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How to Use Data to Train Better

with SERENA BISHOP GORDON, Liv Racing Collective athlete

Building confidence on the bike through strength, skills and speed comes easier when you have the right tools. Learning how to incorporate technology into your training and racing can enhance your performance and open doors to go further, explore more, and stay connected along the way.

Training with data has provided me with the information I need to go hard when I need to go hard, go easy when I need to go easy, know how far and how fast and how hard I am riding, and how long and how steep the next climb is. When I’m riding in a new place, the technology I use gives me confidence knowing I’m on the correct path.

a POV shot of Serena Bishop Gordon's bike computer

What does "training with data" mean?

It involves working with a number of tools including a power meter, heart rate monitor, and a cycling computer equipped with Bluetooth and navigation technology. Those tools can help you: 

  • Measure your effort. Power meters and heart rate monitors are used to collect data on how hard you are working. A power meter measures the amount of force you are putting into your pedals, and provides instant feedback to you through the use of your linked cycling computer. Having this data can help you train more effectively by letting you know if you are riding in the intended intensity zone, especially when paired with a power-based training program. A heart rate monitor delivers heart rate information in a similar way, however, heart rate data has a lag time and can be affected by numerous variables. Collecting both power and heart rate data for each ride or workout will deliver the most complete picture of your efforts and cycling analytics. 
  • Provide you directions, confidence and safety. A cycling computer can do so much more than provide you with training metrics like power, heart rate, speed, and distance. It can also help you to navigate through unfamiliar places, alert you to the distance and grade of the upcoming climb, and display incoming calls and text messages (when paired with your phone). Some cycling computers can even let you know when a car is approaching from behind (when paired with Radar Tail Light), give weather alerts and sunset warnings, and allow your friends and family to see where you are (when the  LiveTrack feature is turned on).  
Garmin screen

What are the benefits of training with data?

Using all these training tools allows you to collect and then download the data to online platforms such as TrainingPeaks, Strava and RidewithGPS where you can review, analyze, and share where you went, how hard you rode, and the training improvements you have made. By capturing and reviewing this cycling data, often alongside a coach, you can make informed decisions as to what your training schedule should look like next week, how to improve your weaknesses and capitalize on your strengths, and how you can modify your route to better suit a workout, or to plan a big adventure. 

Learning how to build and load routes onto your cycling computer is a powerful tool. It eliminates the need to stop in order to look at the map in your pocket or on your phone, it gives you information on turns, gradient, and surface type, and provides confidence when riding in unfamiliar places. In a race situation, having the course loaded onto your computer allows you to track your progress, plan for the next big climb and navigate when the race course signage isn’t sufficient. 

There are loads of benefits to training with data, however, there is a point where you just need to turn it off, or at least tune it out. Having too much data can be overwhelming, take the fun out of riding, and consume a lot of time. It is important to use data to inform our riding, but not to control it. Knowing what your efforts feel like, rather than relying on what the power number or heart rate on the screen is, is an important skill to learn. Try turning off the screen that shows these cycling metrics next time you head out for a fun endurance ride. Just ride, have fun and capture (but don’t worry about) the numbers.

Training Peaks data

Tips for getting the most out of your cycling gadgets.

Setting up your cycling computer to show the data that you need and not the data you don’t is critical. Breaking up the information into screens is quite useful. The fewer fields per screen, the bigger the numbers - so keep it simple. Here is a suggested setup:

  • Screen 1: Information about the entire ride - time of day, ride time, distance, current power, kilojoules, and normalized power.
  • Screen 2: Interval data- Information you want to see during an interval: avg lap power (this is really helpful when trying to hold a specific power for an interval), current power (helpful to see if I'm going too hard or easy), current lap time, and heart rate.
  • Screen 3: Fun stuff- vertical feet climbed, altitude, current speed, average HR, temperature, time of sunset
  • Screen 4: Map, average power, and elapsed time. 
  • There are so many field options, figure out what works for you and modify them to fit your needs. 

If you aren’t ready to commit to a cycling specific computer, using a GPS enabled watch or an app on your phone to track your time and distance is a great way to capture your mileage, effort and route for review after your ride.

Garmin Screens

The best cycling computers, power meters, and heart rate monitors

If you are looking to buy a new power meter, heart rate monitor or cycling computer, be sure they are compatible and equipped with BlueTooth. There are a lot of options on the market, here are some resources to help you determine which are right for you: 

The Best Power Meters | BikeRadar.com

The Best Heart Rate Monitors | CyclingNews.com

The Best Cycling Computers | BikeRadar.com