by Frank Overton, PowerMeter user since 2000
I bought my first powermeter in 2000 following Greg Lemond’s well-publicized use of a powermeter in the 1990s. Back then, you might have seen a powermeter or two at a race, but you rarely saw one out training. These days, cyclists all over the world use powermeters in training, and we have a very clear understanding of how powermeters can improve your training to make you faster.
The cost of owning a powermeter have continued to come down as well. In the early days, an SRM was the only available portable powermeter for ~ $5,000 US. In the last 5 years, “cost per accuracy” has come down considerably and an accurate, reliable, validated powermeter may be purchased for under $500.
The fact that you can own a powermeter for ~$500 makes them something that every cyclist should consider in 2019, here’s why:
- Rationalize the purchase by letting “it be known (to your better half)” that this will be the last bike computer you will ever need. You can display and record Power Output, Heart Rate, Cadence, Wheel Speed, Distance Covered, Altitude, Ambient Temperature and Energy Expenditure. Plus you can upload your ride data to popular GPS sites like Strava and best of all TrainingPeaks to compare yourself to others and explore your route.
- Calculate your training load and emphasize quality, not quantity. The saying goes, “I used to train 20 hours a week until I got a powermeter”. A prime example is illustrated by riding Sweet Spot. Achieve greater physiological adaptations than by riding in zone 2 alone and have the data to show for it. Know how much training you’ve done and how much more you need to go.
- Test your fitness “fo’ free” anywhere, anytime with a field test. Show up on your group rides and wow your arch nemesis by exaggerating your power at threshold in watts/kilogram of body weight.
- Optimize your aerodynamic position. Yes, a powermeter is an expensive proposition but it can also be a cheap man’s wind tunnel. A powermeter can be used to optimize the rider’s aerodynamic position aimed at reducing aerodynamic drag. In a nutshell, ride at 45kph on a track and look for a reduction in power output from various body positions.
- Lose weight by figuring out your daily nutritional requirements by converting energy expenditure (kilojoules) into calories. Read how here.
- A powermeter is the ultimate way to incorporate sweet spot training into your program. Take what works from an old-school training technique and see why with new school technology.
- Perform intervals properly with more consistency, precision, feedback, and analytical ability. A powermeter displays wattage in real time (i.e. instantaneously) so you know how hard to go and it’ll keep you honest during your intervals!
- Completely dial in your overall training load with power based performance modeling. Training by duration and distance is good. However, the ability to prescribe, execute and manage a scientifically designed training plan by measuring energy expenditure in kilojoules and overall training stress with Training Stress Score is more precise.
- A powermeter takes post-race analysis to a whole new level by giving you and your coach something to analyze and serving as a common language for discussion. There is no more, “I got dropped.” A powermeter is brutally honest and now it’s “I got dropped when you were doing 280 watts”. And since we like to be positive, power data will show you your improvement independent of your peers. Most importantly it paves the way for adjusting your training to overcome those deficiencies and to continually improve.
- Model out your training: You’ve been hitting the sauce hard, training 8, 10, and upwards of 12-hours per week. But what is the cumulative effect all those hours, kilojoules and TSS combined together? With a power meter it’s possible to use The Shit That Will Kill Them a.k.a. a power-based impulse-response performance model. Boil all of your files, an entire season’s worth, down into three numbers: Chronic Training Load, Acute Training Load, and Training Stress Balance or “form”. You’ll be able to figure out if you are training too much, not enough, and most importantly “just right”. Use the model to arrive at the start line of your most important races(s) in “peak” form.
Most importantly, a powermeter gives athletes and coaches data to exchange and use as a tool for getting faster. The power data + athlete feedback is the ultimate form of communication. And communication is the MOST important part of coaching. For example, the common question ‘how are you feeling?’ becomes ‘how did you feel while you were making 300 watts?’ The coach knows that 300 watts is 10% less than the athlete’s threshold power and wants to make sure that this feels easy. If not, it’s an indication that the athlete needs to rest to avoid overtraining.
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