Back in the Saddle Again – Looking Under the Hood

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Well, it’s now been a few weeks since I’ve been riding consistently again and I definitely notice & feel the difference.  My bike fit adjustment, although small, has helped quite a bit.  My lower back appreciates it!  But I know it’s important to incorporate more stretching and massage into my weekly routine.

IMG_3252I meant to get a VO2 test shortly after getting back on the bike, but you know how scheduling goes when your juggling work and family!  This would have given me a snapshot of my baseline fitness in what I considered to be my “out of shape” state.  By the time I got to my test today, my fitness was certainly much improved from that first ride back in June.  I shouldn’t have waited so long but at least I know where I stand today.  I’ve heard a lot of our customers say, “I’ve got to get in better shape before I get that VO2 test.”  For some reason that is the way many people view a VO2 test, but it really is the complete opposite.  The goal of the test is to see where your fitness stands right now.  Then, you can utilize the numbers to guide your training starting the very next day!  Unfortunately, I don’t think the term “VO2 test” is very good.  Actually, it’s usually called a VO2 Max test.  It sounds too scientific and does not convey why it’s beneficial.  Some people use terminology such as “metabolic testing” or “physiological testing” but I don’t think they are much better.  I use the term “fitness test” but that tends to get people nervous – who wants to test their fitness?  What if I don’t measure up?  What if I’m not in as good a shape as I thought? (probably the reason people think they need to “get in shape” before the test).   First of all, that’s not the point!  And second of all, I would say who cares?  It’s not like anyone is going to post your results to Facebook!!  The purpose of the test is not to see how your fitness stacks up against others – it’s to help YOU get better, no matter where you are in your fitness journey.

Whatever you call the test, I like the analogy of a car engine.  Your body is the engine that powers the bike so you are essentially “looking under the hood” to get an engine diagnostic check.  I think of the heart rate as the tachometer.  You can only rev the engine into the red zone for so long before something bad happens.  Our red zone is when our heart rate goes above our Anaerobic Threshold.  We can handle this red zone for only so long before our body just gives out.  The key to becoming a better cyclist or any sort of endurance athlete is to raise the threshold before you hit your red zone.  This can be measured in terms of heart rate and power output (wattage).IMG_3254

Most people think of a VO2 Max test as someone running or cycling to complete and utter exhaustion while wearing a funny looking mask.  It looks worse than it really is.  The test starts out with an easy warm-up and you get used to the mask fairly quickly.  Every couple of minutes, the power is ramped up 20-25 watts until you hit your Anaerobic Threshold and go a little beyond.  And here is something you should know:  you do not need to go to complete exhaustion!  This is also known as a VO2 Submax test.  The most important data is gained BEFORE hitting your maximum effort – that being your Anaerobic Threshold and training zones leading up to it.  For most of us, those are the key metrics to help us train smarter.  Some additional data IS gained if you do go to complete exhaustion, but it’s not required.  For today’s test, I went above my Anaerobic Threshold but opted not to completely max out.  The test itself only lasts 15 – 20 minutes but the process takes about an hour including a pre-test Q&A with the Exercise Physiologist as well as body fat and resting heart rate measurements.

Hopefully I’ve conveyed here that first, the purpose of the VO2 or “fitness” test is not to see how fit you are compared to others.  It’s to see what YOUR engine looks like TODAY, so you can train better TOMORROW.  And second, the test itself is fairly quick and not as tough as it might seem, especially since hitting your maximum heart rate is not required.  If you want to, go for it, but it’s not necessary for the vast majority of us.

In my next “Back in the Saddle” series blog post, I will talk about the test results and most importantly, how to USE THE TEST RESULTS.  Those who can benefit the most are actually the recreational to enthusiast cyclist and those just starting an exercise program – think recent couch potato!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Redeeming Myself with a VO2 Max Test

I was always very opinionated growing up. I spent more of my time trying to explain my views to others rather than taking the time and absorbing other people’s ideas and thoughts. This attitude was amplified when my parents tried to bestow any sort of wisdom upon me. They were always talking about how eating unhealthy things will be bad for me, and how I can hurt myself if I’m not careful enough. I could not help it though. As a child, I assumed I was invincible. Needless to say, my belief that I had Wolverine’s healing powers resulted in bad habits, and overly risky activities. For example, I had the bright idea of participating in a race down the six thousand some steps of a mountain we climbed in high school. Mistakes were made that day. For years after that I had knee pain. To this day, my knees still make a popping noise if I squat down. As I grew older, I also started noticing that even the smallest of scrapes seemed to take longer to heal, and when they did, it never seemed to disappear as quickly as before. 

