You may be forgiven for thinking that power meters are just another toy that some people add to their cycling arsenal so they have something else to brag about at the coffee shop…
While this may be true for some, power meters do serve a training purpose and may be just what you need to take your cycling to the next level.
In simple terms, a power meter is a device which measures the power output of a cyclist. There are a number of different types of power meter that use different means of measurement and some are better than others, but that’s a subject for a different post.
So what do they actually measure? Power meters measure the force that moves the bike forward multiplied by the velocity. So, the point of a power meter is to provide an objective measurement of real output, allowing training intensity and progress to be measured accurately.
But, how does a power meter improve your performance? Let’s start at the beginning and work our way up.
A lot of new cyclists are flying blind – they either use a basic computer that measures their speed or they use nothing. Consequently, they have no idea what their body is doing other than propelling their bike forward at x speed, and as speed is influenced by so many factors (terrain, wind conditions, other cyclists) it’s almost useless as a measure of performance.
The next step is to start using a cycling computer that measures heart rate, speed and cadence. So now we have an input measurement – heart rate – and output measurements – speed and cadence. Put together these measurements form the basis of heart rate based training and are the first step in improving cycling performance. As fitness improves, you can pedal at higher cadences, achieve greater speed and your heart rate recovers more quickly. These measurements can be used to guide training, improving fitness and speed.
Introducing a power meter is the next step. Your body is the engine that drives your bike; improving engine performance improves overall performance.
Because a power meter allows you to focus on muscle performance, combining power measurement and heart rate measurement removes the guesswork and allows you to focus your training on improving overall engine performance. Once your training intensity can be accurately measured you can optimise your training and work on the areas that need improvement.
While a power meter may not be much use to you when you’re starting out, as your performance improves and your cycling goals change, power meters become more relevant.
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