We’ve Got The Power- Training With A Power Meter

Back in the day, there were no performance training devices, no heart rate monitors, the power meter didn’t exist, not even electronic bike computers. You jumped on your bike and went for a ride then you got up the next day and did it again. If you were lucky you’d have a milometer on the bottom of your forks, but usually you needed no more than the pain in the legs to tell you how far and how hard you had ridden. That was back in the heyday of the previous Team Holdsworth, these days things have moved on and Holdsworth Pro-racing are ready to take advantage of all that modern sports science has to offer.

The team has signed a deal to use FSA’s integrated power meter Powerbox Chainset and they’ve already been fitted to the training bike of every team member. FSA’s Powerbox chainset integrates a power meter into the body of the chainset itself, sat between the crank axle and the chainrings it’s capable of measuring power output from both legs, giving it the edge of single crank-arm and pedal solutions.

With all this technology on tap we thought we’d ask Holdsworth Pro-Racing DS and Performance Coach Dean downing to explain the world of power meters to us.

 

For those of us who are unsure what is a power meter?

A power meter is a device that measures the torque that the rider produces when pedalling, this is measured through the cranks, pedals or rear axle and the data is converted into Watts and presented to a partner device, like a Garmin or other bike computer.

Regardless of where they are fitted on a bike all decent watt meters use a number of strain gauges to measure and calculate power. The more strain gauges that are used to measure the torque the more accurate the power measure is. The best systems use up to 16 strain gauges to give an incredibly accurate power reading no matter where the crank is through the pedal stroke. Some of the left-sided crank-based power meters only have 4 strain gauges for example and will not be as accurate.

There are several different types of power meters these days, with manufacturers going with either single left sided crank-based power meter, dual-sided crank-based power meters, power meter pedals, power hub based power meters that are within the rear wheel and a relatively new option is a crank-based pod in the crank spider, like the Powerbox unit.

There is a big price range for power meters now and for me, as a coach, it has to be about consistency for the rider who is using it. Not everyone can afford the £2000 plus price tag of some power meters and neither should they think the most expensive is simply the best.

What are the benefits of the FSA Powerbox device?

The integration with the Campagnolo groupsets is flawless. All Holdsworth Pro-Racing riders have FSA Powerbox on their training bikes and for us, they work brilliantly. For me seeing all the accurate data from each rider is essential to look at how they are progressing throughout the season. Having the consistency of accurate power data from the FSA Powerbox is great, it makes planning training schedules much easier.

From the riders point of view being able to trust the numbers is key to ensuring that they’ll push that little bit harder to achieve their goals. Because it’s a crank based system it can measure right/left power balance and can provide pedal smoothness and torque data as well. All of these are great features for maximising your power with every pedal stroke and well worth the software upgrade fee.

 

How different is training with power data different to training by cadence, speed and HR? What are the benefits?

Massively different, even for me as a rider stepping into coaching, things have changed so much. I really didn’t use power in my training until my last year of competitive racing in 2014. As a coach, I have learnt so much about the data analysis for the planning of training rides, data from races etc. The thing with cadence, speed and HR on their own is, it is so variable from each day, terrain, headwinds etc. If you are trying to stick to a speed around a given route for example and one day it is gale force winds, riding slower will actually be a much harder workout, but if you are looking at speed, you would automatically think I haven’t been training hard enough because I haven’t ridden fast.

Working with HR is another step forward over speed and cadence, as you can clearly see what effort you are putting in, around what you know maximum heart rate is. This is a good step to planning training and releasing that going into a headwind at 15 Kmph really is hard work. so working with HR is the next best thing for training.

However, once you start training with power and start to relate the numbers you produce to a training plan and your own given set of training zones, it really is very accurate and you can track your own progress and see your own fitness move forward with the aid of the power numbers based on your own Functional Threshold Power. When you really get into power with training and looking at the data, you really will see big progress.

FSA Power Meter Cranks

How does power data allow you to customize each rider’s training plan?

Each rider is tested to find out their Functional Threshold Power value ( FTP ). This is how hard they can ride without going over their aerobic and lactate threshold. This number changes throughout the season as they get stronger as their body composition changes.

Someone who is a smaller rider may have a threshold power somewhere in the region of 340 watts, given that the rider is smaller and maybe weighs 65 kg, this would give them a power to weight ratio of 5.23 w/Kg… In the Holdsworth team, we have some bigger guys, taller guys who may weigh in the region of 80kg and their threshold can be more like 420 watts. which again gives a power to weight ratio of 5.25. So we write training plans according to the rider’s limits. Working with a rider and their own strengths and weaknesses is the key to planning for the season ahead. A rider of 65kg would struggle to put out the same watts that a rider of 80kg can, especially on the flat but once they hit the hills things might even out.

In the autumn and winter, most riders have been building their fitness back up, so riding at a certain intensity has been the key and building up their fitness at a steady rate. Coming into the racing season harder racing type sessions will be planned where each rider will be pushing bigger power numbers, but all riders will be working within their own customised training zones. This is when customising training plans for each rider around their current FTP value is very important. It’s not about riding at 500 watts, it’s about riding and training in your personal training zones correctly.

This can be related to any bike rider. As a coach, I work with several different types of riders, racers, recreational riders and full-time pros like the Holdsworth team. They all have different goals to achieve and different amounts of time to contribute to achieving them. Some riders might just be looking to target a couple of longer Sportive rides, they need to increase their endurance. Racers might be looking to achieve a specific result at one or two races during the year and the Pros want to be as good as they can possibly be all year round. Each of these riders benefits from a customised training plan and that all comes from their power numbers and their FTP values.

Do you think the 70’s Holdsworth Campagnolo team would recognise today’s modern power data-driven training regimes?

Hard work is hard work whether it’s driven by feel or by the numbers on your power meter. There’s no doubting it the lads that were on the Holdsworth team in the 70’s certainly knew what hard training was all about. I think some of them would be quick to embrace the change, some less so; it’s not that different in any pro team, even now. The one rider from the 70’s Holdsworth team and now a team manager who I suggest would definitely recognise the importance of modern day training regimes via power data is Keith Lambert. I’m sure his lads train with power.

Back in the 70’s training was very prescribed, ride fixed during the winter, ride slow and get a base of miles in your legs before the season starts. This isn’t to say that the principles of training have changed massively from the 70’s, but training is more accurate now, the training methods are more structured and performance is more measurable than it was in the 70’s. So, taking on board what a power meter can tell you about an individual riders training is very important in pro teams today.

We’re more informed now. I’ve heard plenty of people say “just get out and ride” and while that might have been enough back in the day, you really have to go war with the tools that you have and for our training smarter with the benefit of the FSA Powerbox chainset power meter.

 

What’s the bottom line for training?

The bike rider still has to put the hard work in through the pedals. It’s all about commitment.

These days you can look at numbers and graphs and see if the riders are training too hard or even too easy. The are loads of different metrics that you can look at to define a rider’s performance and fitness. Times change and progress with equipment has come along way since the 70’s. Using the same old principals of, train hard and rest properly, works just as well it’s a great combination, we just have more tools to work with now, to be more accurate with better training methods. I’m really looking forward to seeing the hard work pay off.

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