Are you testing your baseline capacity of different energy systems before commencing a new training year?
If your answer is “no”, then you may miss out on information that could have greatly benefited your training.
What is this information am I referring to? Let me turn the question upside down.
If you do not test your baseline capacity:
- How do you know if your are getting stronger?
- How do you know your strengths and weaknesses?
- How do you know what training methods to emphasize?
- How do you know which physiological properties are adapting, and which are at a standstill?
Performing a battery of baseline tests will provide you with objective data that will increase in value as your training year(s) move along.
Which properties should you be testing?
At the very least, I would suggest you test the energy systems (e.g. duration of efforts) involved in your racing goal.
For most riders, this will involve some kind of:
- VO2 max test (aerobic system, short effort duration)
- anaerobic threshold test (aerobic system, longer effort duration)
- submaximal test (aerobic system, even longer effort duration)
If deemed relevant, you may also want to add a couple of sprint and anaerobic capacity tests.
Today, you can cover the vast majority of capacity testing with a simple power meter. Furthermore, capacity tests are great training sessions, both physically and mentally.
With the insight you stand to gain, there really is no reason not to put your power meter to good use with a set of baseline capacity tests.
When should you do your testing?
Maximal effort capacity tests can indeed be executed with little or no training base.
Health care systems and scientists VO2 max test sedentary patients with zero training base.
I find that capacity tests provide more useful information when you have at least a few weeks of training and a handful of intervals under your belt.
Your first couple of training weeks usually induce rapid changes to your performance. As such, you may find yourself better prepared for performing a strong test execution after a couple of weeks compared to at week zero.
Furthermore, if you want to use your testing to evaluate the effect of your training regime, it makes sense to first eliminate the initial “free” progress that would occur with any training off an unfit starting point.
My baseline tests and results
The last two weeks I have completed the first half of my baseline tests.
To provide some background – September and October involved complete training cessation, followed by three weeks of training. These included one 20 hour week of cycling in Gran Canaria.
Over the last weeks I have performed:
- A 40 minute FTP test
- A lactate profile test
- A VO2 max test
- A submaximal time to exhaustion test
- A 5 min maximal power test
A detailed description of tests and results are included below.
Capacity tests | FTP40
The 40 minute FTP test is straight forward – go as hard as you can for 40 minutes. Your average power is considered your functional threshold power (FTP40).
It goes without saying that your average power over 40 minutes will be somewhat higher than over 60 minutes.
However, I would claim that this difference is minor. In fact, so small that it probably will not impact your training intensity zones significantly.
During all tests I used my Garmin Vector 3 pedals. My 40 min average power was 305W.
As seen in the above graph, I probably started a bit too cautiously the first four minutes before nailing my pacing the final 36 minutes.
At the 37 minute mark, leg cramps set in, which spoilt the final “sprint” to the finish. However, I was able to maintain my power for the last three minutes without suffering significant power drops.
All in all, I am very happy with the test execution – fairly good pacing and I could have hardly been more tired at the end.
Lactate profile test
Last week I was also fortunate to partake in a pilot study at the Norwegian School of Sport Science.
First up was a lactate profile test.
The test with cycling at 200W, increasing by 25W every 5 minutes. At the end of each 5 minute period, blood lactate was measured.
Anaerobic threshold was defined by a blood lactate level of 2,1 mmol/L higher than my initial sample. I started out with a high first sample of 2,5 mmol/L, with the second sample dropping to 2,4.
The third sample after 5 min at 275W read 3,6 – still well below AT. During the next five minutes at 300W I passed my anaerobic threshold mark and registered a lactate of 5,1 mmol/L.
This puts my anaerobic threshold between 275 and 300W, probably closer to the latter.
This correlates well with the results from my 40 min test, although being somewhat lower.
Interestingly, my Garmin pedals (used during both tests) showed 0-10W higher power output than the Lode excalibur sport bike at the lab. Which according to lead scientist Ove Sollie costs about 30 times more than my Garmin pedals. In light of that, a 0-10W difference is rather acceptable.
In summary, I concluded that my FTP40 and lactate profile tests seem to agree very well.
VO2 max test
The VO2 max test is a 6-10 minute test where you measure inhaled and exhaled levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide at maximal effort.
I started out at 250W with the power increasing by 25W every 60 seconds. The aim was to keep going until I could no longer maintain a cadence of 60 RPM.
I got to 60 seconds at 450W before yielding, measuring a peak value of 61 ml/kg/min (and a blood lactate of 12,9).
Submaximal time to exhaustion
Following the VO2 max test it was time for a submaximal time to exhaustion test.
This involved riding at a constant power output corresponding to 70% of my VO2 max. In my case this equated to 262W and approximately 87% of FTP.
The test would go on until exhaustion, with a 5 minute break every 20 minutes. Throughout the entire session I ingested nothing but water. As such, my glycogen store were already far from topped off.
I was feeling fairly strong up until the 45 minute mark, before my cadence took a nose dive. I lasted a total of 53 minutes until I could no longer maintain a cadence above 60 RPM.
5 minute power
One week later I performed a simpe 5 minute power test.
This is essentially the 5 minute “all-out” part of the Allen & Coggan warm-up to the FTP test. I simply executed a 5 minute maximal effort within an easy 60 minute endurance session.
Results are in
My results at a glance looks as follows:
- FTP40: 305W
- 5 min power: 403W
- Lactate profile test AT: approx. 295W
- VO2 max: 61 ml/kg/min
- Watt max: 450 W
- TTE 70% VO2 max: 53 min
Height 191 cm. Weight 86,9 kg.
What did I learn from my baseline tests?
1 | First and foremost – if I am to achieve the performance I want come August 2020, I need to get my act together.
My baseline testing, in particular my VO2 max test was a wake up call.
61 ml/min/kg is by no means an impressive measurement in competitive amateur cycling.
I could cut myself some slack due to my 191 cm. With that build, I will never become a lightweight. I could point to the fact that this test was off a near unfit baseline. And that the backdrop for this test is 15 years of very sporadic and infrequent training.
Nevertheless, those excuses will be of zero help in the French Alps.
I would love to get my VO2 max to a level of 70 ml/kg/min. Which is a tall order in 8 months. Frankly, I deem the chances of achieving this level small (in such short time).
Nevertheless, I will give it a shot and see how close I can get.
2 | Better power than power to weight ratio
On the bright side, my absolute power values are acceptable. A 40 min power average of 305W and a Wmax (final 60 sec of VO2 max test) of 450W isn’t too shabby off 3 weeks of training.
I expect to be able to push these values significantly upwards with solid training.
Another “positive” is that my body weight is currently a fair few kilograms above my average body weight. And even more kilos above my weight when properly fit.
I expect to easily drop 5 kilograms by simply cutting junk food and eating lots of proper food – without resorting to any form of caloric restriction.
3 | A need for enhanced muscular endurance
I already knew from my previous cycling experiences that I am lacking in the muscular endurance department.
My former endurance training (biathlon) still provides me with a certain maximal aerobic capacity. However, my specific muscular endurance in cycling is rather poor.
Which means I run out of steam sooner than I would like when working at lower intensities.
In this regard, training volume will be a key factor. As well as a certain aspects of muscular endurance work during spring and summer.
Can’t wait to get started
More than anything, my capacity tests has left me super motivated to get started.
That in itself makes the testing worthwhile.
The next week I will continue testing with a few self-made power based tests, so that I can contrast these results to the findings from the VO2 max and lactate profile tests.
I’ll keep you posted on the progress.