Should I use power?
I get asked all the time if I should be using power. You know, everybody is talking about it. My standard coaching answer is “it depends”… Really it does! What I see is that it comes down to two things:
- What kind of athlete are you?
- What you are going to do with it?
What kind of athlete am I?
Funny question, but this does mean a lot. In the last month I’ve met 3-4 athletes who were using power and when I asked them about some power numbers and how they liked training with power, the answers were “I am not sure what all that stuff means”. Yes, marketing wins again.
So back to my question…
In my coaching practice, I have athletes that are very data driven. They can be very tech savvy and never miss a workout upload. They may have some good ideas around zonal training, periodization, and perceived exertion. This athlete may be a good candidate for power.
I also have athletes that can be somewhat technically challenged. This is not a big thing I tell them. I often use the adage that “racers went fast before power meters, heart rate monitors and bike computers”. Yes, there was a time. For these athletes tracking additional data could be a workout buster. So if you hate your bike computer, can’t find your heart rate monitor, and can’t seem to remember your TrainingPeaks login, a power meter may not be for you.
What am I going to do with this power stuff?
Okay, so you bought this power meter…. Now what?
When I have new athlete join my practice, I will talk with them about the advantages around using a power meter. Yes, I could get more technical but your coach can tell you what a watt is.
We use power to understand three key items:
- Tracking efforts in workouts
- Track fitness over time
- Race planning
Sound simple… we hope. The folks at TrainingPeaks have created some industry leading tools tohelp us get there. Make sure you are using them.
Tracking efforts at the workout level
I like the word efforts instead of intervals. Depending on your endurance event, we can assume one will do workouts that mimic their race. For a long time we have used zonal heartrate work to keep us on track. Heartrate is great , but it typically is a measure of work that has already been done. I like to use the example of carrying a load of laundry (or something heavy) up some stairs. You feel okay doing it but when you get to the top, you can feel your HR climb and you may be breathing harder. Power on the other hand is an instantaneous measure of effort. It will show us exactly the power output we are putting out for that effort in real time. Your coach should be prescribing your efforts depending on your Power Zones . Below is an example of a tempo workout. This one is based off of the athletes Functional Threshold Power. There is not much room for error when using the workout creator in TrainingPeaks. We can now export them to your computer or indoor trainer.
Tracking fitness progress over time
Am I getting better coach? I hear this on daily basis. The answer can lay in the data. I am not going to get into the nuances of the PMC by TrainingPeaks but coaches using power use it daily. It allows us to track workout over workout and how athletes are responding to the training stress. It helps us to understand if an athlete may be getting fatigued and needing rest, or is this athlete ready to taper. This is great objective data. You coach should also be discussing with you your subjective data also. (email me if you have a question on this).
Ok hotshot, let’s race!
Power can give us great insight to the ability of what an individual can do on the bike. Using Best Bike Split I help athletes using power create a race plan on the bike for upcoming TT’s and Triathlons. This software gathers individual data like, bike aerodynamics, wheels, weather on race day, course terrain and athletic metrics. Once we collect that data, we use GPS files of the bike courses and create a race plan. This sounds easy but there are a few steps. Typically I model a race plan 2-3 times to make sure the goal is realistic and discuss with the athlete how hard this may be.
Here is a great example of a bike leg race plan from HIM Santa Rosa last week. It allowed this athlete a sensible pace and save enough for a great run.
Santa Rosa was a good result for this athlete. They PR’d the bike and run!
Yes, this may look confusing but Best Bike Split also allows you to export to your bike computer or make these awesome cheat sheets.
Power is a great tool, Period.
It is not a panacea for lack of focus, commitment or hard work. It allows us to have another tool in our arsenal for success towards and on race day.
Please feel free to contact me directly with any questions. Joe@Boltonendurance.com
Coach Joe Strandell is a Level 2 USA Cycling coach, USA Triathlon Youth, Junior and Elite Coach and a IRONMAN Certified Coach. He is currently taking on athletes for 2018.