The increasing popularity of power meters and on line analysis tools means more and more riders are training and racing “by the numbers”.  With so much data available, does riding by feel still have a place in a training program?

When cyclists talk about their feelings, they are generally describing one of two things; how hard a ride or race was or how tired they are. Of course, they are referring to two fundamental elements of any training program; intensity and fatigue.

Whenever I am prescribing a training session, I will always give it a number between 1 and 10 to indicate how hard the effort should be. This is known as Perceived Rate of Exertion (RPE) and studies have shown that experienced athletes are very good at self-selecting and replicating efforts based on RPE.  For example, if asked to complete a time trial at an intensity of say 8/10 and then repeat it, the two times would be very, very close. 

Importantly, this represents an athlete’s ability to listen to their body and measure their effort. Regardless of whether you train with a heart rate monitor and/or a power meter, this is a skill you should develop. Whenever you are doing an effort, you should be constantly asking yourself “How hard am I going?” “Can I keep going like this?” “Can I go harder?” 

If you use a heart rate monitor or a power meter, practice by doing some of your training by feel and compare this to your data afterwards.  One way is to find a long hill and do three or four efforts (with adequate recovery between) at the same RPE, but do not look at your computer. How do they compare? How close was your time, heart rate and power for each one? If they varied markedly, you need to work on your feel. 

Fatigue is another area where knowing and listening to your body is vital. Analysis tools such as Training Peaks can provide information about training loads and training stress. However, these figures are often based on historical data taken from elite athletes. So it’s important to remember that their numbers might not be your numbers! Warning signs such as poor sleep, lethargy, mood swings and ongoing muscle soreness are all good indicators that perhaps it’s time to ease up. 

Yes, we are fortunate to ride at a time when technology can provide us with so much information, but it’s no substitute for feel. So next time you are locating a satellite, remember to tune into your body as well. 

© Geoff Nash  - CoLab Coaching 2015