Performance Diagnostics | Functional Threshold Test at Radlabor Munich

By Cycling Dad:

Earlier this year, I hit jackpot as I was selected to become one of the amateur riders to the 2013 Team Alpecin. Part of the team package is a professional performance diagnosis and training plan from Radlabor (the Cycling Lab). Radlabor is a spin-off from the University of Freiburg’s sports faculty, which offers diagnostics and coaching for recreational, amateur and professional cyclists, and a key partner of Team Alpecin. They operate testing facilities in Freiburg, Frankfurt and Munich.

With the help of science, my training for the remaining three months should become much more effective. Unfortunately, I am a bit late to take the test due to professional and family obligations, but in the end a more structured training should help me get through the Oetztaler Cycle Marathon and Endura Alpentraum with at least some less suffering…

So on May 10th I took a day trip to visit Sophie Fleischer at the Munich lab. Sophie was already looking forward to punching my ears with needles for the lactate test.

Here is an inside look at the Radlabor’s Munich testing facility. It is compact in size, but everything you need to push yourself over the lactate threshold is there, including a top-notch SRM ergometer.

What happens during a performance diagnosis?

Testing procedures may vary between testing locations and athletes tested. However, what happens essentially is that someone puts you on a stationary bike and asks you to pedal at a rate of around 90 to 100 revolutions per minute. She then increases the resistance – in this case every three minutes. Resistance is measured in watts per hour, and increased in increments of 20 watts. At the end of every resistance level, a small blood sample is taken and analysed for lactic acid, which is a chemical compound produced by the body from breaking down glucose for releasing power to the muscle tissues. It is a complex process and I have to point to specific resources for explaining the details. However, when lactate is produced faster than the tissues can remove it, the lactate concentration in the blood begins to rise. Sports scientists use the lactic acid concentration as an indicator of fatigue in the athlete’s body. The so-called lactate threshold marks the level up to which an athlete can metabolise the lactic acid that is created under effort while it is produced. Beyond the lactate threshold, lactic acid starts to accumulate, which leads to fatigue and eventually forces the body to recovery. It will let you know gently, once you reach that point…

What does a performance diagnostic look like? Well, it’s not pretty. Send the kids out of the room before you watch the following video ;) .

Here is what the results look like: Radlabor Leistungsdiagnostik (click to download PDF). You receive a detailed report, outlining all the data from the threshold test. Unfortunately this document is in German, but Iet me summarise the most important information.

The following chart shows, by column: effort (watts), relative effort (watts per kilogram body weight), heart rate, lactic acid concentration, energy consumption per hour.

Upon applying cycling-specific calculations from sports research, my functional threshold was at 207 watts (2.5 watts per kilo) and a heart rate of 144 beats per minute. The diagnosis software estimated that my maximum rate of oxygen metabolisation is 4.7 litres per minute, which puts my relative VO2max per minute and kilogram body weight at circa 57 millilitres. My maximum effort was 360 watts, but I could only keep this for around 90 seconds. This places me among the top 25% of all athletes tested in my age group on Radlabor’s testing software Ergonizer - across all sports disciplines. Sounds quite good, but when looking specifically at cyclists, my results place me in the 15% percentile. This means that 85% of all cyclists who completed the test have a higher anaerobic threshold per kilogram body weight. I console myself by the thought that performance diagnosis today still is used to a large extend by professional athletes. It is okay to be better than only  15% of the pros ;) . MTN Qhubeka’s Gerald Ciolek for example managed to average roughly 400 watts over almost 12 minutes on the Cipressa Climb of Milan-San Remo 2013, for which I will admire him eternally. Also, in the same race Gerald achieved a mind-boggling 1386 watt effort on his race-winning sprint, while the test in Munich pegs me at roughly 625 watts maximum sprinting potential. For more details, check out this interesting post.

Back to the test. From the results, individual training heart rate zones can be derived. These will be important when drafting the athlete’s training plan. Based on my results, mine are: (KB = Active Recovery, GA1 = Endurance, GA2 = Tempo, EB = Threshold – the second column is effort in watts and the third refers to the heart rate zones)

Here’s another interesting graph from the report, showing the lactic acid build-up over time (lower-hand black line) in relation to the effort spent (x-axis) and the heart rate (y-axis).

At 206.5 watts, I reached my (anaerobic) lactate threshold at roughly 59% of my maximum sustained effort 350 watts. As Sophie explained to me, with appropriate training I should be able to delay the buildup of lactic acid up to 80% of my maximum effort, which would give me roughly 280 watts before reaching the lactate threshold. This is the recipe for significantly improving performance in the long-distance marathons.

Shortly after I returned to Vienna, Team Alpecin trainer Tim Böhme from Radlabor Frankfurt called me up to discuss my personal training plan. Based on the results of the threshold test and my personal time constraints, he assembled a training plan which contains a lot of long-distance endurance rides in June and some interval sessions, which will gradually increase in July as we move closer to the main events Oetztaler Cycle Marathon and Endura Alpentraum. The training plan is online (screenshot above) and requires me to feed back my training information at least on a weekly basis. From the heart rate information collected, the system calculates time spent in the different training zones and presents the results in summary overviews. According to this information and personal feedback, adjustments will be made by Tim. Also, there is an option to conduct another test in August to evaluate progress made and determine the perfect pace for both races.

Perfect preparation for the marathons to come!