- Gradually work power into the equation. I highly encourage athletes to install their power meter and then just ride like they have been and do their scheduled workouts for a few days or even a couple of weeks without trying to control their effort based on the meter. Initially just observing the variations and gaining a sense of what kind of numbers you are seeing for a particular feel and/or HR effort level will provide context as zone structures are included in a training program.
- Power readings are erratic, don’t stress! One of the first things athletes notice when they start to use power is that the numbers jump all over the place and it’s nearly impossible to maintain a steady number. This can be stressful at first making them think they are doing something wrong. Don’t fret, it’s perfectly normal, your power IS constantly changing and the meter readout is reflecting reality. The good news is you will never have to ride at one single power number. When you or your coach begin to develop target “zones” for you to train with, you will always have a fairly wide targeted range to stay within. Even then, a little time over or little time under your prescribed workout zone is not going to ruin your workout or training objectives. I generally recommend to just get used to the nature of power and move past it, but if the erratic changes just drive you nuts, in most cases, you can change the view on your display unit to show 3 or 5 second average power vice a direct feed to smooth out what you are seeing during the ride. This keeps the visible wattage more steady and prevents you from trying to “chase” the numbers. If you go this route, I’d recommend maintaining 1 second capture for recording though. For analysis purposes the extra sampling can be useful.
- Power doesn’t replace anything, it complements. “Feel”, heart rate and even speed are still important tools that should continue to be used in concert with power. As athletes incorporate power into their training, I generally recommend a routine of starting off a ride or effort by feel first, and then checking in with their power meter and heart rate “on occasion”. How often you need to look and adjust depends on experience and how good you are at self-regulating at a particular level of effort without the numbers as a guide (back to that “feel” thing). Monitoring different gauges also helps you hone in on if there is an issue or problem with devices or if you are having an “off” day. A good analogy for this is driving. When you first start off as a teenager, you are probably looking at the speedometer pretty frequently as you don’t have a well-honed sense for speed and you don’t want to get a ticket (or you want to brag to your friends about how fast you were going :-)). But, as you gain experience you hardly need to look at the speedometer at all, and can probably guess your speed pretty accurately by sensations (sound of the car engine, wind and tire noise etc.) This analogy correlates to power meter usage very well.
- "Calibrate" or set the zero offset before every ride. The purpose of these routines is to account for different temperature and environmental conditions that may impact the strain gauge in your power measuring device. Each power meter has a different but similar approach for making these adjustments. Some actually have routines to automatically do it during periods of coasting if they are switched on. Check your user guides for the options for your meter and get in the habit of making these adjustments before every ride to ensure accurate data is being displayed and captured.
- Power tests are tests of current status, not pass/fail. Another point of stress I find with a lot of athlete is power testing. There are few widely agreed upon approaches to “field” and lab testing that help athletes and coaches determine what an athlete’s power zones are for a given period in time. They usually involve some level of warmup and then a steady intense effort of between 5 and 60 minutes depending on the protocol. The results of these tests can be used to measure progress, but are primarily used to establish and adjust training zones with target power ranges to help the athlete optimize certain aspects of their training. It’s common for athletes to want to improve their test results every time out, and in many cases they will improve. However, sometimes they won’t for a number of good reasons. This can lead to athletes often getting more nervous and stressed about the test then they might even for a race. This in turn can cause performance anxiety and skew results for a test even more, causing undue stress on the athlete and capturing information that is of no use for refining zones. It’s important to remember that testing is intended to be a snapshot of where an athlete is now, good, bad or indifferent. There are alternative methods for determining zones that do not involve “formal” testing that can be used as well. So if you find yourself having an adverse reaction to testing, it’s ok. There are other ways to adjust training zones and other ways to gauge progress and fitness by monitoring day to day workout and race files.
- Get out of your comfort zone. I know athletes that steer away from training with power as they think it will take all of the fun out of riding their bike. I also know others who hyper-focus on power going as far as to abandon group rides and avoiding certain routes in order to “stay in zone”. Everyone is wired a bit different in this regard and that is ok. There are times that training with power does constrain or radically shape an athlete’s training (generally in regards to recovery), but much of the time power monitoring and related training can be integrated fairly organically into an existing routine with minor tweaks. Pretty much anything an athlete “likes” to do can be accounted for in a bigger picture training program, and the level of influence a power meter has on training can be adjusted based on the athlete’s naturally tendencies. That said, the “free form” athlete could usually benefit from focusing a little more on the numbers on occasion and the strict numbers rider could stand throwing the Garmin in their back pocket and jumping in the local group ride every couple of weeks. Getting out of your comfort zone and focusing on a different aspect of your cycling can be beneficial. Ultimately, power monitoring can still be of use to all athletes especially in post workout analysis.
Making the decision to start using power as a training tool can be both exciting and intimidating at the same time. Here are 6 practical tips that will hopefully help make the power learning curve a little less steep for beginners, and are great reminders for the experienced power meter user as well.
Coach George Ganoung shares tips, observations and the occasional attempt at humor, sometimes all at the same time.