With the price of power meters coming down and more companies entering the market there has never been a better or more affordable time to join those who have been using a meter to monitor their training, fitness, fatigue and pace their races. As a coach it does make my job of monitoring, reviewing and prescribing training a lot easier and more accurate. If you can afford a power meter it might be one of the biggest ways to improve your training. On the other hand, it might not, particularly if you don’t know how to use one!

There’s been a few good blogs or articles posted about this that I’ve read and there are many opinions on the subject but I wanted to share mine, particularly for my clients so I can ensure that they are quickly getting the most from owning a power meter without getting bogged down in too much information. But my point is that if you aren’t following this to the letter it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing it wrong. For a full comprehensive look at this please read the book “Training & Racing with a Power Meter” written by Hunter Allen & Andrew Coggan.

First of all set your Garmin (or other device) up correctly. I’d recommend turning smart recording off. The other setting you need to consider is zeros, or more accurately whether your average power includes or excludes times when you’re not producing power. This is a mixed bag, I can see both sides of the argument but one thing we probably all agree is that once you decide stick with it, don’t chop and change as this will affect data over a longer period.

Your Garmin screen needs to show you some data too. I’m not a fan of using current power as it’s far too fluctuating. Consider using 3 second, 30 second and total average as this shows enough to see what you’re roughly producing at the time, then over a period that might reflect a harder/easier effort such as a climb/descent, and also the total of the ride itself. Depending on your model you could set up other pages to show laps, great for doing interval work. Of course you should still have other useful data in front of you, cadence, distance, time, and many more.

Ensure you set to zero or calibrate (thanks Garmin!) your power meter at the start of every ride, refer to manufacturer handbook on how to do this but this will ensure that you should get a realistic reflection of power output depending on temperature outside which can fluctuate readings.

Pacing is another area where you can get various answers from different people. I feel it’s always a bit better to go slightly harder uphill or into a headwind knowing that you can recover slightly going back down the hill or with a tailwind when it might be hard to keep your power up anyway. With that in mind it becomes crucial to know your course and the conditions. One last thing I’ve found on pacing is that although you might have a best power output over a given distance it will change depending on terrain, don’t just expect to be able to always hit the same power outputs on different courses, have a power personal best for each course as a guide.

You also shouldn’t rely on power data alone. One week a 300 watt effort may feel easy and another it may feel like death. Heart rate and perceived effort will tell you a lot about how your body is dealing with producing any given power output. It’s worth noting at this point that you shouldn’t be alarmed if some times you struggle, it might be expected based on the timing of your training or racing (unless of course you’re expecting it to be easy!).

With a power meter you know have a very accurate way to test progression and improvements from training. You may have heard of an FTP test, Functional Threshold Power is a good way of monitoring progression over a period of time but don’t get hung up on it and focus solely on improving it, many people can see great gains by spending time on perfecting position or techniques and tactics, but this is another area! There are also shorter testing protocol which may be more relevant to you depending on what your targets are, you can still get the same data from these as you would a 20 minute FTP test without the extended time in protocol. Anyway, it is prudent to include a variety of testing in your training to ensure that you are improving across a variety of areas.

Monitoring software such as TrainingPeaks has made viewing all this data easy. Without going too much into it (there’s plenty of blogs online that can further your understanding) you can really visualise improvements over time using indicators such as TSS (Training Stress Score). Valuable tools and information but much like testing yourself repeatedly in the same format I think it’s important to remember that I’m sure no one started riding a bike just for numbers! I’m not a coach who relies solely on data but use it to help me do my job as effectively as possible.

But if you don’t have the money or you don’t think it’s a worthwhile investment for you yet never fear, you can still get great gains by monitoring your training using heart rate, or via perceived exertion (RPE). Just because you don’t have a power meter doesn’t mean you can’t improve, it just means you don’t have the best method to gauge fitness and fatigue currently available, currently…