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Why you should be measuring your wattage as you ride

The power meter market is getting ever more crowded and prices have tumbled over the past two or three years. No power meter is cheap, but there are several options out there that are affordable to many people. If you’re not using one already, this winter is the perfect time for you to start training by wattage. Here’s why you should consider it.

1. Quality data & no excuses

A power meter measures exactly how hard you’re working regardless of the terrain, the conditions, your fitness, or any other factor, and it’ll give you figures that you can meaningfully compare over time to gauge progress. Your speed over a set course might be affected by a headwind, for example, and give you  false impression of your fitness, but measuring power tells you exactly what you’re putting out.

PowerTap hub (CC BY 2.0 Glory Cycles).jpg

2. Make the best use of training time

A power meter takes the guesswork out of  your training effort, allowing you to train time efficiently. You can plan exactly what you need to do, then go out there and do it, taking your cues from the numbers on your bike computer.

Powertap P1 pedals 3

3. Pace yourself

You can use a power meter to pace an event too. If your training tells you that you can hold 250w for an hour, for example, you can work out a strategy for your next 25-mile time trial based on that.

Verve Cycling Infocrank Classic.jpg

4. Work on your weaknesses

A power meter helps you identify weaknesses in your fitness. If your anaerobic endurance lags behind other areas, there’s no hiding from the figures so you know exactly what you need to work on.

Garmin Vector 2S pedals

5. Get some rest

A power meter can tell you when you need to rest. For instance, if your heart rate is markedly higher than normal for a particular power output, it could be that you’ve not recovered sufficiently from last time and you need to take it easy.

Stages Cycling power meter sensor side .jpg

6. Tune your position

You can use a power meter to test the aerodynamic effects of altering your ride position and/or equipment. Ride a given course at 20mph, say, and take your average wattage. Then make changes to your setup and ride it again at the same speed. If your average wattage is lower, you’ve found some extra efficiency. 

For more information on power meters go to our buyer’s guide.

Mat has worked for loads of bike magazines over 20+ years, and been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. He's been road.cc technical editor for eight years, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a past winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer.

39 comments

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OnTheRopes [225 posts] 8 months ago
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shay cycles wrote:

Funny how an article dated 23rd October 2018 has some of our comments on it from a year ago!

 

I think you mean dated 29th December 2018  3 

 

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don simon fbpe [2989 posts] 8 months ago
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I'm trying to get my head around the whole powermeter thing. I guess that power is related to the heart. The more and the harder you pedal, the higher the heart rate goes.

I don't see any performance advantage over using an hrm. And I'd rather rely on my heart as a method of telling me whether I'm about to pop, or not.

Happy to learn why measuring power is better than listening to your heart. I know where my money is.

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Yorkshire wallet [2428 posts] 8 months ago
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Power meter is good because it tells you whether you're having a good day or a bad day based on whatever baselines you set yourself. Some days I'll feel good at a benchmark amount and push some more as you have the legs, others days I'll feel rubbish and just leave it be. Heart rate is like my rev counter so I don't blow my engine regardless of power. 

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don simon fbpe [2989 posts] 8 months ago
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Yorkshire wallet wrote:

Power meter is good because it tells you whether you're having a good day or a bad day based on whatever baselines you set yourself. Some days I'll feel good at a benchmark amount and push some more as you have the legs, others days I'll feel rubbish and just leave it be. Heart rate is like my rev counter so I don't blow my engine regardless of power. 

So the hrm is the more significant measure. I thought I was missing out on something important.

Avatar
OnTheRopes [225 posts] 8 months ago
1 like
don simon fbpe wrote:

I'm trying to get my head around the whole powermeter thing. I guess that power is related to the heart. The more and the harder you pedal, the higher the heart rate goes.

I don't see any performance advantage over using an hrm. And I'd rather rely on my heart as a method of telling me whether I'm about to pop, or not.

