Performance testing is a big thing in multisport, and it can really help you to get results as an athlete, but how do you know if you're doing the right kind of testing? At the right times? And are those tests really relevant for you? I thought I'd walk you through my approach to testing so that, if your coach isn't taking care of it for you, you can apply it to your own training.
WHY DO I TEST?
So first of all, why do I test my athletes? Because I do test my athletes. For me, testing is an essential part of any training programme for these key reasons: 1. To make sure that the athlete is progressing in the way that we expect them to and to provide a feedback loop to the athlete. They're doing all of this work - they want to see measurable improvements!
2. To adjust all of their settings in Training Peaks and make sure that they are always optimised to be in the right zones for their key training sessions, to get the best possible results for the training time they have.
3. To make sure that I'm doing my job right because if they're not improving, I'm getting something wrong and I need to know about that so that I can get in there and fix it, work out what that issue is and help that athlete to progress.
4 To normalise all-out efforts in a way that kind of replicates racing. It helps to get an athlete dialled into the kind of pace they're going to potentially do on race day, especially if they're aiming to qualify over sprint or standard distance.
HOW OFTEN DO I TEST MY ATHLETES?
It varies. Some athletes love to be tested, some not so much so I tailor the testing schedule to suit the athlete while still ensuring we get the data we need. It also depends on the time of year. If we are in race season then I'm not really testing them at all. Most of my athletes are racing often enough that I can use the race data as their test data. During the off season, I tend to test every six to 10 weeks. For most athletes it's six to eight weeks, but it depends on each individual athlete and their needs.
If an athlete has been injured for example, and they've been able to swim and bike, but they've not been able to run, I'm not going to make them do the run testing until I know they're back to a point where it's actually worth us doing that work because I wouldn't want to demoralise them with a a poor test result while putting unnecessary stress through a recent injury.
WHAT KIND OF TESTING DO I USE?
So, this is the big one for me - I really want to talk to you about the type of testing that you do. It tends to be that people go "oh, I do CSS test, FTP test, and I do a 5K time trial". And this seems to be kind of quite locked in in the triathlon community. And I would like you to think harder about the kind of performance testing you do.
I would like you to think about how relevant those tests are for the races that you are doing and how repeatable they are. How much valid data do they actually give you?
So in the pool, I do quite like a CSS test. I quite like it through the winter because it can give you that CSS target pace to work off to really improve your swim threshold. It's really good for building speed. However, I also like a time trial. Depending on your race distance, I may ask you to do anywhere between a 750m and a 1500m time trial as that can be far more relevant to your specific race.
If you are totally brand new to triathlon and you are a novice swimmer, a 400 meter time trial can be a great way of tracking your progress and seeing how you're doing. And the great thing about a time trial is that it translates to open water. So if you do a CSS test, you might be able to crank out a 1.30/100m in the pool, but how does that translate to open water when you've got a wetsuit on? What difference does it make?
Now if you can swim 1k in the pool in 15 minutes and then you get in the lake and you put your wet suit on and it's 18 minutes or 13 minutes, we know whether or not we've got issues to address before your race. Especially if you're slower in your wetsuit!
The same is true with an FTP test. What you can do on the turbo is not necessarily the same as what you can do on the road. I'm a big fan of a 10 mile time trial as a testing measure because it's something that you can do on the turbo in the winter to get a baseline and then in the spring you can take it out on the road and you can see how that translates.
On the bike in particular, bike handling skills really matter. How aero you can get really matters. There can be a really big difference between turbo results and what you can actually do out on the rolling road so finding it test that can give you easy direct comparisons is important. If you've done 3 or 4 10 mile TTs on the turbo during the winter, and then you get out on the road and we find you're 5% slower or quicker, we can apply that percentage to your turbo data and make far more accurate predictions about how you'll race. We can also then compare your race data back to your turbo data and see if you're performing on race day. When it comes to the run, think about what's a relevant test for your race distance. A 5K time trial is usually a pretty good test for most race distances, but if you're training for an Ironman, marathon or a 70.3, maybe think about doing a 10K tempo run instead so that it replicates where your heart rate's going to be during your race. A test like that is tougher to manage - it's not an all out effort. It's how quickly can you get that 10K done whilst maintaining your heart rate in the target zone, and that takes control and discipline as well as pace. What it will give you though, is a much clearer idea of how you will perform on race day and how your run and run fitness is progressing. It's really worth thinking about the kind of performance testing that you do so that you can make it specific to your race and something that is highly repeatable that you can then translate into a real world environment. So rather than it just being a turbo session, how can you translate that into the real world and out onto the road and replicate it over and over again? Have a think. What testing do you do? And is it the right kind for your race distance and your training environments? There is no one-size-fits-all here, so find the tests that work for you and that you can repeat on a regular basis.