My 2 Favorite Fitness Benchmark Tests

It’s easy to get lost in all the fitness data you can collect now during your workouts. Does anyone really need to know their power output when running? So far, I’m convinced most of it is just noise. Maybe interesting noise, but not really all that helpful in helping you get more fit or get more competitive.

Of course it’s not all junk data. Some of the data is helpful to track. I like to use two particular fitness tests, one for cycling and one for running, and tracking the resulting data from those tests really helps me judge my current fitness, any improvements, and just what I can expect in any upcoming races.

FTP Test

The FTP test is a staple for cyclists. It’s sometimes alarmingly, but accurately, known as the bucket test. For reasons that you can probably imagine. FTP, or Functional Threshold Power, is the power (measured in watts) that a rider could theoretically maintain for about an hour. Combined with weight (to give you watts/kg) and heart rate it is a very good measure of a rider’s fitness and over time how that fitness is increasing or deteriorating.

Knowing your FTP and measuring it regularly can help you beyond just knowing your fitness level.

Why Do It?

Setting a benchmark FTP at the start of a training block will enable you to establish training zones so you can best structure your workouts and use your training time efficiently.

Knowing your FTP also will help you during a race with your pacing and power output. Riding at your FTP pushes you right up to that limit where pushing any harder will likely cause you to hit the wall.

But as long as you stay just below that tipping point you know that your muscles will be able to handle the workload – for about an hour, at least.

Finally, you should reassess your FTP about every 6 weeks in order to account for changes in your fitness and to keep your power targets in line with your training.

The Test

If you are using a training app like TrainerRoad or Swift, you most likely have an FTP Test option. But if not, most training apps follow this protocol:

  • Warm up: 10 minutes spin then 3 x 1 minute fast cadence, 1 minute easy, 5 minute spin
  • 5 minute all out effort – go as hard as you can (press ‘Lap’ at start and finish)
  • 10 minute recovery
  • 20 minute all out effort (use that ‘Lap’ button again)
  • Cool down

Multiply the 20 minute effort by 0.95, to get your FTP number.

 

2 fitness tests that will make you a better racer

3k Time Trial

The best equivalent that I’ve found to the FTP test for running is the 3k time trial. Again, like the FTP test, done regularly, a time trial is a great way of gauging fitness and progress toward a goal.

every seventh week through our outdoor season as a way of gauging our fitness, and our progress. Here’s a guide to why we do it, how to prepare for it, and how to execute your best time trial.

Why Do It?

  • to monitor your progress through the season
  • to help you set appropriate race paces and goals
  • to help you determine appropriate training paces
  • to practice race preparation

First, it sets a benchmark to check your current fitness. But you can go beyond the number when assessing the results. When did you start hurting? Was it at the start? Or the finish? 

The time trial is all about pacing. It’s a very hard, but even effort. Based on your race goal or your past time trials, you should know your target lap pace. You should not be sprinting the last lap. The time trial winner is the one with the most even pacing. Ideally, your lap times should be almost identical. 

As the season progress or your training block progresses and you track your time trial results, it should help you measure your progress and make any necessary adjustments in your training plan.

Finally, it’s a tough, fast workout and it will inevitably help you improve your V02 max and anaerobic threshold. 

Improving fitness – v02 max, anaerobic threshold

The Test

The most important part of the time trial is that you need to be warmed up. You should be sweating. A 3K run is quite short (7.5 laps) for most distance runners. There is not time to use the first few laps to knock off the rust and loosen up.

  • run easy for 10-15 minutes, increase your pace in the last five minutes
  • do some dynamic stretching (donkey kicks, knee lifts, butt kicks, lunges)
  • do a set of 4-6 quick strides
  • Run the 3k time trial (7.5 laps)
  • Cool down for 10-15 minutes

With your 3k time in hand, you can Google for one of the many ‘Equivalent Race Time Calculators’ on the web to extrapolate that time out to see how you would likely run in other events.

 

Summary

Don’t get fooled by false, misleading or useless data in your training. It’s fun to have the toys, but you need to know how to determine what’s most useful. The FTP test and the 3k time trial are two fitness tests that used regularly can both accurately measure and dramatically improve your race day performance.

 

MIKE'S WINDOW

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