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 this list details exactly why you need one.
Accurate Performance Assessment1 of 12
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 Adjustments2 of 12
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.
Motivation3 of 12
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 Analysis4 of 12
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?
Training Specificity5 of 12
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.
Effective Intervals6 of 12
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.
Communication With Your Coach7 of 12
As a coach I get a huge amount of information from a power file, and they're so easy to email. 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 on 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 outputs. Those are the files I like to see very close to peak race time.
Training Load Tracking8 of 12
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 overtraining 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 is 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.
Peak Performance Planning9 of 12
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.
Technical Riding Skills Improvement10 of 12
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 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.
Race Pacing11 of 12
In triathlons, time trials and mountain bike races it is crucial to pace yourself accurately from the start. There's 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 ultra mountain bike races and Ironman triathlons, all of the pacing mistakes are in the first two hours and those mistakes are paid for many times over in the final two hours of the race. I'll bet you've never, ever heard anybody say, "I just went too fast in those final two hours." I'm sure everybody has gone out too fast at some time in some race. Unless you're ignoring your data, a power meter will prevent you from being this dumb ever again.