What started as an almost exclusive territory for professionals, due to the high price, has become the perfect complement for planning your training routine with precision. Have power meters made heart rate monitors redundant? We explain the pros and cons of each one.
Training has always been a science. Lately, it has become so professionalized that if you want to go it alone, you will need some basic knowledge without which, it would be impossible to establish a plan that works without risks. If you are lucky and have a personal trainer, a heart rate monitor, power meter or both together will be essential to create a personalized plan which suits your fitness level and your competition calendar 100%. Although training plans with heart rate monitors have been relegated over the last few years due to the massive increase in power meters, a large amount of professionals still use both, and only a few opt for just using the power meter. Here we will explain the pros and cons of both.
TRAINING WITH HEART RATE MONITORS
In the 80’s and 90’s most professionals trained with the help of heart rate monitors. Establishing their maximum heart rate per minute, they determined the output percentage of each interval. It is a simple method, but not very reliable for a number of reasons. Heart rates are not entirely exact, and can be affected by a number of external factors, for example, the lack of sleep, or the build up of stress, caffeine rich drinks, time of day of the work out, and the quantity of food being digested. This means that training at the same intensity does not mean the same number of BPM each time.
The increase and decrease of the heart rate is an indicator of whether or not the exercise is working (recuperation periods), but at the same time, it is a slow process which can interfere when training in series. On the other hand, training with a heart rate monitor can have benefits; it can help identify if you are getting tired or over training, if you cannot reach your maximum BPM in power training, or if your heart rate at rest has increased. One of the most positive aspects of using these devices, is that you can get a relatively exact idea of how you are training, and the average price is quite low in comparison to the power meters. Depending on the brand, model and system that is used to measure the heart rate (chest strap, or wrist strap) you can find them for as little as 60€.
TRAINING WITH POWER METERS
Power meters are what heart rate monitor used to be a few years ago. They have revolutionized training methods, prioritizing the constant measurement of watts over heart rates. The power meters were first used at the beginning of the 90s, almost in exclusively by professional riders, due to their high price and technical features. Actually, there are several brands, models and options to choose from, integrated into crank arms, pedals and even bottom brackets.
Their margin for error is very small (usually below 2%) and should be used with computers and GPS which have bluetooth or ANT+ connections. ROTOR is one of the unique brands using a double side power meter. The 2INpower DM Road by ROTOR measures power individually in each leg to provide precise data about balance and power output in order to demonstrate where improvements can be made to pedalling performance. Power meters measure amongst other things, the amount of force applied to the cranks quantified in watts per pedal stroke.
This measurement allows you to identify your maximum power output in watts, of which you can then calculate your percentage increases for your training and for competitions. Although not everyone does it, the best thing to do is to take into account the parameters of the power meter in conjunction with a heart rate monitor to establish the most efficient training plan. The positives of using a heart rate monitor is being able to establish with precision what your maximum power output is in your anaerobic window. This number will give you your maximum power output and allow you to divide the training by the number of watts maintained during one pedal stroke. The watts will also allow you to know in every moment whether you are working within the desired power parameters or if they are below expected.
Although a large number of professionals and trainers prefer using both systems to obtain the best results, the popularity of using power meters over heart rate monitors is evident. Prices have also come down, and the technology is being updated regularly, meaning power meters are becoming more compatible and easier to use.