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By Team ICG® Master Trainer Jim Karanas -

The Watt. Ten Newton Meters. Ten times the force necessary to raise 1 kg 1 meter vertical in 1 second.

Clean. Absolute. The cyclist”™s preferred training statistic. Whether it”™s power-to-heart rate ratio, sustainable watts per unit time, or maximum watt output, there”™s no better measurement of improved cardiovascular fitness than a watt.

The watt has inspired recent interest in the indoor cycling community and generated millions of investment dollars by product manufacturers to bring it to the average fitness consumer. How good an idea is it?

A driving occupation of the fitness industry is to produce Results for our customers. Customers use our services and products to achieve results that justify the time and money spent working out: weight loss or weight gain, improved fitness, and improved health. They”™re all measurable.

Other, unquantifiable, results are often attributed to fitness training — an improved sense of wellbeing, better life balance, greater happiness.

Results are more marketable when they can be measured. “Lose 10 ten pounds in 7 days!” Sustainable or not, the consumer is drawn to the promise of a measurable result.

What about the watt? It”™s measurable, but does it tell most consumers what they want to hear? “Improve sustainable watts for your next FTP test in just 3 months!” That might attract some cyclists, but will it attract the general fitness consumer? The poor watt just isn”™t as widely accepted as calories.

Some studios put up leader boards that display everyone”™s power during class. They provide testimony that comparing participants”™ watts to those of other riders in the room makes them try harder. But the comparison doesn”™t make sense. It”™s your power-to-weight ratio that determines if you get dropped on the next climb, not average watts. Why don”™t they factor in body weight? The answer is obvious: It”™s more difficult to manage, and people won”™t likely weigh themselves before class. So the watt display means nothing. Why not let the watt do its job correctly?

The correct use of watts, particularly in conjunction with heart rate, will increase cardiovascular fitness exponentially in a short time. There”™s no doubt. If you want to show a customer quick results, watts help — particularly if the customer has never done structured training before. But that person goes through the rapid-improvement phase only once. After their exponential stage (which could go on for months to years), the average fitness consumer will see a plateau, then a decline in performance measurements using watts. The watt loses favor.

Watts are brutally honest, and most people don”™t like looking at them after a while. Ask anyone who has trained with power for 10 years and is no longer “getting stronger” how he/she feels about doing a 20-minute FTP test.

So why is the industry buzzing about whose bike measures watts, how accurately they”™re measured, how consistently they”™re measured from bike to bike, and whose education provides the best training for instructors to deliver to the members?

Can watts help us with our indoor cycling classes? Maybe. Teaching people to put out more effort is a good use of watts. “As we begin to climb, I want you to drop your cadence below 80 rpm. Remember, climbing requires more effort and a greater power output. Make sure your watts increase as you drop your rpm.”

The above cue uses watts to develop the experience, a good use of the measurement. But when someone feels that improvement of the metric is the motivation to train, there”™s potential for dissatisfaction over time. People love watts when they”™re going up; not so much when they”™re going down. The poor watt can”™t catch a break.

Soon all indoor cycles will measure watts.  Still, I”™m not convinced that watts alone will help indoor cycling.

Maybe you think this is hypocritical. Whether or not it makes sense, watts are here because the market demands it. Who created the demand? We did. By saying we can prove that your training is working. You”™re making measurable progress. You want results; we can show them to you.

Up to now, the poor watt has been seen only as a measurement of performance and progress, which is great for the short term. Its use in indoor cycling will eventually lose impact. Cyclists will like the idea until it gets old. Manufacturers will continue to provide options, but how many club owners will accept the added cost over time?

Using watts to create a better experience will work long-term and open the door of understanding to what indoor cycling really brings.

Consider this: Instead of asking how many watts, ask how effortless they are. The first draws attention to measurement and performance. The second inspires deeper contemplation of the experience. The former takes a short-term view and eventually loses appeal. The latter can remain intriguing in every ride for the rest of your life, and will be understood more thoroughly as time goes on (see my recent post on Flow).

If we look at watts differently, they can help people and become a staple of indoor cycling. I like the watt because of the mystery of effortless power. Have you ever seen someone generate formidable watts without looking as if they”™re working hard? Where does the power come from?

The watt has more to offer than most people think. I hope we give it a fair chance and don”™t relegate it just to measuring performance.

Originally posted 2012-12-03 11:43:41.

Jim Karanas
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