by Coach Frazier
October 29, 2010
Field Testing - The 3.2-mile Individual Time Trial
"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, that it is difficult for cyclists 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 for assessing physical conditioning, or fitness, must be used."
- Garry S. Palmer, High-Performance Cycling, Field Testing, Chapter 8, 2002, Published by Human Kinetics
During the competitive season, Frazier Cycling conducts a 3.2-mile individual time trial about every three weeks. Participants find our time trial series to be fun, challenging, competitive, exciting, and sometimes, disappointing. Although we set up our time trial like a race and we keep track of age group records and personal bests, the real purpose of these time trials is not obvious to many of our members. Our 3.2-mile individual time trial is a field test. Our coaches use these tests to access our athletes' progress including the effects of training and racing. Field testing is widely accepted by most experts as the best way to make these assessments.
Frazier Cycling's 3.2-mile ITT is not unique for accessing an individual's fitness level and training requirements. Well known cycling coaches advocate similar tests. For example, Chris Carmichael's 7-Week Success Plan uses Carmichael Training System's Field Test for Fitness to determine the appropriate training program for athletes. The Carmichael Training System's Field Test for Fitness includes a 3-mile time trial as their basis for assessment.
Also Joe Friel's The Cyclist's Training Bible describes a 5k individual time trial as a good means to find lactate threshold. Friel states, "For a cyclist, knowing lactate threshold heart rate (LTHR) is as important as knowing frame size." Friel goes on to say, "Finding LT requires scientific precision, but don't let that scare you away... One easy way of finding your lactate threshold is to time trial while wearing a (heart rate) monitor." He describes how to conduct a 5k ITT test and how to estimate LTHR.
More important than knowing LTHR is knowing Lactate Threshold Power, the power output at Lactate Threshold. Lactate Threshold Power is the single best physiological indicator for performance in endurance sports. Lactate Threshold Power can be accurately determined while performing the same time trial tests as described above with the use of a power meter. If a power meter is not used, we can still estimate Lactate Threshold Power based using a formula that including the cyclist's weight and height, speed, position, and equipment. We can further improve accuracy for participants that we have conducted power testing in the recent past. In fact, we determine Lactate Threshold Power for all Advanced Team members who participate in our 3.2-mile ITT series.
Many cycling coaches argue that the best field tests are races. The main point is that races tend to be great motivators for the athlete; therefore, the resulting data reflects the best efforts. I agree with the motivation point. If the athlete does not put forth a supreme effort, then the test is invalid. Indeed, that's why we conduct our 3.2-mile individual time trial like a races; moreover, we track age group records and personal bests to further motivate our athletes.
Data from various races is valuable, but consistency and standardization is very important for a valid test. Primarily, these are the reasons why we conduct our series - we need a consistent and standard test from which to make valid comparisons and assessments.
Toward the middle of the recent race season, several of our junior team members skipped the 3.2-mile ITT. Through the grapevine, I'd heard that these juniors felt the 3.2-mile ITT was a waste of time and in their judgment, they should perform a different workout. Having noticed a drop in attendance at our later time trials, it became obvious that the "grapevine" was proven. Due to this development, it became clear that it was time to quiz our membership about our purpose for conducting the 3.2-mile ITT series.
The following is the aforementioned quiz with the correct answers highlighted... the correct answers according to yours truly...
1. The 3.2-mile individual time trial is
Just the right distance - Many cycling coaches use this distance for field testing. I think one of the best descriptions of this test was written by Chris Carmichael. He explains his "Field Test for Fitness" as a part of "The Carmichael Training System 7-Week Success Plan", which was instrumental in Lance Armstrong's comeback after cancer. Under the Carmichael Training System, the results from field test are used to determine the most appropriate training program for an individual. It is no coincidence that Coach Kelli and I use the results from your 3.2-mile ITT to help determine what you need for your training program. The 3.2-mile time trial is not really a race, but since it is conducted like a race, individuals are likely to give a race-like performance, which translates into the best type of test.
2. The 3.2-mile individual time trial is
a fitness test
None of the above
3. The primary objective of the 3.2-mile individual time trial is to
Practice time trialing
Assess and compare an individual's relative fitness level
Determine an individual's ability to withstand pain
Find an individual's average maximum speed
Improve bike handling skills
All of the above
4. A cyclist's results from the 3.2-mile individual time trial is useful in determining an individual's
Ability to sprint
Ability to climb
Ability to corner
Ability to draft
None of the above
5. The 3.2-mile individual time trial is held every three weeks during the competitive race season because
the coaches want to add variety to your workout schedule
the coaches want to assess your fitness and progress during the competitive season
the coaches want to ensure that you improve your time trialing ability
the coaches want to make sure that you have at least one time trial practice per month
All of the above
6. The 3.2-mile individual time trial is only worthwhile for
Seniors and masters cyclists
All of the above
7. You should participate in the 3.2-mile individual time trial
each time it is scheduled - unless you are sick or injured
whenever you feel like it
only if you like doing time trials
only if you need to improve your time trialing skills
only when you are certain you can set a personal record
only when you are totally rested
once or twice per season
once every six weeks
8. Missing a 3.2-mile individual time trial is
not significant to the planning of your training and race schedule
significant to the planning of your training and race schedule
helpful to your training
helpful to your racing
9. The primary purpose of the 3.2-mile individual time trial is
to establish age group and gender speed records
to routinely assess an individual's relative fitness level
to establish club member rankings for this event
to routinely practice time trialing skills
to have all members familiar with how time trial races are conducted
None of the above