So, am I getting better coach?
Well coach knows the answer already but how do you really tell? Well with a power meter, it isn't difficult to work out. Aside from actual race performances, the best guides are performance tests. These come in various shapes and sizes and generally follow a consistent protocol so that results can be compared over time. I have already described one such test I've done a number of times - the 16km (10 mile) Time Trial, which gives a really good marker of changes in aerobic fitness. See post here for an example.
Maximal Aerobic Power (MAP) is another such performance marker and can be determined with consistency through performing an incremental test to exhaustion. There are a number of protocols for these tests but they all have a common theme, i.e. you ride in such a manner where resistance (power) is continually increased until you can no longer continue. It's a bit brutal (and should only be attempted by healthy subjects) but all up it's pretty quick (less than 15 minutes).
The MAP testing protocol we use at RST is the same as used by British Cycling - and involves riding on a stationary ergometer or indoor trainer, beginning with a resistance at the lower end of endurance training levels and then increasing the resistance by 15, 20 or 25 watts per minute until you can no longer continue to sustain the power.
Different categories of athletes should use a different starting power and different incremental rate of increase in power. Where possible, the rate should be gradual, rather than in large steps of 20 or 25W/min.
Elite athletes (e.g. Cat 1 to Professional level) should use 20W/min
Non-elite men use 25W/min, and
Women use 15W/min.
The outcome we are looking for is the mean maximal power output for 1 minute, which (assuming the resistance is continually increasing) should be the average power for the final minute of the test prior to failure.
How do you do a MAP Test?
Firstly it is very important that you are healthy and reasonably fit to perform such a test. These are maximal efforts and so you should always consult your physician/doctor if in any doubt about your suitability for such testing, and most definitely if you haven't exercised for over two years, are or have been a smoker, are significantly overweight and/or are over 35 years old. Never perform a MAP test if you are ill or have been ill in recent weeks.
It helps to have an ergo trainer and a powermeter. At worst a flat road ending with a hill climb can also mimic the circumstances needed.
I perform tests by fitting the bike to a Computrainer. This is ideal as the Computrainer allows for programmable resistance increments, so it takes care of the increase in resistance for you and all you need do is focus on pedaling. But an indoor trainer where you control your own power output by watching the power meter display is certainly good enough.
It might also help to have a buddy to help keep you on track, call out the next power level and to encourage you when it gets hard. And of course, make sure you are recording the test with your power meter.
The test is relentless and you go until failure (i.e. no longer able to increase the power). You really need to try as hard as you possibly can. There ain't much more to it. I then use the data recorded by the power meter and Cycling Peaks' WKO+ software to analyse the results.
So what does a test result look like?
Well here's a picture of the result of a MAP test I've done (click on pic to see a bigger version):
- Average Cadence for the test (green dashes) and
- My Functional Threshold Power (yellow dashes).
These are simply there to provide a visual reference point for the real test data.
The three jagged lines are:
- Power (yellow)
- Heart Rate (red)
- Cadence (green)
So we can see the power gradually increasing until failure. Note the mean maximal 1-minute power of 399 Watts. Darn. I was hoping I'd crack 400 this time. Never mind, there is still room for improvement there.
Heart rate is also shown for reference. A couple of spikes in the line which are likely just erroneous data. I don't use heart rate much as a guide but you should expect to see HR approaching maximum during or just after ending a test like this.
So what does it all mean?
Firstly, using this protocol, we are able to set and adjust training levels from recovery right through to anaerobic capacity efforts.
The training levels are as follows:
These can be used to help guide training efforts.
Secondly, we can measure whether training is actually improving performance.
Shown above are the results of my MAP tests over a period of a few months. As we can see, a 38 Watt improvement in my MAP - a little over 10% increase (and a 13% increase in terms of power to weight ratio).
So if you have a power meter and a trainer (especially one with a programmable resistance) then you have the perfect set up to test your own progress.
So what are you waiting for?