Cycling has changed considerably in recent years. Thanks to communication channels, team leaders can now apply their tactics during a race to perfection. And with the arrival of the power meter, it is easier than ever to evaluate how a rider is performing. (Power meters make it possible to show power output in hard figures.) Although we see these measurements used mainly in the professional peloton, the avid cyclist may also benefit from it. And here’s why.

Get to know your body

The old saying goes: “Knowledge is power”. This saying was not inspired by power meters, but it certainly applies. When you are able to collect information such as heart rate, cadence and power, your performance can be better evaluated. For example, an increase in your heart rate at a constant power is a signal you are riding over your threshold. Your heart needs to work harder to get enough oxygen flowing through the body. If both your power and your heart rate are reasonably aligned, then your body is handling the performance well.

If your heart rate rises after a relatively long and stable power output, this can be a sign of dehydration. Due to a lack of fluid, the blood thickens and your heart will have to pump harder to keep your circulation moving.

This knowledge is interesting, but it also provides you more insight into whether your fitness is improving. If that is the case, your average heart rate will drop during a certain power during the season. To a certain extent. At the end of an intensive period, it may also be proven that both the power and the heart rate have decreased — which is clearly a sign of fatigue. It is important to act accordingly; you do not want to push yourself too hard and go overboard.

More focused training with the power meter

Training based on heart rate zones is reasonably indicative. One disadvantage, however, is that the heart usually has some delay in responding to performance. Training on so-called power zones, on the other hand, is always clear. Pushing harder immediately results in a higher power output. But to determine these zones, it is important to determine your FTP (functional threshold power). This value indicates the maximum power that you could push out hourly, and it can be determined by doing a so-called FTP test. The FTP test can be done with (certain) trainers, but if you have a power meter or stationary bike trainer, you can also monitor your performance on public roads or at home.

After your FTP has been determined, the different power zones are easy to calculate. There are several calculation methods for this, but the Coggan Method is the most common. If you use Strava or TrainingPeaks, everything is automatically calculated for you after you have entered your FTP value. Voila! Now you have your seven different power zones.

On the basis of these zones, it is then time to create the right training schedule. There are various programmes available online, both paid and free versions. You can also hire a coach, who can, in addition to writing structured and personalised schedules, provide better coaching tips when using a power meter.

Why should you?

Yes, cycling with a power meter gives you a lot of extra data. Data that you probably don’t know much about unless you put energy into deciphering the trends and figures. But as soon as you can decipher this data, you have will have gold at your fingertips — at least, with regards to your own performance. By analysing a riding performance, you can find out where your strong and weak points are. Based on this information, you can then train more specifically, in order to start the next challenge. Ready to invest in your cycling performance?