Top 5 Reasons Runners Are Skeptical About Power Meters

Why Runners Are Skeptical of Power Meters for Running RWP_skeptical_600x400


We at VeloPress have seen that you are skeptical about power meters for running, and in this open letter to you and to the sport, we will address your top 5 hesitations about power meters head on.

In doing so, we hope to convince you that the power meter age has arrived and that this is a good thing to be welcomed.

We further hope that we address any resistance you yourself may have encountered in your consideration of whether or not to purchase a power meter.

Finally, we hope that this letter will help provide those final few arguments you might need to convince your husbands, your wives, your running buddies — and your credit cards — that it is time to run with power.

With love and kind regards, and ever yours in running,

Your friends at VeloPress

VeloPress, the publisher of Run with Power, has been posting some of the stories from onto its Facebook page. The conversations between readers, coaches, and scientists on those posts have been thought-provoking; runners have very strong feelings about power meters! While many runners and triathletes are receptive to the new technology, there are quite a few skeptics.

Here are a few of the more active posts on Facebook. Please feel free to jump in with your own thoughts. We’d like to hear what you think.

You may notice that the skeptical responses on Facebook often follow a few themes, which we address below.

Why Runners Are Skeptical of Power Meters for Running RWP_skeptical_600x400

#1. I don’t believe that motion-sensing power meter devices actually do what they say they do.

It does seem like magic, doesn’t it? How can a device that’s not under my feet measure how much force I’m producing when I run? There are two responses.

The first is that there is, in fact, a power meter that goes under your feet. The RPM2 power meter is a footbed-based power meter that is an insole in your shoe. It estimates your power output by measuring the force under your feet. The RPM2 power meter is manufactured by Medhab, a Texas-based medical device maker whose devices are closely regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. While the FDA is in no way a flawless organization, its regulations of medical devices are rigorous. Johnny Ross, CEO of Medhab, explained that the RPM2 insole power meter was developed as an extension of its footbed-based gait analysis devices that physical therapists use to measure the strength, balance, gait, and recovery of patients who have sustained leg injuries, surgeries, or neuropathies. So we are confident that the RPM2 power meter is directly and accurately measuring power output.

The second answer is that, in some seemingly magical way, motion-sensing power meters like the Stryd power meter do, in fact, correctly and accurately estimate your power output. You don’t need to trust us on this. You can instead trust the independent website DC Rainmaker and its review of the Stryd device. In this lengthy and comprehensive review, DC Rainmaker offers two charts that show the power measured by Stryd and by a university lab-grade force plate. The data are convincing; Stryd’s power estimate matches the laboratory force plate, which is directly measuring the force under the feet. Stryd is accurately measuring (or estimating) power. (You might notice on Facebook that Dr. Andrew Coggan, one of the pioneering researchers into power meters, gives Stryd’s developers his nod of confidence.)


#2. Who needs expensive gadgets?! I just want to get out and run!

Awesome! Get out and go for it! Live it, love it, and wave hi.

But expensive? The cost to get into running with power is currently about $200, which isn’t much higher than full retail for a pair of trendy, new running shoes. According to industry data, committed runners buy about three pairs of running shoes on average each year. A power meter is quite a bit less expensive than many GPS units. Top-of-the-line GPS watches run around $600 each and as discussed in this post, training with pace has many limitations compared to the new power-based technology.

#3. Pace/heart rate/time and distance are just great for me. They’ve worked great for me and that’s all I need.

GPS watches, with their 5% margin of error, improved on heart rate monitors just as heart rate monitors improved on the stopwatch.

(5% error, by the way, is 1 minute over a 20:00 5K, more than 2:00 on a 45:00 10K, over 5:00 on a 1:45 half-marathon, and 9 min. over a 3 hr marathon.)

Each new technology has improved on the last to enable more people to become better at their sports. The power meter is a much bigger leap forward. Indeed, some elite athletes describe power as the next evolution for running. Since the power meter works in a fundamentally different way from time and distance or heart rate, the running power meter offers far more benefit to runners. [Related: 14 Ways a Power Meter Can Make You a Faster Runner.]

The power meter’s ability to measure intensity of a workout, and therefore training stress, both acutely and over time, is its most important and powerful ability. Any runner who has felt they put in the work for a solid race and then felt frustration from a disappointing performance, even after a taper, should consider adding a power meter to their training gear. Heart rate, RPE, and pace simply can’t tell you if you’re working too hard or doing too much. Power can tell you all those things and more, like no other tool has been able to do before. [Related: Why Running with Power Is Better than Running with Pace]

Even power meter manufacturers admit that GPS-based pace actually works just fine on flat ground without wind. But GPS pacing is only ideal under ideal conditions: flat, windless, with a clear view of the sky. If your prescribed workout is a tempo run set at a certain pace and then you encounter a hill, then you are no longer doing a tempo run; you’re doing a strength or hill workout. Maybe that’s okay with you.

