Yesterday we ran a Critical Swim Speed test at one of our Club swim sessions and tonight we’ll be running a 3k Time Trial on the track. These for part of our regular club testing structure
The purpose of these tests is manyfold but most importantly its good for the athletes to see if the training that they have done in the last couple of months has actually been working.
Once you have the results you can then set pacings for key sessions in all 3 sports.
A good test result can also be highly motivational. Beware though; a poor result can have the opposite effect
At the moment I’m using the following 3 tests for the athletes that I coach
Swimming – I use the critical swim speed test. You can find more by clicking this link and visiting the Swim Smooth site where the test is not only explained in detail you can also find a table which will help you to calculate your actual CSS pace
Cycling – Its not easy to test athlete fitness with any degree of accuracy unless you have a way of measuring power. If you do then we use the 20 minute Critical Power test (CP20). At the end of this Time TRial you will have an average power. Multiply this figure by 0.93 and you have an estimate of the power that you could hold for 1 hour. This is a very good prediction of your Functional Threshold Power (ftp)
Running – There are lots of tests but I like the 3k TT. This will give you a pretty good estimate of your Vo2 max and your pace at Vo2 max. With the results I then like to use the Jack Daniels running formula tables to workout athlete pacing for any run effort from long easy runs right up to repetitions on the track
Here are some of the things I’ve learnt about fitness tests over the last few years
- You don’t have to do any fitness tests. Of course you’ll be in the dark about your current fitness level and also about whether your training is actually working. But if you just like working out to feel healthy of just for the endorphin rush then you carry on
- If you want to know your fitness level, but don’t like doing field tests then just do a race. You do need to make sure the courses are as similar as possible to ensure some consistency of results (I.e. Its no good comparing times of a hilly vs. flat run) but you might find that the pressure of having other athletes around spurs you on to greater things
- Make sure that you are physically prepared for a test. You don’t need to taper but you do need to be careful about training in the couple of days before.Ideally you would test towards the end of a recovery week with 3-4 days of easy training to help you get over the previous block of work
- Have a good warm up – You’ll need at least 20 minutes of training to have the aerobic system fully working and to get up to the right body temperature. Its should be progressive and include a small duration at or slightly above your test intensity. If you have a favourite warm up use it all the time for the same test
- Make sure that you are mentally prepared for the test – It’s worth just sitting down somewhere quiet before you do the test and thinking about what you are about to do and how you’ll approach it. If there’s a part of you that doesn’t feel ready for the test then postpone and reschedule for another day. Lack of motivation can often be a sign of tiredness
- Don’t be afraid to bail out – You’ll probably have a good idea of how you are feeling when you do the warm up. If you don’t think you are going to perform well there’s no point in forcing yourself, posting a bad result and then being down on your self. Just postpone and reschedule for another day.
- Bad test results – Somedays it doesn’t go your way. You are not entitled to a better result just because you have been training hard. Granted, if everything has been going well and training times indicate a better fitness level then you should expect to move forward, but sometimes it doesn’t happen. Often it’s because of the factors I have mentioned above – fatigue, lack of mental or physical preparedness or poor pacing. Bottom line – don’t take your fitness for granted. Prepare as you would for an event
- Pace Judgement – From some of our recent test data its become very clear that some athletes just goo far too hard in the first couple of minutes. At high intensity, if you start to generate too much lactic acid too soon its never going to clear and further effort is going to be inhibited (and painful). Part of your training should be to learn about pacing and develop confidence in your strategy. Then when you show up for the test have a pacing plan which will lead you to an improvement
- Ambition – One downfall of many athletes is that they expect too big an improvement. If you test every 8 weeks, depending upon your athletic history and performance level, you might expect a 1-2% gain. If you ran a 12 minute 3k then this would be equivalent to running 14-15s faster which is approximately 2s per lap. Now if you get to the last lap and you can push on even more then that would be fine.
- When to test – With the British Triathlon development squads we used to test the athletes 3-4 times per year, usually near the end of a block of training. We would expect to see improvement from one test to the other (apart from perhaps when they returned back to training after a winter break) but more importantly we were looking for year on year improvements (E.g. January vs January). For your own tests you’ll need to leave at least 6-8 weeks for training adaptations to take place. Just remember that tests require 100% concentration and attention so think about how many times per year you can do this on top of racing.
In summary, I like fitness tests. I have some favourites but there are many out there for all 3 of the triathlon sports. As a coach regular testing allows me to check on the progress of my athletes and alter their programme if necessary. Poor results will often have me digging deeper into their training diaries to find out if its the programme at fault or their lifestyle surrounding the programme.
There’s one more thing. If you have a good idea of your fitness level under controlled conditions, if you race and the result is disappointing you don’t have to blame the programme.
If you have some views on testing or other tests that you like to perform why not let me know by posting to the blog. Alternatively if you liked this article then please share with your mates by using the buttons at the top of the page.
P.S. We now have a full range of 12, 16 & 20 week training programmes for every single triathlon in the world. The most popular ones are listed here but if you dont see your race then just email me with a request