Training with your power meter out on the road

You no doubt find your power meter invaluable during the winter doing base work, anaerobic threshold intervals and those leg-and-lung busting power intervals. You work to wattage targets and see the benefit in a rising functional threshold power and increase in power-to-weight ratio. But during the summer, out on the road, you think, “I’m too nervous to look at my computer when riding, so why even bother using the power meter?”

August 10th, 2014 by | Posted in Training |

by Jonathan Farber

You no doubt find your power meter invaluable during the winter doing base work, anaerobic threshold intervals and those leg-and-lung busting power intervals. You work to wattage targets and see the benefit in a rising functional threshold power and increase in power-to-weight ratio. But during the summer, out on the road, you think, “I’m too nervous to look at my computer when riding, so why even bother using the power meter?”

Well, that computer is still a valuable tool, even if you keep it stuffed in your jersey pocket next to the oozing, almost empty gel packet. It’s not so important for what it tells you during the ride, as much as after the ride, once you download the power file to your computer. Here are three areas to look at apres-ride.

Average versus normalized power

From your time on the trainer, you know your functional threshold power (FTP), the maximum wattage you can maintain for an hour. Let’s say its 250 watts. Then head out on a ride. Grind up some steep hills, fly down the descents, attack a few fast rollers and battle a headwind home. Your power file should have a few new peak power records, right? But what’s this? Your peak 20 minutes is only 215 watts, and your peaks from 30 to 60 minutes are even worse.

Don’t worry. You are just not looking at the most relevant data. You climbed (high watts) then descended (low to no watts), hit rollers (high going up, low going down), had changing wind directions and maybe drafted and took a few pulls on the front of the paceline. All these activities put your power all over the map. You need to look at a metric that considers the variability of the effort in the ride and gives you a more realistic “average” power. That metric is normalized power (NP).
When you see a trend in the NP of your outdoor rides, say a number higher than your last recorded FTP, you can either reset your training zones based on the higher NP, or use that number as a target for your next FTP test. Having this knowledge will take you to a new level.

Cadence

What is your usual cadence? On the trainer, you may have set specific parameters on cadence according to your training plan. But on the road, you just do what feels comfortable based on grade, gear and wind. But what if you want to climb better? You might be able to do so simply with a different gear ratio and a higher cadence.

With that power file uploaded to TrainingPeaks, WKO+ or Golden Cheetah, look at the cadence, power and grade displayed on the graph. Next, look for trends. Try and find that sweet spot where your power stays sustainably high and you fend off failure to reach the summit. Are you mashing a huge gear at a snail’s cadence or jack rabbitting a super-fast spin? What is your most successful cadence to power relationship? If you never achieve a cadence of faster than 80 rpm on a climb, are you over geared? Look to the power file to help you explore these questions and improve your climbing.

Kilojoules

Have you ever bonked on a ride? Was your computer in your pocket next to that gooey, almost empty gel packet? Good. There is an important metric on your power meter’s computer that can help prevent just such a disaster: kilojoules (kJ). The kJ figure tells you how much work you’ve done and is related to the calories you use. A good approximation is simply equating calories expended to the kJ count.

Now, take a look at the power file from the ride in which you bonked and check out the kJ count. Add up the total calories consumed during the ride. Compare those numbers. You didn’t fuel properly, did you? Now that you know the cost of that ride in calories or kJ from the effort, you can make a nutrition plan that works.

Jonathan Farber is a Toronto-based writer and cycling coach. He owner bspoke athletics, an indoor cycling studio, and is a CycloOps-certified power expert. His is passionate about all thing bicycle-related.