March 18th, 2013

Watt the??? A Guide to Power Meters and Reaching Your Athletic Goals

What’s a watt and why is it so important when it comes to cycling?  A watt is a measure of power output that a cyclist or triathlete generates every time the pedals are turned.  These numbers are measured by a power meter. Power meters calculate power by measuring the torque and cadence. When you press on the pedals, all parts of the bike’s drivetrain flexes slightly under the load. Why is this important and why should you invest in a power meter?

The major reason is that you are more likely to achieve your race goals by training—and racing—with a power meter than without. It is the most affective tool you can get to go faster on a bike. Given the choice between race wheels and a power meter I’d recommend a power meter every time. When it comes to speed, the engine is always the most important part. A power meter will help you develop a bigger one. With race wheels you still have a small engine.

How do they make your engine bigger? Power meters remove most of the guesswork that goes into training and racing. When everyone is fighting a head wind, going too fast with the wind or guessing how hard to push when going up hill, athletes using a power meter can focus on the pre determined output. He or she will produce the fastest possible ride given the conditions so long as they stay within their target power that was determined throughout training. While something similar can be done with heart rate, there are some external factors such as the excitement of a race, cardiac drift, diet and weather conditions that can throw off your numbers.

Heart rate monitors are great intensity-measuring devices, but heart rate by itself actually doesn’t tell you much. Heart rate tells you how hard the engine is working, but nothing more. Input data such as heart rate isn’t meaningful until it is compared with some measure of output. For example, what if your heart rate is 10 beats higher than usual? What does that mean? Is it good or bad? The only way to answer that question is to know if you were putting out more power or less than usual.  After all, they don’t give awards at races to those who worked the hardest or had the highest heart rates, but rather to those who had the fastest time which results from high power.

Also, realize that you’re not trying to train the heart solely when doing intervals or any workout, for that matter. In fact, what happens in the muscles during workouts, not the heart, is really the key to your success. Heart rate monitors, while quite valuable to training have many believing that training is just about the heart. It isn’t. Power meters allow you to focus more on muscle.

Power meters also provide highly accurate details about how your fitness is changing throughout the season. Without this information, I really wouldn’t know for sure if athletes are making progress or not. I would be guessing and that doesn’t get the results they are looking for. An increasing value for similar workouts tells me fitness is improving. It is concrete evidence.  If you push 250 watts in one test and then push 270 the next test you are obviously stronger.

At Running Away Multisport we carry Quarq power meters.  This company offers different options to cyclists depending upon their needs. Stop on in and we can help you determine which power meter will help you reach all your athletic goals.

By: Tim Ams – Running Away Deerfield Store Manager

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