Chad Timmerman has been helping cyclists get faster for over a decade. As the Head Coach at TrainerRoad, he designs workouts and science-backed training plans for athletes to get as fast as possible on the bike. Catch him sharing his cycling training knowledge each week on the Ask a Cycling Coach podcast.
As a cyclist, power is the best way to measure your performance. Unlike cycling based on perceived exertion or heart rate — both of which are subjective — power’s objective nature makes it easy to compare performance day-in and day-out so you know exactly how hard your body is working. And what’s the best way to measure power? Naturally, with a power meter.
There are many benefits to training with a power meter that cover all ends of the training spectrum. Let’s focus on the top eight.
Know exactly how hard you’re working.
Power meters measure exactly how hard you press the pedals and how quickly you spin them. When you measure your performance with a power meter, you know exactly how hard your body is working — unlike compared to a variable output indicator, like heart rate.
When you have an objective measuring device like a power meter, you eliminate nearly all margin of error that comes with monitoring your effort. As you gain experience knowing exactly how much power your body is producing, you begin to understand not only your limits, but how to pace yourself and fine-tune your efforts to reach peak physical performance.
It’s the best way to follow a workout.
Power meter data is a specific, accurate fitness metric. When you follow interval workouts, you get focused power numbers to shoot for every time you start a new interval. And, because power data is objective, it can be measured and compared from one day to the next throughout your training.
When following power-based workouts, you’re able to isolate particular areas of your training to build specific types of fitness. With an accurate measuring device like a power meter, you can make that training more effective and more productive. Long story short, with a reliable, accurate measurement of your effort, you’ll know exactly where your training efforts need to be every time you train. No guesswork required.
You can manage your training load better.
Power data is easy to understand in terms of training stress. Your training stress number gives you a clear representation of how hard you’re working each day, week and season. When you use a power meter to measure that stress, you’ll always know whether you need to kick up the intensity, scale back to avoid burnout or if you’re right on track — all specific to your training goals.
The objective data provided by a power meter makes interpreting training data that much more reliable. There are countless tools on the market that allow you to take that data and visualize your training progress to make your training as effective and efficient as possible.
Monitor your progress more accurately.
When you know exactly how strong you were to begin with and how much training stress you’re applying each week, tracking your progress is no longer based on your best guess. Power meters make it easy to know exactly how far you’ve come. Are you hitting your workout goals? Are you getting faster? With a power meter, you’ll always know.
If you’re trying to become a stronger, faster cyclist, you need to make sure you’re making progress toward your goals day-in and day-out. With an accurate measuring device like a power meter, there’s no question to whether you’re progressing in the right direction or not.
Get a better look at caloric expenditure.
Whether you’re looking to stay fueled on the bike or simply trying to manage your weight, there’s no better way to measure your caloric expenditure than with a power meter. Power is measured in terms of watts and can be converted directly to calories — no gray area in between.
With dependable data on caloric expenditure, you’ll know exactly how much fuel you need for a given effort. That means no extra, unneeded fuel in the tank that could otherwise slow you down or add unnecessary pounds in the long run.
Establish an objective benchmark for your fitness.
Power is the only objective metric you can use to measure your fitness. Using your power meter to assess your FTP (Functional Threshold Power) will show you exactly where your fitness stands before, during and after you start training.
By understanding your benchmark fitness level with objective power data, you’ll know what works for your training and what doesn’t. Additionally, you’ll know exactly where to augment your training to build specialized fitness.
Quantify your training load.
Using a power meter allows you to assess your fitness and determine how much training stress you need each week. You’ll also be able to track the amount of cumulative training stress you ramp up throughout your training plan or season.
A critical benefit that comes with training with a power meter is the ability to learn what type and how much work best suits your individual physiology. Only by using dependable data can athletes clearly identify this delicate balance.
Measure performance, rest and overall fitness.
Proper training consists of more than hard work. Your rest is just as important — arguably more so — than your workouts. It’s during these times of rest that your body rejuvenates and actually gets stronger from the work you’ve done. Training with a power meter allows you to measure all aspects of your training in an accurate and objective manner to better manage your performance, rest and overall fitness.
Training with power comes down to one thing: efficiency. Knowing more about the work your body is doing allows you to add structure to make better decisions about your workouts, rest and recovery. Cycling with power, whether that be in a race or a local club ride, comes down to translating that efficiency from your training onto the road in the most effective and efficient way possible.