As a coach who uses power almost exclusively for training cyclists, monitoring progress and assessing the capacity of my riders, I am a confirmed devotee of the technology. I have also noticed in our bunch rides, that more and more cyclists are fitting power meters to their bikes or buying bikes with power meters already fitted.
Whilst power meters are a fantastic tool, there is always the risk that they become just the latest gadget, wasted and under-appreciated. So, here is an easy-to-follow five-step formula for putting the most important function of your new (or old) toy to use:
1. Test yourself or get tested so that you know your power zones. There is very little point to the whole power dance if you are running off abstract numbers, or worse still, those of your riding buddies.
2. Set up a lap page on your device (Garmin or other). On your lap page you should display (as a minimum), lap time, lap AVERAGE power, cadence, Heart Rate, lap distance. Having a lap page means that you can easily monitor the key segments of your ride, both during and after. Now, once the lap page is set up, remember to hit the lap button on your device at the start of every important effort you make (intervals for example) during a ride.
3. When you are making an effort or doing an interval, keep your focus on the lap power. This will prevent you from surging and going too hard at any point during the effort. The longer the lap, the greater the smoothing effect. The lap function will become your best friend and help you to ride / train smarter than you ever have before.
4. Know your power targets for efforts of varying length / time. An effective test will show a rider (for example) how many watts above threshold they are capable of holding for 1, 2, 3 and up to 10 minutes. Once you know this, the lap power keeps you in the right zone, focussed and ensures that you get the most from your training sessions.
5. Trust the numbers and use the power data to pace your efforts. Most who watch cycling have seen riders from Team Sky simply sit and watch others attack in the mountains, calm in the knowledge that if they hold their number, they will eventually close the gap, time and time again, they do just that. This is because they remain calm, in their zones and refuse to waste energy on surging. Any rider with a power meter can do precisely the same thing. All you need to know is what number you can hold for a defined period of time (or distance). Then (hit the lap button) monitor the power, stick to the plan. Pacing efficiently ALWAYS produces a better result, every time, for every rider. The key is knowing your zones and what is the most effective pacing strategy for you.
Power meters are such a wonderful tool, but they are not a toy or a gadget to be used for fuelling the ego. Start with a test and a sound knowledge of what you are capable of and what type of efforts you need to improve. Armed with this knowledge, a power meter will help to make your training efficient and productive. THEN, you can take the bragging rights from your buddies.