Train­ing Tips

Two meth­ods of gaug­ing how much stronger you’ve be­come

Canadian Cycling Magazine - - CONTENTS - by An­drew Ran­dell and Steve Neal of The Cycling Gym

Am I get­ting bet­ter on the bike?

“You can imag­ine how this leg-burn­ing work­out is a ‘favourite.’”

If you are putting in six to 12 hours a week on the bike, a sig­nif­i­cant com­mit­ment away from fam­ily and friends, you want to see im­prove­ments and know that your time has been well spent. So, how do you know that you are get­ting bet­ter?

The MAP test

Most of the time, when rid­ers talk about get­ting bet­ter on the bike, they re­fer to a bet­ter VO2 max, your body’s abil­ity to use as much oxy­gen as it can, or a higher peak power. These are ways of look­ing at the changes that come with train­ing. At our gym, we reg­u­larly use a step test through­out the year to see how peo­ple are do­ing and if they are im­prov­ing. With the test’s fo­cus on mea­sur­ing max­i­mal aer­o­bic power out­put, you can imag­ine how this leg-burn­ing work­out is a “favourite." It starts at an easy wattage and in­creases 20 or 25 watts ev­ery three min­utes un­til the rider reaches fail­ure. We mea­sure max­i­mal aer­o­bic power (map), the one-minute max power a rider sus­tain in the test. We want to see if the rider is able to go a step fur­ther or push more watts at the top of the test com­pared with the pre­vi­ous test. But what does a bet­ter map test mean? More high-end power? Well, not nec­es­sar­ily. An im­proved map can some­times be an in­di­ca­tion that your aer­o­bic sys­tem – the oxy­gen-and-fat­burn­ing pro­cesses that your body uses at eas­ier ef­forts – is ac­tu­ally bet­ter. With the bet­ter aer­o­bic sys­tem, work­ing your way up the ramp of the map test be­comes been less tax­ing. It also saves your legs more so that you can do bet­ter at the top of the test. We of­ten see rid­ers im­prove their map without ever train­ing there their top-end power.

Power and heart rate

Look­ing at your aer­o­bic sys­tem is where things can re­ally get in­ter­est­ing when search­ing for im­prove­ment. To an­a­lyze this sys­tem, we use both power and heart-rate met­rics. (If you don’t have a power me­ter, see ‘No Power, No Prob­lem.’) When us­ing both power and heart-rate train­ing zones, many rid­ers will find that their zones don’t match up. For in­stance, when a rider is push­ing tempo wattage (an ef­fort that is a lit­tle too hard for car­ry­ing on a con­ver­sa­tion) for a longer ef­fort, of­ten heart rate in­creases. It can climb to thresh­old lev­els and even as high as the VO2 heart-rate zone. Ideally, you want to be able to ride in a set power zone, such as tempo, and have the heart rate stay in the same, as­so­ci­ated zone.

This cor­re­la­tion be­tween power and heart rate is a very good way of gaug­ing im­prove­ment. We of­ten have rid­ers come to the gym and try a tempo work­out. They quickly find that they can’t push their tempo wattage without their heart rate spik­ing into higher train­ing zones. We ad­vo­cate train­ing by heart rate, so they back off the power and ride in the tempo heartrate zone. Over time though, they get bet­ter and are then able to hold their tempo power longer be­fore the heart rate starts to rise. Be­ing able to hold your power steady for an ex­tended pe­riod of time and have your heart rate re­main sta­ble in­di­cates a big im­prove­ment in your fit­ness. Think of this sit­u­a­tion ap­plied to climb­ing. You can keep your pace steady without hav­ing to back off. When you are fit, your heart rate won’t climb as you go up, al­low­ing you to put in a bet­ter ef­fort along the in­cline.

When search­ing for im­prove­ments in your fit­ness, you can look at both your top-end abil­ity re­vealed by the map test and aer­o­bic fit­ness. In fact, you want to keep an eye on both el­e­ments. You’ve at­tained real fit­ness when map and aer­o­bic fit­ness are in bal­ance.

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