Heart rate does inform our workout intensity, but mixed in with the workout effort are all the noisy signals like body temp, caffeine intake, fatigue, and illness. And where GPS can take up to 10 seconds to adjust to changes in speed, heart rate can take minutes. That’s a real drawback. Power tells you how hard you are working right now, without mixing it up with other signals.

The bottom line is this: if you want to be faster, you can benefit from using better performance measuring technology. If being faster or running longer are not goals of yours, than a stopwatch, heart rate monitor, or GPS watch might be best for you.

#4. None of these gadgets like heart rate monitors or GPS watches have helped make runners faster. Average race finish times and American and world records haven’t fallen very much since these devices came out, so this gadget won’t make me faster, either.

Simply wearing something on your wrist won’t make you faster, of course. To become faster, you have to use the device to train differently.  Just as GPS wristwatches enabled more people to train by goal finish time, power meters will enable a new way of training.

Jim Vance, in the introduction to Run with Power, predicts that the marathon world record will fall — and soon — because of the introduction of power meters for running. Vance’s prediction aside, why focus on just one world-record race performance? It’s perhaps more interesting to ask how competitive races are today.

Average American race finish times have worsened, actually, but of course it has nothing to do with what’s on the wrists of American runners. According to Running USA, average race finish times have risen because so many more people have taken up running over the past 5 years. That’s a good thing and great news for the health of our sport (and those runners). We believe devices like heart rate monitors and GPS watches help more people to participate in running by easing their use of training plans and by providing motivating feedback about their fitness and performance. Since power meters offer at least 14 more benefits to runners, the power meter should help even more runners achieve their goals. [Related: See what a power-based training plan would look like and try out the first 2 weeks free.]

We’ll close with this thought: bike racers ride much faster today than they did when the first power meters became available. Of course there have been many other technological and training improvements in cycling over the past decade, but the fact that every serious cyclist owns and understands their power meter foretells what we can expect in running.

#5. The East African runners are kicking everyone’s butts and they don’t have power meters.

It’s maybe a little unfair to compare how the East Africans run to the rest of us. For many in Kenya and Ethiopia, running is a national pastime. Running groups recruit and develop talent from elementary school age. Those runners can make more money from a few race wins than they can pursuing work in their own national economies. Yes, the East Africans are faster than most of the rest of the world’s elite runners, but there are reasons their success is so difficult for the rest of us to emulate: their cutting-edge technology is the culture of their sport.

Yet we guarantee the East Africans will be training with power soon, too. Only rarely in sports science has a new technology been fully proven effective in one sport and then ported to another sport. Power meters for running weren’t developed out of thin air; power meter devices and training methods have existed for a decade in the sport of cycling, where they revolutionized that sport. There is not a single team riding in the Tour de France this summer that isn’t using power meters and analyzing the data. Just as in running, many of those teams said 10 years ago that power meters wouldn’t help athletes train.

[Related: See what experts, coaches, and athletes say about running with power.]

Run with Power by Jim VanceRUN WITH POWER is the groundbreaking guide you need to tap the true potential of your running power meter like SHFTStryd, or RPM2. From 5K to ultramarathon, a power meter can make you faster—but only if you know how to use it. Just viewing your numbers is not enough; you can only become a faster, stronger, more efficient runner when you know what your key numbers mean for your workouts, races, and your season-long training. In Run with Power, TrainingBible coach Jim Vance offers the comprehensive guide you need to find the speed you want.

Run with Power is available now from your local bookstore, tri or running shop, and from these online retailers:
Coach Jim Vance
Limited offers: Get Run with Power FREE with purchase of a SHFT, RPM2, or Stryd power meter while supplies last.

Also available wherever books are sold:
Barnes & Noble
local bookstores


1 thought on “Top 5 Reasons Runners Are Skeptical About Power Meters

  1. I’m a bit skeptical about your guarantee that elite Africans will be using power meters soon, considering that they generally don’t use heart rate or GPS. In fact, many elites in the United States still don’t use heart rate or GPS. Among those who do use GPS regularly, they don’t use it for pacing workouts. When they’re actually doing workouts, they use the track and a stop watch for pace. And among those who use heart rate, it’s very rare for any of them to train to specific heart rate zones. Typically they use heart rate for after-the-fact analysis of workouts and as a speed limiter on easy runs.

    I think the most promising application is in hilly courses, where RPE doesn’t work well because the sensations are necessarily different, and where heart rate can lag too much. But therein lies the MAJOR difference between running and cycling. In cycling, climbing is an essential aspect of the sport. In running, even on supposedly “hilly” courses, the total elevation gain tends to be quite small. World records, of course, are set only on pancake-flat courses. (Vance’s prediction that “the marathon world record will fall, and soon,” just makes him sound like someone who doesn’t really know running, as though the marathon world record were a durable mark, considered somewhat out of reach. But in reality, the marathon world record has been in play at every Berlin and London marathon. There are a large number of runners in the world right now for whom the mark is a realistic goal (unless he’s talking about Paula’s record).

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