There are many, many approaches to benchmarking and testing for every sport… too many to cover here, it also wouldn’t be particularly helpful. For instance, I would use a different testing protocol for someone looking to crush a 10k road run vs someone looking to perform their best in an Ironman marathon.
What we will explore here are some general principals you should be thinking about for your test sets, plus the rationale behind doing them in the first place.
Start With Why
Test sets can be, well… testing. Physically and mentally they are tough, and as such it’s sometimes hard to motivate yourself or your athletes to do them… running a 5 km time trial or doing an FTP test on the bike hurts!
So it’s good to have a reminder of why we do these sessions:
- To show the value of your training – This may sound simple, but especially for athletes who are natural ‘questioners’ it’s important to back up punctuate the hard work they have been putting in with improvements. Particularly important if the athlete has switched to an unfamiliar training method.
- To gather data points for race planning – This is super important. If you’re using the correct testing protocols they should be able to output data points regarding things like, ‘power’, ‘pace’, ‘HR’, that can be used to put together a better race plan. Tests sets, (and of course, race simulations) are often more analogous to what an athlete will experience on race day.
- It can expose weaknesses/deficiencies in the planning – There are generally 2 reasons for lack of progress, either the athlete hasn’t been following the plan… or they have, and the plan wasn’t very good. Assuming compliance, (lack of which can be usually picked up sooner) It could be the training protocol you’ve been using isn’t appropriate and the athlete isn’t responding to the stress. So we alter the approach accordingly.
To get the most out of your training you need to think like a scientist
The most powerful phrase in assessing a protocol is, “How’s that working for you?”. To be able to answer that question well, you’ll need accurate results.
For newer athletes, you’re likely to see exponential increases in performance whatever they do… for elite or advanced athletes it’s a different story – marginal changes in an already highly trained individual requires a robust testing methodology… that’s where we take cues from the realm of science, (side note ‘Realm of Science’ is great band name). Essentially we want to strip out as many external variables as possible so we can attribute the result to a change in fitness. So with that being said, whatever your testing method, try to adhere to the following:
- Control the variables – Temperature/time of day/location/fatigue levels/nutrition before and during/clothing, etc… these can all affect performance so try to use the same each time.
- Make sure you can replicate it – Any good science experiment can be replicated; I’m reiterating point one here… but it’s an important one!
- Sharpen your tools – Make sure you are capturing accurate date by; calibrating your power meter, checking the batteries in your HR monitor, etc
- Frequency is important – Testing is most helpful when conducted frequently, so make it an integral part of your training plan.
If you’re not testing, you’re guessing – so stop guessing at your performance and get serious about your testing.