Unlike sports such as swimming and distance running, the highly variable nature of cycling (because of different race tactics, courses, environmental conditions and drafting) means it is very difficult for the cyclist and their coaches to accurately use competitive performance to monitor changes in physiology, training status, fitness, or nutritional state. This can mean that weaknesses in fitness can remain undetected and the athlete will continually fail to achieve optimal performance. As a result, some method of assessing physical conditioning, or fitness, must be used.
Reasons for Testing
There are two main reasons for undertaking fitness testing or, more specifically, physiological assessment of an athlete. The first is to systematically monitor changes in the athlete’s physiology over time and relate such changes to the effectiveness of the current training regimen. In this case you would expect the changes in various types of training would influence different aspects of physiology For example, for a novice rider, an improvement in muscular efficiency would be expected following endurance training, whereas an increase in anaerobic power would be expected where a rider had focussed on high-intensity sprint training. Additionally if testing is undertaken on a regular basis, it may be possible for the coach to use the results to evaluate early warning signs of overtraining.
The second main reason for undertaking testing is to identify the specific strengths and weaknesses of an athletes’ physiology that may influence the achievement of a particular goal (for example, a cyclist who has an impressive anaerobic power may be a good sprinter and is, therefore, likely to achieve success in track cycling events).
Once you have analysed the demands of a particular discipline (for example road racing and mountain biking have differing requirements) or single event (some riders have been known to evaluate world championship courses two years in advance) you can compare the results of the physiological evaluation with what may be considered optimal. By making this comparison any areas where the cyclist’s performance is lacking will be highlighted, and appropriate training programmes can be designed to overcome these weaknesses.
It must however, be noted that while two riders may show very similar outcomes in physiological evaluation, their performance in actual competition may vary considerably. This is because there are many other aspects that can affect competitive performance. Therefore, the real value of fitness testing is to systematically monitor changes in physiology over time. Any changes in physiological performance can then be used when reviewing the next training program.
Next week, Garry will talk about: What and how to test…
From G.S. Palmer, “Field Testing” in High Performance Cycling (edited by A.E. Jeukendrup).
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© 2002 by Human Kinetics Publishers. Adapted with permission from Human Kinetics (Champaign, IL).
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