Testing: Uncommon to Many Endurance Athletes but not an Uncommon Idea
Do you need to test for athletic performance? We think so. Diagnostic studies performed on athletes provide insight to the individual & coach that guide training decisions based on individual, objective data. Pairing this data with how the athlete is feeling & responding to their training can make training more worthwhile and improve performance. Take athletics out of the equation and this concept is important in an array of fields. Doctors order tests, car mechanics run diagnostics, engineers survey the land, etc.
Athletes shouldn't shelter themselves from the quality assessments that exist to evaluate performance. An athlete may easily steer clear of all things 'test' in nature and live for the race day test. Testing inherently goes into every race but there is plenty of value in testing as a standalone event. Back to the analogy in other fields, doctors perform tests prior to the big surgery day, the home is inspected before you move in, a beta version exists before the go live. Testing is a valuable part of the preparation process.
Quality tests to evaluate for endurance performance have existed for years. Often, these tests are limited in their availability and affordability outside of the clinic, university, and research setting. When alternative testing options are offered, the consumer, rightfully so, needs to be wary of their accuracy and reliability. The lactate threshold (LT) and body composition testing offered by Summit Multisport are tests rooted in physiological processes and evidence based information. Scientific articles on both tests can be found here:
Testing for endurance performance has more tangible benefits than ever as we are in an era where many every day runners are training with GPS, more cyclists have power meters, an incredible testing facility exists in Virtual Velo, and an accurate body composition assessment can be performed with a simple scan (no pinching, no lycra, no breath-holding!). When performing a LT test, we customize the protocol to the athlete using running paces or cycling watts that easily transfer to the athletes training (i.e. running at a 9 min/mi as opposed to a workload of 5 mph, 5% incline). Additionally, with each level of an LT test, heart rate (HR) and rate of perceived exertion (RPE) score are obtained. Putting these testing variables together (LT, HR, RPE) along with body composition data, provides thorough insight into the body’s physiological endurance performance state and identifies strengths and weaknesses. The beauty of this process is that all this information can be obtained within an hour and the athlete can return to normal training immediately.
Certainly, I am a believer in the value of testing. I know this comes from earning my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in exercise science at The Ohio State University where our laboratory classes easily revealed the power of the lab based testing when compared to lower grade field testing. My career for the last 5 years and currently, has further emphasized the utility of testing as I have been responsible for delivering cardiologists the VO2 max data on over 3,000 patients for clinic and research evaluation.
I realize that endurance training for some individuals is meant to be a hobby. Testing may not be for you but before you rule it out, I do ask you carefully to consider the amount of time, money, and passion you put into it as well as the time, money, and support your family contributes. Given the investment you put into your training and racing, I am confident you will see the value in long-standing scientific, applicable, and available testing.