Power meter: training tips for racing cyclists

Anyone who trains with a power meter collects a lot of data. Alpecin Cycling explains how athletes can use them intelligently to improve the quality of their training.

Whether in the pedals, the crank, on the chainring or directly in the hub. Power meters are now available in countless variations – and they are becoming increasingly popular with amateur athletes.
More and more cyclists are interested in the performance they currently use, for example to precisely control their training.

With intelligent use of small power plants and the data obtained, however, much more can be done with them. For example, the power meter turns into a mobile diagnostic and testing laboratory: the data collected can help to “gain weight” or ruthlessly detect common training errors, such as an inefficient driving style, and determine the actual workload of a unit.

Björn Geesmann, sports scientist at the training institute HYCYSprovides advice on how athletes can get the most out of their power meter training.

Power Meter Training Tip 1: Energy Rotation Based Training

Often heard phrase: “Power meter training makes you lonely”. The argument against training with a power meter is often the lack of the communicative element of cycling. Going by the numbers all the time, my workout buddies don’t accept that. “They don’t want or can’t ride as slow as me.” But the excuse no longer counts.

“The training can also be controlled according to the energy invested”, explains Björn Geesmann. At the end of each ride, a usually four-digit number with the abbreviation “kJ” appears on the display or evaluation software – this stands for kilojoules and indicates the energy converted. In other words, what the athlete expended in terms of energy to generate the performance.

For example, if you drive continuously for 3 hours at 150 watts, you have invested: 150 joules x 10,800 seconds = 1,620,000 joules or 1,620 kilojoules. Physically speaking, watts are understood here in the same way as joules per second!

Riding in a group at training camp

Such a kilojoule ride makes sense in a training camp, for example, if you can’t run the scheduled intervals at home due to topography or group dynamics. “The athlete doesn’t want to turn around sharply on the climbs because his interval is over, nor constantly get out of the group at the front or fall to the back because he is outside his training zones. “, explains Björn Geesmann.

That’s why he simply gives the athletes he supports kilojoules to take with them on their journey. So you don’t drive 3 x 10 minutes in the development zone with an active break of five minutes each, but look at how high the energy conversion of the workout should ideally be. “If the athlete then used too little energy at the end of the group run, he is blocked for another 30 or 60 minutes,” Geesmann continues.

It is crucial that the athlete achieves the specified energy renewal. Because it is directly related to the amount of oxygen converted, which in turn is an important training stimulus.

“Joule or energy-based training has been scientifically researched and proven successful in several studies,” says Geesmann. Some trainers also equate this energy renewal with the workload, and this value is also included in the training load assessment, often called TSS (Training Stress Score) – a function that includes analysis programs of wattmeter.

If you push yourself to the limit, it’s not the hours in the saddle, that is to say the kilometers racked up at the end of the year, that count, but the energy converted, because it takes into account the performance actually achieved.

Power Meter Workout Tip 2: Count Calories and Lose Weight Smartly

Lose weight with the power meter – certainly sounds like the promising title “Slim in 2 days”, but the power meter or training with power measurement can actually help to “gain weight”.

What matters here too is the energy turnover. So if 2000 kilojoules appear on the screen after a three hour workout, then a lot has been burned. However, whether this is actually enough to achieve a negative energy balance for the day and lose weight accordingly depends on the following factors.

First, how much is eaten and drunk that day. Second, how many calories were consumed during training in the form of bars, gels, drinks or snacks. In anticipation of the tough training session, amateur athletes “beat it twice” because they don’t want to go low or starve.

So if you want to lose weight and train, you should do a little culinary and sports accounting in order to actually achieve a desired deficit at the end of the day. But it’s worth counting the calories in your diet and when exercising, because 7,000 calories of extra turnover equals about one kilogram of body fat.

However, there are a few things to consider. “The athlete should always relate cycling to time based on energy expenditure, because training minutes in the compensation zone during a unit exert no serious stimulus – and should therefore be minimized”, says Geesmann.

So if you plan to periodize your training based on energy expenditure, for example a 500 kilojoule increase from week to week in a block, you will sooner or later have to turn the intensity screw for timing reasons.

