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Cycling Basics: How to train with a Power Meter

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As a cyclist, seasonal or otherwise, you’d probably want to work on your biking speed, isn’t it? And we are sure that you must have heard about power meter, a device that promises to help you cycle faster. But how to train with a power meter? If this is the question that keeps you from buying one then worry not! We shall help you with it.

Keep reading to understand how to train with a power meter.

What is a Power Meter

Power Meter
Power Meter Measures a Rider's Power Output (source)

A power meter is a cycling tool that measures the power output of the rider. It is a training device that transmits data wirelessly and is paired to standard bike monitors.

A power meter is more advantageous than a heart-rate monitor because power meters provide you with real time information so that you can gauge your effort. According to experts, factors like hydration, energy levels, temperature, and overall muscle fatigue can hugely impact the heart rate. As a result, you can never really know if you should put in more effort or back off a little to conserve your energy.

On the contrary, a power meter tells you the work you are doing "right now" as in it will update information at the same time you are riding. This gives the riders pacing benefits as they will know the numbers they can ride at for a fixed distance and stick to them.

Why Use a Power Meter

Using power meter training is one of the most efficient ways to overcome long distances. Training with power meter gives you access to valuable data like information on distance cadence and miles per hour, average power (in watts) for various segments of your ride, time spent in all the training zones, time spent at different cadence, the relative ride intensity and total work performed (in kilojoules).

It provides accurate goal measurement. For example, if you are performing a 10-minute intervals series with a goal to maintain 250 watts as an average power, the power meter will clearly state whether you have achieved it or not. It will provide data irrespective of weather and trail conditions – you have either successfully maintained an average power of 250 watts for each interval or you have not. There is no ambiguity.

Similarly, it allows you to compare your training load from one mesocycle to the next. Just review your Training Stress Score for each mesocycle to determine the amount of work you perform over a certain time period.

In contrast to heart-rate training, power training is not affected by other variables and gives you true rates of power production. It comparatively allows you to measure the specific changes in the performance like an increase in your functional threshold power (FTP) over time more accurately than any other method.

Additionally, a power meter also improves your cycling posture. It helps you to find a better aerodynamic position by telling you how your riding position impacts your overall speed. Thereby guiding you to identify changes needed in your cycling game for generating more watts with minimal aerodynamic drag.

How Does a Power Meter Work

How does Power Meter work
Learn How a Power Meter Works (source)

A cycling power meter is your on-board energy display device that uses watts to measure work done by you. It allows you to train in the correct energy zone for your desired events. For example, if you are focussing on 25-mile time trials then the only energy system that you want to set up is the one that enables you to ride as hard as you can for one hour.

Unlike the heart-rate training, power meter training measures the muscular demands of the effort instead of just the aerobic.

How to Train with a Power Meter

Train using a power meter
How To Train with a Power Meter (source)

Before we learn how to train with a power meter in a power training program, we first need to grasp the foundation on which power metrics training is built – threshold. In simple words, the threshold is the minimum power you can maintain while your body is still capable of removing the lactic acid produced by the working muscles.

Taking a step further on the threshold concept, the power training program works on the Functional Threshold Power (FTP) concept. Therefore, to begin your power meter training, you first need to know your FTP.

Step 1: Find your FTP (Functional Threshold Power)

Technically, your FTP is the highest sustainable power you can produce for one hour. FTP is a dynamic target, dynamic because it changes constantly which is a good thing as it reflects your bike fitness. Thus, FTP serves as a good indicator of how your training is progressing.

To find your functional threshold power (FTP) begin by warming up for 20 minutes. After that complete a 20-minute all-out time-trial effort. You can use a false flat or gentle uphill to run your first FTP test. Steeper hills tend to contort the data so avoid them. You can also do your FTP test on a trainer indoors.

It is important to re-test your FTP once or twice a year. You will notice that as you gain strength, your FTP will rise accordingly and you’ll need to adjust your training zones for continuous improvement in your workouts.

