Power meters are still relatively new tools as far as cycling is concerned. I remember even a decade ago that not many people used them in the bunch but in 2018 they are far more common than ever before. So you may be wondering why would you be without a power meter in the first place? Well firstly they are still quite pricey and secondly people still enjoy riding old school without numbers, I get that.
That being said I don’t believe that training without a power meter is superior to training with one. The power meter is just such an effective pacing tool and provides good insights to how your performance is improving or declining. A power meter is most definitely a tool that can provide you with an edge in your training and you should invest in one if you have the cash.
For several years I didn’t use a power meter in my training and only used heart rate. I find that heart rate isn’t really useful as it varies too much. What is useful is using perceived exertion. The chart below adds some humor and therefore makes it easier to remember what the different levels of exertion are on a scale of 1 to 10.
So let’s clarify what the different levels of perceived exertion would correspond to in terms of training intensity. 1 to 2 on the scale would represent a recovery ride. 3 to 4 would represent an endurance ride. 5 would represent a tempo ride and 6 a sub threshold effort. At level 7 things start getting hard and this would represent the perceived exertion of threshold efforts. 8 on the scale is short VO2 max efforts whereas 9 is even shorter anaerobic capacity training. 10 on the scale is an all out sprint.
One can simplify this further by just using time intervals to limit the intensity you can hold. What I mean by this is just going all out for a certain period of time. If you want to train your VO2max energy system effectively for example you would limit the interval time to 5 minutes. In other words you would go all out for 5 minutes. Another example would be to limit your interval time to 1 minute if you want to train your anaerobic capacity.
A good rule of thumb is to do 2 rides per week at level 3 or endurance pace, 2 rides per week that include all out efforts (level 7 to 10) and 2 rides that are easy (level 1 to 2). Here is an example of how that would look for a 10 hour training week:
Tuesday: One hour with 10 x 1-minute efforts with 30 seconds of recovery between each one
Wednesday: An hour and a half with 4 x 5-minute hill repeats with 8 minutes of recovery between each one
Thursday: 1 hour easy
Friday: 1 hour easy
Saturday: 2 hours and 30 minutes endurance pace
Sunday: 3 hours endurance pace
You may find that initially you will start efforts too hard and blow up after 30 seconds but eventually you will get a feel for it and calibrate your internal power meter so that you are able to pace the effort better and maintain power all the way through. You will never be able to get perfect pacing like you would with an actual power meter but you can still perform well on the bike.
So to put it briefly simply ride at an easy pace for most of the week and do 20 to 40 minutes per week where you feel like you want to quit. If you are more experienced you will be able to handle more volume and intensity but if you want to enjoy cycling and stay at a high level of fitness for a lifetime then keeping the intensity to a minimum amount of time per week is a strategy for success.
One last tip would be to get on Strava if you aren’t already and go smash some segments for your weekly hard training. This makes it fun and when we enjoy it we are much more likely to keep going. That being said it won’t always be fun but that is just cycling and in fact that is just life.