the data before that happened will guide you to improve that weakness or reuse that strength.
COACHING INTERACTION A power meter enables you to get the best from your cycling coach. Sending your power data to your coach tells them how you completed the session they planned for you to do and how your body responded. Longer-term, they can see if the training plan they are giving you is working or not and adjust it as necessary. It also allows you to see if the money you are paying your coach is worthwhile. If you can see you are getting fitter or your endurance is improving, you can be happy they are earning the money you pay them for their expertise.