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Watts on Watts: Interval Training with Power

On-the-water power meters became widely accessible to rowers with the launch of the EmPower Oarlock in late 2016; but now that we can get one, what do we do with it?

The main benefit of having a power meter with you in the boat is being able to gauge and adjust your effort based on real-time information about the force you’re applying to the oar handle. Clearly, looking at the data after the row is helpful in a number of ways, but it’s the instant feedback that makes the biggest difference in getting the most out of each training piece.

What about heart rate?

Heart rate is influenced by numerous factors, including hydration, sleep, body temperature, muscle fatigue, and psychological factors, which makes it a less direct gauge of energy expenditure. In other words, heart rate is a measure of the body’s response to energy output, not a measure of the energy output itself.

Another major limitation of heart rate is the lag time between an increase or decrease in effort and the resulting physiological response. Unlike training with heart rate, training with power allows you to see the work you’re doing right now. This is especially useful for interval training, particularly with short intervals, whose intensity is nearly impossible to gauge using heart rate--by the time the heart adjusts to keep up with the muscles, the effort is often over. With power, there is no lag in the feedback, so your training effort is precisely the right intensity for the exact duration of the interval.

On the other hand...

The benefits of physiological monitoring and tracking are not insignificant. Burnout, one of the biggest risks of high volume or high intensity training, can be largely prevented by careful heart rate management.

"Zone Training" also allows you to work toward specific training goals such as building your aerobic base or raising your lactate threshold--which would be impossible to measure with a power meter.

Putting it all together:

So the question isn’t whether to switch from heart rate-based training to power-based training, it’s how to add power to a regime that already incorporates heart rate. Using both metrics in conjunction is highly effective for tracking fitness gains--if your heart rate starts to drop for the same amount of power, you are getting more efficient.

This also works in the opposite circumstance; if your heart rate is much higher or lower than normal for the same wattage, that’s a good indicator that something is not right. In a sport where athletes are tasked with pushing the limits of their fitness and endurance as far as possible without overtraining, can you afford not to know where those limits are at any given time?

The only rowing performance monitor capable of providing an athlete instantaneous power and heart rate data at the same time, on the water, is the NK SpeedCoach GPS 2 paired wirelessly with an EmPower Oarlock and a heart rate belt.

In the following issues of NK News, we’ll discuss exactly how to incorporate power into your on-the-water training and racing.

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