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Why train with power?

The four key reasons for using a power meter, no matter your level of cycling.

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Power meters have come to be virtually as ubiquitous on bicycles as clincher tires. At bike races and triathlons, in bike shops, in cycling magazines, on the internet, in velodromes, and anywhere else cyclists and multisport athletes gather, the power meter has become the topic that everyone wants to discuss. The consensus is the same: For cyclists, training with power is a critical part of reaching the next level of performance.

In our work in coaching and exercise physiology, we have seen the benefits of training with a power meter firsthand. Simply put, the power meter allows you to quantitatively track your fitness changes, more easily define your weaknesses, and then refocus your training based on those weak areas. Whether you want to take your riding to a new level or fine-tune your training program, what you can learn from your power meter is the impetus for change.

Even experienced riders are likely to benefit from a power meter. Hunter’s experience coaching riders with decades of cycling in their legs proves this to be true. Phil Whitman, a masters 60+ rider, was hesitant to adopt the power meter, thinking that after more than 30 years of training he’d be unlikely to see further improvements, but on Hunter’s urging, he gave it a try.

“I have seen all the little ‘gadgets’ that have promised improvement, and most have come and gone,” Phil said. “However, using a power meter really helped me focus my training for specific intervals, pacing in breakaways, and also in time trials. Plus it’s been exciting to actually see my progress in quantitative form for the first time in 30 years of racing.”

By installing a power meter on your bicycle, you will gain access to more data than you can imagine. However, the benefits accrue only when you know what to do with all that data and how to interpret it. Many power-meter users find all of the graphs and data from their rides daunting at first. You also will need to understand how to implement wattage-based workouts in your training regimen and when and how to make adjustments to your training. With some simple strategies, your power meter will go from being a pricey upgrade to an invaluable tool for improving your riding.

Knowing how to use power-meter technology properly facilitates real advantages in the following areas:

  • Self-Assessment: A power meter supplies a great deal of information about your ride, and these data will enable you to identify your strengths and weaknesses.
  • Collaboration: Share detailed information with your coach and teammates in a way that enables everyone to work together more efficiently.
  • Focused Training: The data, along with good coaching and teamwork, allows you to better identify appropriate training goals and methods.
  • Peak Performance: With accurate information, improved collaboration, and smarter training, you will be positioned to do your best in cycling.

As you can see, these four areas overlap and build on each other. Without the data that the power meter provides, conducting an analysis of your ride, communicating with your coach and teammates, and developing a training plan will involve plenty of guesswork. When the data becomes the baseline, you can move to a whole new level in all these areas.

However, let the old-timers be warned: If you are unwilling to change the way you train, then training with a power meter might not be for you. This method will take some time and effort on your part, but if you are serious about training and going faster, then a power meter will help you reach your peak performance.

Adapted from Training and Racing with a Power Meter, 3rd edition, by Hunter Allen, Andrew Coggan, Ph.D., and Stephen McGregor, Ph.D., with permission of VeloPress.

Training and Racing with a Power Meter, 3rd Ed.