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Power Meters: Ignore with Intent

Toolbox: Have you gotten tired of staring at your power meter day after day? Does the idea of spending fall and winter doing exactly the same thing fill you with dread? Here’s how ignoring power meters can improve your racing.

Just switch it off!

As a coach, I can say it does for me… programming power workout after power workout can become mundane. Sure, there are great off-season gains to be had with a focused program, but really, adding some variety and doing things differently can be a refreshing change.

This is the second of three articles on shaking up your fall training. The first suggested using Intensity Factor as a metric of measure for some training, but this one is going to diverge a bit from the very idea of training metrics, at least as the jumping off point.

Now, I know you love your power meters. You probably love you heart rate monitors too, but I’m here to challenge you to do something completely different over the next few weeks and months. Ignore them. OK, don’t disregard them, throw them in a drawer or toss them in the garbage. Instead, just ignore them… better yet ignore them with intent.

A nice blank screen

Ignore With Intent
At the end of the season I want my athletes to escape the monotony of highly structured training, to find new ways to engage with their rides and to reset their mental fortitude for the season to come. Truthfully, if I’ve done my job right we’ve avoided monotony completely via my insanely creative and engaging workouts, but I will admit that even with my creative genius dread might creep in from time to time when they see another “3peats” workout or “Muscle Endurance Level 1” on the calendar. I want them to escape this drudgery often, and none more so than the time between the end of racing and the start of the preparation and base phases. Then again, I want my metrics too, so what’s a rider to do?

In creating some fall workouts recently I thought up a fun way to approach this seeming contradiction, one that meets the above criteria nicely. My intent was to get my riders to do a sort of pre-season power profile, but I wanted it all done in a single day via an adaptation of the “Monod” protocol, which simply put is a way to generate a rider’s mean maximal power graph based on doing maximal power tests ranging from roughly 3 to 20 minutes in duration. Normally these tests are conducted over a couple of days to allow for sufficient recovery and the attainment of true “maximal” values to plug into the graph, but I was frankly looking at it from a different perspective – one that aligns with the “ignore with intent” directive.

I call the workout “Win The Stage.” It asks riders to undertake what is essentially a classic grand tour mountain stage, during which they would “set the break” via a 3 minute max effort, “drive the break” via an 8 minute max effort, and then “win the stage” via a 20 minute maximal effort. Sounds easy enough right? Well, there was a catch. I wanted them to do it without using their power meters, head units, heart rate monitors, watches, or any actual reference points to gauge pacing. Instead I wanted an internally self-timed effort for each of the time stamps, forcing them to “best guess” how long each took, to then pace them correctly – meaning not go ballistic, blow up, and have to crawl in the rest of the effort, and finally to give me their best maximal efforts as well.

In truth, I really just wanted them to estimate each effort as close to spot on as they could without using a reference to do so, and herein lies the “ignore with intent” goal. They have their power meters and head units stuffed in their back pockets perhaps, or simply taped over so they can’t see any of the numbers, but the focus lies elsewhere. The numbers don’t really matter to me. Sure, I would love to see them hit 90% or 95% of season bests for these values, but we are a few weeks post-racing and I really just want them to stop staring at their power meters and try something different. I want you to as well, so why not give it a whirl?

Slave to the rhythm

The Takeaway
How close can you get to the target times for each effort? Can you get within thirty seconds, a minute? Are you good at one but terrible at another? Some riders do great at self pacing, some are horrible at it, and that is where the intent comes in. You still have the data and can easily find the intervals via whatever software you use for post ride analysis, but the learning comes from inside, from the internal feedback that says “go harder” or “back off” relative to how much time you think you have left. If you were way off the mark there is an opportunity to refine your internal clock. Practice different durations until you get good at estimating. Another way to look at this type of effort is via distance. Can you estimate how far a kilometer is? How about 10 kilometers?

Here’s why it matters to me. Are you skilled at the art of racing or merely good at watching a computer? Batteries die, power meters quit, things happen. I guarantee that my riders will have races where they can’t use their power meters next year, will you take on the challenge too? If all you do is watch the numbers then you become servant to them and a smart racer can exploit that habit.

No power meter for Paris-Tours U23 winner Marten Kooistra

Too often it seems that riders race to their perceived ability rather than the dictates of the race. Have you ever been in a break, looked down and seen a number way above what you think you can hold and lost your composure? Ever start a climb and “know” that it’s too hard for you to stay with the group at that pace so you drop out the back because your heart rate is high or your numbers are above threshold? Congrats, you’ve well illustrated that you serve the power meter instead of it serving you.

Ask any coach or racer at a high level and they will tell you that racing is more than numbers, that racing is about creating opportunities, taking chances on yourself and using your head to reach new levels. It’s about tactics and nuances, bravado and self knowledge. It is not about watching your power meters, so shake up your fall training by doing rides without ready access to the data. Ignore the data and embrace the freedom! You’ll come back to structured training refreshed and wiser about yourself as an athlete – and that’s a positive change that pays dividends well into the future.

Give the power meter a rest

About Matt McNamara: Matt is a USA Cycling Level 1 coach with over 20 years of racing, coaching and team management experience. Matt is the founder and president of Sterling Sports Group. Learn more by visiting him online at www.sterlingwins.com.

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