Knowing how to properly perform a fitness test in order to obtain an accurate result is crucial for determining your intensity zones

By Kaye Lopez | Photo by Jonny Clow/Unsplash

Not only does 2019 start tomorrow, but if you’ve been following our Alveo Ironman 70.3 Davao training plan, New Year’s Eve also marks the beginning of your next block of workouts as we enter into the build phase. But before I even get to what this next period of training is all about, it’s about time we have a chat about fitness tests.

As I’m sure many of you can relate to, not a lot of people (myself included) are fond of taking these tests. It can elicit anxiety among some—probably because it can reveal truths the athlete may or may not be ready to accept. But for a scientific training approach to work, baseline data that corresponds to your current fitness level is required in order to set intensity levels that are appropriate for you. As many ways as there are to skin a cat, there are also many protocols for testing your fitness level for each sport. Assuming you are new to self-coaching, I will focus on fitness test protocols that are easy to conduct on your own or with a training buddy. So let’s start the year right and get testing.

But for a scientific training approach to work, baseline data that corresponds to your current fitness level is required in order to set intensity levels that are appropriate for you

Swim Fitness Test

Ideally, you should be able to swim at least 400 meters continuously, preferably with a qualified swim coach who can correct your form, before you perform a swim fitness test.  Once you reach that basic level of swim proficiency, you can try doing one of the following:

  1. 100-meter repeats

Do 10×100 meters at a pace you can sustain with very minimal variability between repeats and a 20-second rest in between. 

  1. 500-meter or 1,000-meter time trial

The distance you choose depends on your endurance level.  As with the first option, aim to do it at a pace you can sustain from start to finish. It may take a couple of tests to get the pacing right but it will improve in time. Be sure to record the following data during the test. Most of these can be recorded by a smart watch, otherwise, you may require outside help:

  • Speed or pace in min:sec /100m (record pace for every 100-meter lap for option 1 then compute average pace for option 2 or refer to data from smart watch.)
  • Strokes per length (1 arm = 1 stroke or refer to data from smart watch)
  • Stroke rate (count number of strokes per minute or refer to data from smart watch.)
  • Heart rate (optional)
  • RPE (Rate of perceived exertion from 1-10)
Bike Fitness Test

The most reliable measure of cycling fitness is an FTP test but assuming you have not yet decided to invest in a power meter, the next best option would be to perform a lactate threshold field test using a heart rate monitor, wherein you try to hold your best sustainable effort for 30-minutes following this test: 

  1. Ride as hard as you can for 30 minutes, making sure you have the means to capture your heart rate data and speed during the test. If using a smart trainer or power meter, record power and cadence as well.
  2. In order to improve the reliability of the heart rate test results, press the start button of your smart watch or bike computer at the beginning of the test, then press the lap button after 10 minutes. This takes out the effect of the lag as your heart rate slowly rises during the first few minutes and allows you to calculate your average heart rate for the last 20 minutes of the test. This will be your Zone 4 and aerobic threshold heart rate (ATHR). Your intensity zones will be set as a percentage of ATHR.
  3. If you are able to use a power meter or a smart trainer, you can also record your average power for the last 20 minutes of the test. Multiply that value by 95 percent (or 0.95) to get your FTP or the average power you can sustain for an hour.

For running, you have two options. You can either apply the same protocol as the bike field test and train by ATHR or perform a distance-based time trial like your second option for the swim fitness test, such as running a 3K or 5K race or time trial

Run Fitness Test       

For running, you have two options. You can either apply the same protocol as the bike field test and train by ATHR or perform a distance-based time trial like your second option for the swim fitness test, such as running a 3K or 5K race or time trial. If you decide to do the latter, take note of your total time, average speed or pace, average heart rate, RPE, and average cadence. To make it even easier to determine your run pace zones, there are many free training pace calculators available online and all you have to do is select the distance of your race or time trial, input your finish time, and it will compute your training pace zones for you.  You can try this one by Runner’s World.

Whichever test protocol you choose, here are a few guidelines to observe each time you conduct a fitness test:

  1. Try to keep environmental factors like weather and traffic consistent by choosing a temperature-controlled venue or pre-measured loop with minimal traffic. If performing the test outdoors, try to do the test under the same weather conditions as much as possible.
  2. Ensure that you are well-hydrated and rested before conducting the test.
  3. Always begin with a proper warm-up of at least 10 minutes, including some short ramp-ups that shoot up the heart rate momentarily, with ample recoveries in between. Keep your warm-up routine the same for every test.
  4. If using a smart trainer, be sure to turn off the ERG mode while testing so you are free to shift gears as needed.
  5. Take note of your testing dates and keep them six to eight weeks apart to allow enough time for significant training adaptation.

As mentioned earlier, build phase training begins next week so more on that when you read from me again after the holidays. For any training-related questions, feedback, or suggestions, please drop me a note on the comments section below or e-mail directly at [email protected]. As always, I’d be more than happy to help. Train smart and all the best in 2019!

Download the build phase training program here.