As the season winds down, most athletes are thinking about how to get a notch faster next year. Christmas lies at a time of year when training volume is low and is the best time to introduce new equipment into your life. How convenient! By now you must have heard the buzz about power meters and owners raving about them. It is the best training tool you can invest in after hiring a coach of course! If you have checked them out, you know they are a big investment, so here is a list of reasons to tell Santa exactly why you need one.
Accurate Performance Assessment If you put out more watts over a given time then you became stronger. Wind will affect speed and many things will affect heart rate readings making cross-test comparisons difficult. Watts are a direct measure of performance. If you produced more of them you, improved. You need to be able to accurately gauge your performance progress to know if the training plan you are following is working for you.
Quick Training Schedule Adjustments A power meter is an unforgiving mistress. It is clear when you are putting out more watts. It is clear when your legs are puny and the watts are nowhere to be found. Armed with this information you can immediately ramp up the recovery and rest side of your schedule letting the high end watts return when you are ready. Heart rate is a cloudy window to examine your training effectiveness through. When you are superbly fit your heart rate gets sticky at threshold. When you are tremendously fatigued it does similar things by becoming sluggish. This leads to enough confusion you are not able to make immediate micro adjustments to your training plan to optimize training benefits.
Motivation The only thing more motivating than seeing a weekly climb in mean maximal power output is seeing yourself climb up the race results rankings. Motivation feeds performance.
Race Analyses Race with your power meter and you have a blue print of what you need to do at that race to be better next time – or if you had the race of your life you have the manual of how it is done. Power files are gold mines of information. Using CyclingPeaks WKO+ software you can break down your race and examine the key parts. Did you pace well, did you finish strong, did you have the power needed to make the moves at the crucial time. Did you fade? When and after what power level?
Training Specificity Do you train like you race or are you just riding around. Compare your race power files with your training power files. This can be a big eye opener to some cyclists and a key aspect that can bring a big performance improvement when optimized. I look at the variability of race vs. training power traces to see if training specificity is being achieved. The hard data may often not look like what perceived exertion tells you it will.
Effective Intervals With a power meter you can dial in on exactly the power level you want to train. During an interval if you slack off for even a second your power numbers will drop. With heart rate you have lots if opportunities to soft pedal during an interval and still keep your heart rate up in the target zone due to the time lag in the heart rate response. If you ease off during a power interval there will be a dip in the power graph and your coach will be asking you what happened
Communicate with your coach As a coach I get a huge amount of information from a power file plus they are so easy to e mail. The combination of seeing watts, speed, heart rate and cadence over time is invaluable. It answers so many questions and I can work closely with my athletes to hone in their riding, racing and pacing skills. I can see days when their power was low and heart rate high and tell them to back down. The best days are when athletes tell me I couldn’t get my heart rate up today during the ride and I look at their power file to see personal best mean maximal power out-puts. Those are the files I like to see very close to peak race time.
Tracking Training Load Every athlete has an optimal training load at which they perform best. Less than optimal will not maximize performance and more than optimal is an over-training disaster. With a power meter you can track training load and take much of the guesswork out of peaking for a specific event on a specific date. There are several metrics you can use to track training load. The best metric to use is using the Training Stress Score (TSS) calculated by CyclingPeaks software. Tally up the total TSS produced during a given period, season, month or week, identify your optimal load and track TSS produced in training to be sure you stay under that cap.
Use Performance Manager Analytical Tool Using TSS as your training load metric you can compare your season long chronic training load (CTL) with your recent or acute training load (ATL). To peak perfectly a high CTL and low ATL is desirable. With power data and TSS scores you can manipulate ATL and CTL to time your peak perfectly. Again much of the guesswork is removed.
Improve Technical Skills Maybe you think you know how to draft but the power meter will show you exactly where the best draft is found. Just a couple of inches over can often make a 50 watt difference. This can be the difference between making the lead pack and being gapped off into a chase pack. For mountain bikers the power meter can be used to dial in technical riding efficiently by learning how to ride the same trail at the same speed with a lower average power.
Pace Races In cross-country and endurance mountain bike races it is crucial to pace yourself accurately from the start. There is no pack to sit in and recover from early mistakes. The power meter is a huge advantage at the start of these types of events where you can have a cap set on the watts to ensure you start at a pace you can maintain for the duration. In long distance events such as 100 miler or 24-hour mountain bike races all pacing mistakes are in the first several hours. Those mistakes are paid for many times over in the final several hours of the race. I bet you have never, ever heard anybody mention they went too fast in those final two hours. I am sure everybody has gone out too fast at sometime in some race. Unless you are ignoring your data, a power meter will prevent you from being this dumb ever again.
Tell Santa it is time you started training with power.