Along with other available metrics, particularly heart rate, power helps a rider get a full picture of what their body is actually experiencing. There is no delay. Heart rate is great for keeping us within our limits, but it can be delayed in responding to a stimulus. When climbing a hill, your heart rate will likely not peak until after you have already crested the hill. Power gives us instant feedback on the amount of work being done at that moment.
With power, athletes can be more efficient with their pacing. This can be very beneficial to athletes during training, but even more beneficial during racing. Often, when a triathlete rides out of T1, they see their highest heart rate of the entire race. This isn’t necessarily because they’re doing the maximum amount of work, but because they are caught up in the hustle of transition and the adjustment of being horizontal in the water to vertical on land. With power, we have another number to base our effort on while heart rate settles in. It can also keep a long course athlete from starting too hard in the initial miles of their bike ride. Power numbers don't lie and a rider can only sustain a certain percentage of their FTP over a given distance and still be able to run at their potential
Like using any metric to guide your training and racing, using power should have some guidelines.
- Use power in conjunction with other metrics. Power is just one piece to the puzzle. It is an incredibly powerful tool, but it does not replace all other data. It should be used with heart rate, perceived effort, cadence, and other telemetry to find your correct effort.
- Don't chase watts. Some riders get caught up in seeing how hard they can ride and how high they can get their average wattage. This is a mistake, and in a race it will likely cost the athlete a lot of time on the run.
- Don't get concerned with comparing your wattage to other riders. There are many factors which affect how a rider’s power output translates to pace. Simply because Rider A pushes 200 watts and Rider B pushes 300 watts does not necessarily mean that Rider B is faster. Let your power be your power and get to know it intimately – very similar to your heart rate.
- Don't compare your power across different power meters. Your power on a CompuTrainer will be different than your power on a Stages Cycling meter. Power numbers should only be compared across one device. If you are using two different devices, it is important to share that information with your coach because it will certainly change their advice for pacing.
So how can power be used this off season to increase your cycling fitness?
- Hold yourself accountable. If you are using power in your training, let the device hold you accountable. With correct testing, your coach can give you an idea of what power numbers correlate with your effort zones. If your heart rate is acting funny, you can always default to your power numbers. This can help you stay focused for longer, especially when riding the trainer.
- Beat your previous best. When doing interval workouts, look up what numbers you hit last time you did the session and make it a goal to push more watts this time. You won't always be able to beat your best, but you can certainly try.
- Track your power numbers. Record your power numbers for every interval and the average for every workout. If you have a power number and a heart rate, you can log those numbers and your coach can track your progress with much more ease. With increased fitness, you can see your power numbers increasing and your heart rates decreasing.
- Use power to progress efforts. Typically with heart rate, you go as hard as you can on an interval set and just try to get the heart rate up. This is most likely the worst way to pace a set of intervals. Use power to make sure that each interval gets a little stronger. This will teach you much better pacing.
- Apply constant power. Set your watch up so that it counts 0 watts into your average. This way, when you are getting lazy and start to coast, it will negatively affect your average. This style of training may not be best for athletes that ride in busy areas and are stopping a lot.
Disclaimer: Avoid relying on power numbers that are estimated from platforms like Strava and Zwift. Those numbers are often inaccurate. It is best to get one meter that you can use on the trainer, outside, on race day, etc. AJ Baucco Coaching recommends Stages Cycling for this exact purpose.
Definition of Terms
- Watt: Unit of power. Used to express the rate of energy conversion with respect to time. Defined as Joule per second. In cycling, a watt is can be viewed as the work applied to the pedals over a period of time.
- Watts per Kilogram: A way to measure power output in relation to a rider’s mass. Simply their threshold power divided by their weight in kilograms.
- FTP (Functional Threshold Power): The maximum amount of power that a rider can sustain for one hour. This is often estimated by doing a 20 - 30 minute test since a 60 minute test may be too mentally and physically taxing.
- Normalized Power (NP): A power averaging method that gives a more accurate depiction of power expenditure. Conventional power averaging is based on steady resistance (like when riding on an indoor trainer). Normalized power takes into account changes in resistance such as elevation, terrain, and wind. This will give a better representative average wattage of what your body feels that it produced during a ride
Photo Credit: Enve Composites, 2016, www.enve.com