Triathlon Magazine Canada - - FEATURES - BY ADAM JOHN­STON

Mea­sur­ing an ath­lete’s power out­put on the bike is now com­mon­place amongst triath­letes and cy­clists. While there are a num­ber of test­ing meth­ods and pro­to­cols used to quan­tify and mon­i­tor an ath­lete’s fit­ness level, we’ve cov­ered three that span the spec­trum.

The Ramp Test

Coach Steve Neal and for­mer pro cy­clist An­drew Ran­dall who run the Cy­cling Gym in Toronto, de­signed a ramp test-based pro­to­col to de­ter­mine an ath­lete’s per­for­mance lim­iter.

The test has two parts. First, a tra­di­tional three-minute ramp test to fail­ure, start­ing at a low wattage. A low wattage start pro­vides the most ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion for each train­ing level pos­si­ble. The fol­low­ing data is col­lected: heart rate, res­pi­ra­tion fre­quency, res­pi­ra­tion ef­fi­ciency and mus­cle oxy­gen sat­u­ra­tion.

The sec­ond part of the test is a more grad­ual ramp test dur­ing which blood lac­tate, heart rate and mus­cle oxy­gen sat­u­ra­tion are mea­sured. The re­sult de­ter­mines op­ti­mal aer­o­bic func­tion which we call “lac­tate bal­ance point” (the point at which lac­tate is no longer be­ing cleared from the first ramp and starts to ac­cu­mu­late again). Lac­tate bal­ance point is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant to mid­dle- and long­course triath­letes as it de­ter­mines your race per­for­mance.

Once you know your lim­iter (and it’s dif­fer­ent for ev­ery­one), you can in­di­vid­u­al­ize your train­ing to get you to the next level.

Crit­i­cal Power Model

A well-es­tab­lished model called the Crit­i­cal Power Model has been ex­ten­sively used in nu­mer­ous sports to char­ac­ter­ize an in­di­vid­ual’s aer­o­bic (CP) and anaer­o­bic (W’) en­ergy sys­tem. The model can be used to pre­dict per­for­mances and pro­vide spe­cific train­ing in­ten­si­ties. Tra­di­tion­ally, sev­eral vary­ing ex­haus­tive tests are re­quired to es­ti­mate CP which can take up­wards of seven to 10 days, in­clud­ing re­cov­ery pe­ri­ods be­tween tests. At­tempts have thus been made to de­velop a sin­gle test pro­to­col to ad­dress this short­com­ing.

The 20-minute time trial is the stan­dard test in the cy­cling com­mu­nity that is used to de­ter­mine CP and train­ing zones. The 20-minute time trial av­er­age power is used to pre­dicted an ath­lete’s one-hour power (also known as func­tional thresh­old power, FTP). Once FTP has been set, an ath­lete can de­ter­mine their train­ing zones us­ing per­cent­ages of FTP. Agree­ment is not univer­sal, but the fol­low­ing guide­lines give an idea of the dif­fer­ent zones com­monly used in triathlon train­ing: Zone 1 < 60% FTP Zone 2 = 65 to 80% of FTP Zone 3 = 85 to 90% of FTP Zone 4 = FTP +/- 5% Zone 5 = 126 to 133% of FTP How­ever, CP de­rived from the 20-minute test ig­nores in­di­vid­ual vari­abil­ity and is sen­si­tive to poor test pac­ing strat­egy which re­duces the ac­cu­racy of CP.

An al­ter­na­tive pro­to­col is a three-minute all­out test and ad­dresses the short­com­ings of the above-men­tioned pro­to­cols while pro­duc­ing an ac­cu­rate es­ti­mate of CP. The test re­quires a max­i­mal ef­fort through the en­tire three min­utes and the av­er­age power out­put over the fi­nal 30 sec­onds that is used to iden­tify the in­di­vid­ual’s CP. Once CP has been de­ter­mined, an ath­lete can cal­cu­late their train­ing zones.

Dr. Ming-chang Tsai, re­search sci­en­tist in the fac­ulty of ki­ne­si­ol­ogy and phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion at the Univer­sity of Toronto and data an­a­lyst/sports sci­en­tist with the Cana­dian Sports In­sti­tute Pa­cific, has de­vel­oped an al­go­rithm to shorten the three-minute all-out test to as lit­tle as 1.5 to 2 min­utes and once the study is pub­lished, the al­go­rithm and pro­to­col could rev­o­lu­tion­ize cy­cling test­ing pro­to­cols.

The Blended Test

My com­pany, Wattsup Cy­cling, an in­door power-based cy­cling stu­dio in Toronto, in­te­grates two dif­fer­ent kinds of tests to yield power zones. The first part is a sub-max­i­mal ramp test where blood lac­tate val­ues are mea­sured ev­ery three min­utes. The ramp test is taken to just past one’s “lac­tate thresh­old” (ap­prox­i­mately equiv­a­lent to one’s one-hour max­i­mum sus­tain­able power). Af­ter a brief re­cov­ery, the sec­ond part of the test is a fiveminute all-out self-paced time trial. It is a com­bi­na­tion of the lac­tate val­ues and time trial re­sults that are used to es­tab­lish an ath­lete’s unique train­ing zones. The zones are there­fore based on both an ath­lete’s phys­i­ol­ogy and per­for­mance.

There is no one test that mea­sures all vari­ables of in­ter­est. Ev­ery test pro­to­col has its strengths and short­com­ings. The tests de­scribed above are some­what spe­cial­ized. Sim­pler tests are avail­able, ones that can be self-per­formed. What mat­ters from a prac­ti­cal per­spec­tive is how sim­ple the test is to ad­min­is­ter and how re­peat­able the test pro­to­col is. If you find a test that is sim­ple and re­peat­able, hold onto it. It’s more im­por­tant to be con­sis­tent so you can ac­cu­rately track your im­prove­ments.

Coach Adam John­ston owns Wattsup Cy­cling. in Toronto ( wattsup­cy­cling.ca).

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