Many cyclists are constantly thinking about how to get a notch faster next year.
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've checked them out then you know they are a big investment, so here's a list of reasons why you need one:
Accurate Performance Assessment
If you put out more watts over a given time, then you become 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 and if you produce more of them you improve. 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 because just as it's clear when you're putting out more watts, it's 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 and let the high-end watts return when you're ready.
Heart rate is a cloudy window through which to examine your training effectiveness. When you're superbly fit your heart rate gets "sticky" at threshold and when you're tremendously fatigued it does similar things. This leads to enough confusion that you're not able to make immediate micro adjustments to your training plan to optimize benefits.
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 with your power meter and you have a blueprint 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's done. Power files are gold mines of information.
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?
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 versus 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.
With a power meter you can dial in exactly the power level at which 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 of 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 there.