Sunday, August 30, 2009

Testing is Training....

One of the Pithy Power Proverbs is "Training is testing, testing is training." by Andy Coggan. It's really a way of saying that one shouldn't be afraid of "mucking up their training" in order to schedule a performance test, since by their very nature, tests are very high quality training efforts anyway.

Many think that one needs to taper or rest up significantly for such tests and that's what "mucks up your training". Well yes and no. A lot depends on where you are at in your training.

Certainly at lower Chronic Training Levels (less than ~70-80 TSS/day), then a significant rest up really isn't necessary. Sure, don't go and smash yourself the day before hand but not too much more concern should be had with resting up. At high CTLs then perhaps a little more recovery time is in order before tests.

So over the past couple of weeks I have been doing some testing. Coach Ric figured it was time we checked under the hood to see whether I was running a 2 pot screamer, a Wankel rotary, a turbo 4, the family 6 or a big donk of a V8.

Before I get to how that panned out, here's a quick summary of my training over the past 7.5 weeks in the form of a Performance Manager Chart:

You can see that following a break after the National (Apr-09) and Oceania (May-09) Paralympic road race championships, my CTL had fallen significantly (was at ~ 70 CTL at time of the champs). I had expected it to drop a bit as I was taking a week off and then some easy riding but a series of events led to quite a long interruption to my training of about 8 weeks. Initially I had problems with my new walking prosthetic and after that was finally sorted and I rode again for a couple of weeks, I took then ill for a while with some weirdo viral bug. So CTL dropped to ~ 32 TSS/day with lots of time off the bike.

OK, so once I was healthy enough to train and had my prosthetic sorted, it was time to ramp it back up again. In the period leading up to testing my CTL was rising at a little over 6 TSS/day per week, which you can see by that steady upward march of the blue CTL line in the chart above.

So after that five week block of training, I had a week with a 16km time trial (TT) scheduled for a Tuesday and a Maximal Aerobic Power (MAP) test on the Thursday. Those days are shown on the chart above.

Here's the power trace from the 16km TT:

Well it's actually a bit shorter than 16km at 15.3km. Four laps of Sydney's Centennial Park (a gradually undulating course) but it's close enough for the purpose and is a testing ground I have used many times. I did the TT on my road bike (no TT rig at the moment).

299 watts for 24:29 (37.4 km/h)
Peak 20-min: 301W
CTL: 69
TSB: -31

That's 92% of my pre-injury PB power (326W) on the same course.

Testing Part II was the MAP test on the Thursday. Here's the result:

MAP is the maximal 1-minute average power from a ramp test to exhaustion using a ramp rate of 20 or 25W/min (depending on category of rider). I use a 25W/min ramp protocol.

MAP: 410 watts
CTL: 70.6 TSS/day
TSB: -25.2

That's an all time PB MAP result for me and is 103% of my pre-injury PB (399W).

Note the Training Stress Balance (TSB) at the time of both tests - both what I would call significantly negative (meaning I was quite fatigued), yet I still produced post-accident PB power levels and in the case of my MAP, well I'm a little astounded at setting an all time best just 14 months after I tried to pedal on a bike again for the first time since my accident.

So astounded was I on the day that I decided to make a special effort to re-check the slope calibration of the SRM power meter on my ergo bike. It was slightly off and my numbers were lowered by 4W (initially I had 414W).

Here's a look at my previous MAP test results over the past two and a bit years. Also marked are the months where I had my accident and amputation, as well as when I started back on the home trainer:

One can wonder - was I fully developed as an athlete beforehand? Has that skewed the results?

Well probably not fully developed (I sure had plans of becoming more powerful), but I wasn't un- or under-developed either. I had an FTP well over 300W and a CTL of the order of 100 TSS/day. Up to that point I had attained podium in 6 team pursuit championships including a championship win in state record time, 1 x podium at teams time trial championships, 1 x podium at criterium championships as well as an open criterium win, and a podium at the national masters track points race champsionships (right before my accident).

Now I don't know what specific conclusions you can draw from this n=1 study, but as an athlete who has severals years of power meter data prior to and after a lower leg amputation I think it will no doubt be of interest to those who study the performance implications for such injuries and the use of prosthetics in cycling. Clearly there are many high performing athletes using similar prosthetics.

