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As you begin thinking about closing out another year, it’s good to look back in reflection on how well you accomplished your goals in 2014. This will help you determine what worked well and what could have been better during training. At this point many of you have planned out what races you want to do in 2015 and the goals you have while competing in them.
One of the best things you can do to plan for your best season yet is to ask yourself three questions. Where is my fitness level now? Where do I want my fitness level to be? How am I going to get my fitness where I’d like it to be? Many times athletes make ambitious goals for their next season before they reflect on where their fitness level currently is. It can become easy to follow a training plan that may be more advanced than you should be following. This is how may people get injured and never accomplish the goals they’ve set for themselves. The key is to test your fitness in a way that allows you to notice where you currently are so that you can progress safely and efficiently to the fitness you desire. The other important thing to keep in mind is that the test needs to be repeatable and measurable. If you cannot complete the test again on similar terrain or in a similar environment, then the results will not be as accurate as you want them to be. We can look at this from the perspective of a triathlete, but the following test can also be used for single-sport athletes as well.
Swimming is certainly one of the most demanding and complex sports an endurance athlete can participate in. The more technique efficient and physically fit a swimmer is, then the faster they will be. While triathletes do many races in the open water, it is best to perform a bench mark test in the pool. One of the best tests a freestyle swimmer can do is a 200/800 test.
How to complete it: After a 1,000 meter easy warm up, swim a 200 from a dive start as hard as you can. After you complete the 200, rest for one minute and then swim an 800 from a push start as fast as you can.
Why this test: The reason this is a great benchmark test is because it allows the athlete to determine how efficient they are at anaerobic and aerobic efforts. In other words, is your speed better than your endurance, your endurance better than your speed, or are you fairly balanced? Knowing this can help determine what type of workouts you need to be doing in the pool to better your performance. This is also a great test to determine how your fitness is improving over time.
Benchmark testing for cycling can be different than you may think. A simple time trail is not the best way to measure fitness because of so many external factors, like the wind, for example, that will affect your speed. Technology has allowed us to have easy access to heart rate monitors and power meters to measure fitness while cycling. You can use one or the other but it is best to use both heart rate and power to truly tell if your fitness has improved over time. To tell the whole story you need an input vs output. Your heart rate is the input and the power you are generating is the output. If output is up while heart rate is down then this indicates that you are gaining fitness. If you do not have a power meter you can still test your fitness using heart rate to determine goals for the year.
Test: Heart rate/Power Threshold Test
How to complete it: Start with a 15 minute warm up. Record your heart rate and/or power for a five-minute effort at 95 percent effort. Rest for 10 minutes before you record your heart rate and/or power for 20 minutes at the hardest effort you can hold for that time. Cool down for 15 minutes after the test.
Why this test: This is what they call a functional threshold power test. You can use the data you receive from this to determine what your threshold heart rate and/or power is. You can use both of those numbers to determine training zones that you can use to structure your workouts in order to raise your threshold.
Benchmark testing for runners is fairly easy to measure. Many amateur and elite runners use heart rate monitors to better understand the effects of their training. Just like cycling we want to measure input versus output. Your heart rate is again the input but your pace is the output. The goal through training is to run at faster speeds with a lower heart rate. This indicates a higher level of fitness. We generally want at least 20 minutes of a solid effort to measure run fitness. Doing a time trial on a track is the best way to do this since change in terrain is not an issue.
Test: 5k time trial on a track
How to complete it: If you are on a standard 400-meter outdoor track, then you will run 12.5 laps on the inside lane. Be sure to be running in the inside lane, as running in the other lanes will increase the distance for 12.5 laps. Measure your time and heart rate if you have that available.
Why this test: A 5k is a good distance to measure run speed and endurance. It is also a good amount of time to determine what your threshold heart rate is. Knowing threshold is important if you want to train at the most efficient way possible.
Note: Look up Jack Daniels training zones for cycling and running. Plug in the number you get for your 20-minute effort on the bike and your average heart rate for your 5k run in Daniels’ formulas. This will give you the training zones you need to train smarter and perform faster.
Knowing where you currently are, where you want to go, and mapping out how you are going to get there is the best means of accomplishing any goals. Completing tests like the one’s mentioned above is a great way of doing this. Use these tests to find out where you currently are and then make a plan to accomplish your best season yet.