Book Review: Training and Racing with a Power Meter (2nd Edition)
If you’re going to spend >$1000 for a power meter on your bike, it only makes sense to learn how to use it properly rather than as a very expensive speedometer. By far the best instruction manual I’ve seen is “Training and Racing with a Power Meter” by Hunter Allen and Andrew Coggan, Ph.D. Now in its 2nd Edition, the book has enough scientific detail and analysis to satisfy even the most demanding numbers junkie, while remaining readable and useful to even the casual power enthusiast.
More than 15 years since SRMs first began appearing on Greg LeMond’s bikes, the “power” generation of scientific training is truly upon us. Power monitors are now no longer restricted to professionals, but are well within the reach of many amateur and age-group cyclists. And while they may not have the gee-whiz factor equal to that of a set of carbon wheels or slick frame, it is arguably the biggest bang for the buck for improving your cycling next to getting a good coach.
But convincing you of the benefits of a power monitor is not what we’re talking about today. If you have a power monitor, you can use it as a gee-whiz toy on the bike, or you can actually use it properly and to its full potential for making yourself a better/faster cyclist. If that is your goal, then the best tool or instruction manual for how to use your power monitor is the 2nd edition of Hunter Allen and Dr. Andrew Coggan’s “Training and Racing with a Power Meter,” published by VeloPress.
A Star is Born
When it first came out in 2006, Allen and Coggan’s 1st Edition became an instant classic in the emerging field of power training, in much the same way that Joe Friel’s “Cyclist’s Training Bible” became the standard in overall cycling fitness and training in 1996. Why Allen and Coggan 2006 became the benchmark is no surprise – not only was it the first to market, it was clearly written, very accessible, and de-mystified the sometimes complex technical jargon and concepts behind training with power. As a bonus, it worked hand-in-hand with TrainingPeaks/WKO+ computer software. This tight inter-connection had the result of making both products even stronger.
“Do I really need to get the new edition of the book, or is the old one good enough?” I hear this from my students all the time whenever publishers come out with a new edition of the course textbook. This is definitely a fair question, as sometimes it seems this is done merely to make old books obsolete and force students to cough up money for a new edition rather than buy the old version used. Believe me, I’ve been around in academia long enough to have seen some pretty shady examples of this occurring.
Four years on from the 1st Edition, there remains no competitor for Allen and Coggan 2006, so there was no market advantage to putting out a new edition. Knowing Hunter well, the process of preparing the new edition took a huge amount of time out of his already busy schedule. So why do it and was it worth it?
Comparing both the 1st and 2nd Editions, my conclusion is that the new edition is definitely worth getting even if you already have the 2006 1st Edition on your shelf. Much more than a simple updating or, heaven forbid, just a new front cover, pretty much every chapter has been heavily revised to incorporate the newest knowledge based on the even greater experience the two authors have gained with power-based training in the past four years.
In some cases, single chapters have been split into two or more separate ones, and the overall page count has grown by an additional 100 pages. A prime example of new material creating a splitting of chapters can be seen in the 1st Edition’s chapter on “Racing with a Power Meter.” That same chapter is retained in the new edition and updated in its own right. In addition, the new edition supplements this with new chapters on “A Powerful Triathlete” and “Power for Other Disciplines: BMX, Cyclocross, Track, and Ultra-Endurance.”
The “Triathlete” chapter presents extensive information on proper pacing strategies, which Allen feels is one of the prime determinants of success in any endurance sport. Examples of pacing (e.g., all-out, even, negative) are provided for individual time trials of different durations in and of itself, making it useful to those of us who can’t bear the thought of getting off our bikes and going for a run. For example, how do you pace a flat versus a hilly and/or windy time trial? Does it matter the length of the hill, or whether there’s a plateau or downhill afterwards? It also looks at pacing from the context of a multi-sport event (i.e., how hard should you ride the bike portion if you have to run afterwards).
