In the modern cycling world data is becoming ever present in the lives of many riders. Accessibility to computers such as Garmin and mobile apps, coupled with heart rate monitors and power meters, are giving more and more metrics for riders to monitor both during and post-ride. But, how many of us really know how to make the most of all these figures and utilise them to ensure we can get the most out of our training?
At first glance this can all just seem like yet more numbers on the screen in front of you whilst riding; interesting to watch it change, but of no real use. In fact many riders will only give it a cursory glance when riding out of curiosity and never take it much further than that. Considering the amount of money poured into getting access to all of this data through purchasing the meters and head units this is a travesty! Utilised correctly information gathered from these devices can be incredibly beneficial in monitoring progress over a period of time and for helping training to have the desired effects when building towards specific goals.
This is where performance testing comes into play. Without testing it is very difficult to have any context to the numbers on your screen. You need to have some sort of benchmark for figures that you are able to attain so that you can appreciate what your computer is telling you whilst on the road. This enables you to aim for specific outputs during sessions and to be able to make your training as efficient as possible.
Testing can take place in many different forms, and there are certainly pros and cons for each. Probably the most commonly performed test by cyclists would be the “20 minute test” to calculate a FTP (see glossary below). This test is essentially just what it says in the name, riding for 20 minutes at a consistent output to see what you are capable of holding for that period of time. However, whilst this can certainly be a useful test to monitor progress when riding it is almost inherently biased. To complete the test you need to know the power figure you are starting out is something that you will be able to hold for the whole 20 minutes. If you cannot maintain what you have set off at and there is too much variation of the output over the 20 minutes the average you take from it is not especially accurate or useful. Likewise if you set off too easy and find you have loads left in the tank at the end of the test your FTP calculate will be far below what you are capable of.
An alternative method of testing to the 20 minute test is to use a ramp test. This is the preferred method at Pain Free Power as it involves far less influence through perceived exertion of the rider whilst undertaking the test. Ramp tests are done on either a stationary bike or on a controllable smart turbo trainer which reduces variables by allowing the rider to be in their normal riding position. The rider then rides normally on the trainer with the resistance of the unit being increased incrementally every 2 or 3 minutes. During the test certain physiological responses can be recorded against the power output, such as blood lactate concentration and heart rate. These metrics are then used to determine the end of the test, either once certain physiological responses reach unsafe levels, or until rider failure (can no longer pedal). The metrics measured during the test can then be used to work out figures such as LTP, FTP and MAP and then taken further to give personalised training zones.
These zones are then what are utilised during riding to make training as efficient as possible. Knowing how your body is reacting to given outputs allows you to induce desired outcomes during training and help you to focus on areas you wish to improve upon to match your desired goals. So the figures on your screen will no longer be meaningless values! The zones calculated can be either using heart rate or power, so for those of you who have not made the jump to training with power yet, testing is still a useful process.
If you would like more information on the fitting procedures we perform at Pain Free Power and how we can help you to get the most out of your training please don’t hesitate to get in touch. We’ll look forward to hearing from you and helping you become the best cyclist you can be!
Glossary – Definitions of some terms you may come across in your research on testing and training. We have not gone into all of these in detail during this blog but all can be useful metrics when training. If you have any questions on these or other terms please don’t hesitate to get in touch!
FTP – Functional Threshold Power – the maximum power which you can maintain over a one hour ride. Often approximated as 95% of your 20 minute test output.
LTP – Lactate Threshold Power – Lactate threshold is commonly known as the exercise intensity or blood lactate concentration at the one we can only sustain a high intensity effort for a specific period of time. Although time duration and blood lactate concentration are often disputed, a concentration of 4.0mmol/L is commonly used.
MAP – Maximal Aerobic Power – the power output during highest peak oxygen uptake that an individual can obtain during dynamic exercise using large muscle groups during a few minutes performed under normal conditions at sea level.
VO2 Max – the maximum rate at which the heart, lungs, and muscles can effectively use oxygen during exercise, used as a way of measuring a person’s individual aerobic capacity.
CP – Critical Power – The highest average power you can hold for a particular period of time, where the time value in minutes will follows the letter CP. For example CP60 is the highest average power you can sustain for 60 minutes (essentially the same as FTP) and CP20 would be the highest average power you could sustain for 20 minutes. Figures of CP1, CP5, CP20, CP60, CP120 and CP360 are the most frequently used varieties.