Threshold Test – a Coach and Athlete perspective

As a newbie to the sport of triathlon and looking to enhance their training it is not uncommon to spend a considerable amount of time reading a variety of triathlon related articles and to talk to triathletes who have been training and racing for some years.  As a consequence novice athletes are likely to come across a plethora of ideas around different types of training methods such as training with power, watts, cadence, sweet spot, threshold, aerobic vs tempo, increasing their power to weight ratio, to name but a few!  Undoubtedly all of this could be rather confusing to a novice triathlete  who is already struggling with coming to terms with training across three separate disciplines as well as understanding the many different rules of triathlon and the importance of the forth discipline; transitions.
Coaching experienced and novice triathletes, I always try to tailor my coaching to suit the needs of the athlete; training with power is critical for some of my athletes whereas for others simply getting out regularly on the bike with hills and aerobic riding is enough to make the progress required.  That said, I would argue that a max heart rate test is vital for all athletes no matter what their ability or goals to ensure they are working in the correct training zones.  Testing athletes, particularly novice athletes from a non-sporting background, is a delicate balance between explaining the benefits of testing against the anxieties some athletes may have towards being subjected to a test which is going to be tough physically and quite frankly unpleasant on the legs, heart and brain! 
This Tuesday I was booked in to do my own Threshold test on the Watt Bike and yes, you guessed it, I was not exactly looking forward to the forthcoming pain!! I knew I could not put it off any longer, it has been years since I carried out my last test.  However, to enable Steve to set me some specific Watt Bike sessions throughout the winter to improve my power output on the bike, I knew this was the only method of accurate testing to provide the new benchmark measure required.  As an athlete I hate doing such things, mainly because I know it’s going to hurt, a lot! However, from a coach perspective, I knew I had to embrace the experience and see it for what it was; a benchmark measure for my current level of power.
To be honest, it was tough, however, it served three purposes; 
a) it reminded me that unless you are consistent with specific training, your ability to hold the watts for 20 minutes will drop, which mine have
b) personal stress impacts dramatically not only on your body’s ability to train but also your psychological capacity to push hard i.e. you have to be in the right mental place to work at top end, regardless on how your body feels 
c) it reminded me of what it is like to be an athlete rather than a coach and how to deal with the drop off in power output since the last test and how to rationalise the results objectively rather than subjectively.  My power output had reduced substantially since my last test, however, this did not surprise me at all as I had not had chance to do power specific training on the bike for a considerable amount of time, or should I say I had seen them on my plan but had avoided them at all costs!
So, what have I learnt from this experience as both a coach and an athlete?  From a coach perspective it confirmed that it is pointless carrying out the threshold test and access the data if the athlete is unable to carry out regular sessions to work on their power such as via power meters or watt bike sessions.  It also proved that there are many outside factors which can impact on performance when trying to work at the top end such as stress or lack of sleep.  From an athlete perspective, I will embrace the watt bike sweet spot sessions written on my plan and stop replacing them with much more fun spin sessions at David Lloyd! 🙂  Steve has already advised that I will be re-tested in 8 weeks time and that is enough for me to want to put the work in to improve my power to weight ratio and my average power output.  I’d better do as I am told from now on otherwise I will be sat writing again in 8 weeks time eating my words! 😉
Happy cycling everyone and don’t forget to find out more from your coach as to whether you should be training with power.  It most certainly is not relevant to everyone but it can help provide you with measures throughout the winter months to see if your power training is working.  

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