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Physiological testing time for Caspar

Being part of this year’s 220 Triathlon Academy has afforded the participants some excellent opportunities

Being part of this year’s 220 Triathlon Academy has afforded the participants some excellent opportunities. One such chance was the invitation extended by Wattbike aficionado, Eddie Fletcher, to visit him at his Evesham laboratory for some bike based physiological testing.

Having worked with multiple indoor rowing champions, British Cycling and GB age group triathletes, Eddie has an impressive CV. And as a walked through the doors of Fletcher Sports Science I was just a little bit daunted about what he had in store for me.

Two and a half hours later, I staggered out into the car park having spent a tough but enjoyable morning being put through my paces. I received a detailed and informative 11 page report a few days later which I am still analysing and this blog is a summary of what happened in the lab and, more importantly, what the data means to an average triathlete like me.

Before I got on the bike, Eddie took my blood pressure, measured my body composition and tested my respiratory capabilities. A brief summary of the results concluded that my mid morning resting heart rate was 53bpm “reflecting a trained status” and my blood pressure was in the normal range. My body fat was around 7% with a satisfactory percentage of my body weight being water (68%). So far so good.

Following this, he had me inhaling and exhaling into all sorts of strange devices, the upshot of which being that whilst I have quite a large lung capacity (6.47 litres), my inspiratory muscles are not particularly strong. Indeed, I was significantly out-blown by Eddie who is in his fifties. I’m 28.

Now, what does this all mean for Triathlon? Research suggests that during exercise, the inspiratory (breathing) muscles fatigue quickly thus limiting performance. If an athlete can therefore strengthen his/her breathing muscles, the respiratory demand for blood is less and the cardiac output to the legs is increased, essentially meaning one can pedal faster for longer. In terms of respiratory training, the POWERbreathe device helps and can be purchased for about £40 online. In tests, athletes using it took an average of 3 minutes off their 1 hour time trial split.

So, a little out of breath, I clambered onto the Wattbike and awaited instruction. Following a 20 minute warm up incorporating some high cadence spinning, Eddie set me up on a 3 minute maximal output test through which he could calculate how much power I could put down and what my heart rate zones were. Based on my results, I should be capable of executing a sub 60 minute 40km road TT split but this obviously depends on race conditions.

I span the pedals slowly for a further 30 minutes before taking on the British Cycling Ramp Test which nearly ruined my day. The protocol was simply to push more wattage and increase the cadence every 60 seconds until I was physically empty. Dreadful.

Aside from extending me to the limit of my physical capabilities in the name of performance science, the tests also produced data on an area of cycling often neglected by triathletes, technique. Whilst most semi serious athletes are not averse to spending hours in the pool executing float based or one armed drills (and perhaps even hiring a swim coach), not many will have examined the way they ride in the same detail. As Eddie explains, effective pedalling can save not only time but vital energy for the run leg.

The Wattbike records statistics on power distribution at different speeds and outputs (mine was on average 51% – 49% in favour of my right leg). It also registers pedalling technique on a Force Curve which allows users to see exactly where they are losing power. All cyclists lose a little momentum when they transition from the down stroke to the up stroke but being able to monitor this while you ride allows you to develop a technique to minimise it.

The full test results came a couple of days later in the form of an 11 page report, of which this is a summary, and provided some extremely interesting data on cycling technique (which often gets neglected by triathletes), training zones and physiological make up. Depending on the type of tests needed prices range from £125 to £249 and further information, including how to contact Eddie can be found online at http://www.fletchersportscience.co.uk/ . Or indeed if you just fancy hiring a Wattbike, go to www.wattbike.com/.

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The 220 Triathlon team is made up of vastly experienced athletes, sports journalists, kit reviewers and coaches. In short, what we don't know about multisport frankly isn't worth knowing! Saying that, we love expanding our sporting knowledge and increasing our expertise in this phenomenal sport.