Significant Gains – Part 2 – Fitness Testing & Training Smart

This is the second part of my “significant gains” blog. Building on the bike set-up aspects discussed in part one, we now focus on training at the right intensity. While the first part was focussed on the bike, this topic is equally applicable to running, and indeed swimming.

…we all want to maximise the training benefits from of our precious time….

As amateur triathletes we all want to maximise the training benefits from of our precious time, and of course want to avoid injuries and over-tiredness. This is exactly where training at the right intensity is absolutely key.
Triathlon, even a ‘sprint’ event, is essentially an aerobic activity. Therefore a significant proportion of your training needs to be at this intensity (i.e. steady). Heart rate has long been used as a guide to training intensity. “Zone 2” is commonly used to describe this steady aerobic level, and is around 70-80% of your maximum heart rate (see below for determining your personal zone – however note the definition of heart rate zones and how to calculate them varies wildly!). A less scientific gauge to aerobic activity is that you should be able to chat during your steady bike or run!

As you develop an aerobic foundation, it’s well recognised that training at higher intensities will help to develop your aerobic capacity and anaerobic threshold (where lactic acid starts to build, and chatting stops!). The key is to know when to train at these intensities, for how long and indeed what level to train at. Training between the aerobic zone and threshold pace (sometimes called “Zone 3” or “tempo”) is generally thought to offer less benefit than training at your threshold level (“Zone 4”).  This is where specific interval and VO2 max training is invaluable. But training too much at this intensity, without sufficient recovery, and you’ll risk losing training time later on due to over-tiredness and/or injury, and you won’t develop your fat burning energy systems key to triathlon racing.

There are various methods you can use to determine your heart rate zones, including the infamous (and least accurate) 220 minus your age = maximum heart rate, through to basic fitness testing (e.g. British Cycling’s 2 x 20mins ‘hard cycling’ to determine ‘functional threshold’).
Chris Maxwell fitness testingA more scientific method to calculate training zones, and to provide much more training information, is to use ‘fitness testing’. I recently experienced the service offered by BW Cycling in Bristol, which they offer on the bike and/or running (there will be slight differences between the two disciplines). The test involves gradually increasing the pace while measuring oxygen consumption, heart rate and power.

Chris Maxwell HR table

The results of the test are provided as a read out of heart rate zones, threshold values, fat burning profile, VO2 data, and for the bike – power data (including power per kg body weight which is often used to measure cycling effectiveness). Extracts of my report are copied (opposite and below). So very useful data to help you train at the optimum levels, and if the test is repeated, will enable you to measure your fitness levels.

Chris Maxwell HR table2

The test also reiterates why a really good base of long STEADY runs/ bikes is critical! The test shows how your energy systems are working and the difference between your race pace and peak fat burning. Too much training at tempo or threshold pace, causes your body to use more carbohydrates and less fats. The important impact of this, is come race day you’ll rely much more on carbohydrates, and therefore will need to take on more fuel, or even hit the dreaded wall, or “bonk”!

Significant gains…..Train smart, race fast!

Special rates are available for fitness testing for Chippenham Tri members at BW Cycling.