The beauty and pain in power testing

Peak power from test

Not many things in life feel as satisfying as an honest test of my aerobic engine. There’s obviously a high level of physical stress and discomfort that go along with it, but that is an important aspect of the overall experience. The simultaneous feeling of physical fatigue and mental clarify (via endorphins) is one of the things I love about this sport.

I’ve had fairly consistent training on the bike over the last few weeks, and I was eager to see how my fitness had progressed. I was coming off a decent training load over the month of March and into Spring Break, but I ended up taking the entire weekend off from training (unscheduled recovery). This led my legs to feel really fresh on Monday when I decided it would be a good time to do a power test.

I am currently using Carmichael’s 8-minute field test as opposed to the (seemingly) more popular 20-minute test. The 8-minute test works great because it gets the job done (measuring progress over time) but with a lower investment. I feel I am more likely to do them because they are less mentally (and to some degree, physically) taxing than longer tests, such as 20 or 60 minutes.

Rather than using these results as an absolute measure of fitness (determining functional threshold power, for example), I can get an idea of my relative fitness by comparing the results to previous tests. I did the same test approximately six weeks prior, where I was able to ride at 260 watts (4.3 W/kg) for 8 minutes. Based on recent training, I expected to improve on that number by about 10-15 watts: approximately 4-6%.

I started off feeling great, but I made sure to keep myself from surpassing an average of 280 watts. Rolling through the two-minute mark, it started to rain, but I was so focused on the remaining six minutes that it didn’t even bother me. Another two minutes down I hit the halfway point, and my legs were finally starting to feel a little heavy. I was averaging exactly 280 watts at this point, which I was excited about, especially because I didn’t feel any pressure of blowing up.

Power output before, during, and after the 8-minute test

I experienced a 2% drop in power over the next two minutes, putting my 6-minute power at 278 watts. At this point, the fatigue started to accelerate and each second seemed to be stretched longer and longer. I held on as much as I could, but still experienced another 2% drop in my power through the finish.

I ended up averaging 276 watts (4.6 W/kg) for 8 minutes. Despite the slight positive split, my variability index (VI) was measured at 1.00, which means my pacing was pretty solid. I also averaged a cadence of 101 RPMs, which is exactly the point where my legs feel most efficient at high power outputs. This VI and average cadence convince me that I couldn’t have performed much better on the day.

Overall, I was very happy with this performance! I improved my 8-minute max by 16 watts in just six weeks. This definitely gives some credibility to the hard work I’ve been putting out over the last few weeks. It also gives me a lot of motivation to continue with my training and to look forward to steady progress over the coming months.

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