Book review: Training and Racing with a Power Meter
15 Nov 2016
The book ‘Training and Racing with a Power Meter’ by Andrew Coggan and Hunter Allen is targeted at cyclists of all levels that want to learn more about cycling with power. You can start reading this book without any prior knowlege about the topic but in that case some sections might be difficult to understand. On the other hand, a solid background in this topic might make parts of the book superfluous.
I bought and read the second edition of this book which was published in 2010 (first edition in 2006). For the introduction of the two authors of the book I will just shamelessly copy the back cover of the book itself:
Hunter Allen is an elite-level cycling coach, former professional cyclist, and owner of the Peaks Coaching Group. Andrew Coggan, PhD, is an exercise physiologist and author of countless articles on effective application of power-meter data.
Chapter 1 and 2 give a thorough primer on the concept of measuring power output during cycling (including some exercise physiology) and summarizes which tools are available to you, both in hardware and software. One important thing to be aware of here and in the rest of the book is that the authors are invested in the TrainingPeaks and WKO+ software so they are probably a bit biased. However, they make that very clear in the first chapter which I find very decent. Be prepared though that most of the references to the use of software (e.g. charts) in the book are specific to WKO+ and might not be available in other software tools. With this ‘conflict of interest’ out of the way, let me continue with what I view are the core parts of the book, starting with chapter 3.
Chapter 3 is probably the best part of the book. The most important power metrics such as Functional Threshold Power (FTP; power that can be sustained for ~40km) are explained, as well as some useful charts and they even manage to explain the idea behind critical power: A mathematical construct that describes the limits of performance. Furthermore an introduction to power training zones is given, which are equivalent to heart rate zones but then (you guessed it) based on power output. Impressive how much information is given in only 13 pages! If you only have time to read one chapter, read chapter 3 (but you should really read the rest of the book as well…).
Chapter 4 is about testing to determine what your strengths and weaknesses as an athlete are. Two tools/concepts to do this are introduced: the Power Profile and the Fatigue Profile. The Power profile is basically a chart or table of your best performances over 5 seconds, 1 minute, 5 minutes and 20 minutes. While the Power Profile is quite easy to understand and test, the Fatigue Profile is much more difficult: This is a more extensive table where you do some extra tests to measure how fast your performance declines around the 4 ‘points’ in your Power Profile. The book presents the Fatigue Profile as something different from the Power Profile but in my opinion it is ‘just' a more detailed version of the Power Profile which gives you some more insights. If you want to give the Fatigue Profile a go, be prepared to spend a lot of time on testing!
After determining what kind of rider you are in chapter 4 you will learn how to apply this knowledge during training in chapter 5. I view this as the most ‘hands-on’ chapter of the book and this chapter is probably what most readers will expect when they buy it. There are a lot of ready-to-use messages there but it confused me some times as well. For example, multiple times (e.g page 81) a 5 minute effort at 100% FTP is called ‘All-out’, which it is not, by definition. And one of the example workouts (one which I definitely want to try out myself one day) is the ‘Hour of Power’, which basically is an 60 minute effort at your FTP with a short sprint every 2 minutes. Apart from that a 60 minute effort at FTP is already really (REALLY) hard as a workout, in my opinion it is downright impossible to add sprints to it.
Chapter 6 is a nice example of how well the book is built up as it is a logical continuation of the previous chapter: Now you will read about how to interpret your data post ride. Much of this chapter is targeted specifically at the use of WKO+. There are a lot of charts, tools and metrics discussed in this chapter, including Mean Max Power Curves (a plot that show you how much power you sustained for all durations) and Matches. These ‘matches’ made me twitch a little: The authors define a match as ‘‘an effort in which you had to dig deep or really push yourself’’. I see the use of power meters in cycling as a step away (i.e. forward) from subjective guessing about intensity, form and fitness and these matches are a perfect example of precisely this subjectiveness. It really surprises me that after concepts like Power Profile, Fatigue Profile and even critical power have been explained, these matches still found their way into the book.
