Power-to-Weight: Is it Overrated?
W/kg (power-to-weight) is all the rage these days. On platforms like Zwift, it’s the ultimate determining factor of one’s “worth” as a cyclist. This has proliferated into the real world too, with professional riders uploading their power data after a Grand Tour stage only for the internet to explode with articles and videos reading: ‘John Doe did 8 w/kg for 3 minutes!!!’ On the amateur scene, you’ll hear friends often discussing their power numbers just as often as their race tactics for the day.
Power-to-weight is overrated.
Yes, you read that right. Don’t get me wrong, it is important, but due to all the hype surrounding this metric, other important aspects of cycling have often been overlooked. What’s more, not everyone needs to focus on their power-to-weight. There are other ways to get fast without obsessing over watts-per-kilo.
Due to an obsession with power numbers, other very important aspects of cycling performance have been overlooked:
1. Technique – Sometimes we’ve become so fixated on power numbers that we haven’t taken the time to think about how we are putting out those power numbers. Sometimes we have become so focused on our head-unit that our pedaling mechanics have gone down the drain!
One of the things that has been overlooked these days is efficiency on the bike. Sure, you can put out the same watts as someone else, but your efficiency while putting out this power will have a huge effect on your performance.
One study took two marathon runners with the exact same VO2-max, yet one runner had a 13 MINUTE (!!) faster time. The difference? A more efficient running pattern. The same can be said of one’s efficiency on the bike. You can take your VO2-max further by taking the time to focus on technique, and that doesn’t come by staring at a power meter.
What’s the solution? Stop worrying so much about power! Yes, we need to train with power on a lot of our rides to hit the right zones, but sometimes doing rides or intervals on “feel” can help you to keep in touch with your body and remind you of how an effort actually feels, rather than how it looks on a screen.
Some of the most useful exercises are technique drills. These involve riding at a higher or lower than normal cadence and focusing on a silky-smooth pedal-stroke. They seem trivial to some, because they’re not “hard enough,” but they can make a real difference.
2. Power OR Weight – Some people look at the W/kg equation and think that if they can just drop a few pounds and increase their power, that they’ll be flying. However, oftentimes increasing power and decreasing weight simultaneously is impossible for those who are already highly trained.
Okay, yes, someone who is just starting out in cycling or is clinically overweight can absolutely improve both at the same time. But if you are already fairly lean and/or have been doing cycling a long time, improving both power and decreasing weight simultaneously is very difficult to do unless you are coming back from a long layoff.
In order to improve power, you have to train hard. If you want to train hard and recover, you HAVE to fuel. Of course, to lose weight, you must consume less food than your body is burning, and that is not very conducive to a high level of performance.
The problem with trying to lose weight and train intensely at the same time is that your performance will suffer. This is especially true during the season when you are doing lots of high intensity intervals and races. You should only try to lose weight at very specific times of year (only if you believe it will improve your performance) and never during the season.
A lot of people should not worry about weight at all and focus only on improving their power by training hard and fueling optimally. Are you fueling your training enough? Read one of my other posts here that tackles this subject.