Keeping track of your fitness is a crucial factor in ensuring you are going to perform well next season and is a great motivator. It can also help you to identify if your progress starts to tail off so you can change your training programme accordingly to keep the improvements coming. Winter is a great time to do your first test as it will help you set your winter training and a second test in spring will help you to assess how well it worked.
Three suggested ways to track your progress are:
1. Sports lab test
This method is the most accurate and detailed, but also the most expensive. Visiting a sports lab can give you a huge range of feedback. At the most basic level it can provide you with the power and heart rate data required to accurately calculate your training zones. A more detailed test can also analyse other important factors including your pedal stroke efficiency, your body fat, your resting metabolic rate and your body’s fuel efficiency. If you are really serious about your training, an in-depth sports test will help you to set your training and identify areas of weakness that need work.
2. Functional threshold test
One value that a sports test will provide is your functional threshold – a measure of the hardest possible effort you can hold continuously for an hour, usually expressed as power output, speed and heart rate. Functional threshold is widely accepted as one of the best measures of aerobic fitness. The more power (and speed) you can produce at functional threshold, the faster you’ll be able to go at almost every other effort level. You can test functional threshold at home using a turbo trainer, a heart rate monitor and ideally a power meter. Warm up for 15 minutes, then set your HRM or power meter to record and ride for 30 minutes as hard as you possibly can. Make a note of the average heart rate or watts. 90% of that average should be pretty close to your functional threshold. Warm down for a further 15 minutes.
3. Self test time-trial
This method is the most simple but also the most open to error as results can be skewed by weather conditions. Create a course of around 30 minutes’ riding that has only left hand bends and no traffic lights or other road hazards that might interrupt your effort. Warm up for 15-20 minutes and then ride your chosen course hard, keeping as near to race pace as possible. Record whatever data you can – even just recording time will help you as you can see it reduce as fitness improves. Ideally record heart rate too, so you can compare time (and speed if you have mapped course distance) with effort levels. A lower heart rate for the same time/speed will suggest an improvement in fitness.