- On 09/03/2019
The short answer is yes, if you want to get the most out of your cycling. But please read about my experience and how I’ve come to this conclusion, I’m not an expert and I still have loads to learn.
My first two years cycling were spent training as hard as I could and measuring the intensity by how fast I was going and how high my heart rate was, I did get fitter but was it the best way to train?
In 2018 I purchased a stages power meter to try to understand how I was riding and what I was doing wrong, the first few rides were a revelation. I would typically attack a long climb by putting in as much effort as I could and after 1-2 minutes I would be slowing because my heart rate was suddenly through the roof or it felt like I was completely out of energy or my muscles just couldn’t turn the pedals. Does this sound familiar? As an engineer I wanted to measure what was going on and the power meter was the perfect tool. So when I started the climb I was putting out about 300-350Watts of power for the first 1-2 minutes and then it was dropping down to about 175Watts for the remainder of the climb. Don’t worry if you don’t know what the numbers mean, I didn’t at the time and you need a few weeks worth of data for it to start to make sense.
So what was happening? Well after a few weeks data Strava will give you an estimated Ftp figure, all that is is an estimate of how many watts you can maintain for an hour at maximum effort, mine was about 200Watts. Now we have this we can consider what was happening on that climb. For the first 1-2 minutes I was putting out almost twice as much effort as I can maintain for 1 hour and then it was dropping below my Ftp because I’d already put too much effort in and couldn’t recover in time to be able to maintain my Ftp level.
I have simplified the numbers and not even touched on the different types of energy supply we have and their limitations…
I have been working hard to increase my Ftp and am now at 253Watts, my understanding of the numbers has improved and I now know that if I was doing a ride over 2 hours the maximum powers I can use are:-
1 Min 400Watts
5 Min 300Watts
20 Min 280 Watts
60 Min 230 Watts
You still have limitations on how often you can do the shorter efforts, these are often referred to as “matches” and you only have so many you can use in a ride.
If I wanted to tackle that same hill now as part of a long hard ride I know I can sit at 300Watts for 5 minutes without over committing myself.
I hope that’s given you a brief insight into the advantages of using a power meter, I’ll write another blog when I’ve learnt more…