Have you been performance tested? If you've yet to take this step, the offseason is a perfect time to start—or to compare your current fitness to a prior baseline.
Every test tells us something important about each athlete, their strengths and flat spots, and, most importantly, about their objective fitness status. It gives the athlete and the coach a clear picture of what to work on next—and when compared to a previous test, it shows how well the training program is working to help them achieve their specific goals.
After hundreds of performance tests (usually lactate threshold) on the various athletes I have worked with over the years, the value of this information to improve performance is clear.
There are athletes I test only once, and athletes I test multiple times per year. Everyone I've ever tested comes away from the test feeling like they got new valuable insights they can act on. Unfortunately I find the general cycling community, and even the bike racing community, do not really understand what performance testing is, and more importantly, what it can do to help improve their cycling. Let's explore, in the most straightforward terms, those two questions.
What is Performance Testing?
While there are performance tests for most every sport, I will only cover cycling performance testing. For cycling, the names of the most common and useful tests are: Conconi, Lactate Threshold, and VO2 Max. Although there are many ways to perform these tests, in general, the tester sets up the cyclist's own bike on a special trainer (Computrainer), and the intensity the cyclist exerts (wattage) is controlled by the tester.
The tests are called "ramped step tests" which means that when you start the test, it's easy to turn the pedals, and it gets progressively harder through the test. After warming up, most of these tests take less than 30 minutes to complete.
The difference between these tests is simple: they each measure a different response of the body. In the Conconi, heart rate is measured; for the Lactate Threshold test, both HR and blood lactate are measured; for the VO2 max, heart rate and oxygen uptake and utilization are measured.
Once measured, each of these metrics—heart rate, lactate, oxygen—can be compared to a reference sample. For example, to the general population, or to Cat 3s—or, best of all, compared to your previous performance on that same test. And now, we can start to discuss the most important question: what is in it for you?
More: Improve Your VO2 Max