Merely the thought of a Threshold Test is likely to cause stress and anxiety for many Athletes.
However, despite any perceived stress, performing a Threshold Test will garner valuable data and help an Athlete practice the all-important skill of pacing during a maximal effort.
In most cases, the root of these negative feelings lie in an Athletes perception of the test results and what they might reveal in regards to an Athlete’s abilities.
Because this kind of thinking wreaks havoc on an Athlete’s confidence and blunts their performance when executing a Threshold test or other maximal performance we have put together the following five tips to help every Athlete better execute their next Threshold Test.
The lessons learned from executing proper Threshold Tests can be applied to almost any maximal effort. Photo Credit: Danny Munson, DMunsonPhoto.com
Five Tips To Execute Your Best Threshold Test
#1: Warm-Up Well
In order to produce your very best effort, an Athlete must be well-rested and warm-up properly.
For each Athlete, being ‘warmed-up’ means something different, but a general guideline is that it is essential to have done one or two shorter efforts to prepare the body for the work ahead.
It is also important to keep these efforts short and not maximal in nature in order to avoid using your best efforts during the warm-up routine.
That is to say that a longer, easy warm-up that includes two or three one-minute high cadence efforts at an endurance pace, or possibly, a 4-5 minute effort that ramps-up (slowly) from easy spinning to threshold for the last minute will best prepare the body for the workload ahead.
This kind of warm-up should build-up a little sweat and prime your legs, lungs, and mind for the maximal effort ahead.
Note: When in doubt, less is more when it comes to intensity in warm-ups.
#2: Choose Your Route Wisely
Choosing a route for the Threshold Test is key to an evenly paced effort. Ideally, the route should offer an uninterrupted road, preferably with a steady incline.
If the road has undulations, steep-pitches, dangerous intersections, or blind curves, it will add stress for the Athlete and compromise performance, both of which should be avoided at all cost.
The goal with the Threshold Test route selection is to find the most mundane and constant road possible. In a perfect world, it would simulate a laboratory-type setting, with consistent and predictable conditions with no surprises!
Note: When choosing a test area, keep in mind that this road will be used again and again in the training process, meaning it should be an ‘all-seasons’ option.
A good warm-up and steady pacing are two keys to completing a top-notch Threshold Test. Photo Credit: Big Wheel Coaching
#3: Pace Yourself To Go Hard, Harder, Hardest
Twenty minutes may not sound like a long time, but when the pressure is on, and you are staring at your cyclocomputer, seconds will start to pass like minutes!
A good pacing strategy should use a straightforward approach that breaks the effort into manageable segments. We suggest 5-minute milestone goals for a Threshold Test, meaning that each 5-minute milestone means the Athlete is 25% closer to completing the goal of a maximal 20-minute test.
This trick will become immensely helpful as the discomfort of lactate build-up sets in.
As for pacing, we suggest using the hard, harder, hardest mantra.
That is to say that the first half of the effort should be hard, the third-quarter should be harder, and the final quarter should be the hardest of the effort. With fresh legs and a determined mind, it is all to easy to ride too hard at the beginning of these efforts which inevitably leads to a diminished power output in the final minutes of the test.
#4: Be Mentally Prepared For The Work Ahead
The nature of a Threshold Test is that it is a maximal effort and thus will be very hard.
Therefore it should be no surprise that these tests don’t ‘feel good’.
The self-inflicted anguish of a Threshold Test can be difficult to manage, but with the help of a positive mindset that prepares an Athlete for the difficulty of a maximal effort, it can be a positive experience.
A good piece of advice we like to share with our Athletes is to treat ‘suffering’ during a Threshold Test like a wave that washes over you (figuratively, of course). By tensing-up and fighting the effort an Athlete is sure to waste precious energy that could be channeled into pushing the pedals harder and going faster.
By developing a mindset that 'surrenders' to the discomfort of a Threshold Test and focuses all energies on producing the strongest effort possible, an Athlete is sure to be able to perform their very best.
In short, don’t fight it- flow with it- and never give-up or quit!
Finding a route suitable to year-round Threshold Testing is a must for any Athlete looking to compare their efforts from various training phases during the season. Photo Credit: Brian McCulloch
#5: Relax, The Results Are For Data Collection Only!
From a coaching perspective, the most important part of threshold testing is for the Athlete to avoid equating any negative results as a reflection of their athletic capacities.
Though this advice sounds obvious it is not always intuitive, as we live in a world with a tremendous amount of data, in which, we are constantly being evaluated.
The moral is this: your Coach will not judge you based on your performance, quite the opposite actually. Instead, the data collected will be analyzed and used to craft an ideal performance plan to help you achieve your cycling goals.
We hope this discussion of Threshold Testing, as well as the tips to execute your best maximal effort will be beneficial the next time the dreaded ‘Power Test’ protocol makes it’s way onto your TrainingPeaks Calendar!
Although improved data collection software is making the need to execute Threshold Tests less frequent than several years ago, learning the skill of pacing these 20-minute maximal efforts cannot be overvalued.
By utilizing the tips and techniques above you are sure to achieve your highest potential and best performance with the confidence that you ‘emptied the tank’ on your next Threshold Test or maximal effort.
Until Next Time, Be Safe, Ride Hard, & Have Fun!
-Brian & Joy McCulloch
Big Wheel Coaching