The Power Files: Getting Started

Over the coming months I am going to be writing regular articles about my experiences of training with power.  As you may be aware, power based training is the best way to train for bike sports, as it offers you so much data for analysis, as well as real time information about your training so that you can train at correct intensities to illicit the training effect you require for your chosen event or discipline.

The guys over at Saddleback have been kind enough to lend me a Stages Power meter for my road bike, and I will be using it with my own Garmin 520 cycle computer.  The power meter is a left crank arm that has a stain gauge attached to it, and you simply replace the existing crank.  Amusingly the power meter is actually worth more than my actual bike!  It doesn’t actually matter to me though as the road bike is just a tool for training in order to improve my MTB performance, so I just need it to work.  The other piece of kit I will be using is a heart rate strap that works with the Garmin computer.  Finally, all of this data and information is fed into a training website, called Training Peaks (TP).  The TP online training app is a bit like Strava on steroids, without the competition element and corner-cutting.  It gathers all of your info from a training ride or race and presents it in a variety of ways, enabling you to analyse your strengths, weaknesses, progress and fitness.  The possibilities are pretty staggering and also somewhat intimidating at first!

Set Up

Initial setup of the Garmin and the Stages PM were really simple……  Remove the old crank, fit the new one, fit the computer on the bars, pair them together and off you go.  Although I have a lot of experience training with power with my Wattbike, I felt that the best way to get started was with some baseline settings and head off for a spin.  On my return I could upload the data to my TP account and start to look into my ride in more detail.

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The screenshot above is the actual data from my first ride out with the Stages PM fitted.  At first it seems crazy, but with some reading, some patience and lots of experimentation, it soon starts to become more clear.  The main graph shows the whole ride with the different lines showing different metrics; cadence in yellow, elevation shown by the grey shading, heart rate in red, power in pink, speed in green and temperature in blue.  You can also see some summary info about the ride in the right hand column, and if you scroll down it gives you further insight into your ride and how hard it was.  To get to the info that you actually want, you can clean up the graph, removing things like temperature and speed which are unimportant to me.  I can also zoom-in to various sections of the ride to analyse my efforts more closely:

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As you can see, this screenshot is of the main climb from the original ride, including the flat sections immediately before and after.  From this I can see how long this part of the ride took, my power, heart rate and so on.  Although this was just a spin to figure out the new equipment, if it was a training ride with a specific goal related to climbing, I would be able to determine whether this aspect of my ride was successful or not.  Had I ridden within the correct training zone for the climb?

Hopefully you can see appreciate how this sort of information can benefit you in your training.  It is especially valuable for the time-pressed rider who wants to make the best use of their limited training hours, as well as for top level athletes looking for an edge.  Training with power is not cheap, with a Stages crank costing from about £500 and the cost of a GPS being a couple of hundred pounds, but when you weigh up the performance benefits that is can bring, it is actually pretty good value.  That £500 may get you some lighter wheels that may speed you up a bit, but if your fitness sucks then even the lightest carbon hoops won’t save you!

In the next instalment of The Power Files, I will go into the terminology of power based training.  Normalised power, average power, training zones and so on and what they mean to you as a mountain biker.

Stay Strong