Home Cycling Tips 2: what test to evaluate power?

One thing is true for cycling and for other outdoor sports practiced during the summer: choosing the kind of training to undergo during the winter is essential both to maintain the general condition and to effectively improve some skills.

Defining an effective plan that’s designed according to your level of performance is crucial to success. Therefore, the first necessary step to start planning would be to define and measure that level, and we need clear indicators for that. The parameter that best identifies the performance of a cyclist is represented by the anaerobic threshold value. The anaerobic threshold is in fact a key performance indicator of your cardiovascular efficiency: to cover any gap, a good programme should be organised in progressive sessions that build from such value (and that’s exactly what the TNT does, to name one).

Cardiovascular efficiency is not everything, though: before defining a training plan, it is essential to check the fitness level and, in the case of indoor training, the best solution comes from measuring power in watts.

With a series of tests, in fact, it is possible to quantitatively evaluate some expressions of power (e.g. maximum power, threshold power) in order to identify intensity reference bands, making it possible to define training sessions capable of optimizing pedalling, and therefore effectiveness in the race, improving weak points and outlining the program for your speciality of choice.

Cardiovascular efficiency is not everything, though: before defining a training plan, it is essential to check the fitness level and, in the case of indoor training, the best solution comes from measuring power in watts.

With a series of tests, in fact, it is possible to quantitatively evaluate some expressions of power (e.g. maximum power, threshold power) in order to identify intensity reference bands, making it possible to define training sessions capable of optimizing pedalling, and therefore effectiveness in the race, improving weak points and outlining the program for your speciality of choice.

A power meter is the necessary tool to measure power, and it can be mounted on your bike when training outdoors or using a proper smart trainer like MYCYCLING for indoor sessions.

An innovative solution for enjoying the indoor experience of cycling training is represented by SKILLBIKE, designed to live at home the same experience of pedaling on the road.

There are no "absolute" interpretations of the values obtained, as they must be analysed according to sport or competition

A great advantage of the power meter is the ability to accurately assess the progress of physical fitness. It can evaluate improvements in the anaerobic threshold, as well as progress in the anaerobic capacity or maximum power, thus being able to make the appropriate changes to the training plan. Analysing your history empowers you to set realistic goals and understand when to take a break to avoid overtraining.

Evaluation tests

The power meter training methodology has been developed in a very broad way.Several parameters are considered when defining an athlete's training plan. If the whole process revolves around a single figure, the ‘Threshold Power’, there are other indicators too. Let’s mention them quickly.

FTP

The acronym FTP, proposed in the early 2000s by Dr. Andrew Coggan, a sports physiologist, means 'Functional Threshold Power', that is: the power an athlete can deliver pedalling for an hour at the maximum possible intensity.

To identify the FTP it is therefore necessary to push to maximum capacity for one hour, which is the equivalent of covering the longest possible distance or keeping the highest average speed. It is a hard and even complicated test to be carried out on the road, not only because of the conditions of the route but also because the average athlete will hardly be able to sustain such a demanding rhythm for a long time, with the risk of finishing the test holding a reserve of energy, or running out of it before the end. For this reason, Coggan has developed a simplified protocol, reducing the maximum effort phase to only 20 minutes between the warm-up, preparation and fatigue, provides. Performing the 20-minute test with a power meter enables to consequently calculate the average power that you would be able to sustain for one hour.

The evaluation of the FTP is based on express mechanical power data, called 'external load' in jargon, and does not require heart rate monitoring, which is instead an 'internal load'. Our scientific department, in collaboration with the University of the Foro Italico in Rome, has developed a modified protocol called Technogym FTP test. While the total duration is kept within 20 minutes, only the last 4 are performed at 100% of capacity, with the first 16 being performed at sub-maximal intensity. This test has been included in the MYCYCLING App and in the SKILLBIKE consolle, with the aim of providing the opportunity to test independently and, above all, several times during the season.

The lactate test

This test is another methodology that’s widely used by elite athletes to measure in general the fitness level of an athlete and specifically the threshold power.

It involves the performance of an incremental test, consisting of several steps lasting a few minutes, at the end of which the doctor or coach takes a drop of blood from the ear lobe and analyses the concentration of lactate. The blood lactate concentration increases with the increase in the expressed power. Calculations can determine when the lactate concentration increases beyond the 'threshold' level, predisposing to a rapid onset of muscle fatigue. It must be noted it is not the lactate itself causing fatigue: on the contrary, the lactate is metabolized to produce energy; the production of lactate, however, is correlated with biochemical phenomena that occur within the muscle and that determine a decrease in performance.

The test is aimed at identifying with the utmost precision the pedalling power at which the different training intensities can be set: long distance, medium distance, anaerobic threshold. The threshold test therefore allows you to draw a graph with heart rate and blood lactate being a function of the expressed speed or power.

Interpretation: there are no "absolute" interpretations of the values obtained, as they must be analysed according to the single sport or competition.

Usually two thresholds are defined, corresponding to two heart rate and power output values: the aerobic threshold or lactate threshold, typical of fast but not extreme gaits, typical of the Gran Fondo, and the anaerobic threshold, which corresponds to a much more challenging intensity, beyond which the lactate concentration increases rapidly to the point where you are forced to decrease the pace.
To make a few examples, our organism must be trained differently if the goal is a long-distance race or a 50 km race. In addition, the data obtained must also be "read" according to the level of the athlete: an experienced cyclist will cover a middle distance race at speeds that correspond to those of the anaerobic threshold, while an amateur or beginner will have to choose their speed between the ‘tempo’ and ‘high tempo’ intensities, thus lower than the threshold speed.

 VO2 Max test

The VO2 max represents the displacement of an athlete, how much oxygen he can consume in a minute.

The precise measurement of VO2 max is done in the laboratory using cardiopulmonary equipment that can detect the actual consumption of oxygen under exercise stress. It is a fundamental parameter for an endurance athlete, and it is true that all good athletes show high values of maximum oxygen consumption. It must be said, however, that the cyclist who wins the Giro D'Italia is not the one who has the highest oxygen consumption but the one who manages to pedal for long periods at percentages very close to the maximum oxygen consumption. Essentially, the one with the highest anaerobic threshold.

To be ride faster you need to have a high VO2 Max and the anaerobic threshold as close as possible to this value.

The power/cadence test

The power/cadence test is used to identify the relationship between power and pedalling cadence. What gets determined is the maximum power peak and the pedalling cadence such peak is reached at. Consequentially we draw the curve that expresses power trend as a function of cadence. This test also verifies neuromuscular coordination, a crucial quality for performance when increasing cadence. The result will then guide the scheduling of training plans, to better adapt the power distribution according to the single speciality you wish to improve in.
The test, which involves short maximal tests using ratios of different lengths and different pedal frequencies, is a complex one, and must be performed with a coach.

The Wingate Test

This test is used to evaluate two important parameters of the cyclist: the maximum achievable power or peak power and the anaerobic power lactacid, basically the average power that you can maintain before the accumulation of lactic acid in the muscle determines the rapid onset of muscle fatigue.

The protocol is very simple: it lasts 30" and it requires you to push to the maximum from the beginning, without retaining forces thinking about the duration of the test. What gets evaluated here is the peak power achieved in the first 5 seconds, the decrease from the previous peak to the end of the test, and the average power.

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