Although some cyclists disavow power meters, the truth is that most professional cyclists and triathletes use them every day for training and racing. You can certainly become an incredible cyclist without one, but if the goal is to efficiently execute targeted workouts to gain fitness as quickly as possible, they’re a necessity.
In case you aren’t familiar with them, power meters are devices you install on your bike that measure how many watts you generate when pedaling. They are usually composed of a strain gauge that measures the force you’re exerting on the pedals and the rate via which you’re spinning. They are useful because they deliver an accurate and objective measurement of cycling intensity
Consider the following benefits of using a power meter during training and racing:
Power meters are essential for maximizing training efficiency: There is no better way of determining your current level of cycling fitness and improving upon that fitness than via power-based training. After you know your Functional Threshold Power (FTP), you will know exactly what to do every workout. You will understand how your body responds to certain power outputs and you will know exactly how much effort to exert during every interval.
Power meters make indoor training more effective and tolerable: At this point if you want to be competitive, you pretty much have to do some of your cycling workouts indoors. Riding on the trainer can be horrendously boring, but having power to track can help alleviate some of the monotony. By focusing on power output, your mind has something to focus on apart from the wall of your pain cave and you can execute workouts more efficiently by precisely targeting goal wattage. You can even tap into the ever-growing world of virtual cycling (Zwift, etc.) by syncing your power to a specific app.
You will race faster: The cycling leg of triathlon is an individual time trial. It is not a traditional cycling race where you sit in the peloton, maybe cover some breakaways, and then sprint at the end. The fastest and most efficient way to complete a time trial race is via steady power output. To do this effectively, you need a power meter. Perceived exertion works for some, but for most triathletes, adrenaline and feeling overly good from a taper muddies their ability to gauge effort and they overcook the first part of the bike leg, ruining their race. Knowing the actual power you’re generating, rather than estimating the power you think you’re generating, can prevent you from blowing up.
Although you can probably get by without a power meter, they are a piece of technology that, when used appropriately, will make you a better and more efficient cyclist. Don’t be intimidated by them. No matter what your level of ability is, they provide feedback essential for maximizing progress. If you don’t have one, get one.
For more detailed information on how to use them, check out the Working Triathlete e-book.