December 16, 2010

How To Ace Your Exam (Without Cheating)

Any good triathlon training program should include regular testing, right?

Yet, if you’re like me, it’s pretty much avoided (and by the way? I’m not alone on this).  Going out for a run, ride, or swim sounds a whole lot more fun than measuring stuff.  But if your goal is to get better, testing is critical to making adjustments to your training and, ultimately, to go faster.  Otherwise how do you know if your plan is working?

Why Test?

Obviously, we want to monitor progress.  Regularly scheduled tests, like questions at the end of a text book chapter, tell you how well you’re doing.  Comparing data over time, if you can keep most environmental influences steady, lets you view your training plan with a more critical eye – versus mindlessly following a “prescription” that may not necessarily be delivering improvement.

The second reason is to identify your areas of strength and weakness.  Most of us have a tendency to fall into habits, repeating the same, comfortable routines day after day.  If you don’t watch out, there’s a real good chance you’ll spend most of your time doing the things you’re really good at instead of getting better at what you’re not.

When I think of testing I get this image of some poor schmuck suffering on a treadmill while the coach cranks up the speed and grade until his client collapses.  But testing doesn’t need to be painful.  In fact, some of the best testing you can do is aerobic.  For example, you can easily test your aerobic base by holding a specific HR for a fixed period of time; if your cover more distance the next time then you’re getting more fit.  Easy, right?

How To Test

The real key to testing is establishing some consistent criteria in conjunction with at least two variables, such as time and distance or heart rate and distance. Here are a few examples of some criteria to use when testing:

  1. Rested:  Make sure you’re well rested before testing.  I like to schedule tests after days off just to make sure.
  2. Free of Injury & Illness:  Unless you plan on always training and racing when you’re sick or injured, pass on testing until you’ve recovered.
  3. Warm-up:  Always warm-up, particularly for the more demanding tests.
  4. Specificity:  Develop tests to match your current training phase.  For example, test your aerobic system during the base phase and lactate threshold during a build phase.
  5. Keep It Simple and Keep It the Same:  Your meals should be similar, as should the amount of sleep you get.  Be sure to test at the same time of day.  Goes without saying:  you’ve got to compare apples to apples for accurate measurement!
  6. Keep a Log:  Write it down and give as much detail as possible.  Over time you’ll get a pretty good profile of yourself and how you’ll perform in your races.

If your goal is to move up in the ranks at your next event, then skipping over the exam questions at the end of the chapter isn’t going to cut it.  Spend more time on testing, and less on guessing.  It could save you lots of time and effort during your training phase, and will show up BIG time in your results!

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