Getting Powered Up with Racer Diaries
Guest post by Racer Diaries blogger, Kristen Gross.
When you type, "Why train with power?" into Google, 416 million results pop up in under one second. People are talking and writing about it. A lot. And last week, I decided to jump on the bandwagon.
I have trained with heart rate for all the years I've raced so far and I thought I was doing just fine, thankyouverymuch. But for a couple weeks recently, it felt like I was finishing every workout with a frustrating sense of failure. No matter what I tried -- more cadence, more connection with my pedals, deeper breathing, better eating -- tears -- it seemed like my top heart rate zones were inaccessible. My coach said it was a normal thing to experience a "plateau" at this stage of the game. But I was totally over the feeling. So naturally, I panicked and made some inquiries. If my small sample size is any indication, I think we can safely say that 100% of the 416 million Google hits I mentioned extol the virtues of training with power. Power is truth. It does not change with fatigue, it does not matter what time of day it is, it doesn't care if you're stressed out, it is not susceptible to illness and your age is not a factor.
My coach, Richard La China, is happy I made the switch. "A power meter allows you to accurately measure the amount of work you are doing, it's that simple. Nothing is left up to interpretation and we can work with this data to maximize your training," said Richard. "My athletes send me their heart-rate data but there is a ton I can't see: Were they well hydrated? Were they having difficulty with the elevation? Were they having a fight with their spouse that morning, or a hard day at the office? All of that can impact your heart rate. But watts aren't affected by that stuff -- watts are watts. I train lots of people with heart rate but once they switch to power, I start to see real results because I have a way to measure them. There's no way to measure results with heart rate. I can see wattage increasing. I can see functional threshold increasing."
Another one of the people I talked to was Norco Factory Team rider Andrew Watson who recently hosted a seminar on training with power back home in Ontario. He echoed Richard, saying, "Power is a quantifiable, unbiased data point to base your training off of." But it's just one of a few points we athletes can keep track of to paint a clearer picture of the work we're doing on the bike. "Speed, heart rate and perceived exertion all have many variables," he said. "Don't toss out the heart rate monitor, but complement it with power."
In my internet search, I stumbled on a video PowerTap produced featuring Dr. Allen Lim, who went on to found Skratch Labs. I was struck by his analogies: "You wouldn't bake a pie if you didn't how hot the oven was. At the same time, you wouldn't go to the gym to lift weights if you didn't know how much you were lifting. In the same way a thermometer can tell you how hot the oven is, and a scale can tell you how much load you're lifting, power output tells you what you're really doing when you're cycling, whereas heart rate only tells you how you are responding. If you really want to optimize your performance, you need to know both."
If you're interested in adding watts to the data fields on your cycling computer, I'd highly recommend the G3 Hub from PowerTap. It easily connects to my Garmin, it's light and though this is a relatively pricey piece of equipment, I think it's one I'm going to have for a very long time, and I'm looking forward to the improved training it's enabling. Now to save up for the MTB version.
Kristen Gross is a freelance writer and Cat 1 mountain bike racer based in Carlsbad, California. She is currently preparing for bucket-list item, the 2014 BC Bike Race. You can find her training (with power!) on her road bike, coaching with Ninja Mountain Bike Skills and keeping the rubber side down wherever the trail takes her. Keep up with her on Twitter, Instagram, and her Racer Diaries blog. This article has been re-published from Racer Diaries.