Happy to learn why measuring power is better than listening to your heart. I know where my money is.

 

All sorts of reasons to use a power meter that has an advantage of HRM, but of course it is not essential or perhaps even desirable unless you are training to race or measure performance.

Recordable data is one of the main advantages and being able to us software to record trends in your progress and to manage your peaking for an event.

In my opinion HR is preferablefor riding Zone 1 and 2 but for short intervals HR is too slow to change to have any accuracy.

Using both together can track your aerobic endurance fitness by for example riding at certain power level for 2 hours and then seeing if or when your heart rate decouples (rises beyond a certain percentage) can tell you how aerobicaly fit you are and if you are ready for harder intervals yet.

So  I would say if you race or want to track your performance progress consider using both.

If not then use a HRM alone or not even that, its not so hard with experience to know your zone by feel alnoe with experience.

Just my opinion

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Cugel [77 posts] 8 months ago
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From a Monbiot:

".....while considering the frenzy of consumerism that rises beyond its usual planet-trashing levels at this time of year, I recently stumbled across a paper that astonished me. It was written by academics at public universities in the Netherlands and the US. Their purpose seemed to me starkly at odds with the public interest. They sought to identify “the different ways in which consumers resist advertising, and the tactics that can be used to counter or avoid such resistance”.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/dec/31/advertising-academia-controlling-thoughts-universities

This thread is coc-a-block with rationalisations-after-the-fact parroted by the duped from the "reasons" supplied by adverts for buying a thousand needful things. In reality, the "need" to buy them was composed and installed by an advertman adept at programming we biological robots. And what techniques are involved here? After all, the whole website is constructed for the purposes of advetisers.

One technique employed is the instigation of FOMO in readers - Fear Of Missing Out. They just have to have the latest whizz-bang. They need it "to enhance my cycling". In fact, such things often degrade their cycling (which becomes instead a mere act of data creation and comparison) whilst enhancing the wallets of the greedymen for whom the advertmen strive.

Cugel

Avatar
Podc [153 posts] 8 months ago
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Cugel wrote:

From a Monbiot:

"..."

Cugel

 

Which reminds me:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tHEOGrkhDp0

(Warning: some swearing)

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hawkinspeter [3944 posts] 8 months ago
0 likes
Podc wrote:
Cugel wrote:

From a Monbiot:

"..."

Cugel

 

Which reminds me:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tHEOGrkhDp0

(Warning: some swearing)

I love me some Bill Hicks.

 

Avatar
madcarew [1002 posts] 8 months ago
0 likes
don simon fbpe wrote:

I'm trying to get my head around the whole powermeter thing. I guess that power is related to the heart. The more and the harder you pedal, the higher the heart rate goes.

I don't see any performance advantage over using an hrm. And I'd rather rely on my heart as a method of telling me whether I'm about to pop, or not.

Happy to learn why measuring power is better than listening to your heart. I know where my money is.

You asked, so....

Power isn't really related to the heart. There's a rough association, which in the lower and mid levels tracks reasonably well. but in the very low levels, and very high levels, it doesn't track at all. But more importantly, HR is affected by a whole lot of things (temperature, health status, tiredness, altitude, how many KM you've raced, nerves, how full your stomach is etc, so it's only an approximate measure of effort. A power meter measures actual effort, and as actual effort is the thing we're (generally) trying to train and repeat, that is the thing to measure. 

Power metres aren't about whether your heart is about to pop or anything like that,. Races are won by being able to put down (for example) 1100 watts for 20 seconds (attack) and then 600 watts for 2 minutes, and then 450 watts for 15 minutes, they aren't won by holding a HR of 180 for 20 secs, then 175 for 2 minutes then 172 for 15 minutes, because on any given day your HR can be 10 beats + different relative to the effort. A power meter gives a  precise measure of output that can be repeated and tested, HR only gives a measure of an input, which isn't linearly aligned to the desired output.

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