Power meters have revolutionized training on your bike. What used to be restricted to only the top level athletes in fitness laboratories is now available to any consumer. I train with power and it has helped me reach many of my cycling goals in less time than my previous efforts with out power training.
Power meters come in all shapes and sizes. Some can be found in the hub of your rear wheel, some in your pedals, cranks or chain rings, and even in your stationary trainers. Each have their advantages and disadvantages. Ultimately it is up to you, the consumer to decide what is right. I use a rear hub style meter at my local compu-training studio because it is easy to swap out between riders.
What do power meters do?
Power meters measure the work load a person is exerting to pedal a bike. This is measured in Watts, which are calculated through the equation Force by Distance over Time. The power meter calculates these forces through several sensors. Some sensors measure the Time (cadence) with accelerometers or magnets, others measure the Force through stress sensors, and the Distance is calibrated depending on the length of your crank arm or the diameter of the hub.
A SRAM Red Crankset with an integrated power meter.
How do I use a power meter?
Power meters allow for creating precise training plans independent of speed, gradient, or heart rate. When creating workouts with power in mind you want to know what your Functional Threshold Power (FTP) is. This is the maximum amount of power a rider can sustain for one hour.
To find your FTP you would complete a series of tests including 10 sec all out sprint, a 1 min steady climb, a 5 min max power effort and/or a 20 min sustained hard effort. Most people just complete the 20 minute test for their general FTP. If you specialize in certain areas of cycling such as Time Trials or sprints, then you may want to complete different tests to get a more accurate FTP.
With your FTP established you can create workouts to target certain areas of activity. Most workouts will be set as intervals based on a percentage of your FTP. These percentages are broken down into 7 zones of intensity.
Each zone is used to target certain parts of riding that need improvement. for example Zone 4 is good for increasing a riders lactate threshold but if you go into Zone 5 it is half as efficient for increasing your Lactate Threshold, but Zone 5 is optimal for increasing your maximal cardiac output.
A simple work out interval could be a twenty minute effort in Zone 4 followed by five minutes of rest, then another twenty minutes in Zone 4.
An example read out from an over under threshold work out with a warmup.
Power meters are Great tools to improve our fitness efficiently but they are not for everyone. To learn more about the types of power meters you can read this Bicycling.com article titled, "What to Know Before Buying a Power Meter." If you want to learn a little more about how to use a power meter check out this video by GCN below.
Christian Sundquist is an Elite Cyclocross and Track racer competing in UCI events across the country. He graduated from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design with a major in entrepreneurial studies and a minor in filmmaking. Christian is the head photographer and videographer at The Racery.