Dan – Benchmark Testing

So you’ve been training hard for a month or two.  Following your plan or even just making it up as you go along, either way it’s been hard work and you’re sure you’ve improved.  How do you test yourself to find out?

Benchmarking is the term often used for these kinds of progress checks, and there are plenty of methods that cyclists, and athletes in general use.  The question is, which is best?  As with most things in cycling, there isn’t really one specific benchmark test that can be defined as “the best”.  After all, it depends on what you’re training for, what you’ve been trying to improve, and most importantly what equipment and resources you have at your disposal.

So, what are some of the options?  You might use your local 10 route,if you’re aiming to improve your climbing you might use a particular local climb and track improvement on Strava, you might choose to use a regular route near to your house.  These kinds of benchmark tests are ones that we often do, almost without thinking about it.  Comparing our best times on Strava and marking out whether or not we’ve improved.  However, true benchmarking is a scientific test, so if you use these types of test, it’s important to consider the variables that could influence your performance.  Is the weather the same on each test?  Wind direction, temperature, humidity, can all play a part in your performance.  These kinds of tests can be carried out with the bare minimum of measuring devices.  You could record only your time, or you could add cadence, heart rate and power measurements if you have the ability to measure.

But how could you set up a truly repeatable method for benchmarking your own performance with the minimum number of variables to get the most accurate and reliable data?

Ultimately, the answer to this question is that you would set up a test that could be carried out, most likely indoors, in the same environment every time using the same equipment measuring as much information as possible.  This is something that I have been striving for since I started my training last year.  So I will share with you the method, protocol if you will that I have set up now to use going forward.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I currently do not have a power meter on my bike, so have no way of recording power either outdoors on rides, or on a turbo.  Therefore since beginning my training I’ve been using my PB on my local 10mile TT run as my test.  As I touched on earlier, due to changing weather and environment this isn’t the most reliable of tests.  However, at the end of March I joined a local gym, which is equipped with Matrix IC7 spin bikes with ICG consoles on them.  These bikes are fitted with crank based power meters.

After conversation with the team at ICG, I have set up a 20minute FTP protocol on the spin bike, which enables me to carry out one of the standard power based benchmark tests regularly in an environment where the air-conditioning regulates the temperature.  From this test I am able to measure average and maximum power in Watts, average and maximum Heart rate, and cadence.

Hunter Allen and Andrew Coggan, who are credited with much of the foundation work around training with power in cycling determine the protocol for this particular test as performing a 20minute all out time trial effort, measuring the average power in watts, and multiplying it by 0.95 to gain your Function Threshold Power (FTP)

  1. 20 minutes easy warm up
  2. 3 x 1-minute wind ups with a minute rest between (100 RPM pedal cadence)
  3. 5 minutes easy
  4. 5 minutes max effort, but manageable
  5. 10 minutes easy
  6. 20-minute time trial effort
  7. 10 to 15 minute cool down

The important thing to keep in mind when you plan your benchmarking is to utilise what resources you have available.  No power meter?  Then use a regular route or climb, but try and perform it in similar weather conditions each time to get a set of data that you can really use to gauge your performance.  You can measure time this way, or you can perform a test using heart rate monitoring to measure your functional threshold heart rate (FTHR).  By the same token, if you’re lucky enough to have access to a lab, and can measure V02 Max and blood lactate levels by all means do so.  It is always important to remember though, that numbers alone mean nothing if you don’t have the ability analyse what they mean and how they relate to you.

If you have a power meter, then measuring your FTP is one of the most accurate ways of setting your performance benchmark.  But again, keep the variables to a minimum.  The more you change between tests, the less accurate the comparison becomes.  Change bikes?  Bigger fan?  Different building?  It’s not simply a case of changing things until you get a higher number.  In essence, often people quote FTP figures as bragging rights.   What’s important is how that number relates to the work you’ve done and the improvements that you’ve made.

My results from my first 20minute FTP test were as follows –

  • Average Watts 218w
  • FTP – 218 x 0.95 = 207w
  • Average HR 186bpm
  • Average Cadence – 95rpm

I will be performing this test once a month, and logging the results on here in my future blogs.  In the meantime, feel free to post any questions on Facebook, or email me over at – rootesracing@gmail.com