The “Other Disciplines” chapter is also brand new, largely due to improved technology allowing power monitors becoming more common in disciplines besides the road. For example, preparing for the Beijing BMX race provided novel insight into the incredibly high neuromuscular power and cadences generated by the Beijing “super course” compared to the already high demands from a traditional BMX course. Each sub-section not only seeks to provide analysis on the unique demands, but also provides potential workouts that can be used to address those needs.
Speaking of Workouts
Tossing the concept of potential workouts for a “theoretical” rider from the 1st Edition, the new edition packs thirty pages of detailed workouts that can be used to address specific energy systems or different cycling demands. The new format is more a “traditional” listing of possible power-based workouts not tied to a particular scenario, which makes it more relevant and applicable for those who didn’t fit the mold of the template rider from the 1st Edition.
Potential warm-ups, main sets, and cool-down guidelines are provided, along with the rationale for each workout and potential ways to modify them based on different needs. Each workout guideline includes appropriate power and heart rate ranges based on functional power or heart rate at that functional power. While there is no substitute for a good coach to help structure your training, the gold mine of possible workouts in Appendix B can be worth the cover price by itself.
The Science of Power
Two key concepts that become strongly highlighted in the 2nd Edition, especially useful is a new chapter on how to track and monitor fitness, helping to achieve peak form without overtraining. In the chapter on “Using Power to Manage Performance,” detail is provided on using a combination of “Acute Training Load” and “Chronic Training Load” to calculate a “Training Stress Balance” as an analog of the much-talked about concept of achieving “form.”
Besides the training stress balance, another excellent method of getting the big picture view of your fitness throughout the year is by tracking your mean maximal power at various durations.
Another concept delved into much more in the 2nd Edition (and also now readily available for calculation in WKO+ 3.0 software) is that of Quadrant Analysis. This provides a way of relating force required to cadence. So for example, we learn that criteriums typically feature a high force and high cadence (Quadrant 1), while cyclocross rely more on high force and low cadence (Quadrant 2). Thus, using Quadrant Analysis to dissect the demands of your cycling discipline, and also your own training, can give you insight into whether your training matches your racing.
Quadrant analysis dissects the relationship between force applied to your pedals and your cadence. In this example, there is a clear mismatch between the force and cadence used in training versus what is required during races.
Is the Book Readable?
Despite the potential to completely geek out on the math and minutiae involved with power (just go check out the “wattage” forum on Google if you dare…), the book avoids over-burdening the reader with too much science. There’s no getting around numbers, math and science if you really want to understand training and racing with power, but the book walks a pretty good line between too much and too little. Where the science does get really dense, sidebars on the detailed science and number-crunching make sure the overall flow of the book is not bogged down.
Complementing both the text and the scientific detail, the 2nd Edition is really strongly aided by lots of detailed power files that illustrate the key points and ideas. This also greatly adds to the readability of the book. In doing so, the 2nd Edition also becomes even more strongly intertwined with TrainingPeaks/WKO+ software and especially with the updated WKO+ 3.0. This might be seen as blatant “product placement” or a monopoly, but the fact remains that WKO+ is the dominant software for power analysis across all the power systems on the market, and that concepts introduced by Allen and Coggan (e.g. Training Stress Score, Normalized Power) are being added as features to other available software (e.g. PowerAgent from CycleOps).
Allen and Coggan are well-established as amongst the pioneering thinkers and practitioners when it comes to training and racing with power, and this book forms an updated distillation of their deep reservoir of knowledge. Do you need a power meter to enjoy cycling? That’s an individual question up for debate. Do you need this book to use your power meter properly? No debate at all.
• See VeloPress.com pick up your own copy.
Stephen Cheung is a Canada Research Chair at Brock University, and has published over 50 scientific articles and book chapters dealing with the effects of thermal and hypoxic stress on human physiology and performance. He has just published the book Advanced Environmental Exercise Physiology dealing with environments ranging from heat and cold through to hydration, altitude training, air pollution, and chronobiology. Stephen’s currently writing “Cutting Edge Cycling,” a book on the science of cycling, and can be reached for comments at [email protected] .