One outcome of testing is to establish or validate an estimate for Functional Threshold (~1-hour TT) Power (FTP) . On the basis of these tests (the TT in particular and my recent longer threshold tolerance intervals), I have reset my FTP to 280 watts as of the day of the TT. It was previously set at 270 watts.

So what now? Well one thing to note is the ratio of FTP to MAP.

Currently that puts me at a ratio of 280W / 410W = 68%
My previous best pre-injury I was 315W / 399W = 79%

That's quite a remarkable difference in the ratios and I'm not entirely sure of the reason.

Typically the ratio of FTP to MAP is in the range of 72% - 77%, so on both accounts I fall outside the typical range (it happens). Pre-accident I was always somewhere around the upper end of the range. Everyone's ratio is different and can vary through the course of training and be due to your physiological and power profile (anaerobic capacity, VO2max, % of VO2max one can sustain at threshold and so on).

One way to think of it is MAP is like your aerobic ceiling* and FTP is how close to that ceiling you are able to get when riding a TT. So in this sense, it suggests that my roof is plenty high and that I have lots of room to further improve my TT power before I starting bumping my head. Which is good!

* of course there is an anaerobic component to MAP as well (as indeed there is in shorter TTs albeit a smaller overall contributor to total energy output) but examination of hundreds, if not thousands, of MAP tests have shown it to be a reliable indicator of aerobic performance potential.

My testing isn't actually finished. Since I will be targeting the 3km and 4km individual pursuit (and track TT 750m and kilometre) over the next 6 months we have also scheduled a trial 3km pursuit effort for this coming week. That'll be fun.


Anonymous said...

Good luck with the 3k Alex!

Unknown said...

Definitely not implying this is the case for you, it just reminded me, for FTP:MAP ratios outside that typical range, do you ever suspect that someone's forgotten their HTFU biscuits during one of the tests, thus not truely representing their capability?

Alex Simmons said...

Well one has to consider a range of possibilities for the FTP:MAP ratio not being typical, e.g. not having a good day or not being motivated etc.

Sometimes the data isn't right (suspect power meter zero or calibration), or the protocol wasn't followed properly or the TT pacing was poor etc. Conditions may have been difficult. Or the rider needs to HTFU.

In some cases, performing a MAP test on different indoor trainers may produce a different result, simply because some trainers are harder to ride than others.

So one needs to look out for these things to make sure that the test is a valid one. Naturally recent performance in races, intervals etc is a very good guide.

Unknown said...


I'm certain you have all the above boxes checked; sounds like there'll be a threshold interval or 2 in the future :-D

Jennifer Pribble said...

Don't discount the effect of your accident and what the recovery taught you about yourself. Knowing what pain really is, being more efficient with time, etc. Many who've had significant life events (I had one back in 2001, although NOTHING like yours - an emotional rather than physical event - and I'm now 10x the bike racer I was) learn a lot about hard work and mental toughness and come back to do some amazing things.

AH said...

Damn, just realized my wife was logged into Blogger and I used her account. Oh well, comment still stands.

Unknown said...

Hi Alex, just came across your blog after 'core' debate on

Im part of a cycling club in the UK and Im trying to assist some amateur riders with their training. They don't currently have access to a PM but the club has kindly agreed to buy one if it would help people train more effectively. This would mean we could estimate FTP / MAP for them on a turbo throughout the season. But they would not have the PM on their bike for training. What is the best way for them to estimate training intensities during training without a PM? Is it worth the outlay of £1000+ for the club to provide this?



Alex Simmons said...

Hi Robert

I can't make a value judgement for you or your club, but certainly being able to periodically test athletes for progress is a very useful element of using a power meter. Nothing track progress quite as well as a power meter.

A power tap for that purpose should not cost £1000+ (half that I'd have thought), although I can see the value in a wireless model if putting the wheel onto lots of different rider's bikes.

If the meter is not being used on the bike, then other means of gauging intensity will be required, such as using perceived exertion or even a heart rate monitor.

With HR, one can base training levels on either percentages of a (true) bike Max HR or as a percentage of one's HR when performing a longer time trial.

Also, not using a meter on the bike means that most of the benefits of a power meter are foregone.