In chapter 7 the hard core parts of the book start. Here the authors will explain some of the new metrics that were developed by Coggan. I found this chapter the most interesting and one I still read back sometimes. The metrics introduced here are Normalized Power (NP; weighted average power), Intensity Factor (IF; the ratio of NP and your FTP) and Training Stress Score (TSS; a measure for training load that takes into account NP, IF and duration of the workout). For a detailed overview of these metrics including their formulas, take a look at my earlier blog here. Also a new type of chart is introduced: the Quadrant Analysis Chart. This chart can help in analysing the types of muscle fibers that are recruited during a workout or race. I think the scientific foundation for this chart is somewhat thin and the theory behind it is only explained with a few shallow remarks like ‘scientific studies…suggest…’ (e.g page 131). The last paragraph of page 131 illustrates my criticism very good: The authors admit here that there are some assumptions made and that the partitioning of the quadrants is arbitrary, boldly followed by: ‘Nevertheless the data points that fall into these four quadrants can be interpreted as follows.’, after which these assumptions and uncertainties are never mentioned again. In my opinion that is the biggest pitfall of this book: The foundation of the concepts and metrics that are discussed is solid science but it is covered with assumptions (and admittedly a lot of experience of both authors). This is not necessarily a bad thing, it is even efficient and often needed for the application of science, but the authors sometimes fail to mention this and do not keep the reader aware of the assumptions. Stating something as a fact when a lot of assumptions are made is not correct and does not do right to the quality of the book. Again, I do not say that the concepts or metrics are incorrect, I am just saying that they might not always be correct and that you, the reader, should be made aware of that. (As a side note, because of this I sometimes refer to the book jokingly as ‘Training and Racing with a lot of Assumptions’…)
Chapter 8 is a continuation of explaining how to use the metrics introduced in chapter 7 to balance fitness and freshness which ultimately leads to form. Three new metrics are introduced: Chronic Training Load (CTL; average TSS over the last 42 days), Acute Training Load (ATL; average TSS over the last 7 days) and Training Stress Balance (TSB; the difference between CTL and ATL). These charted together former the Performance Manager Chart (PMC) which is extensively explained. The idea behind these metrics is fascinating and well explained. They skip or conceal some important assumptions (as discussed above) and this made me twitch once more at page 152:
- Form = Fitness + Freshness
- Fitness is the result of training stress.
- Freshness is the result of rest.
- Therefore, form comes from the combination of training stress and rest.
- “Form” can be renamed “Training Stress Balance.”
Although partially true, stating this enumeration as if it is mathematical proof without any consideration is just plain incorrect. Despite (and probably even thanks to) the assumptions, the PMC is very useful for planning your workouts as will be explained in chapter 10.
Chapter 9 gives a lot of examples of how a power based training plan can look like, where chapter 10 dives into long term monitoring of power metrics an workout planning. A lot of real world examples of athletes that were coached by the authors are given. Sometimes it might be hard to see how the examples are applicable to you but I think everyone will find a good and useful example here.
Chapter 11 is one of the chapters that has been added in the second edition of the book and discusses how a power meter can be used for triathletes (or other multi sport athletes) and how some of the concepts from this book can be translated for use in running (interesting!). Again, a lot of examples are used and this chapter illustrates well how a power meter can benefit triathletes.
Chapter 12 is called ‘Racing faster with a power meter’ but this title is a bit misleading because it does not really give much advice on how to use a power meter during a race. It does however give some nice insights into analysing pacing strategies and aerodynamic testing with a power meter.
The book finishes with chapter 13 with some small stories and experiences about using a power meter for other cycling disciplines (BMX, cyclocross, track and ultra-endurance cycling) and finally chapter 14 which is a very brief 3-page summary of the book.
All in all, this is a very complete book about the use of power meters in cycling. It includes a lot of background information about exercise physiology which is needed to understand the usefulness of power meters. The authors show that they have a lot of experience working with athletes and power meters. Sometimes scientific foundation is lacking or not mentioned and also some of the assumptions are not mentioned clearly enough in my opinion. The book is equally interesting for an amateur cyclist with an interest in power meters as well as an experienced cycling coach that wants to learn something new.
- Covers almost every aspect of training with a power meter.
- Lots of examples and ready to use workouts.
- Can be difficult without any prior knowledge.
- Assumptions are sometimes not mentioned.
Should you read it?
- I recently came across what looks like a very early (and brief) version of this book by Coggan. Read it here.
- Regularly, blogs on the TrainingPeaks blog have some overlap with this book and are sometimes written by the authors of it. You can use these blogs as a sneak peak of the book.
- If you like reading discussions (or take part in them) about the use of power meters, the Wattage list on Google Groups is definitely something to check out. You have to be accepted to get access to it and I do not know on what grounds people are accepted (or rejected) but it is worth a try.