I am in the middle of completing an assignment regarding a case study of a cyclist who's goal is to get FASTER. An all-too-common goal for all of us triathletes, I was reading up on what some of the experts were saying and I came across the TESTA TEST- written by Max Testa, who is one of the most famous cycling coaches, most recently, aiding Levi Leipheimer in getting faster for the TDF, as well as having helped coach some of the first pro cycling teams (Team 7-Eleven) back in the day. Testa basically established the theory that the strongest cyclist is the one who can climb in the biggest gear, at the highest cadence, for the longest period of time. Sound familiar, Lance Armstrong? Al Lyman (bio below) published the TESTA TEST, and I wanted to post it today on my blog. Something for us to try in the off-season to see where we are all at when it comes to power output.
Coach Al Lyman, CSCS, is certified with USA Triathlon, the Triathlon Academy, and the National Strength and Conditioning Association, and is the founder of Pursuit Fitness (www.pursuit-fitness.com). In addition to coaching athletes of all levels in the U.S. and abroad, he is also a 8-time Ironman Triathlon Finisher (3-time Hawaii Finisher) with a 10:29 PR, and holds a 2:39 PR at the Boston Marathon.
The Testa Test for Finding Your Optimal Cycling Cadence
(The information below is taken from: http://velo-irk.ru/info/SPIN%20SCIENCE.htm)
How do you determine what cadence is best for you?
There is one test for determining your optimal cadence created by Max Testa, that I believe is perfect for most of us to use as a reliable testing protocol and it also happens to be a great way to find out what your strengths and weaknesses are on the bike, i.e. whether you need further development in strength vs. aerobic conditioning.
Testing Your Cadence With Hill Repeats (The Testa Test)
One of the best ways to experiment with different cadences is when you are in the middle of doing “hill repeats” in a specific hill repeat session. Your body will tell you what style cadence works for you by the feedback you get as you hit maximum on your climbing repeat test (Testa Test). You must wear a Heart Rate Monitor in order to get accurate feedback. Also, you should pay attention to your body's reactions (HR, breathing, power meter, speed, perceived exertion, and INSTINCTS) during this test to get an accurate determination about what cadence style suits you best and you will have to repeat this test several times to get an accurate measure.
Testa describes one possible reaction as: "Do you shift to a lower gear and spin fast because if you go to a bigger gear and grind your legs, you’ll die? In that case, you need to be stronger."
Testa also describes,"But, if you use a smaller a gear and spin, and your breathing goes out of control, you need more cardiovascular development."
Optimal Cadence Testing Protocol (Testa Test)
On a day when you are well rested and feeling good, get on the bike and ride to warmup for at least 20-30', bringing your heart rate up into your zone 2.
While you warm up, ride toward a fairly steep hill (but not REALLY steep - about 6-10% on avg. will work great!), and do 3 x 3-4' HILL repeats, all while seated and all hard efforts, with an easy spin down recovery.
Important: Choose a gear and cadence for these repeats that feels most comfortable to you! It may be slower, or it may be faster. Choose your most preferable cadence, and then work it!! Since you are going to perform 3 repeats up the hill, be sure to pace yourself on the first, so that you can finish all three reps strong!, and then cooling down for the day.
On the second "repeat", you’ll be warmed up but hopefully not yet “toasted.” When you’re near the top or the end of the climb, push as hard as you can! Near the top, at the point where you begin to lose power and your pedal stroke gets ragged, shift to a harder gear and try to maintain the same speed. Pay attention to what happens (HR, speed, perceived exertion, etc.)
Then recover (4-5 min) with a light spin and prep for repeat 3...
On the third repeat, when the going gets tough, shift to an easier gear and try to spin at a higher cadence. Compare your feelings, sensations, and SPEED to the first and second repeat.
Done several times, this experiment should tell you whether you’re more efficient as a spinner or a grinder. It should also reveal if you need to work on leg strength and power or cardiovascular conditioning in order to become a better climber and cyclist.
Obviously, if you are training “with a power meter,” that can be an excellent way to gauge what’s happening. With the benefit of being able to see BOTH heart rate and watts, you can instantly tell which “way” is more efficient.
Keep in mind that this is only a representation of a test that you could do, over the course of a couple of different sessions, to hopefully see a pattern over time. Be patient, one will eventually emerge. If you’re listening closely to your body and feelings, you’ll find that cadence “sweet spot,” and you’ll be much more in tune with your body when racing.
Finding your cadence "sweet spot" takes practice and discipline. Be patient and LISTEN to your body!
Just one more reminder: all this talk about finding a cadence “sweet spot” doesn’t take away the fact that when it comes to cadence, you should nearly always err on the side of caution by turning an easier gear, rather than a larger one. This transfers stress to your cardiovascular system and saves the leg muscles from undue fatigue.
Thanks, Coach Al. All something we should pay closer attention to when thinking about developing max power on the bike. Don't forget about strength training in the gym in the off-season as well. More to come on that topic...
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