“The athlete can of course achieve a lot within the duration of the training session, but the higher intensities are lacking – both from the point of view of physiological adaptation and due to the non-infinite time budget in daily training,” says Geesmann.

It therefore makes sense to inevitably include intervals in the base endurance zone 2 and just below, at or above the individual anaerobic threshold. However, so-called High Intensity Units (HIT) only drive sales to a limited extent, as the stress phase is short and the regeneration phase is correspondingly longer.

Power Meter Training Tip 3: Don’t Do More Miles For Nothing

“No more wasted kilometers” – this must be the motto of those who train with a power meter. Junk miles are sections in which the athlete simply hangs their legs and does literally nothing or drives outside of the specified training range.

Especially the minutes in the compensation zone and of course pure idle times do not exert any training stimulus and therefore do not lead to the desired physiological adjustments. The athlete then no longer trains, but simply rides his bike.

This is one of the great strengths of a power meter, which reveals it immediately while driving and reveals it relentlessly when analyzing the data. In order to avoid these “unnecessary” miles, the athlete should always compare their current watt performance with their specified training zones or watt ranges while riding.

The timer of the central unit or the bike computer can often be set so that it emits an acoustic signal if the limit is exceeded or not reached.

These unwanted miles often depend on the topography of the course, the fatigue of the athlete, but also on the formation in which the athlete evolves. Group rides in particular tempt you to be high above the desired areas in the lead, while when riding in the wake in the spring you often freeze due to lack of exercise.

Power Meter Training Tip 4: Use a Power Meter as a Test Instrument

If you use a power meter, you should not only use it to drive by numbers, but also as a “test instrument”. If used correctly, the training areas can be determined perfectly during self-monitoring by means of performance measurement – or you can also do a do-it-yourself Vo2max test, and recently with AI diagnosis a real and individual diagnosis of performance on the road or on rollers.

It is important to always create standardized conditions here and to minimize environmental influences. Here the topography and the wind must be mentioned, which can distort the result. So if you want to put yourself to the test, look for a wind-protected, moderately uphill hill or mountain as a test route.

Power meter determines performance during field test

Such a location assessment is worth doing every 6-8 weeks; not only to adjust training zones, but also as form control. Especially with amateur athletes, it shows whether training to increase performance and improve fat metabolism and recovery capacity has actually been successful. These values ​​also help with pacing strategies for time trials or longer mountain climbs.

By the way: Material testing cannot be done seriously with the power meter. “Environmental influences and the imprecision of human power production are just too great for that,” says Geesmann. If you want to know with which wheels, shoe covers, etc. you really go faster, you have to contact the experts and perform aerodynamic tests on the track or in the wind tunnel.

Power meter training tip 5: Stimulation with the power meter

Better results can be achieved by using the power meter to manage your power output. It actually means relying on the numbers. “Here it is usually necessary to distinguish whether I am metabolically or energetically”, explains Björn Geesmann.

A bike marathon like the Ötztaler or a bike split at the Ironman are packed with energy, because the consumption of available energy or carbohydrates is the limiting factor here. Especially long climbs are really expensive, even if they only rarely have to be driven slightly above the threshold.

Because: Carbohydrate consumption increases exponentially with performance. Therefore, always stay below the individual anaerobic threshold so that you don’t have to give up at some point with nearly empty glycogen stores.

Pace with the power meter at the bike marathon

On the other hand, you can metabolically pace your metabolism in time trials, because here carbohydrate consumption plays less of a role than the interaction of different metabolic pathways in energy production. It is crucial that the athlete does not accumulate too much lactate too quickly; at the end, however, crosses the finish line completely exhausted.

A power meter especially helps beginners in this discipline to feel their power and not overwork themselves at the start. Important: “In the time trials, the professionals also moved in a watt lane. So there is not a fixed value, but a range in which the lower and upper values ​​are sometimes 20 to 30 watts apart,” explains Geesmann.

Photos: Stefan Rachow, Kathrin Schafbauer, Henning Agerer

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