RBR Newsletter

Simplified Testing for Wattage and VO2 Max

We’re starting a new series today on measuring and using power – without the need for a power meter or fancy laboratory testing.

In short, you don’t need an expensive lab test to determine 3 important performance numbers—power at lactate threshold, maximal oxygen uptake and meters-per-minute of climbing.

For some training, it’s important to know how much power you can produce. But power meters cost $700 or more. It would also be great to know your VO2 max. But laboratory tests cost around $500.

Fortunately, there’s a simple test you can do on your own training roads to get this information. It requires only a suitable hill, your bike, a scale, a stopwatch and an altimeter or topographic map. Oh—and an all-out effort, too.

I learned this technique a few years ago from Garmin Sharp team director Jonathan Vaughters at a training camp in Denver. (And I wrote an RBR eArticle, Equations for Cyclists, that details how to calculate these and other such power numbers.) Based on sound physiological principles, it produces numbers quite close to those you’d get if you were lab-tested.

This week, I’ll tell you how the process works. And next week, I’ll finish up by showing you how to calculate three different performance numbers. Here’s what to do:

1.    Find a tough hill that takes at least 10 minutes to climb. A steep (6-8 percent) and steady grade is necessary because it negates the effects of wind resistance. Hills that take less time to get up mean you’ll rely too heavily on your anaerobic energy production system, thus skewing the results.

2.    Determine the climb’s elevation gain in meters. Use an altimeter such as those found on many cycling computers or GPS units. You can also calculate elevation gain from the contour lines on a topographic map. There’s no need to climb for more than 15 minutes for this test.

3.    Weigh yourself and your bike while you’re wearing riding clothes. Include your water bottles and seat bag if you’ll have them on during the test. Once you’ve determined the total weight you’ll be propelling up the hill, convert pounds to kilograms by dividing by 2.2.

4.    Warm up well, then time yourself while riding the climb as hard as you can. Begin the test from a standing start like a time trial. Climb with any technique you choose—seated, standing or alternating. The idea is to get to the top as fast as possible.

Remember, next week I’ll show you how to take the data you’ve gleaned from your test to determine three different performance numbers: meters per minute climbed, average watts, and VO2 max.


Adapted from Coach Fred Matheny’s Supercharge Your TrainingCoach Fred Matheny has decades of experience as a competitive racer and cycling coach. He is the author of 13 RBR eBooks and eArticles.
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