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Review: Stryd Running Power Meter

Having tested the new Stryd Running Power Meter for over a month now, here are my thoughts on it:

Power Meters measure direct energy output as power is being generated, compared to Heart Rate Monitors (“HRM”) that measure how hard the heart is working to support energy output. There is an indirect relationship between power and heart rate. Stated simply, your muscles store energy so they can do some work without major changes in heart rate. As energy production increases and energy storage in the muscles decrease, the heart is recruited to pump blood to replenish that energy. Thus, it takes about 30-60 seconds for your heart rate to catch up to changes in energy production.

When cycling power meters first hit the scene a couple of decades ago, they were very expensive and only used by elite athletes. Like all great new technologies, time has provided economies of scale and resultant falling prices, so you can now find them in most serious cycling circles. Any good coach will suggest getting a power meter before upgrading your bike, (well, depending on the bike, I suppose). As you may have heard before, “You need to build the engine before you build the machine.” And, “What good is a Ferrari if it has a Smart ForTwo engine.”

Now there is a power meter for running. And get this: The price is lower than all current cycling power meters. When you also weigh the fact that cycling power meters have educated consumers about what training with power means, I’d say the running power meter is now on a faster trajectory than we saw with cycling power meters. They will soon be as common as HRMs are today. We can now figure out exactly how much energy we used running through rolling hills. To use an example of running with only a HRM, it is entirely possible to expend 400 watts climbing a 20 second hill hitting Zone 5, but it goes undetected since your heart rate only climbed 10 beats per minute. Thus, it may still look like you are in Zone 3; you won’t even know that you have burned a match. With the Stryd power meter, there is currently a delay of about 3 seconds, but they have talked about decreasing that soon. In the end, 3 seconds is enough to save a match and adjust without cause for concern.

Interestingly, the chest strap HRMs we grew up with are on the verge of becoming obsolete thanks to the spread of optical HRMs in wrist watches. Unfortunately, Stryd goes on your chest too, so it looks like we won’t be able to shake chest straps just yet. At least it does also collect heart rate data, so our silly fashion trend and the tan lines that come with it will be sticking around for a bit longer. I mean, if I had a dollar for every time I was at the track doing 800s and a sprinter asked me what I was wearing around my chest…

When Stryd was first brought to Kickstarter, it was advertised as a device that clipped to the back of your run shorts. I imagine it is hard to get heart rate data from that spot, which may be why they moved it to the chest strap. Needless to say, I look forward to the day that they bring it back… which is hopefully the same day the Garmin 930xt comes with an optical HRM.

Stryd is currently selling their power meter for $200. For a triathlete, this price point is almost a no-brainer. We are used to paying top dollar for equipment, so this feels like a bargain. Even the cheapest cycling power meters start around $450 but can easily reach four figures. Not a bad deal, folks!

The strap that comes in the Stryd box is sub-par. You cannot snap or hook it around your chest; it is always connected like a rubber band. Since you want this thing tight on your chest when you run, it is a bit of a hassle to squeeze into it. BUT, don’t worry, the Stryd works with the Garmin and other HRM chest straps! Problem solved, although more on this soon.

Keep in mind, they are still working through the software side of this. To view my running data with Stryd, I have to log the workout as a bike ride, since Garmin hasn’t yet unlocked the ability to display and record power data in the run screen. Also, in cycling, power meters do not have integrated heart rate data, so we’re waiting on Garmin and the other watch makers to open up the ability to view both power and heart rate in the run fields from one device. For now, you should consider running with TWO chest straps!

Captain Dork (Police Academy)
Police Academy, Captain Dork after wearing two chest straps.

When I first tested this outdoors, I was shocked by how many watts I was pushing at my easy pace. It was difficult to run slow enough to get my power to drop below 200  watts! On a bike, it is pretty easy, but rolling inertia on a bike is much different than stomping through a run. To make more sense of this, I performed a blood lactate test on myself, while on the treadmill. I started my test at a very low speed and increased my speed by 1/2 mph every 5 minutes until exhaustion. This helped confirm the reasonableness of the numbers I was reading and the two tests were consistent. The lab environment controlled for the speed and eliminated the weather and hills from the test. I was able to go below 200 at the lower speeds and my Lactate levels rose in a predictable manner.

I then used this device in an Aquathlon. At the race, there were a couple of Stryd employees also in attendance! Although this is not officially waterproof, they confirmed that I could wear the device during the swim. Although it was a 1 mile swim, I was not diving with it, so there were no issues bringing it into the water for this race. The 10k run that followed gave me an average wattage that was in line with what I would expect from the lactate test. Since an “Open 10K” is a good field test to help determine your lactate threshold, in my case preceded by a swim, it corroborated the existing lactate test.

The final claim that Stryd is selling us on is that this can help improve your run form. Although I’ve played with my run form while using the device, I haven’t been able to test it properly. Every time I look down at my watch, I cut off oxygen by bending my neck and my form suffers. The guys at Stryd have at least one video that shows how this can give you feedback on your running efficiency. When I did play with it, I was not able to see a 10% drop like they mentioned in the video, but again, I did not perform a proper test. Check out the video for their claim:

As expected with new technology, upcoming firmware updates will make it a little more accurate and accessible. In the meantime, I am still very comfortable relying on this data.

