A power meter is one of the most popular wish-list upgrades for triathletes but what makes it the ultimate training tool for bike triathlon training?

We take you through the benefits of training with a power meter, how it can lead to a better triathlon performance and perhaps be one of the best investments you can make to improve your bike training.

What’s power?

The power output you see on your cycling computer is calculated by a simple formula – torque times cadence. Torque is the rotational force applied to the pedals and cadence is the revolutions per minute of the pedal stroke. A power meter uses highly sensitive strain gauges to measure the torque and cadence, thus providing a power reading which is measured in watts.

power is calculated by a simple formula – torque times cadence.

It’s this simple figure that could be the key to taking your triathlon training and racing to the next level. Just remember not to stare at it constantly and lose concentration on your surroundings – a glance every few seconds is all it takes.

Benefits of a power meter for triathlon bike training

Reliable, repeatable information

Perhaps the biggest advantage of power is its consistency. The power figure shown on your head unit is the result, or output, of your effort – as opposed to heart rate, which measures the work to generate that effort.

This means that a figure of 200 watts is the same regardless of whether you’re four hours into a ride, jumping on the bike with shattered legs after a hard run session or comparing training from week to week. It’s also unaffected by how much sleep, coffee or stress you have.

By contrast, power is affected by riding conditions as you’ll need to put more effort in when cycling into headwinds or when taking on cracked, patchy roads. This gives power a clear edge overtraining with time and speed, where all you can compare is an average speed for a given distance regardless of how much you were getting knocked back by the wind.

Indoor bike computer with power meter data
Training with a power meter unlocks performance data to help focus your training sessions and increase your potential. (Photo: Triathlon Vibe)

On the subject of comparisons, your Normalised Power (NP) figure allows you to compare your performance over completely different routes and terrains. While your average power might be completely different on flat and hilly rides, when NP takes into account the lower effort of downhills, the overall exertion of these sessions could be exactly the same. This means you can ride different courses day-to-day, week-to-week yet still see your progression.

Structured training

Power is the gold standard when it comes to structured bike sessions. Whether you’re blasting out short, punchy sprints or honing longer, more measured efforts, with power you know instantly whether you’re in the right zone for your interval without the lag of heart rate or uncertainty of perceived effort. This means you’re guaranteed a quality workout, which is a boon for time-crunched athletes. Check out our Power Meter Training For Triathlon article to get started.

In order to tailor your sessions to your specific goal and gain maximum training effect, you’ll need to set your training zones, which is done via a simple FTP (Functional Threshold Power) protocol of a 20-minute time trial. The resulting number is essential and becomes the basis of all your training with regular re-testing being a great indicator of progress.

Increased confidence

Power isn’t just great for making sure you’re in the right training zone during sessions, it can also help with morale. Once you’re riding with power, there’s no more false-flat fever – you can be confident of the effort you’re putting in, even if the road doesn’t seem to be heading upwards.

By extension, power is a great way to curb over-enthusiastic riding. Even without any structured power testing, you’ll soon get an idea of what wattage you can hold. This helps with starting to perfect a steady intensity without overdoing it, a quality that’s exceptionally important for triathlon.

Recovery – the right way

When training with power, the numbers don’t lie. You can see instantly if you’re going hard enough to meet your training goals. Consequently, if you find that getting to the same power numbers session to session takes significantly more effort, it’s a good indicator that you’re smoked and need a rest day or recovery session.

When training with power, the numbers don’t lie.

Power is especially good for ensuring you stick to your recovery zone, which many athletes new to power find a surprisingly low figure. This ability to keep yourself in check on recovery rides ensures you get the most benefit from your low-intensity work.

Power meter data analysis

The beauty of training with power is that it’s quantitative so you get a complete readout of what you’ve done in every session with reams of data for detail-obsessed athletes to pore over. At its simplest, however, you can review your average power, normalised power and how much time you spent in each power zone to analyse whether your output met the goals you set for your session.

Analysing power meter data
Using a power meter can provide lots of data to analyse and influence future training sessions. (Photo: Triathlon Vibe)

While all the figures on offer can be a bit baffling at first, once you’ve developed an eye for numbers, you’ll be able to track fitness changes, plan sessions that will give you the biggest improvements, give yourself a concrete pacing strategy and make sure you’re well recovered for race day.

One of the most satisfying aspects of training with power is to analyse data, make changes to your training plan and then see the benefit. On the other hand, if you really don’t develop a taste for analysing data, everything you get out of your power meter would be invaluable if you work with a coach.

To get maximum data for each ride, combining power with a heart rate monitor gives you even more insights to track your aerobic fitness. Decoupling, which shows the relationship between power and heart rate, is invaluable for triathlon as it gives you an idea of what duration you can currently sustain at steady, race-intensity power before heart rate begins to rise. You can then work on increasing aerobic fitness to increase this duration.

Using a power meter for race-day pacing

When it comes to race day, your power meter is your best friend on the bike. By gathering data in your training and setting a goal power based off your most recent FTP value, you’ll be able to formulate a simple race-day pacing strategy to ensure your best performance without ruining your chances of an excellent run afterwards.

Using a power meter on race day
Using a power meter on race day can help take out the guesswork and ensure you perform to your best. (Photo: Triathlon Vibe)

Having confidence in this racing power zone is a real mental support, making it so much easier to stop second-guessing your intensity, let athletes overtake without giving chase and hold yourself back from sprinting up hills and going too far into the red.

A patient approach using your power meter to guide you will result in a more efficient, even bike split. This will reward you with fresher run legs, giving you the chance to hunt down the athletes who’ve gone too hard on the bike and cruise past them to cross the finish line strong.

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