Saturday, May 28, 2016

Performance Metrics

The season is well underway and you have been following a regimented training program. You often wonder "How am I doing?" "Is suffering through the training doing anything?"

Aside from recording and tracking “personal bests” (your PR or personal records) on your standard routes, how can you monitor improvement over the season to assess the effectiveness of your training program and give you the numbers to decide if you are getting better or if changes should be considered.

Before we discuss specifics, I want to emphasize the importance of doing the testing in a way that maximizes the odds of obtaining reproducible results. That is why following PRs on a standard route is not an ideal metric as weather (especially wind) and traffic can have a significant impact on your results. Using an indoor trainer with the same bike and tires will minimize any effect of external and equipment variables from day to day. To maximize standardization, also consider:

  • doing the testing the same time of day – and with the same timing in relation to your last meal. 
  • keeping the same resistance (or gearing) on the trainer from session to session. 
  • keeping the room temperature constant. (A fan is often a helpful addition.) 
  • making note of the timing of the test in your training cycle. Make note of your self assessment of your fatigue level (from prior rides). And, for example, you may always want to to do the testing after a day off the bike. 
How you measure the results is important as well. A power meter will provide the most accurate and reproducible numbers, but a cycle computer (for speed) and heart rate monitor will work as well.

I. Maximum Power (anaerobic sprint effort, watts of power)

In this test you want to measure your maximum power – so it will be short to avoid a fatigue factor or limits from the build up of acidic byproducts in the muscles from a maximum anaerobic effort.

Six seconds of all out effort with resistance set at a point that will allow you to maximize your RPMs without changing gears. From a dead stop, standing, give it your all. Measure your peak watts or top speed achieved (which indirectly reflects power output) on your cycle computer.

  • Duration: six seconds 
  • Resistance (gearing) that you will not top out RPMs 
  • Metric: Peak watts or top speed on cyclocomputer
II. VO2max (maximal aerobic power)

In this test, you want to identify the maximal power you can maintain for many minutes i.e. an effort that is just at the edge of being anaerobic. In this test, if you start too fast (sprint speed), you will be working at an anaerobic pace, build up acidic metabolites, and in the end actually limit your maximum performance. The goal - produce the highest average wattage (or speed on your cyclocomputer) for the duration of the test.
  • Duration: 3 minutes
  • Resistance or gearing that you can maintain for the full 3 minutes (and will not need to downshift to an easier gear near the end.)
  • Metric: average power (or speed) over the entire 3 minutes (monitor splits to assure an even effort)
III. Lactate Threshold (maximal sustainable power)

In this test you will identify the maximum wattage (or speed) you can maintain for up to 1 hour (a time trial performance). Your speed can vary(slowly increase) but at the end of the 20 minutes you should feel you have given your all. It is probably the best measure of overall cycling fitness.

  • Duration: 20 minutes 
  • Resistance – can vary but occasionally, but best to pick a resistance you feel you can maintain for the entire 20 minutes (especially if you are using top speed as your metric). 
  • Metric: 0.95 x average power (speed) for 20 minutes = lactate threshold

As I run across other thoughts on performance metrics, I'll add them here, so consider adding your email to be notified when changes are made.