The first time I ever heard of a bicycle power meter was in the fall of 1993. There was a magazine article (by Samuel Abt in Velonews, I believe) about Greg LeMond having recently hired a Dutch physiologist, Arie van Diemen, to coach him in his preparation for the 1994 Tour de France. He had DNF’ed the 1992 Tour and didn’t even start in 1993. In the article LeMond mentioned that he would begin training with a power meter. That was the first time I had ever heard of such a device even though it had been invented 6 years earlier. And since the article didn’t go into detail on what this thing was all about I was left in the dark. Of course, there was no Google to search for such things back then. So for the next year, whenever a new monthly cycling magazine came out, I would eagerly read it to see if there was any more on LeMond and his power meter. There seldom was, but occasionally I would learn just a bit more. Over the next two years I managed to figure out some of the basics of what a power meter did.
In 1995 I decided to write my first book – The Cyclist’s Training Bible. I felt it was important to include something on training with power. I managed to borrow a power meter for three months to find out firsthand how it worked. I recall realizing that it wasn’t telling me the same thing as my heart rate monitor, which by then I had been using for 12 years. For starters, power was much more precise and sensitive to changes in intensity. More importantly I could tell it was giving me performance-related data rather than effort data as with heart rate. At the time this didn’t seem like a big deal. It wasn’t until nearly a decade later that I realized how significant this was for training (see more here). I didn’t really learn too much in those three months; just enough to write a page or so in the book.
After three months I returned the loaner. It would be three more years until I had a power meter of my own and could begin figuring out what it was telling me. This was quite basic at first. After a couple of years using that power meter, in 2001 I wrote a 32-page booklet called Training with Power. About the same time I decided that power was so important to training and performance that I started requiring that all of my clients to have a power meter along with a heart rate monitor. That meant I was seeing power data from a dozen or so riders every day. My understanding of the relationship of power to training and performance began to grow rapidly.
I have now been using a power meter for 21 years and I’m still learning how to use it. I wrote a somewhat basic book on how to get started using power for cycling a few years ago – The Power Meter Handbook. But the most in-depth book on the market on the subject is Training and Racing with a Power Meter by Andrew Coggan PhD, Hunter Allen, and Stephen MacGregor PhD.
It’s been 24 years since I used that loaner power meter and wrote a page on power-based training in my first book. What we know about how to analyze and apply the data has grown exponentially. It can be somewhat overwhelming. A coach or serious rider can spend more time crunching numbers post-workout than the duration of the ride. There’s so much that it’s critical for the coach or rider to determine what few metrics are most important and then to focus only on those. And now, of course, we also have power meters for running, rowing, and other sports. We’re tempted to think that the power meter is the high-water mark for measuring intensity in training. And currently it appears to be. But I can recall thinking that about the heart rate monitor back in the 1980s. I guarantee you that there will be another intensity-measuring-device breakthrough in the not too distant future. Society is in an age of great change due to technology. That is certainly the case with endurance sport training. Stay tuned.
My next blog will be a continuation of this topic in which I will describe the current power meter I’m using and why I like it, both for price and for ease of use.