I have been increasingly more aware of the truth in much of the advice that I hear. For one thing, I used to be obsessed with being a weight weenie. As someone who never seems to be able to gain weight no matter how much I’m eating, it made sense to me to try and reduce as much weight off my bike as a could. While I am still partial to light components, I made the poor decision to sacrifice anything to achieve a stupidly light bike (I hit a sub-12 lb bike at one point). I never did much serious cycling at the time, so I would like to believe that my sacrifice of comfort was somewhat more justifiable than if I had put that saddle on a daily bike.

So there I am, at the rest stop on ARB’s remote ride to Temecula, which was the longest ride I’ve done on my weight weenie bike. I look down at my full carbon saddle, which saved me a glorious 179 grams, and had only one thought in my head. “Mistakes were made”. Sure, I read plenty of comments on how uncomfortable and ridiculous a saddle like that would be, but I chose to believe I knew what I was doing. While I am undoubtedly changing saddles now, a teenage me would have happily sucked up the pain and ridden the damn thing until some serious damage was done, and that area is something you really don’t want to mess with.

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Don’t do it. It really is that bad.
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So suffice to say, when I was told it was a good idea to take a VO2 Max Test, I decided to take the advice. Even though I was a casual cyclist looking to start riding more regularly and seriously, my initial instinct was that a VO2 Max Test would be overkill. I was previously unfamiliar with this test as I never trained as an athlete before and I went into the test without a complete understanding of what a VO2 Max Test can do for me.

There is extensive information already out there that explains it much more scientifically than I ever could. You can even read about it on our website. But for me, the most beneficial aspect of this test is the fact that I now know how hard I need to ride to see the most gains. I never knew if I was putting too little or too much effort into my rides. Sure, it felt like I was riding really hard, but I was horrifically unfit as well. Equipped with all the data
I now have, my effort levels will not merely be a subjective guess.

By pushing you to your absolute max, the test can establish 7 different zones for you. All I really need to focus on are zones 2 and 3. It shows my power and heart rates for each of the 7 zones so that when I am riding, I can match my effort to the zone and figure out if I need to work harder. I would really only need a heart rate monitor to know my effort level. The complete test comes with much more information as well as coaching advice and data interpretation. While the test does require you to give your 100%, the information that you get out of it is so valuable. Don’t worry though, if you aren’t feeling that ambitious, you can always opt for a sub max test! While this lets you ease up a bit earlier, it still shows you your Anaerobic Threshold, and extrapolates the rest of the data.

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Pro Cyclists Comparison

As an added bonus, you can click on this chart on the left over here to see how you would stack up against the pros! Even though I technically should be an untrained cyclist, my data shows that I would stack up against the lower end of the Cat 5 racers. There is still hope yet for me!  And if there is hope for me, there is hope for you, but be sure to commit and book your test today!

 

 

 

VO2 Test: Part 1 – The Assessment

If you’re into endurance sports like cycling, somewhere along the way you’ve probably heard about VO2 testing or the term VO2 Max.  Maybe you thought it was only for pro athletes or serious amateurs.  Actually, anyone looking to improve from their current fitness level can benefit from knowing their own body’s unique metabolic profile.  The key is to get tested at your current fitness level and then re-tested after several weeks of training.

Here is a look at the VO2 testing process as conducted at A Road Bike 4U’s SoCal Endurance Lab in Irvine, California.  All testing is conducted by Saul Blau of Power to the Pedals, LLC, utilizing superior medical-grade equipment.  His experience and credentials in the field of Metabolic Testing are second to none.  To learn more about Mr. Blau, click here.

For Parts 2 through 5, subscribe to A Road Bike 4U’s YouTube channel.  Or, stay tuned to this blog!