Using Power Meters in Triathlon Training

Power meters have long been a key tool in cyclists training arsenals, providing more reliable feedback on the effort being put in by a cyclist than heart rate, speed, or perceived effort, all of which are influenced by variable factors (such as climate, road conditions, athletes well being etc.).

Conducting training intervals sets using power zones is probably the most effective way of producing improved performance within the cyclist yet to date few Triathletes have picked up on this technique due to a combination of ignorance of the practice, the cost of power meters and fear of data and analysis.

One of the coaches at the forefront of this technique is Hunter Allen and he has just released a new book on the subject “Training and Racing with a Power Meter” with his colleague Dr Andrew Coggan Phd.


In this article first article in a series to to featured on Trizone, Hunter looks at the fundamentals of what is a power meter, and why you should own one:

“What is a power meter?  You might have heard about these things and you can’t open a single cycling website or magazine now without seeing a pro cyclist and one on their bikes, but what is it, what does it do and why would I want one?

First off, a power meter is a measuring tool.  It measures the torsion(twisting) of a bicycle part that has been twisted as a result of your pedaling.  This can be measured in the ‘spider'(bit between the chain rings and the crank) , or in the hub, on the twisting of the chain itself and there is even a new company coming out with pedals that will measure your power.  

Power is torsion(twisting) multiplied by angular velocity and angular velocity in cycling is cadence or how fast you pedal.  Power is output in watts, and you probably have heard of cyclists referring to the wattages on a climb, in a race or even on TV.  So, when you hear that Lance Armstrong can hold 450 watts for an hour, then know that 450 watts is really, really hard to do for 5 minutes, much less an hour! The typical trained cyclist can average 250 watts for an hour, keep in mind that this is also dependent on weight, so a cyclist that weighs 115lbs(52kg) and produces 250 watts for an hour has a much higher power to weight ratio (4.8 watts per kilogram), than a rider that weighs 180lbs(81kg) for a power to weight ratio of  3.0 watts per kilogram. 

Power to weight ratio is king in cycling, so the amount of watts per kilogram of body weight that a cyclist can produce is incredibly important to their success.   Wattage is the measure of work that you can do on a bicycle and while heart rate can be used to measure intensity of effort, it is dependent on rest, hydration of the rider, outside heat and humidity and heart rate is a response mechanism to work.   Wattage is the ‘dose’ and heart rate is the ‘response’.   If you are or have been training with a heart rate monitor, then you are basing your training on a ‘response’.  But, what has been the cause of that response?  Why did your heart rate go to 150?   Was it because a dog just chased you?  Was it because you just did a hill sprint?  Was it because you are just hyped up and merely sitting on the start line ready for the race to begin?    Heart rate gives us some information, but does not tell us how much work you are doing and that’s what a power meter does. 

Here are some other key reasons that a power meter will help you improve your cycling!

1. Training with a power meter gives you a complete record of your effort.
It records your effort from a cardiovascular viewpoint (Heart rate), and from a muscular viewpoint (watts). Know how much time you’ve spent in your training zones while riding. Highlight areas of interest, intervals of data – hills, sprints, attacks for review by you, your coach or even your teammates!

2. Add real meaning to your heart rate monitoring.
Heart monitoring alone does not tell you how your actual performance is improving, it just tells you how fast your heart is pumping. A power meter measures your rate of work (power), and analyzes your efficiency by allowing you to compare heart rate data to power output to your cadence and finally to your speed.

3. Track your Fitness Changes.
Know with certainty if your fitness is improving and when you have reached a peak. Avoid overreaching and over training by tracking your Training Stress Score and Intensity Factor levels.

4. Analyze your Race!
Want a subjective viewpoint on your use of energy in the race? A power meter can help you better analyze your race. You can easily see when you burned a “match” and if you used too much energy in parts of the race that weren’t decisive. Did you make a tactical error in a race, but didn’t realize it? By looking back on the data, you can replay the race in your head and see exactly what it took to make the winning break or what it took to make the decisive split. If you got shelled, you can see where you need to focus your training!

5. Pinpoint your strengths and weaknesses.
Do you get dropped when your cadence drops below 80rpm? Are you a Cat 1 in your 5 minute power, but Cat 4 in your 20 minute power? If you have to do 105% of your Threshold power for more than 3 minutes, will you get popped?

6. Improve your interaction with your Coach!
It brings you and your coach closer together! Your coach can then better use this data to improve your training plan. Your coach can instantly see what you are doing in races, training rides and make suggestions to further improvements. A power meter doesn’t lie!

7. Achieve your physical potential!
When you train with a power meter, it allows you to concentrate on the workload and provide that extra motivation to improve in your efforts. For example, if you are doing a 5 minute effort, and you are watching your Average watts drop near the end of the effort, you’ll pick it up just another notch in order to achieve your 5 minute wattage goal.

8. Test your position and aerodynamics.
Your body position is the single greatest factor in determining your speed while riding at a specific power output. Why risk the disadvantage of a poor position when you can measure your aerodynamics and discover your fastest position!

9. Pacing of efforts.
It allows you to pace your effort better in all of your interval workouts, hill climbs and time trials. When you know your threshold power, you can hold to it like glue in a time trial or hill climb, so you will know that you went as hard as you could possibly go.

10. Mobile Testing Lab!
A power meter allows you to test on a monthly basis, so you can quantitatively see what areas you have improved on and what still needs work. Training is testing, Testing is training.

11. Record your training data every few seconds.
It’s the true diary of your every ride! You will know what you were doing almost every second of the ride!

12. Enhance your indoor training.
Use your indoor trainer to the fullest extent! Highly focus your intervals in just the exact wattage zone for optimal improvement.

13. Coordinate your sports nutrition for best performance.
Knowing how much work (in kJ) you do in training allows you to plan your post-exercise meals to the kcal. You will recover faster and be able to train harder sooner.

14. PLAN, CONTROL AND EXECUTE your training like the pros.
 Train efficiently so that your best fitness peaks at your goal events. Every top cycling performance has been aided by the use of power meter training technology Tour de France winners, Hour records, Track records, HPV records.

Hunter Allen is a USA Cycling Level 1 coach and former Professional Cyclist. He is the co-author of “Training and Racing with a Power Meter”, co-developer of TrainingPeaks WKO+ Software, and is the CEO and Founder of the Peaks Coaching Group. He has coached over 500 athletes ranging from professionals to fitness enthusiasts, and has helped many athletes achieve dreams and goals that they didn’t think were possible.  He specializes in coaching cyclists with wattage meters and is on the forefront coaching with cycling’s newest tool.   He has online training programs available at   and you can contact Hunter directly




Articles on training-related topics represent the personal opinions of the author based on their own experience and research. provides these for your review and consideration, but does not endorse any particular recommendations of the authors.


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