The first commercially available cycling power meter debuted nearly 30 years ago. While power meters have changed considerably over the years - becoming, lighter, more accurate, and much more intricate - they remain one of the most widely used and most valuable training tools in cycling. Power meters allow athletes and their coaches to understand precisely what they are doing in training and how the athlete is responding. Knowing your power allows you to train more efficiently and thus more effectively.
To fully understand the value of the power meter we must first understand what power is. In cycling we measure power in watts and simply put, this is how much work you’re doing while riding. The harder you ride generally means the more power or watts you are producing.
Before power meters, athletes and coaches monitored training using heart rate, perceived effort, or accumulated fatigue. But all of these can be inconsistent day to day and difficult to quantify long term. Factors such as the amount of sleep an athlete gets, caffeine intake that morning, and daily stress can skew the athlete’s heart rate and perceived effort during a workout. You might feel like you’re working just as hard as yesterday’s efforts, but in fact, your body could be working harder or easier and producing a significantly different amount of power.
Power meters provide a consistent and easy way to track an athlete’s work output, no matter how they are feeling during a workout. Power also provided a repeatable reference to the effort an athlete is putting into training. This helps us better understand the athlete’s heart rate data, fatigue, and perceived effort. Knowing one’s power makes everything else more relevant.
Besides tracking the amount of work being done in each workout, power meters can also be useful in spotting inefficiencies in different riders. Using a dual-sided power meter like the Shimano Dura-Ace FC-R9100-P crank-based meter, coaches can detect muscular imbalances by studying the right and left power distribution. Or, coaches can track a rider’s cadence along with their power measurements to determine the most efficient cadence range at a given effort.
While a power meter is an essential training tool for many cyclists, racing with power can also be extremely helpful. Most formats of bike racing require inconsistent, high power efforts made up of attacks, counter-attacks, and tactical racing. Understanding how your body reacts to these spikes in power will help you monitor how often you can counter an attack or how long you can maintain a given effort before your power starts to fade.
Triathletes benefit from racing with power as well since these races often require very steady, consistent efforts. Monitoring your effort during a triathlon is crucial so that you maintain a sustainable pace without overextending yourself prior to the run. The excitement and nerves caused by a race can lure athletes into starting the bike leg too fast, which could spell disaster later in the race. Using a power meter while racing provides instant feedback and allows athletes to control their efforts better.
Whether you’re new to cycling or a veteran of the sport, a power meter can transform your riding experience. With power data, you can better understand the effects of each workout and how to make your training more efficient. It can also help you tune your race pace and maximize each effort so that you’re ready for the finish line sprint or you’re ready to smash the run.