Endurance sports are in an era where technology is running rampant. Technology is so great, in some cases, that it can be difficult to decipher the mountains of data that are flooding in. While some technologies may be avoided for reasons like cost, ease of use, etc., owning a power meter is something that is viable and useful for all athletes. For those who have resisted until now, below are eight reasons to buy a power meter.
1. More Accurate Training Measurement
Before heart rate, many coaches prescribed workouts by distance or speed. Over time, however, they realized this method was highly inaccurate. Likewise, coaches and athletes are discovering the same with heart rate. Heart rate has three main flaws. First, it takes a great exertion to increase your heart rate, but it doesn’t require much output to maintain this higher level (whereas power shows your exact value instantaneously and can thus establish a much steadier profile). Second, heart rate takes quite some time to climb and is thus useless for short intervals because your body cannot respond before the interval is over. Finally, there are a multitude of external factors that affect your heart rate. These factors included: stress, sleep quantity and quality, hydration, caffeine intake, and others. This makes comparing even the same effort duration very difficult.
2. Quantify Your Training Load
With training intensities and volumes varying daily, it can be very difficult to compare the physiological stress between sessions. By implementing power into your training, you’ll be better equipped to quantify how taxing the workouts are to best calculate training stress. Once you measure this stress, you can then utilize the Performance Management Chart (PMC) to track your fitness, fatigue and form over time.
3. Training Specificity
When training for an event, an athlete will want to prepare for the specific course demands on race day. To do so, interval workouts must be very precise to mimic the outputs required to be successful. As an example, if I have a rider completing an event, I will look for other athletes who have been successful there previously and request to see their power file to review and analyze. I then work backwards to devise a workout that uses specific watts per kilogram (w/kg) calculations at critical race points to prepare my athlete.
4. Improve Training Efficiency and Quality
As a coach, I understand that athletes are busy with their careers, families, friends, and other obligations. Because of that, I want to maximize their time spent training to reap the greatest gains. By introducing power to an athlete’s training, we’re able to eliminate ‘junk’ miles and focus exclusively on high quality sessions. These sessions commonly include precise intervals meant to stress the athlete’s body from which they’ll net an adaptation without accumulating unnecessary fatigue. This training can then be analyzed post-activity to find areas of improvement for the future.
5. Quantify Improvement Over Time
Because heart rate values fluctuate little over time, it can be very difficult to track improvement and define how training has been progressing using this method. Instead, power allows the user to determine increases over specific durations to gauge improvement. Further, this applies to testing one’s Functional Threshold Power (FTP) to calculate very accurate and applicable training zones. This principle can also be used to gauge what training techniques best suit a rider year to year for maximal gains over time.
6. Best Identify Strengths and Weaknesses
Once a rider introduces power into their training and racing, they can better determine their strengths and weaknesses. Without power, a rider simply knows where/when they feel weakest but doesn’t understand why. An athlete can utilize the Power Profile Chart to visualize their strengths and weaknesses over different durations to tweak and adjust their training accordingly. Power allows a coach to conclusively say what needs attention in future training sessions/blocks.
7. Race Day Planning and Prediction
Without the use of a power meter, predicting goal race times for time trials and triathlons can be near impossible. With variable terrain, wind and temperature variations, etc. simply going off speed and heart rate is not doing yourself justice. However, a power meter and Best Bike Split enables a rider to now enter race day best prepared with an accurate duration goal for the event. This new and improved goal setting technique allows riders to honestly reflect on their performance to best determine if it was a good event or not.
8. Use of the Latest Scientific Models
Better science and more resources are being poured into endurance sports at greater levels than ever before. The benefit, of course, is these scientific models are now at the fingertips of athletes everywhere to implement within their own training and racing. This science includes race prediction through Best Bike Split, fitness and form quantification in TrainingPeaks, or any number of new models in WKO4 (Power Duration Curve and modeled FTP (mFTP)), to name a few. However, these models are following the technological trend and can best be applied (sometimes exclusively applied) to those training and racing with a power meter.
Though some coaches and athletes continue to be proponents of heart rate training, there are better options available. Previously, the costs of units were prohibitive to many athletes but this has come down significantly in recent years. Of course, owning a power meter is only half the battle – the real benefits come post-activity through analysis and reflection. By collecting your ride data and analyzing it, you’ll be able to unlock your full potential and make the greatest strides in this sport!