A Cyclist’s Guide to Training With a Power Meter

Peter Glassford
by Peter Glassford
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A Cyclist’s Guide to Training With a Power Meter

Now that you have a power meter on your bike, the question is: How do you use it to get faster? This question is followed by: How do you avoid frustration?

Like any electronic gadget, there is a learning curve and limitations to what it can do. Power meters are expensive additions to your bike, so you want to make sure having one actually improves your riding.

Here’s a quick-and-easy guide to training with a power meter:

CALIBRATION AND CARE

Like any device you use, from a bathroom scale to thermometer, proper set up and calibration are crucial. Similarly, setting up your power meter properly and calibrating it is important to get usable information. Often calibration is performed using your bike-computer or, in some cases, your smartphone. Some models also let you calibrate while you coast or backpedal. Being confident in your data is important because the trend in your data — especially in your test numbers — affects your training decisions and, for many athletes, can be quite frustrating if it’s incorrect.

While most power meters now are quite durable, it is still worth being extra cautious in very wet or cold conditions — if you don’t need data from that rainy recovery ride, consider leaving your power meter at home. Avoiding high-pressure spray and harsh solvents is also a wise preventative measure to ensure your power meter will be there with you, measuring accurately, on all your rides for seasons to come.

THE THREE SCREENS YOU NEED

Once you’re riding with your power meter, it can be hard to know what data to pay attention to. The data you’ll put on your cycle computer screen depends on what you are hoping to accomplish in your ride. The ideal scenario is to set up 3–4 screens on your bike computer so you have the basic metrics ready and can do small tweaks to a screen if you need something special.

1. RIDE SCREEN

This is used for general or endurance riding. Display heart rate as a percent of maximal, current wattage and the ride time. You might want to add cadence and an average heart rate or power to the screen as well.

2. INTERVAL SCREEN

This screen is for your specific training days where you focus on each hill, sprint or effort.

Display lap-average-power, lap time, heart rate and cadence. Some athletes use one or two metrics only to keep the interval screen simple. (Remember to hit the lap button between every interval!)

3. RIDE SUMMARY SCREEN

It’s also helpful to see metrics like elevation gain, distance, average speed, normalized power, right average power, average heart rate and average cadence throughout and after your ride.

TEST OCCASIONALLY, TRAIN OFTEN

Now that you have a performance metric, you can test yourself. Testing can take many forms. To start, there’s the well-known, simple 20-minute threshold test to set your functional threshold. You might also do a ramp test to warm up for a workout, where you gradually go slightly harder in 3–5-minute stages and note your heart rate at each setting and perhaps the highest stage you can complete (i.e., 100 watt, 125 watt, 175 watt, 200 watt). I will often do this on the indoor trainer to warm up and notice day-to-day changes.

Once you have a rough threshold or test value, it is time to get to work training to raise that test result, and, in doing so, improve your fitness for rides and races. It’s tempting to try to set personal bests each time you ride, but this is a recipe for burnout and poor training results. Focus on setting your zones and then training effectively with some easy, steady rides and a couple weekly hard rides focused on improving elements of your fitness that are specific to your limitations and your races.

Sprints, hill intervals and threshold intervals are common ways to spend these 2–3 focused rides and usually involve doing multiple repetitions under your maximal or best effort. Performing the whole set is important to get the stimulus (and practice time) required to improve. Your power meter will help you set those goal ranges or limits to motivate and control your intervals more precisely.

Now that you have a power meter, you are set to watch your results improve — but remember, just having the ability to see watts doesn’t mean an automatic increase. Train smart, calibrate your power meter regularly and remember to keep having fun as you collect data to add to your data pool.

About the Author

Peter Glassford
Peter Glassford

Peter is a cycling coach and registered kinesiologist from Ontario, Canada. He travels frequently to work with athletes at races, camps and clinics. He also races mountain bikes for Trek Canada and pursues adventure in all types of movement. Follow @peterglassford on Twitter, or check out his online and in-person coaching at www.smartathlete.ca.

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