When I began coaching in 2010, I leaned hard on each of my clients to get a power meter; here was my pitch.

“Yes, I know you’re already using a heart rate monitor, but precisely measuring your training intensity with power is the surest way to improve on the bike, plus it’s incredibly fun.”

While power meters have become an indispensable training tool since introduced nearly 30 years ago [1], their widespread adoption has come with a cost.

In the same way the smart phone has cannibalized much of daily life [2]; left unchecked, the power meter tends to devour all cycling experience in its path.

Power meters provide instant feedback on the bike and limitless opportunity for post-ride analysis, but they also introduce a destructive cycle of constant comparison and non-stop performance judgment.

New Pitch

In the 2020’s my pitch to athletes has changed:

Yes, the power meter remains a vital tool, but ceding your training autonomy to power data isn’t innovative, it’s regressive.

One effective solution to power meter overreach is to integrate RPE into all aspects of your training.

Subjectivity

Unlike the objective language of power, RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) is derived from our perceptions of how cycling intensity feels [3].

Subjective Balances Objective

If you’re quick to dismiss RPE on grounds of its subjectivity, you’re making a mistake. 

While a power meter faithfully reports how hard you’re mashing the pedals, it will never account for the psychological effort involved in working hard.

If RPE had no bearing on our performance we might ignore it, but we know that when effort feels harder, our performance on the bike can suffer [4].

Furthermore, ignoring the way life stressors can increase our perception of effort in training is a recipe for frustration, overwhelm, and eventual burnout. 

So, what does all of this mean in a practical sense? How does one integrate RPE throughout a thoughtful training plan?

There are two contexts for using RPE in your training:

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References

  1. SRM. Our Story of Success 2021  [cited 2021 12/13/21]; Available from: http://www.srm.de/company/history/.
  2. Zomorodi, M., Bored and brilliant : how spacing out can unlock your most productive and creative self. 2018.
  3. Borg, G.A., Psychophysical bases of perceived exertion. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 1982. 14: p. 377-381.
  4. Van Cutsem, J., et al., The Effects of Mental Fatigue on Physical Performance: A Systematic Review. Sports Med, 2017. 47(8): p. 1569-1588.
  5. Scherr, J., et al., Associations between Borg’s rating of perceived exertion and physiological measures of exercise intensity. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 2013. 113: p. 147-155.
  6. Foster, C., et al., 25 Years of Session Rating of Perceived Exertion: Historical Perspective and Development. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 2020: p. 1.