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What Is A Power Meter?

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How To Improve Speed & Endurance

Power meter [ pou-er mee-ter] n: a device on a bicycle that measures the power output of the rider. A power meter will relay information on power output to a cycling computer or phone app using ANT+ and Bluetooth Low Energy technology.

This definition doesn’t go very far in answering the question: what does a power meter help with, why do people spend time training and racing with a power meter, and what makes them a must have cycling accessory?

What Is Power?

To fully understand what a power meter does and how it helps improve cycling technique, we are going to take a quick trip back to high school physics and talk briefly about power and watts. 

Power is measured in watts. A watt is a basic unit of power equal to 1 joule per second. It is a common unit used to express effort exerted. A power meter measures power by tracking the amount of torque produced by your pedaling and multiplying that number by cadence, or how fast you’re pedaling. So for a moving bicycle, Power = Torque x Cadence.

What is a power meter? Formula for power is cadence x torque = power. This helps us to understand how to train with a power meter, what is a power meter, how to improve cycling speed and endurance, improving cycling technique and understand why a power meter is a must have cycling accessory.

Why Should I Be Training & Racing With A Power Meter?

Understanding how a power meter works is a great starting point, but what will a power meter help with? Why should people train with power meters? How do power meters help improve cycling speed & endurance? Why are power meters a must have cycling accessory? What do power meters have to do with your cycling technique?

When you train with a power meter, you are able to measure your power output, which in turn enables you to make data-backed decisions that prevent burnout and injuries that come from over-exertion. A power meter provides you with the information needed to get stronger legs for cycling and improve your overall cycling technique. Basically, when power is measured, your training becomes more effective because you are measuring your intensity and work. Incorporating this into your training routine allows you to find the balance between over-working and under-working. You gain a better understanding of:

  • Your baseline fitness
  • Your fitness gains, no matter how small
  • Your energy usage and how you can adjust your nutritional plan
  • The intensity, duration, and frequency of your ride

This information allows you to properly pace yourself, prevent overtraining, and improve faster.

How Do I Start Training With A Power Meter?

Here is the fun part – how to train with a power meter. It’s time to practically apply this knowledge and go for a ride. The first thing you need to do is establish your fitness baseline. For the first week, go about your normal training routine using the power meter. Put the data to the back of your mind; your only job at this point is to collect the numbers. Make some quick notes about how you felt during and after your workout so you can later compare that to the data.

The next step is to complete a quick 20-minute Functional Threshold Power (FTP) test. This will establish the highest average power that you can maintain in a quasi-steady state before fatigue. To do this test, you are going to want to find a spot that you will be able to ride non-stop for the full 20 minutes of all out effort. When going through the warm-up and testing phases, it is important to hit “lap” on your bike computer to mark where your effort is starting and stopping. Before hitting it hard, you will want to start with a 15-minute warm-up and gradually move into endurance. During the warm-up, complete 3 one-minute intervals of fast pedaling where your cadence is at 110 RPM or higher. After your warm-up, you are ready for the 20-minute all out test. Mark the lap button before you start and then go hard, being cautious to not go too hard too fast. The first two to three minutes should be a build up period. In the final two minutes of the test, ramp the power up 10 watts at a time and push as hard as you can. Finish strong. Let the test run five seconds longer than your pedaling to ensure you capture the full test. Once complete, take 15 minutes of gentle spinning to cool down.

How do I start training with a power meter? Get quarq PowerTap p2 pedals and install them on your bike to improve cycling technique, improve cycling speed and endurance, and get stronger legs for cycling. A power meter is a must have cycling accessory.

After you complete the FTP test, you are going to take 95% of the power output value and plug it into your training app, such as the SRAM AXS app. This number is going to give you an established baseline for where your power output should be in order to meet your training goals. 

Congratulations! You are now ready to start training with a power meter. You are well on the way to improving your cycling technique, getting stronger legs, and improving cycling speed and endurance.

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The Functional Threshold Power test was established by Dr. Andrew Coggan, Ph.D. Learn more about the FTP test and Dr. Coggan here.