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Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Maxing Out with Dr Garry Palmer

Through my cycling career, I have done more VO2 tests than I can remember. I’ve experienced lots of different protocols; some have step the wattage up in chunks and wait for your heart rate to stabilize  some have forced you to hold a certain cadence, I’ve had pin pricks in my fingers and one I had to max my body with an IV needle in my arm (which was rather off putting).

Ahead of my half ironman in Mallorca I wanted to know how hard I could push on the bike as I need to hold myself back to have enough left for the run. So Dr Garry Palmer from Sportstest, our in house physiologic tester, kindly offered to test me. First up were the dreaded fat calipers  everyone’s worst nightmare. I was pleasantly surprised that I was running my body fat down at 7.9% despite not actively watching my weight (being the wrong side of thirty now, I know this isn’t going to last forever). Garry explained the results from this analysis and made some suggestions of ways I could healthy control and lower this if I wanted to. After a quick interview to analyse my history and goals we calibrated the gas analyzer and KingCycle before starting the test.

What I like about Garry’s protocol is that firstly, it is done on your own bike so your biomechanics are exactly the same as you use on the road. Secondly, after two five minute efforts to gauge the best starting point, Garry uses a smooth ramp protocol where the load is increased 1 Watts every 3 seconds rather than stepping up in big chunks. Mentally I prefer this protocol as mentally you can convince yourself that you won’t be able to do the next step and can give up earlier than you normally would. Lastly, Garry’s protocol allows you to self-select your cadence. This is important for me as an ex-track rider because I trained myself to be very efficient at a high cadence (I used to pursuit at 118rpm). I find that I struggle with protocols that force you to hold 90rpm as I want to sit at around 100rpm.

I haven’t done a test for 7 years and forgot the glorious feeling of lactic slowly building and mentally accepting that you’re going to drive yourself as close to death as you possibly can. Getting the most out of yourself in a ramp tests is purely mental. If you aren’t looking for a bin to be sick into at the end, you haven’t pushed yourself hard enough. Halfway through Garry turned off the screen showing the current wattage and heart rate which I needed. If you can see these, you can convince yourself that “I’ll just get to X watts and then I’ll stop”. I finished and felt like I’d got everything out of myself.

Then came the analysis. This is what Garry is really good at. He sits down and talks you through the numbers and what they mean one by one. First thing that I saw was that my maximum heart rate was 10 beats down from when I used to do these as a young man. This is no surprise as your max heart rate slowly comes down as you get older and I haven’t been pushing my heart that hard for a long time. Next Garry explained my efficiency; this is a value of how much of the oxygen that is being breathed in is being converted to power in the legs. While my efficiency was ok at around 20%, this is an area that I can improve. I hit a maximum wattage of 422 Watts and a VO2Max of 5.49 L.min (or 75.72 ml.Kg.min) but what was important was my threshold wattage. This is the point at which you’re able to ride and stay aerobic (e.g. not producing the lactic acid). For me, this was 328 Watts at a heart rate of 177bpm. Garry also talked me through my training zones for recovery rides, working on endurance etc giving me both power and heart rates for each. I was pretty chuffed with this and I think it will stand me in good stead for Mallorca.

Overall, I can’t recommend Garry’s test highly enough. He gives great encouragement through the test and explains all the values very well. If you’re serious about your goals and training correctly, getting a test done should be at the top of your list of things to do. 

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