Why You (Yes, You) Should Think About Using Power for Bike Training

Written by Victoria Anderson, CT3 Member, Ironman Triathlete

If you spend enough time around the triathlon world – probably 5 minutes or so – you’ll hear people talking about their bike gear and gadgets. Why train hard when you can just buy speed?

If only it were so simple. Ultimately, you need to be fit enough to move your fancy equipment faster. But wait! What if one of those fancy gadgets could actually help you get fitter AND race better? Aerohelmets and race wheels may promise to shave seconds off your time, but there’s something else that can help you train more efficiently and effectively so that you are ALWAYS faster.

A powermeter.

A what?

A device that lets you know how much power you are producing so that, regardless of the hills, wind, or heat, you know how hard your legs are working. This is an advantage for training, as it allows you to target a specific physiological adaptation, even if you are indoors, and for racing, since you need not be frustrated by slow speeds in a headwind when you know your legs are doing what you trained them to do.

Do they really help you train and race better? As with anything in the sport of triathlon, you get out of it what you put into it. If you just have your power output being recorded and don’t use it to plan your training or racing, it won’t be much more than another number for you to look at. However, if you consistently test, plan, and execute your biking with power as a guide, you can make substantial gains.

Need an anecdote? I came into triathlon as a swimmer with a couple of months of basic bike training, which meant that at almost every race, spectators would cheer me on as the second/third woman out of the water, and I would then find myself on the bike course getting passed by half the field. It was frustrating, and you can only listen to so many race wheels whoosh right past you before you decide to drastically improve your cycling. This season, after several months of focused bike training using my powermeter and a plan for getting the most out of my training rides, I found myself holding onto my position from the swim, or even passing people on the bike.

So it clearly helped me, but why should YOU consider training with power?

You can get more out of your sessions. This is especially important if you wind up training indoors, where a lack of feedback on your efforts can make a ride unproductive at best, and mindnumbingly boring at worst. With power, you can plan what specific physiological adaptation you want to work on in a given session, week, month, or season, and know that you are getting that adaptation with the feedback you get on your power.

You can better target your training so that you are less likely to overtrain or undertrain. If your workout involves “30 seconds all out” or “5 minutes hard,” what exactly does that mean? How hard should you go? A power-based workout plan will tell you EXACTLY how hard you need to push, and your powermeter will let you know if you are doing it. No need to worry about unnecessarily trashing your legs, or not pushing hard enough to improve your fitness. Simply ride to the prescribed power numbers and be done with the workout.

Power-based testing offers a chance to objectively assess your progress throughout the season. It can be difficult to use speed to gauge your bike fitness, as road conditions, elevation profiles, and weather can all affect speed at a given power output. But with a powermeter? You can do a test on a trainer, or flat road, to see how much power you can produce. If it’s going up, you know your plan is working, if it’s going down, it might be time to reassess your approach.

You’ll be able to better manage your race efforts. Triathlon and cycling experts with decades of experience have analyzed ideal power outputs for different race distances, and those target ranges are available to anybody. Simply take the output from your training and testing, set your target power output, and follow it throughout the race. No more cursing headwinds or blowing your legs out climbing hills, just stay in your target range and you’ll hit the run course ready to finish the race strong.

You can still go and ride for fun. While the majority of my workouts have a power-based plan, not all of them do. I still ride a road bike in to work, with no data whatsoever, and take my bike out for a ride on a nice day without paying attention to my power at all. Training with power doesn’t have to mean that power is all you think about when you ride, it just means that you use the information from your powermeter when it’s useful for the workout.

Interested? Come back for the follow on post, How on Earth do I Train and Race with Power?

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