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What Are Watts and Why Are They Important for Cyclists?
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What Are Watts and Why Are They Important for Cyclists?

Isabel-Mayfield-health-reporter
Written by Isabel Mayfield | Medically reviewed by Medically reviewed by Rosmy Barrios, MD check
Published on December 14, 2022
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5 min

As with every form of exercise, there comes a time when finding new ways to improve your performance is a must, and for cyclists, the way to do this is by tracking watts.

what are watts in cycling
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Tracking watts is nothing new to the world of biking, with most experienced cyclists using this measure to assess their strength and ensure they are challenging themselves during their workouts.

If you’re looking for new ways to improve your cycling power, this article will give you all the information you need about tracking your watts and the benefits of doing so. 

What Are Watts in General?

Simply put, a watt (W) is a measure of energy flow or power and can be calculated by multiplying the number of amps (A) and volts (V) that an electrical device is consuming. 

The difference between volts and amps can be more easily understood if you think of volts as the amount of pressure of energy and amps as the amount of energy itself. 

More pressure, in combination with a larger amount of energy, equals higher watts and more power for your devices.

What Are Watts in Cycling?

Watts (W) represents the amount of energy you output over time while you ride. Recreational riders pedaling slowly might be outputting 50–100 watts, while elite riders can expect to output as many as 400.

What Is a Power Meter?

Power meters are simple devices that measure how much power (in watts) is being output by a power supply.

Most of us have a power meter on the side of our houses that measures power output from the electrical wires to our homes.

But there are also cycling power meters, which measure the amount of energy generated, with the cyclist being the power supply in this example.

There are several types of cycling power meters, including crank-based power meters, spider-based power meters, and pedal power meters. These meters can be attached to any bike and feed any information about power outputs to your phone via Bluetooth. 

Although these devices are not cheap, they make it easy for riders to figure out how much power they generate while riding. 

This information might not be important to all riders, but it can be useful for anyone who is cycling for weight loss since increasing their wattage will also increase the number of calories they burn while cycling.

Why Is it Worth Tracking Watts While Cycling?

Although all cycling has been clinically proven to improve cardiovascular health and reduce the risk of complications or death due to heart disease, these benefits aren’t enough for some people.

Cycling while using power meters to measure power output has various uses, one of which we touched on briefly in the previous section. 

Increasing calorie burn is an advantage of tracking how many watts you’re outputting while riding, which many cyclists choose to focus on. But the truth is, the perks of tracking your power data go far beyond trimming your body weight and using cycling to change your body shape.

More serious cyclists can also pay attention to their power meter as a way to notice increases in their maximum power over time. They can also expect to affect their power-to-weight ratio by improving their maximum power output.

Functional Threshold Power (FTP) – the average highest power you can sustain for an hour – is another number many elite cyclists focus on improving. This measure directly reflects your fitness level and is significantly easier to track using a power meter. 

What Is the Average Wattage? 

The average wattage varies widely depending on the fitness level of a cyclist, how heavy they are, how quickly they are moving, and whether they are on flat or rolling terrain. 

Beginner cyclists who aren’t overly fit might be riding at a leisurely pace that hovers between 50–100 watts, while someone who is more physically fit might find it easy to consistently output more power, somewhere between 100–150 watts.

A professional cyclist can have a power output of close to 400 watts, which is 4x more power than beginners. 

An increase in Normalized Power (NP) will happen naturally as the cyclist continues to gain muscle mass in the muscles that are worked during cycling and improve their anaerobic capacity

What Is a Good Wattage Per KG?

Measuring your wattage while you ride can give you a good idea of your average power throughout your ride. But this number only tells you so much about your power output since what is considered good wattage will vary depending on cyclists’ power-to-weight ratios.

For example, lighter riders can expect a lower power output than heavier riders even if they are going the same speed. This is because the heavier rider has a higher power-to-weight ratio, meaning it will take more energy to move this heavier body weight forward. 

So, instead of focusing on wattage alone, a more accurate way to measure your athletic ability based on the number on your power meter is to look at your wattage per kilogram (W/kg).

By taking into account W/kg instead of just wattage alone, you can accurately gauge someone’s power-to-weight ratio and better understand their average power and overall athletic ability. 

2 Ways to Improve Your Average Power

If you want to generate more watts while you ride, there are some simple changes that you can make to both your eating and exercise routine to help you improve your power-to-weight ratio to generate more speed and power.

#1 Switch up your workout routine

Although you might want to improve your power-to-weight ratio purely so you can improve your capabilities on your bike, focusing only on cycling-related workouts might keep you from reaching your full potential. 

The main muscle groups that you work while cycling are the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes in the lower body. For outdoor cycling, especially uphill, you also use the abdominal muscles, erector spinae muscles in the back, and even your arms. 

Cycling workouts combined with high-intensity resistance training can help you target strength increases in these major muscle groups while offering some much-needed reprieve from your usual cycling training. 

#2 Focus on holistic lifestyle changes

If you feel like switching up your workout routine and challenging yourself physically isn’t helping, it might be time to address some of your lifestyle habits outside of working out.

When you’re trying to build muscle, getting enough sleep probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. But, the reality is – poor sleep quality and not sleeping enough are clinically proven to leave you at risk of losing your hard-earned muscle. 

And poor sleep, in combination with not eating enough protein, is sure to keep you from seeing results since adequate protein consumption is essential to building bigger, stronger muscles. 

A Word From Our Coach

Beginners or people picking up cycling to get back into regular physical activity might not benefit from picking up a power meter and measuring wattage.

Not only are power meters expensive (with the cheapest version costing around $400), but attempting to increase your wattage before your body is ready could result in your feeling discouraged when you don’t see results or, worst case scenario, leave you injured.

Instead, finding a trainer or investing in an app that can help you craft a training plan unique to your current fitness level will help you save money and see results faster without risking being injured.

Cycling is a form of exercise that is proven to reduce your risks of obesity, cardiovascular disease, and even cancer. For anyone who isn’t used to exercise, these benefits alone are more than enough to contribute to longevity for years to come.

Bottom Line

Hopefully, after reading this article, you better understand what are watts in cycling and the benefits of focusing on increasing your wattage.

By picking up a power meter, you can begin tracking your workouts. Over time, as your muscle mass increases and your weight decreases, you can expect to notice sizable differences in your power and, more specifically, the watts per kilogram you can generate.

Isabel-Mayfield-health-reporter
Written by
Isabel Mayfield is a certified yoga instructor with over 10 years of experience in the fitness industry. She is passionate about self-improvement and loves to help people improve their sense of self-worth through education and support in meeting their fitness goals.
Medically reviewed by Rosmy Barrios, MD
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