My verdict: If you only run treadmills or you avoid hills and bridges, then running with a heart rate monitor alone will work just fine. It is steady feedback without much variation, so the additional effort may not be worth the marginally more expensive price. If you run on hills, frequently change your pace, or just love data, Buy! This is not a gimmick. Run, don’t walk to get your Stryd Running Power Meter. (And by the way, walking does not currently register on the Stryd – just running. It senses when both feet are on the ground at the same time and doesn’t report feedback.)

Why Triathletes Need to Kick on the Swim

6 beat kick

I swim with a talented triathlete who is not a great swimmer.  Well, that’s half true; he always torches me when we do pull sets.  But throw the kick into the mix and the ball game has changed.  A familiar story, he comes from a running background and has learned through observation that triathlons are won on the run.  He noticed that the athletes who kick hard in the swim tend to be the same ones who he passes on the run, as they bonk out of the race.

As a previously self-coached athlete, I understand his logic.  In fact, I believed exactly that when I first started, so I experimented (miserably) with Total Immersion.  This athlete is not a newbie; in fact, I think we have been in the game for the same amount of time now.  Although the competitive side of me wants to race him head-to-head, we are in the same club and I really want him to reach his potential.  If he were to unleash his swim kick, I think he’ll find more success.

His kick looks something like this:  Very wide, little propulsion (only about a 2 beat kick), hips sink and little to no splashing.

Here are my problems with this:

1)  A wide kick is doing more harm than good.  If your leg pushes past your slip stream, then you incur unnecessary water resistance.  If you keep the kick tight, then you don’t have to work harder to push past the extra water you are now coming into contact with.  Look how much extra water (read: resistance) this swimmer comes in contact with:

photo (1)

 

2)  Kicking with the knee makes for a shorter lever to gain propulsion from.  I have seen people kick extremely hard from their knee, barely move forward and tire out quickly.  Kicking from the knee engages your hamstrings too much, as you pull your foot back hinged at the knee.  Using your hamstrings in the swim will surely wipe them out for the run.  With a mostly straight knee, you start your kick from the hip, tapping that to generates a lot more power and then you use a lever that is twice as long.  It’s like lifting something with a wheel barrel (kicking from hips) instead of lifting it with your hands/biceps (kicking from knees):

 

 

Versus

 

 

3)  The slow kick cadence causes there to be a dead spot in between arm pulls.  Every time there is a delay, your legs drop and it slows you down, taking more energy to get back up to speed with the next pull.  “An object in motion tends to stay in motion”, Sir Isaac Newton describing his Law of Inertia.  Kick faster (but smaller) to eliminate this dead spot and keep your motion going forward.  Use the six beat kick, or simply, the flutter kick, to bridge the dead spot gap and stay stream lined. The dead spot can be eliminated with a two beat kick, but practicing the flutter will train your neuromuscluar system on where your body position should be.

Balance:  Correcting these issues will help minimize your exposure to the oncoming water.  You will be in a better streamlined position, so minimizing the amount of drag you create will ease your work load.  Balance in the water often starts with the kick.  My favorite way to work on balance is by kicking with a snorkel.  My favorite method to work on the kick is with the snorkel.  Using a kickboard to do your kick-sets reinforces improper balance, so a snorkel kills two birds with one stone.  Good balance starts with the kick and makes pulling easier.

If you already have great balance without the kick, then you are fortunate.  That still does not give you the excuse to kick wide or kick exclusively from your knees.  But in a long course race, especially if you get the added buoyancy from a wetsuit and maybe some salt water, then there may be a race plan that includes holding back on the kick.  This usually does not mean the entire race will be executed with an easy kick.  There will be times when you’ll need to kick it into high gear to hang onto a draft or tactically maneuver past a turn buoy.  For this reason alone, you need to practice a proper kick.  It is better to practice a good kick so it’s there when you need it rather than ignore it altogether.  After all, perfect practice makes perfect.  For those of us with a run background living in Texas, where we swim in warm, saltless (and dirty) lakes, that goes without saying; we really need to stay on top of our kick.

This athlete is just fast when it comes to biking and running.  Since I also have a bike and run background, I can relate to the feeling of getting to T1 with the majority of the bikes already on the road.  I know what the uphill battle is like, always looking for the next competitor to pick off.  But if I want to get to the next level, I need to get out of the water with the lead or second lead pack.  My talented club mate; even more-so.  He’s even closer than me to the next level.  To do it, swim fitness is a huge part of the equation, but having the fitness will get you the gift of drafting with the top leaders.  Getting out of the water with them lets you draft off cyclists who are closer to your pace.  Rather than working through the field and jumping on an occasional draft before moving on to the next one, you are already with the big dogs.  Those in front of you are the ones who you are really racing against, so you can make better judgment calls and really race instead of just Time Trialing.  Finally, when you get off of the bike, you get to run with those who are fighting for the podium!  If you could not quite hold the bike pace, your chance at redemption is real, because you are that much closer to them.  By the time you approach the finish line, you know exactly where you stand.

Direct message to my friend:  I want you to succeed!  You already put in the time training, made significant sacrifices and battled back through crazy adversity.  Become a complete triathlete and nail down that kick!  At a minimum, practice it. When your race plan calls for it, you will have it in your tool box with confidence.  If you agree… and you are in a base period*… your next step is to purchase a snorkel and a swim band.

Happy swimming!
Tri Coach Mark
@ExclaimedMark

*In other words, don’t experiment too close to an A-race!

 
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