Power Meters can help to keep you Sane

Sports Psychology, June 07, 2016

Training is difficult and can be arduous. We work hard to achieve our goals and would like to know our work is paying off. Achieving goals can keep us motivated to endure. This article explains how power meters can help validate your work.

As an athlete we strive to achieve. We train, what seems to be, endless hours to achieve our goals. When we begin our training, we often “see or feel” quick gains to our fitness. Then as we continue to work towards our goals gains begin to marginalize. We still desire to achieve our goal but how do we know our work is paying off? Sometimes when you are tired and you have been training for months and the event is still off in the distance this question can challenge your will and sanity.

The power meter helps us to compare performances. This ability to compare performances helps to validate our efforts. This weekend was a perfect example of this. Let me explain.

It has been said that the best predictor of future performance is past performance. What does this mean to our training and competing? We all want to do better in our next event but how can we be sure we are progressing? The power meter is a device that measures our rate of work and can help us to quantify our ability to endure rates of work. Endurance is the ability to work hard for longer periods of time. This is what the power meter helps us to measure and validate. When we look at power, displayed as watts, we are seeing our current rate of work. Watts are work divided by time. Using a power meter we can establish our maximum rates of work for different duration of time. This is proof of performance and it can be used to predict future performance.

This weekend one of my athletes went to Lake Placid to compete in an endurance mountain bike race. The conditions were nothing like they were last year. This year was very wet. The trails were made of deep mud. She described the terrain as “riding through peanut butter”. The prior year conditions were more favorable for riding fast. After she finished she wondered, “Did I do better than last year?” Luckily we had a power meter to help us answer this question.

Her time was slightly better than the previous year. This suggested she did better but were all the trails and the course distance the same? We suspect they were. We knew her power numbers from her training heading into the race suggested. They suggested she was stronger but since the race time was only a few minutes better how can we be sure?

This is where the power meter helped us to verify she was actually much stronger this year than she was in 2015. The deep mud should have added quite a bit of difficulty to carrying any type of speed. The mud will take all momentum away from the rider and eat it up. As soon as I read this comment in her notes and looked at the race time I realized her performance was actually much better this year despite what the clock said. When I finally got a look at the power file the story was perfectly clear. The distance was the same. The trails were the same and the time slightly faster but her power was 15% better this year when compared to last. That is 15% improvement from one year to the next in her ability to endure a higher rate of work for long duration. If the girl that raced last year showed up and had to face this year’s conditions her time would have been considerably slower.

What the power meter proved was all her work was worth it. Her work was validated. She is stronger than last year. She is a better version of herself and if the conditions were similar to last year she would have demolished her race time and set a new personal record. The rain and mud slowed her but her hard work these past months and her new fitness overcame the conditions. Without the power meter we could have guessed it was a better performance but the power meter helped to validate all her hard work and keeps us both sane.

Peter Cummings specializes with training with Power meters and the use of the TrainingPeaks platform and WKO+. He was certified by the American College of Sports Medicine in 1993. He is a Certified and Licensed USA Cycling Level II (Expert) Coach with Distinction, and Certified USA Cycling Skills Instructor. He serves as the Director of Medical Fitness and Cardiac Rehabilitation at a facility in Williamsville. As a health club owner and coach he has directed and overseen the programming of over 10,000 individual and has been racing bicycles since 1991. His many athletes stand on podiums at Nationals, State and Local championships and have worn the Stars and Stripes National Championship Jersey. He is available for consultations, presentations, testing, programming or coaching. Those interested can contact him at Peter@Plan2Peak.com.  For more articles on training and racing with power and other cycling specific topics by Coach Cummings visit www.Plan2Peak.com.