Train better with a power meter

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Training with a power meter is more than a matter of mounting it and connecting it to your Garmin. During your first ride you will see that the power numbers jump up and down. And after a couple of rides with every time a slightly higher average power, you wonder what that number actually says. Somewhat exaggerated, we sometimes say that when you buy a guitar, you can’t play the guitar right away. Although much less complex, this also applies to training with a power meter. We explain why in this article.

NO DELAY

Training with a power meter allows you to see immediately what your body delivers in terms of output. You do not measure the physiological response as you do with heart rate, nor do you take external factors into account. Because you are not measuring the response, there is no lag as with heart rate, but that also means that if you don’t have a reference, you still don’t really know anything.

KNOW YOUR FTP

So you must have this frame of reference if you want to train with a power meter. For this you need 2 things. First of all, you need to map out your own performance level. The most common way to do this is by determining your FTP. This is the maximum power you should be able to sustain for an hour. You can have this accurately determined with an exercise test in a lab or perform a 20-minute test yourself.

LISTEN TO YOUR intuition

But in addition, you especially need your own intuition. One day is not the other, so on a bad day you actually have a lower FTP and therefore the power you are aiming for should be also lower. On a good day, of course, the reverse is also true. But also when you lose more fluid than you can absorb or when it is cold and your blood vessels constrict, you cannot expect your performance level and thus your power output to remain the same. So don’t just look at the numbers, listen to your legs as well.

PRACTICAL TIPS

Finally, there are actually some useful tips that might help you get started just a little faster. The most important two, know your FTP and listen to your intuition, we have given away already.

  1. Do not look too much at absolute power, but relate it to body weight. Even on the flat, wattage per kilogram often says more about someone’s level than absolute power.
  2. Never use instantaneous power in the display of your cycling computer. This jumps up and down to much. Set a 3 second value as the most important metric.
  3. In addition to the 3 second value, also put a 30 second value and a 1 minute value on the screen. This stays even more constant and is useful to see what you are doing during your intervals.
  4. Focus on a constant cadence and feeling and not on a constant power. If you are constantly looking at your screen and trying to adjust your power output based on that, you will go nuts. Find a comfortable rhythm and gearing and then see if the power is what you want it to be. Don’t try to look at the screen every 3 seconds to see if it is.
  5. Do not try to improve your average power every ride. For example, a heavy interval training has a relatively low average power. It is better to look at normalized power (NP), which better reflects the variation in power. Normalized power better reflects the strain on the body. You can read more about this in this article.
  6. Normalized power works mainly for stretches of at least 20 minutes. For short intervals the calculation of normalized power can give a distorted picture.
  7. Everyone has a left-right difference and that difference varies. In general, it gets smaller at higher wattages because you are engaging more muscle groups. So even if you are convinced that your left leg is weaker and you have a power meter that only measures left leg, it makes very little sense to set your settings to 49-51 % because the difference is not always the same. Don’t worry too much about any left-right differences. At a steady endurance pace, 5% deviation is quite normal.
  8. Replace the battery on time. Almost all power meters give wrong values when the battery voltage is too low.
  9. Above all, compare your power with your own values. The power meter that always consistently measures what it should, has yet to be invented. Between brands there are unfortunately often large deviations that make comparisons difficult.

TRAIN ON HEART RATE OR POWER BUT NEVER BOTH at the same time

For the most important tip, we’ll have a separate paragraph. If you train on power, use heart rate in your analysis afterwards. In an ideal world when you ride in a certain power zone, your heart rate at that same moment is in the corresponding heart rate zone. However, this is not usually the case. Because your heart rate has a delay, because you just delivered too much power, because you trained hard the day before, because you lost too much fluid, because you have stress at work, because you train late in the day and are a bit tired and so we can go on for a while. So don’t go looking for this ideal world, but if you have a power meter just train on power. Afterwards you can see if the heart rate somewhat matches and if not then try to explain why not. If you don’t find the explanation, nothing is wrong yet. If your heart rates and power output remain far apart for multiple sessions, you should ask yourself whether your threshold heart rate and FTP are correct or whether something else (structural) is going on. Until then, nothing to worry about!
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