Monday, August 29, 2011

Performance Testing

It seems like we've been taking them (tests) forever...doesn't it?  Tests in school, tests to operate a motor vehicle, tests at work, tests to become a coach, and even tests for athletes such as "performance tests". 

But, why do we test?  Testing provides measurement and objectivity to some of the elements of performance.  Those elements of performance (for cycling) being: speed, power, strength, endurance, skills, and even pain.  Yes...PAIN!  Sometimes, the winner of a particular race is determined by who says, "OUCH" last.  Testing provides feedback on training. i.e. is your training plan working?  Does your training plan need to be tweaked/optimized?  Testing provides a baseline. i.e. what is your power at the beginning of the season compared to the end of the season?  How does it compare from year to year?  How does it compare to other riders in your racing category?  Testing identifies strengths and weaknesses.  You train your weaknesses and race your strengths.  Testing identifies your capabilities..present and future.  i.e. if testing identifies you as "sprinter" you're probably NOT going to win any hill climbs now or in the future.  Sure, you can become a better "hill climber" but you'll never compete with the best of the hill climbers regardless of your training.  Why?  Because it's NOT in your physical makeup/genes.  Hey, don't blame me..blame your parents.  It's the same for you endurance guys that always come up to me and tell me that you want to be a "sprinter".  Sorry guys/gals, aint gonna happen.  Sure, training will make you better at sprinting, but you will NEVER be a "sprinter". Again, don't blame me (which I've had athletes do in the past)..blame your parents.

There are different forms of testing.  Laboratory testing- where the test is performed in a controlled (laboratory) environment with lab quality equipment under the watchful eye of a scientist/physiologist/doctor, Field testing- where the test is performed outside in the environment on the road/track (in the case of cycling) in the presence of a coach/physiologist and Competition testing- where the test is performed under race conditions at the race venue with other athletes.  Each of these forms of testing has their advantages/disadvantages.  Of the three, I prefer laboratory testing for one reason only (no not because I'm an engineer/scientist) and that is "repeatability".  In a laboratory setting you can control all of the environmental factors that normally affect performance outdoors such as the weather, road conditions, etc.  It's this "repeatability" that is so important when gauging or measuring performance..especially if you want to determine whether you're getting stronger/faster.  The only true disadvantage of laboratory testing, in my opinion, is 'competition' conditions.  i.e. the fans/support, your adrenaline rush, the will to push on when your mind/body tells you to give up, other riders, etc.  That's why it's important to have someone (a coach, a friend, a tester, etc.) cheer you on when you're performing a laboratory test.  You need to re-create that race day excitement/adrenaline rush.

Ok, now that I've identified a need to test lets discuss where you should test, what to test and when to test.   I already told you where you should test..and that's in a laboratory.  Additionally, you want to ensure that the lab (or test facility) has "laboratory quality" equipment.  Laboratory quality equipment will ensure that "repeatability" is maintained from test-to-test.  I only use Computrainer Lab quality ergometers/trainers when performing tests.  In the past, I've performed tests in my "finished" basement.  It's not the best place..but then again, it's better than some commercial facilities I've seen.  It has good lighting, a commercial-grade fan (which is VERY important), awesome stereo, awesome computer and software for data collection, excellent video projection system, clean/dry, etc.  What to test?  There are three tests that pretty much give me all the rider/athlete information I need as a coach: 1) a Functional Threshold Power (FTP) test, 2) a 5 minute test and 3) a 1 minute test.    The FTP test will give me a good idea of the athltetes Lactate Threshold power.  The 5 minute test will give me a good idea of the athletes VO2max and the 1 minute test will give me a good idea of the athletes Anaerobic Capacity.  These are three good physiological benchmarks for gauging/predicting performance for anything from a 1 minute sprint to an hour Time Trial.  I like to test FTP one day and the 1 and 5 minute test another day...usually the end of the same week.  When to test?  For cyclists, including myself, I like to test 4x/year...every quarter (3 mos.).  I like to test the beginning of November (at the start of the annual training plan), the beginning of February (mid training season), the beginning of May (road race season) and mid-August (end of road race season).

Lastly, and most importantly, you need to have someone who knows what they're doing "analyze" the test data and make sense of it for you.  It sounds easy enough to go out and purcahse a trainer and do your own testing in your garage/basement and draw your own conclusions..but trust me, it's not that easy.  It's because there are so many variables.  Like what?  Like the time of year, the day you test, the time you test, the test conditions (heat/humidity), your stress levels, your weight, your nutrition, your bike setup, your test equipment, your hydration level, your conditioning, your attitude, your motivation level, your fitness level, your fatigue level, your warm-up, etc.  Any one of these variables can affect your test results.  Even if I'm not performing your test, make sure the person that does is a USA Cycling Power Based Coach.  They are the only ones that are smart enough, in my opinion, to make some sense of your (power) test data and give you advice for putting together a solid annual training plan that will improve your weaknesses and make you a faster/stronger rider.  BTW, good luck with that, the last time I checked I was the only USA Cycling Power Based Cycling Coach in Pennsylvania.  There is one in New Jersey though..she attended the same Power Based Coaching clinic in Atlanta, GA that I did...years ago.  She draws blood though..and charges more.

If you're interested in being tested, and you live near me (Doylestown, PA), stay tuned to this blog because I'm looking at finding a "better" space/place (than my finished basement) to perform Performance Testing.  I've already got a good lead.  When I say "better" I'm talking more accessible to the rider/athlete with a locker room.   Pricing will remain the same as previous years, $75 for non-coached athletes and $50 for coached athletes.  I've been talking to a couple local fitness center owners and I'm sure one of them will allow me use of their facility a couple weekends out of the year in: November, February, May and August.

One last thing, although I call inside testing "laboratory testing" I don't draw blood and use a blood lactate analyzer for determining Lacate Threshold nor do I use any fancy/expensive oxygen breathing machines for VO2max testing.  It's not that I don't have the $$ to purchase these devices..I just don't believe they are necessary for acquiring accurate test data and for repeatability.  Besides, I like to keep it simple and keep the test costs passed on to the athlete to a minimum.

Power ON!  Coach Rob

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