Do I Really Need Power?

Do I Really Need Power?
Coach Morgan Hoffman and Coach Ahmed Zaher

Often when we talk to athletes about training with power on the bike, they have the assumption that power meters are only for “top athletes” or “elites.” What we have learned during our years of coaching with power is that this assumption could not be further from the truth. Power is just a metric – it can be applied to any cyclist, regardless of experience or goals.

While the benefits of training with power can be many, our top two reasons for using this metric may surprise you.

First, power meters can tell you when to suck it up, and when to call it a day. Every athlete struggles at some point during a workout with “not feeling it” – but how do we know when to protect our body and call it a day, and when we really need to push through and work on our mental toughness? With power, we get immediate feedback on our output to tell us whether or not we are still performing at a productive level.

For example, let’s say on a 1 hour ride at a heart rate of 160 bpm, I normally average 200w. My speed will always be variable based on topography, weather conditions, riding companions, etc. My average power output, however, should stay the same (or, hopefully, improve progressively over time). One evening, after feeling fatigued all day, I notice that while my heart rate is averaging 160 bpm, my power average is only 150w. This is usually an indication of under recovery or impending illness, and indicates that it’s time to pack it in and call it a day. On the other hand, if one evening I had a hard day at work and I’m really not feeling it, but I can see that my heart rate is at 160 bpm and power, sure enough, is at 200w, then I know that me “not feeling it” has more to do with work, and less to do with a need for recovery. Last, if my coach gives me a hard interval workout with 2 minute intervals at 300-330w, and after 4 intervals I can only maintain at 280w, once more, this would be an indicator that I have ceased to be able to benefit from the workout, and it is time to call it a day and get that feedback to my coach.

Second, power meters provide athletes and coaches with the invaluable ability to assign a “number” to bike performance. Let’s say athlete A wants to beat athlete B in a Sprint race with a 12 mile bike portion in 6 months. Currently they weigh the same, and have the same swim and run times, but athlete B consistently comes off the bike about 1-2 mph faster than athlete A. If we can find out what watts athlete B is averaging in her Sprint distance races, we can know what exactly athlete A needs to be able to produce on the bike (without negatively impacting her run). This makes it simple to create a training plan that is specific to the goal. This same logic applies whether the athlete in question wants to finish their first Olympic distance race, or qualify for Kona.

The third reason to invest in a power meter (yes, there’s a third reason) is that the price point on power meters has dropped by over 50% in the past 3-4 years. Athletes can now find quality power meters for $600-700 MSRP. When you think about the amounts of money we spend on race entry fees, travel, bikes, etc. it makes sense to get the most out of what we’re putting into our training by utilizing one of the most effective metrics currently available.

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Coach Morgan Hoffman is a USAT Level II ITU/Short Course Certified Coach, USAT Youth & Junior Certified Coach, ASCA Coach Member, and Head Coach of Team Playtri Elite.  Coach Ahmed Zaher is the head coach of Playtri with over 18 years of coaching experience from the elite to the beginner.