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The Tour, Alpe d'Huez, and Getting Faster with Strava

Posted on Saturday, July 13 at 07:30 AM

In the last post we explored the concept of the Lactate Threshold (LT2) and why it is of interest to the endurance athlete. It might be helpful to read through that post as a quick refresher for this column where we’ll discuss utilizing the LT2 to impact training and performance.

While laboratory testing remains the gold standard for precisely examining power in relation to blood lactate concentration, there are several reasons why “on the bike” testing may be preferred. A laboratory setting minimizes external variables (wind speed, rolling resistance, enraged motorists, American River Bike Trail super-cops), but can also be costly, invasive, and highly dependent on the skill of the technician as well as testing protocol used [1].

This post will seek to define a simple and practical method utilizing Strava as a low cost alternative to lab testing or power meters. First, let’s review the 3 reasons why understanding the LT2 matters.

  • The LT2 is closely related to endurance performance (more power at LT2 means more speed).
  • Understanding the LT2 can lead to effective training intensity prescription.
  • Tracking the LT2 is a great way of monitoring progress or stagnation on the bike.

In the old days, one way to track progress was to record climbing times on a stopwatch. Not only has Strava changed the way in which cyclists interact and compete, it has proven to be a low cost method of bringing objectivity and clarity to training and racing. Never before has it been so simple to compare personal bests over every inch of road while gaining insight into physiological parameters like the LT2.

The first step in using Strava to understand your LT2 is to choose a climb that mirrors the sustained power output of riding at an LT2 intensity. Since endurance time at LT2 is speculated to be around 1 hour [2], try to find a climb in the 40-60 minute range. If you live in France at the foot of Alpe d’Huez you’ve found the perfect climb. During stage 18 of this year’s Tour de France riders will climb it twice, highlighting the importance of LT2 power in shaping the biggest bike race on the planet.

If 40-60 minutes is a stretch, shoot for a climb of at least 20 minutes. This will give you an opportunity to get a feel for a maximal, sustained intensity similar to a lab derived LT2 while serving as a benchmark to revisit throughout the season.

Next, familiarize yourself with the exercise intensity of your benchmark climb by assigning it a RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion). RPE is a subjective measure of intensity but has proven to be effective at approximating one’s LT2 [3]. A good estimate of LT2 intensity using an RPE scale of 1-10 would be around 7 or 8. Use this threshold RPE as the anchor for your training intensity prescription.

Lastly, plan ahead and schedule specific days to test your fitness. Since tracking your LT2 is a great way of monitoring your progress on the bike, use Strava to track your benchmark climb throughout the season. Make a point to commit to testing at the finish of this season, the beginning of your base training period, and every 6 weeks throughout 2014. Try to standardize your preparation as much as possible by utilizing the same routine in the lead-up to each day (quality diet, sleep, time of day, bike, etc). Don’t worry about the Strava leaderboard; focus on whether or not you’re improving over time. If you’re not, it’s likely time to mix things up with your training.

In summary:

  • Choose a benchmark climb.
  • Anchor training zones or intensities off this benchmark RPE.
  • Commit to regular benchmark testing.

In the next post we’ll explore the concept of overtraining and how to leverage that knowledge to avoid late season burnout.

Nate Dunn M.S.
Data Driven Athlete
www.datadrivenathlete.com

References

1. Gore, C.J. and Australian Sports Commission., Physiological Tests For Elite Athletes 2000, Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics. xiv, 465 p.
2. Billat, L.V., Use of blood lactate measurements for prediction of exercise performance and for control of training. Recommendations for long-distance running. Sports Med, 1996. 22(3): p. 157-75.
3. Scherr, J., et al., Associations between Borg’s rating of perceived exertion and physiological measures of exercise intensity. Eur J Appl Physiol, 2013. 113(1): p. 147-55.