Training with power has numerous benefits that can get you faster on the bike for both long distance(4+ hour races) and shorter distance races(<4 hour). This subject can turn into a book so I am going to keep this article focused on these main points:
Comparison of Using a Power Meter vs Using a Heart Rate Monitor:
With any great training program, you can improve using either power or heart rate. Both methods have scientific evidence backing them. You can get faster with both. However, heart rate has some distinct downsides you should be aware of. Those include the following:
Here’s a great example (Fig 1.1)
Fig 1.1: Power is in yellow here: notice how up and down it is or “spiky”. HR is steady, however, as seen in Red at the top: notice how steady it is even though the power is constantly up and down. Using Power for post-race evaluation and also for workouts gives you “instant” look at the demands of the course and your efforts. You can execute workouts better and analyze races better
Using a power meter can help in multiple ways. Here are the biggest advantages to using a power meter in training and racing:
Below is Fig 1.2, or a quick look at one of the many analysis tools I can use to make sure my athletes on power are improving throughout the year. This particular athlete is improving; we know it, he knows it, that feels great and it builds confidence which can really help athletes succeed! With only HR, you don't get this direct feedback......
Fig 1.2: this graph is looking at a particular athlete I coach. More specifically his improvements over the past few months in peak 1 and 2 minute power. This is a weakness of his that we have been improving to better meet the demands of his racing down in Florida mountain bike racing
Fig 1.3 : This is an example of an athlete executing 5 x 2 minute intervals. Notice the slow rise in HR(Red) and the instant power response(Yellow). Power allows you to see instant power to the pedals, and therefore improve workout execution and post workout analysis.
Second part of this is race data analysis. This is really where power can help, but, beware, this is can become very cumbersome. This data provides me and my clients with data that is invaluable. Race files can provide the following data:
Ultimately power is a great way to train and an even more so now. The market has gotten more competitive, prices are dropping and the products continue to improve. Products such as Stages Power meters are easy to use on the mountain bike, only way 20 grams, and the cost is well within a serious mountain bike racer's budget. The market is available to more and more riders especially mountain bikers.
Using a power meter can really help take your training and racing to a new level. But make sure you know what you are getting into. Be ready to take the time to look over the files and be ready to execute workouts as planned. Do this and you will get faster and will start accomplishing things you never thought were possible. If you need help with the process, you might want to consider contacting a knowledgeable coach or ask friends who use power for advice also.
If you need training plans, all the Training Plans on Mtbfitness are power based and set up to have you riding faster as the year progresses. I've also set up Mtbfitness with videos that breakdown how to use your power meter more effectively and efficiently. You can become a member by going here.
Either way, whatever route you go getting a power meter can boost your fitness faster, and having you beating down your competition sooner...
Thanks for reading!
Coach Drew Edsall
Coach Drew Edsall: Professional Mountain biker, Head Coach and Founder of Mtbfitness