An introduction to training with power

One of the most common questions I get asked when I start working with a cyclist is, "Should I buy a power meter?" Rather than spend their cash for them, I prefer to lay out the benefits and alternatives and let them decide for themselves whether or not to part with what can be a significant wedge of cash. Many of the resources on the website address aspects of this question so rather than rehash the information, this article will link to the original material. I'll update this as more information becomes available, because the technology and best practise in using power data is evolving all the time!

Power 101


First up is an article from Dan that was published in the Summer 2011 issue of Cycling Fitness* magazine. Power 101 talks through some of the key concepts and terminology to help you get the most out of a power meter.

*In our opinion Cycling Fitness (from the team that bring you Cycling Weekly) is a fantastic magazine for those interested in improving their cycling. You could say we're biased in that PBscience are regular contributors but we always look forward to reading the material from the other experts in their field!

PowerTap_SLC_sizedAnother frequent discussion we have with our athletes is over the best choice of power meter. As I write this in early 2014, there has never been a greater choice of good quality power meters and the prices are as cheap as they've ever been. Which is best? The first thing I'd say, is that I am far from an earlier adopter. Very high on my list of priorities is reliability. Over the past few years, the PBscience coaches and athletes have made extensive use of SRM, Powertap and Quarq power meters - there have been problems but these three have proved very reliable, the aftersales service when things go wrong has been excellent and we've been through several generations to iron out any bugs. More recently, we've seen Stages, Power2Max and the long awaited Garmin Vector pedals come to the market - early experiences and reports are very promising! Time will tell if they stand up to a season or two of punishment but so far so good. Reliability aside, all of the aforementioned systems have good accuracy and precision so the decision then becomes which is most convenient. Do you need something that is easily swapped between bikes? Is the ability to use a selection of wheels important? Is weight a big consideration for you? Have a good think before parting with your cash!

Once you've got your power meter, the first thing you're going to want to do is see how you measure up. This probably means going out and sprinting as hard as you can up the nearest hill (I know that's what I did!). Once you've got over this initial exuberance, it's worth taking the time to complete a more formal set of tests. Dr Andrew Coggan and Hunter Allen popularised a series of power profiling tests in their book 'Training and Racing with a Power Meter' (well worth a read, it really is the landmark text on training with power), these tests are described in our training session descriptions session:

  • 20 minute Functional Threshold Power (FTP) test - as an endurance cyclist, if you could only have one parameter to track your fitness and guide your training it would probably be this!
  • Power profiling - better than just having one maximal effort is having a series of differing durations. This allows you to track all aspects of your cycling fitness (sprint, top end aerobic and endurance).

From your FTP test you can also use the result to derive a set of training zones to guide your training. More details can be found in the factsheet entitled 'Cycling power training zones'.

Inevitably there is a steep learning curve when you adopt a new piece of technology. Dan recently wrote an article entitled 'My First Power Meter' for the Spring 2014 issue of Cycling Fitness magazine. As soon as the magazone hits the shelves, we'll stick a scanned copy of the article up here

With all this talk of watts and power meters, it's easy to think that the heart rate monitor has become redundant. At PBscience, we think that this is a mistake and encourage our athletes to always wear their heart rate strap alongside collecting power data. Perceived exertion, or 'feel', should also not be forgotten! Our factsheet entitled 'The relationship between heart rate and power' discusses the link between these metrics in greater detail.