Disclaimer: don’t attempt any max testing without a medical check. Seriously. This info is put together from knowledge gleaned from a local coach I worked with, Joe Beer, and the Two Johns Podcast- I believe John G is a coach. It’s best to consult a doctor, as well your own coach first. Don’t attempt if you have been unwell, have an injury or if you are not already fit.
I got some coaching over last winter and it improved my fitness and racing, albeit a moderate amount. However I was 31 when I started road riding, so the improvement curve will be shallower than that of a junior, and I’m balancing training around full time work and 2 young kids.
The heart rate zones were key to my training- working within specific levels of intensity at different times. I was getting quality training done in the limited time I had available andthis resulted in better performances in 2011 with less time for riding.
To work these heart rate zones out I needed to do a max test. The ‘subtract your age from 220’ rule of thumb isn’t really accurate- my max was 196bpm last autumn, where the rule of thumb would tell me 187. A few beats per minute can be the difference between going lactic or not, so it’s important to be as accurate as possible.
Below is a video from Coach Joe Beer showing a ramp test on a static bike, tied to a PowerTap meter. This is an accurate way of doing things but how many cat.4 racers do you know with power meters? It’s more likely you’ll be working with heart rate.
It’s interesting to see how deep the rider has gone by the end of the video. If you haven’t tried a max test before, you might need to give it a few goes- the first time I went for it I was told ‘that’s way too low- go back and do it again!’. You might be surprised how hard you can/have to push before you approach max.
If you are using heart rate, I think it’s best to set the monitor to record max during the session and check it afterward. You don’t want to be watching the HR while you do it. You will get more out of yourself if you focus on putting everything you have into turning the pedals. Peripheral vision can be impaired when you are at your maximum too- it’s safest to have an eye on the road and not the watch/cycle computer.
Suitable terrain will vary from person to person but I found that the steepest hills made it hard to really push the HR up as I had to grind a gear to get up the hill. Something ‘medium-steep’ that sharpens at the end worked best for me.
After a long steady warmup I hit the hill at as hard a pace as I would be able to sustain for, say 2 minutes, before cracking. The trick is to push yourself harder when the body is telling you to stop- easier said than done. The guys who win races are able to do this at crunch time: on the crucial hill, in a lone break, or in a sprint. Ideally you can time it so that when you are ready to crack, the road steepens, and here you sprint as hard as you can for as long as you can, until you can’t give any more. This is a way to push yourself harder.
Ideally you’d have someone with you because at this point you can be pretty disoriented and in danger of falling off the bike. As seen in the video above- a coach (or team/club mate) to motivate you can be a big help. The heart will be pounding, a taste of blood in your lungs, maybe even feeling or being sick.
Stay safe and remember- these are only the thoughts of an amateur rider, and relative newcomer at that. If any coaches or experts read this and think I’ve got it wrong- please post a reply and share your expertise. Hopefully they may inspire a few people to do some more research into max testing and do some smart training for next season.