Knowing your FTP is essential to create your ‘power zones’ or training zones. These power zones are labelled as Active Recovery (Z1), Endurance (Z2), Tempo (Z3), Lactate Threshold (Z4), VO2 Max (Z5), Anaerobic Capacity (Z6), and Neuromuscular Power (Z7).

Step 2: Find Your Lactate Threshold

Once you have determined your FTP, use it as a reference point to calculate your training or power zones. But before that let’s understand the lactate threshold (LT) concept.

The concept of lactate threshold can be understood as the point at which the muscles cannot run of oxygen anymore And consequently, your muscles use the glycogen reservoir to keep moving.

As the leg muscles get to working, lactic acid is produced in them. The harder you paddle, the faster acid accumulates. Lactate neutralizes the acid formation in the leg muscles but as you crank up the speed, the muscles produce more lactic acid than your body can neutralize.

This point is known as Lactate Threshold (LT) where you will find yourself out of breath and your burning muscles will compel you to ease up. In riding terms, lactate threshold is the fastest paced you can maintain in 30 minutes without feeling (leg) muscle fatigue.

You can work out your LT by calculating your average FTP wattage and subtracting five percent from it. A high LT means that you can push more power, longer, so it's a great metric to work on.

Once you determine your Lactate Threshold, calculate your training zones as follows:

Step 3: Set a Training Plan with Power Meter

Your body needs an equal amount of hard training and recovery for optimal fitness. In the absence of a cycling coach, the power data will help you to understand if you are training too hard or too easy.

Power meters are useful for performing intervals, particularly short ones. To harvest the benefits of power training, you have to analyze your workouts and map your progress over a time period. Try to understand what more you require to steer nearer to your goal.

Review race files to find out if your training has been efficient. Look for valuable insights that can help improve your training because fitness isn’t the only determinant that will count on the race day. Fitness with clever performance will propel you towards your goal.

Track your build up to priority races using the Performance Management Chart (PMC). Be mindful of ramp rate, training load, and fatigue to ensure that you are not overtraining.

And lastly, pay attention to Acute Training Load (ATL), Chronic Training Load (CTL), and Training Stress Balance (TSB) to reap full advantage of training with the power meter. These core metrics allow you to keep your training on point and are immensely helpful in structuring training blocks, and preparing you for priority races.

Livingit Tip:
A cycling coach could be an invaluable addition to your training program at this stage.

Step 4: Tweak the Variables

Once you figure out your training zones and formulate a training plan, you can adjust the other variables such as cadence and the power-to-weight concept. Both the mentioned variables significantly affect your overall power output.

Cadence can be defined as revolutions per minute (RPMs) that you make with your legs while turning the crank. Try to ride with different cadences to find out what works best for you when aiming various training zones. There are athletes who have the muscle to push massive watts when pedalling at 50 RPMs. While others have the aerobic capacity to wheel 120 RPMs and consistently keep the power numbers high. Now there’s no correct or wrong way to build your cadence. Find out the cadence that allows your body to consistently maintain the power levels and stick to it.

Another important variable when playing around with power is the power-to-weight notion. Your power-to-weight ratio is a controllable factor that can greatly improve your speed. How? Well, the lower your weight, the fewer watt (energy) amounts is needed to go the same speed at a steady pace for longer duration. Although losing weight won’t assuredly increase your power, it will certainly influence your power-to-weight ratio, which means you'll ride faster with less effort!

Cycling Power Meter
Train With Power Meter to Improve Performance (source)

And that’s the beauty of training and racing with power meters. You get consistent, accurate data from one workout level to the next and thus keep yourself well-informed about your improvement in training and the amount of power production over time.

Power meters are currently the shining toy in the world of cycling. Many cyclists rev about their competency to deliver accurate information – information that is critical to measuring improvement in performance. Yes, they are a tad bit expensive but they give you real time feedback which in turn help you to set standardized goals for workouts. If you are serious about your cycling passion then power meter is a valuable investment, we assure you!

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