Should I train with power meters (watts) or heart rate monitors?

A topical question but there are some things to consider.

Heart rate monitors are great intensity-measuring devices, measuring how hard your heart is working at any given time, but heart rate by itself isn’t everything you need to know.  It’s like the tachometer on a car—it tells you how hard the engine is working but not much more.

Let's say you're cycling and your heart rate is 15 BPM higher than usual?  What does that mean?  Is that making you fitter and/or stronger?  The only real way to answer that question is to know if you were putting out more power/watts or less than usual.

Input data is only meaningful when it’s compared with some measure of output.  Output is critical to improved performance; input isn’t.  After all, they don’t give awards at races to those who worked the hardest or had the highest heart rates (input), but rather to those who had the fastest time which results from high power (output).

Your Engine

When it comes to speed the engine is always the most important part.  A power meter will help you develop a bigger one.

So how does training with power make your engine bigger?

Using a power meter and knowing your power training zones removes most of the guesswork that goes into your training and racing.

For example, if you're doing an interval session, it takes some time (even minutes) for your heart rate to get to your targeted BPM, then the interval begins.  Power is far more instantaneous and the interval will start as soon as the power hits the targeted zone (within seconds).  You get the intensity correct immediately and you're no longer guessing.

When doing your intervals, you're training to improve your heart's performance and the ability of your muscles to output.  In fact what happens in the muscles during workouts, not the heart, is really the key to your success.  Heart rate monitors have value but power meters allow you to also focus more on muscle and the performance.

Essentially, you are more likely to achieve your training and race goals by training, and racing, with a power meter than without. Training with accurate power zones will get you fitter and stronger faster.

This bring us to a couple of ways to monitor your performance:

  • Train at Cycle Collective using one of the world’s most accurate power meters, on bikes that feel and look like bikes.  You're tested and re-tested resulting in personalised accurate power training zones specifically designed for you. Time and cost efficient training in a group, riding with others using qualified coaches who live and ride daily with power.
  • Add a power meter to your bike and use the power zones and knowledge you have gained from your Cycle Collective sessions for your outside rides.

In a perfect world, you do both – ride smarter not harder, and train inside to get better outside.  Know your numbers and enjoy the ride.

Reference source: Joe Friel, USA