• Deena Blacking

Say watt? There's more to training than power output?!

Updated: Feb 21, 2021

"As far as I'm aware, no bike race has even been won on a power meter."

Peter Sagan

A guide, not a goal

Power data is a metric. Like all metrics, it can be useful to help guide training. But it is a tool to enable better performance, not an end in itself. In his book, Peter Sagan refers to some folks' fixation on figures as 'death by numbers'. I don't know about you, but I think he makes a good point.

What's the 'So what?' for your watts?

What is your goal? It is a time trial? A punchy criterium? Or a track meet with several races in one evening? Whatever your goal, use that to define your training. Then use the watts to guide you. Try to avoid having a training goal purely focused on more watts. Sure, more watts on average generally means better. But most winners don't operate on averages...

Not all watts are created equal

So here's the next point that is REALLY important to recognise. Not all watts are created equal. For example, here's one important fact to know about watts (i.e. power):

power = torque x cadence

For the same power output, you can choose to turn a big gear (e.g. 70-80 rotations per minute (RPM) ) or spin at a higher cadence (e.g. 100 RPM). Failure to account for this can limit your performance potential. For example, you might be undercooking one engine while overdoing the other. (Generally speaking, bigger torque = more stress on your muscles, higher cadence = more stress on your heart).

What watts do you need to perform?

Your training needs to match the demands of your goal (a principle of training called 'specificity'). Steady state time trial training is unlikely to deliver the repeatable punchy efforts needed to perform in a technical town centre crit. Even if you have the biggest top end power in the bunch, it is no guarantee that you'll win the sprint. It's not just having the watts, but how (and when!) you use them. Train your body to get used to what watts it needs to deliver for the performance that you are aiming for.

What are you doing with your watts?

Watts don't win bike races. People do. Think back to the UCI Road Cycling World Championships in Bergen, Norway. If you watched it, the chances are that you will remember who won the men's elite race. (It was Peter Sagan.) It's less likely that you will say, 'Ah yes, I know that Sagan won, but all the other guys riding at the front of the peloton were putting out way more watts than he was.'

As Sagan jokes in his book, 'nobody every got points for wearing the Maximum Output jersey'. True story.

Quotes/references: Peter Sagan 2018 My World London, UK: Yellow Jersey Press.

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