The first article in a seven part series in partnership with Verve Cycling - the official power crank supplier to the Great Britain Cycling Team - looks at why you should make the switch to a power meter.
Instant intensity feedback
The biggest advantage of a power meter over a heart rate monitor is that it gives instantaneous feedback on the effort you’re making - whereas there will always be significant lag with a heart rate monitor. This isn’t so much of an issue on longer even paced efforts but, for shorter intervals and punchier rides, your heart rate just doesn’t react fast enough.
A great example would be 5-minute Zone 5 intervals where, if you try to force your heart rate up too quickly, you’ll end up going too hard. With a power meter you can be at exactly the right intensity from the first pedal stroke.
Not affected by external factors
Heart rate relative to perceived effort can be significantly affected by a wide range of external factors such as hydration level, air temperature and altitude. How much sleep you’ve had, whether you had an extra pre-ride espresso or were chased by a dog can have an impact too. It’s also common during a hard training block, when you’re fairly fatigued, for your heart rate to be flattened.
For longer rides there’s also a physiological phenomena known as cardiac drift where, over the course of a long ride, your heart rate will rise even though you’re not working harder. This affect can be as pronounced as 15% and, although it can be managed with optimal hydration, it can’t be completely negated.
More than Watts
With a dual sided power meter such as a Verve InfoCrank you’ll also get information on left and right power balance, pedal smoothness, torque effectiveness and cadence.
Analysis and planning
With power derived performance metrics and using a platform such as TrainingPeaks you can accurately analyse sessions you’ve done and see how future planned rides will impact your cycling fitness. You really can take the guesswork out of tapering and peaking for key events.
Smart trainers have internal power meters but they can also be controlled by the power meter on your bike so that your data is more comparable. You’ll find that as long as your pain cave is well ventilated and you have a decent fan that your power output is far less affected by being indoors then heart rate. Also platforms such as Zwift are far more enjoyable and realistic with a power meter.
Not instead of heart-rate, alongside it
Even if you do get a power meter, don’t ditch your heart rate monitor as combining the data from both can provide an incredibly powerful insight into your riding. In simple terms your power meter will tell you the watts you’re putting out and your heart rate monitor the impact this is having on your body.
A good example of this is a metric know as the “rate of decoupling”. Over the course of a long ride, if there’s a significant divergence between power and heart rate, decoupling is said to have occurred. This can point to diminishing efficiency, possible poor pacing early on and a need for improved endurance.
Just for pros?
Far from it and arguably amateur and novice riders have more to gain from power meters than top riders.
If your training time is limited, knowing that you’re getting the most out of every workout is essential and a power meter is the best tool for ensuring that.
For novice riders, who probably lack experience in pacing and what different riding intensities feel like, a power meter will massively aid pacing during training and at events. For example, when you’re feeling fresh at the start of a ride, it can be easy to overcook a climb and then pay for it later on. A power meter, and accurately set zones, will prevent this.