Running power vs HR/pace training

Considering the fact that running based on power is not as popular as HR or pace based training, I often ask myself why I’m bothering … why do I try to use this “exquisite” measurement as a reference in my running training, instead of using the well accepted HR or pace. The answer is that, even though I care about the heart rate during the training, measuring heart rate is not that easy always:

  • if you use an model of smart watch that have an WHR sensor, this optical sensor has some limitations and depends on your movement, how tight you wear the watch, the color of your skin, hand hair, sweat, quality of the sensor (not all sensors are equal)
  • if you use and arm band – optical sensor, like the excellent ones from Polar – those are fine, but like any optical sensors they have a bit of delay when tracking sudden changes of heart rate
  • if you use a chest strap (like one from Polar – the H10 is great, the Garmin HRM is also very good), they become more uncomfortable during summer causing some chaffing (to me at least) during the long runs and also during winter, you need to moisture them properly before starting the workout … you never know if you did a good job, until you see the measurement. I had so many situations with H10 or HRM-Run having issues in the first 10 minutes of the run, or even later during the workout
  • HR is influenced by a lot of factors – like temperature, humidity or your stress levels .. running in HR zones 1-2 during summer might be a challenge sometimes

I may add that HR doesn’t change as fast during interval sessions, but that’s just me find reasons..

Pace and power change fast during the intervals, HR is lagging behind

Another alternative for training would be using pace, since that is actually very much related to your race performance – I haven’t seen so many people asking about your AVG HR or power for a race, but all (most) ask about your time ..

The pace measurement and training might be a problem, if you live (train) in a hilly area and obviously the changes in the pace are influenced if you run uphill or downhill. That’s not my case actually, so for me the pace could be a reasonable instrument in measuring progress and training. But in order to have a good measurement of pace (I mean instant pace and not average pace for a longer distance), you need good distance measurement, most of the time tight with your device GPS accuracy. During the last years, most (all) of the sport watch producers favoured the battery life over GPS accuracy, or finding some compromises in this area and that created so many issues with measuring distance and pace.

The solution for that came in the shape of the footpods (Garmin has one, Polar has one, Coros has one, Stryd also) and they offer consistency when properly calibrated. My choice for the footpod was Stryd which came also with the running power support .. so I was more interested in the running power as a measurement of the effort instead of focusing on the pace. I guess I could try using pace since I’m not training in a hilly area so basically the correlation between power and pace would be clear, but it’s somehow easier for me to guide with the Critical Power value instead of waiting for some other bits of info to adjust the values for my pace based training.

Pace calculator based on a recent race result

The potential disadvantage of using running power is that the support for structured workouts and training plans is only now starting to be developed, with some combinations of platform/devices offering a decent experience.

For example, if you own a Garmin watch (a newer one – like 3/4 years old) and want to use it with Stryd, since Garmin doesn’t support native running power, you need to rely on third party platforms to create your workouts and third party apps/fields (CIQ) to execute those..It’s not that complicated, but still .. it’s not that straightforward like it is with HR or pace. The workouts can be managed (and tracked) in Stryd Power Center, TrainingPeaks or FinalSurge (there might be some other platforms supporting running power structured workouts and I’m not aware of those).

If you own an Apple Watch, you can pair it to Stryd and work with the Stryd App to manage and execute your workouts. It’s nice and smooth, it just inserts some of the limitations of the watch itself (touchscreen isn’t the best friend for sweaty fingers for example). You can link it to TrainingPeaks as well.

If you have a Coros device, you have native support for Stryd and a great integration, but you need to define (copy) any workouts in the Coros app for the moment, not being able to get those automatically from Stryd. The integration with TrainingPeaks seems to offer the sync both ways (https://help.trainingpeaks.com/hc/en-us/articles/360041756752-Coros) and I would imagine that allows people to use their running power based plans in TP with Coros. I don’t have a Coros watch to test, but it looks like the integration with FinalSurge is only one way (uploading data in FinalSurge) https://blog.finalsurge.com/sync-workouts-from-coros-watches/. Anyway, Coros is one of the best choices if you only look at the training with power.

If you own a Polar device (a newer one like Vantage V2, GritX and GritX Pro) which supports structured running power training (and Stryd), you can use your Flow app to define workouts based on power, but you have to define it one by one .. no way you can import/sync that from another platform like TrainingPeaks, FinalSurge or Stryd Power Center. You can push the data from Polar Flow there for analysis, but that’s kind of all. Another limitation is the fact that you can only use power zone as target intensity and not explicit values, which kind of limits the integrations with third party platforms anyway because the power zones are not synced anyway. Also Polar only supports the power value, but not the other pieces of info provided by Stryd (ground contact time, air power, form power, etc).

If you have a Wahoo Rival watch, with the recent firmware updates you get a very good and deep integration with Stryd, complemented by the integration for workout management with TrainingPeaks. Wahoo syncs from Stryd the Critical Power and the zones as well, which is very nice. Wahoo Rival seems to me a good alternative to Coros in this respect, with the level of integration with Stryd. When Wahoo will add other features for their platform, allowing more data to be correlated in the training plans – like recovery, sleep, stress – they might be a very serios choice.

If you have a Suunto (even one of the recent ones Peak 9 or Peak 5), the support for native running power exists, but unfortunately the structured workouts are not supported, so the training with power is a bit crippled – I wouldn’t consider Suunto as a solution for training with power; this may change, but I don’t yet see yet a focus from Suunto in this direction looking at the recent releases of devices or changes of their solution.

In conclusion, from my perspective, until Garmin won’t add native support for running power – there will be solutions available, which may be improved, but definitely very good – Apple Watch (if you can live with the limitations of the smart watch/platform), Coros watches and Wahoo Rival with their integrations with TrainingPeaks for example. Polar has something, but it’s not a full Stryd support and also limited integration with third party platforms.

I will continue to use the Stryd with both my Vantage V2 and Garmin Fenix, but I’m looking forward to seeing Garmin’s native running power support. I’m not realistically tempted to switch to Wahoo or Coros, even though they have interesting devices, only for the running power support.

Stay safe and enjoy running!

Author: Liviu Nastasa

Passionate about software development, sociology, running...definitely a geek.

2 thoughts

  1. I am still thinking about running with power myself. I am hoping that Garmin will offer a native solution eventually, even if it will be based on their own hardware, pod or chest strap, whichever it will be, so I might get convinced to use it..

    1. One of the advantages of Stryd (in my case) is that it works reliably – I haven’t had any issues with connection or bad measurements like it happened with my HR straps or the ever changing GPS based pace. I’d love to see Garmin moving into native running power, but any other polished alternative is good. Coros moves really well, delivering fast new features…so they might be a great in a reasonable timeframe. Wahoo still needs to add some “basic” feature to its list – sleep, recovery – but otherwise they have a great Stryd integration. Polar needs to open their ecosystem more and be more flexible (deeper integration with Stryd and third party platforms) – otherwise they have a good offering as well. We are living great times with so many options, none of them perfect, but there is something for everyone.

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