A Simple Way To Test Your Aerobic Base

As you start your winter base training plan, it's important to do some testing to set a benchmark. It's difficult to measure your progress objectively if you don't repeat testing every 12 weeks, even if you do 'feel as though you're getting fitter'.

The first thing about testing is that it should be specific and consistent. In terms of being specific, if you want to test your cycling fitness, then you should do a cycling test. You can't do a run test to measure your cycling improvements, but that's probably no great surprise to you. If we take specificity a step further, it should measure the things you're actually trying to change or improve. For example, if you're a runner working on aerobic base, then a maximal test might not show improvement, as it's not speficially measuring changes in 'base fitness'.

In terms of being consistent, each time you test, the circumstances should be the same. That way, if your test scores are better or worse, you know that it's an accurate reflection of your fitness rather than something else! Here's some common examples:

1. For tests, use the same track / route / treadmill / turbo trainer
2. Test at the same time of day, performance and heart rate vary by time of day
3. Test at same temperature, a warmer room or colder morning alters heart rate and performance
4. Make sure you're rested the same each time so you can perform at your best

How do I test my base fitness?

To assess your base training you can use an adapted Maffetone test. This is quite simple, warm up for 10-15 minutes, running or cycling and then complete 15 minutes at a heart rate calculated by '180 minus your age'. Running tests are best done on a track or very flat road, cycling tests are best done on a calibrated turbo trainer and measure distance.

If your age is 45, then you should run/cycle at a maximum of 135 and record your distance, this will be slow as it's designed to test aerobic base. I personally would reduce heart rate by another 10 beats if you are doing a cycling test (170-age for cycling / 180-age for running).

This test is designed to measure improvements in aerobic base economy, so you will only see improvements if you are training to enhance your aerobic base economy. Here's some simple tips to ensure that you get the most improvements:

1. Firstly, this is a 'training block' so it should have a specific timescale. You need to complete 12-16 weeks and you can repeat your test every 4 weeks.
2. If you want to enhance your base, then you need to 'put your eggs in one basket' for maximal effect. If you run 3 times per week, consisting of 1 long run, 1 tempo run and 1 track/speed session, then you are only doing 1 run per week at aerobic base intensity. One single run per week will not generate a great deal of improvement. Change your schedule so all running focuses on aerobic base or add more running for greater impact.
3. Run or cycle at the correct intensity. You should be exercising in zone 1 (180/170 - age will probably not be far off). You will find this frustrating initially, but you need patience and you need to persist. You will see a week by week increase in speed for the same heart rate.
4. Control the heart rate intensity and avoid spikes. This training is better done on flatter courses so you can control the heart rate and maintain a constant / consistent intensity. If the heart rate fluctuates up and down due to constant changes in intensity (hilly courses), then aerobic base training is poor, you are simply doing a moderate/high intensity interval workout.
5. Volume is key for aerobic base. It might be difficult as most 'normal people' have a lot of time constraints, but if you're running/riding easier, you should be able to handle more hours of training.

So lets get started:

1. Running should be done on a track or flat road, warm up 10-15 minutes, then start the test. Make a note of the conditions / temperature / your training in the days before and how you felt. Measure your total distance covered and don't go above the maximum heart rate of 180-age.

2. Cycling should be done on a turbo trainer or similar but it must be calibrated each time. You'll need to be able to measure speed / distance from your turbo or back wheel. If you only have a basic turbo, you can still calibrate it: Choose a specific gear e.g. 53/15, pedal to 90rpm and then stop, how many seconds until the wheel comes to a halt? Repeat this every time and adjust the resistance so it takes the same amount of time for the wheel to stop... it's calibrated! Warm up 10-15 minutes, note the room temp, your training in the days beforehand and how you felt. Measure total distance covered and don't go above the maximum heart rate of 170-age.

Know your own strengths

In last week's blog we discussed the importance of knowing your own strengths. Focusing on base training for the next 12-16 weeks will work well for people who are stepping up to longer events and have insufficient aerobic base fitness. If you're the classic older person who runs ultra events or Ironman triathlon, you may find little benefit from base training. If long and slow is already your strength, then you'll most likely gain more by 'flipping the pyramid' and working on your weaknesses over the winter.

If you'd like a more accurate assessment of your personal strengths and weaknesses, you can book a sports science assessment. We can put together a plan which will be specific to you, the cost for sports science assessment is £75 and you can BOOK HERE.

Got forth and test your base

Marc Laithwaite
The Endurance Store