You may have seen my recent blog on effectively testing your performance. In this blog, I wanted to explore some of the influences on testing, so that you could help create an environment that promotes accurate results.
Covered in this blog:
- The difference between external and internal influences
- External influences
- Internal influences
- Rest and sleep
- External influences
The difference between external and internal influences
External and internal factors both have a significant effect on performance. However, there is a difference between the two.
External factors are out of the control of the athlete and coach, whereas internal factors are things that can be controlled by either the coach, or the athlete. It is important to differentiate between the two and understand that these can/will affect any results that are recorded during testing. In this blog I will explain two of each, but I am sure you can think of more, and may have even been affected by more than what is in this blog too. Starting with external factors:
If you are conducting your testing outside, perhaps because you are testing yourself on a particular climb, part of a course, racing a time trial, or just hate being inside, you might have to deal with the weather as one of the key influences on testing.
Here in the UK, we have an interesting climate (to say the least!). You could have beautiful weather leading up to the day of your test, then wake up to gale force winds and wet road conditions. It goes without saying, these will affect your scores if you are testing yourself outside. Wind from all directions will influence your cycling performance as will wet roads, icy roads or trails.
On a mountain bike, you may even have to completely re-route your ride if your trails have had a big hit of water. On the road bike you may have to re-route due to flooding etc. This is of no fault to your own, but it might also affect you mentally if, on the day of your test, you have to change the loop, or the plan.
It’s also a massive shift on the mindset too.
One of the advantages of training outside, though, is the fact that it becomes more realistic to the sport of cycling. Testing yourself outdoors in adverse weather will also serve a purpose for improving your mindset, and technical ability, when it comes to race/ride day and the weather is not in your favour. In this instance, testing outside is actually advantageous as a method of ensuring your training will help you complete your event.
There might be an argument to say that this actually isn't factor as you can control when you go out, earlier/later times, which will mean less traffic, and not riding in rush hour etc. You can’t however know if there has been an accident, tractors and slow-moving vehicles causing heavy traffic, or sudden road works.
As mentioned above, testing yourself outdoors might be a better reflection of the event you are doing, but you can also have to contend with this.
There is nothing worse than going all out on a hill climb test to have a car blast past you too close, beeping their horn and shouting at you. While this is something cyclists often have to deal with, it’s not ideal when testing. Likewise, imagine setting yourself a time trial loop and being stuck in road works, not managing to keep your momentum when you are working on an FTP style loop. Not an ideal scenario for testing.
Try to control when you go out, but bear in mind these things will crop up and can affect your performance in tests.
You may have heard the saying “don’t try anything new on race day”. Well, unsurprisingly, that is also true of testing day too. Now if you wanted to be a pure perfectionist, your diet would be exactly the same on every test day you do. However, for the sake of simplicity, I would suggest your regular pre-ride meal also being your pre-test meal. Essentially here, you could eat something that is different, as a test and feel like you are lacking in energy. This will play on your mind and effect your performance negatively.
Keep your nutrition consistent on competition and test day and you are less likely to have any nutrition-based mistakes. The same goes for caffeine intake and hydration.
Rest and sleep
This is a big one. We’ve all been there; an early morning ride where we have slept poorly through the night. We feel groggy, dehydrated, and slow to get up to speed. Easy to tire and our heart rate is through the roof.
A higher resting heart rate, a constant feeling of hunger or a loss of appetite, dehydration and higher stress levels are all side effects of poor sleep. As well as an earlier onset of fatigue, if you know you have a competition or test coming up, then make sure you go into it properly rested.
As an example, here is how my training week would look the week of a cross country MTB event (I would have ridden the Sunday before Monday):
To minimise stress levels, make sure you set off with more than enough time to make it to the venue. Eat my meals either on the way or at the venue.
I would strongly advise you to keep some form of routine planned around your test day. Remember during testing you want to be as close to peak fitness as possible as this will help you establish your strengths and weaknesses. Creating a template for how you can improve as an athlete moving forwards. Testing should be taken as serious, removing decisions will help reduce stress and promote positive performance.
When it comes to factors that affect testing results, some you can control, others you cannot, this is just part of cycling testing life. Understanding what is in and out of your control is key to managing your mindset. If you head out for an outdoor test and traffic ruins your day, or you have a headwind, you might have a poorer result that you wanted. This is not your fault, don't beat yourself up about it!
However, control your controllable, and ensure that you prep correctly for the test. In this way, you will give yourself the best chance for success.