Updated 19th October 2020  Paddy Doran Cycling Blog

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Training with power has been one of the great coaching and training improvements for cyclists and triathletes. Power meters are becoming more reasonably priced and accessible which is great for benefits if well used.

Cyclists and triathletes are extremely lucky with the cycling training technology available to them. However there is sometimes poor understanding of how it can be best used.

This is particularly so if power – watts  is the only metric monitored. This can be a recipe for overtraining and poor performances.

Language, is a watt always a watt?

A whole new language has grown up around training with power meters…. we hear terms like ” a watt is a watt”  “burning matches”  “The numbers are good” Apples and oranges in regard to heart rate versus power.. FTP this can also vary day by day.

All great very catchy terms, but are they all valid?

The big danger is if you always train on the basis that a watt is a watt!. For example a watt achieved today might have more or less of an effect on your body than a similar watt another day.

Watts on Turbo trainers V road

Athletes who use turbo trainers and road cycling can experience a difference of 15 to 30 watts at FTP EFFORT between both. So testing on both to determine training loads is important.

Continuously Ignoring the effects on your body of the watts achieved can create problems. Sticking to the target power target regardless of other markers like heart rate and perceived exertion can be a disaster.

Its like driving a car

To explain this I am going to use the analogy of driving a car and how the control panel is used or not. This applies to the ordinary driver and to Grand Prix racing drivers.

Great racing drivers

The car and cyclists dashboard

The best grand prix drivers are often the easiest on the car. They monitor how the car is responding, how hard they can push it and get through the race most efficiently. So things like speed -temperature – revs – fuel are monitored and adjusted according to the ability and expertise of the driver….. Click on image to expand

Poor drivers

A poor driver who likes speed might just put the foot to the floor a lot of the time. They will ignore the other instruments on the dashboard. if they are lucky they will just get less use from the car and have regular repair bills . At worst they will blow the engine up.

Cycling training technology

With modern cycling technology a cyclist has a number of similar tools available to them. There is

  • Power if they have a power meter.
  • Heart rate via Heart rate monitor.
  • Estimate of calories used
  • Perceived exertion/ what the effort actually feels like.

Is using Watts only crazy?

Here’s where we get to the crunch. Some cyclists are only using Power / watts  as a training control method. This is crazy as a watt is not always just a watt! The physical cost to the cyclist – triathlete on some days will be much greater or less on some days.

RPE Scale your Early warning system

Rating of Perceived Exertion is a recognised method of rating how difficult a training session is. See the link to the scale and study it in relation to particular sessions. The rating should be taken within 30 minutes of the session.

If you try this method as well as training with power you will notice how the perceived exertion may be different for the very same session on different days.

RTE will be affected by levels of freshness or fatigue from life demands or previous training sessions. It is very important to take note of the RPE. Constant training on watts only can lead to overtraining problems fairly quickly..

“one athletes warmup is another athletes speed session”.

To quote a runner I once trained with “one athletes warmup is another athletes speed session”. its the same for each individual. A session at x watts could be the equivalent of a recovery or tough session on different days. This will depend on training or racing on previous days, and life demands like work and family. The same watts can indeed have a different effect.

Don’t blow your engine up

Dont blow the engine up

Don’t blow the engine up

So if you train with watts only, its the equivalent of a driver just looking at the speedometer and ignoring the temperature and rev counter. That’s a great recipe for blowing an engine up or driving you into an overtraining problem.

Remember a watt is not always a watt to your body!

We might add a new term to the power meter language: “Don’t blow your engine up

Enjoy your cycling.

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