Regardless of what type of training plan you follow testing is an integral part of the training cycle. Before starting a new training season testing is done to determine base fitness, which can then be compared to previous years to determine how much you have developed and whether your yearly training plan is effective in the long term. Scheduled testing throughout the year helps to determine whether acute training cycles are effective and can also shed light on performance loss and overtraining.
The most important things to test for are functioning threshold power (FTP) and lactate threshold heart-rate (LTHR). There are a number of other tests to determine other factors such as VO2 max but these numbers are not as important for developing and modifying a training plan for effective racing and performance. Testing should be done approximately every four weeks and ideally at the end of a rest week. There are three ways that testing can be done but whichever method you choose, make sure you can recreate the same conditions for every test.
Lab testing is the most accurate form of testing and also the most expensive at approximately $200 for a standard test. If you are looking for absolute numbers, there is no better alternative provided you find a lab with experienced technicians who can properly interpret the data. The most cost effective way to have lab tests done is to volunteer for a study at a local university. This is how I had my testing done in the lab. It required two critical power tests and a 90km ride on the same day, which was exhausting, but I didn’t have to pay for my results. Unfortunately, this was only useful for determining absolute values. These values are useless for training because I do not have access to the lab on the regular intervals at which I test. Since testing at home is less effective and I cannot recreate the lab setting, my own testing values will not coincide with those I got from the lab. Because of this, I would recommend testing in the lab only once a year to determine absolute values for your own interest and piece of mind, particularly if you like to compare your numbers to the pros.
If you have a trainer with a power meter, or your trainer is supported by TrainerRoad, this is the best form of testing you can do on your own. Although the numbers may not reflect the true values, trainer test conditions can easily be recreated time after time allowing relative comparison of data. It’s not as important to know whether your FTP is really 250 watts as it is to know that four weeks ago your FTP was showing 225 watts and now you’re testing at 250 watts under the same conditions.
If you have a power meter, or train with HR, you can do your testing outdoors on the road. Make sure that you ride the same route every time you test to keep the values relative to each other. Keep in mind, however, you that may not be able to do your testing outside during the winter so it may be more advisable to use the trainer for testing year round. Similarly, it is important that however you acquire your data the testing conditions and parameters should remain constant. This is not a concern with HRMs since measuring heart rate is easy enough and does not require equipment calibration. If you train with power, try to use the same power meter for testing and training. If your trainer has a power meter built-in to it and you also have a power meter on your bike, use them both in tandem to determine the variance between the two. This will prevent your FTP from being skewed by two different sets of data. If you test using your trainer’s power meter and your FTP is 250 watts but your bike’s power meter frequently measures 20 watts lower than your trainer’s power, you could be riding on the road at 250watts but really be riding 25 watts above your FTP, thus exhausting yourself quicker than anticipated.
Whatever method you choose, make sure you eliminate as many variables as possible and account for the ones you cannot. The more accurate and consistent your testing parameters are the better you’ll be able to gauge your fitness and the more improvement you will see.