There are TONS of ways to measure progress on a fitness journey.
So often I see people basing the effectiveness of their training programs on how much weight they’ve lost, or how much tighter and more firm they are after a few months of training.
And while those are definitely helpful things to track, especially if your main goal is weight-related, they’re not the only things.
In fact, when I’m coaching clients who are looking to lose weight, I rarely, if ever, have them step on a scale. I much prefer things like measurements, photos, and the way in which their clothes are fitting to track their weight loss progress.
But weight aside, what are some other ways we can measure progress? Getting stronger and being able to lift heavier weights is a big one. Better endurance, increased running or cycling speed, better sleep, more energy, and more confidence – these are all things I like to keep my girls focused on when we’re training together.
There are SO many amazing benefits that come from moving your fabulous body that have absolutely nothing to do with the way you look, and it’s incredibly beneficial to track those things to help keep yourself motivated.
The Coach Becomes the Coachee
In a recent post I mentioned I was training for my first half ironman race. This is both exciting and terrifying, a sign I’ve chosen a good goal to work towards this year.
I worked with a coach while training for last year’s races (and in case you missed them, you can read about two of them here and here). My main reason was because I wanted to pass the thinking off to someone else, but I also wanted the extra accountability and guidance that comes from working with a coach.
This year I’m back to coaching myself. I want to try a few things out on myself and see if I really know as much as I like to think I know 😉 We can think of it as a kind of sick and twisted experiment.
Since I’m coaching myself, I’m going through a lot of the processes with myself that I typically do with my clients. I’ve identified some areas of my well-being that need a little extra TLC to help me get across that finish line strong and healthy, I’ve made note of some potential roadblocks and a plan to overcome them, and I’ve been doing various fitness tests that will help me measure the effectiveness of my training.
I’ve seen these guys at dozens of race expos, and I kept thinking to myself “I gotta get in there for an assessment!” While they offer a number of assessments that can help you improve your maximal athletic performance, recreational fitness levels, or even help combat health-related issues, the main assessment I’ve had my eye on was the VO2 Max, Blood Lactate, and Energy Usage Analysis.
It took me longer to get in there than I would have liked. I like to say it was a busy schedule that held me back, but I think the fear of working as hard as I possibly could on a bike with a snorkel mask attached to my face may have had something to do with it as well.
Eliminating the Guesswork
Looks fun, right? My test lasted just over 15 minutes, and during that time the watts I was producing were increased every 3 minutes, and a small blood sample was taken just before the increase.
Over the course of the test we were able to measure my aerobic power, at what point lactate begins to accumulate in my blood, and the amount of carbohydrates and fat my body burned at different stages of the test.
Riding with the mask on was a super weird sensation. And my legs hurt. A lot. Which I was expecting. But still, it’s one thing to expect the hurt and another to experience it 😉
So – why would you want to do this to yourself? Why not just follow tried-and-true training methods?
The main reason is because those tried-and-true methods, while effective in many cases, are not always individualized to your unique body, lifestyle, and your current level of fitness. And even if you have an individualized program, like the one I had from my coach last year and the one I’ve created for myself this year, you can make them that much more effective by knowing exactly where your current level of fitness lies.
These assessments allow you to get completely individualized heart rate and power training zones, you learn how your body metabolizes fat and carbohydrates at varying intensities, and you gain an understanding of where to spend the majority of your training time so you don’t waste a single minute (which I’m ALL for, because who has time to waste these days?).
Not only that, if your training program actually works (which we would hope it does!) there’s a chance your heart rate zones and training intensities may change. As your body gets stronger and adapts, it’s important to ensure these zones are updated to reflect your new and improved level of fitness.
The Results Are In
After doing the assessment, I was really happy to learn the consultation to go over my results would be happening on a later date. I don’t think I’d be able to comprehend much of anything after those 15 minutes on the bike 😉
I went back the following week for the full run-down, although I received the results a few days prior so I had already started making some adjustments to my training plan. I was able to sit down with Lewis, Peak’s Director of Sports Science, for a little over an hour to discuss the results and what they meant for my training.
And wow – what an eye-opening experience! There were so many cool things to geek out over and I learned so much about my body and my current level of fitness. Initially I was pretty bummed because I didn’t last as long as I thought I should have during the test, but apparently I pushed myself pretty hard and was able to withstand a substantial amount of lactate in my legs before pulling the plug. Thank you strength training and HIIT!
A BIG surprise was the amount of carbohydrates my body burns. According to the Energy Usage Analysis, when I’m riding in Zone 1 I need to be consuming 22 grams of carbohydrates every 30 minutes. 22 grams! And that’s just in Zone 1. I’ve definitely been under-fuelling the past few years, so I’m really excited to see how much stronger I feel on those long rides as I begin consuming an adequate amount of carbohydrates.
I also learned that my maximal aerobic power, or VO2 Max, is pretty strong. All of the work I’ve been doing in my spin classes and on my trainer has really paid off over the past couple of years. But we all know that we need to train both our strengths and our weaknesses, right? And my weakness is the low intensity stuff.
To Zone 1? Or Not to Zone 1?
I’ve always avoided the Zone 1 training because not only does it seem boring, but by the general heart rate guidelines, it’s basically impossible for me to stay within it. My heart rate gets pretty high, so when my coach set up my heart rate training zones last year I’d leave Zone 1 within 5 minutes of riding. Even if I was riding at a super easy, leisurely pace.
But because Peak Centre for Human Performance is all about individualization, I was also able to get an accurate look at my heart rate zones, and my Zone 1 is actually much higher than what the standard 220-minus-your-age calculations say.
In a world where we’re always pushing to go harder and faster, what’s all the fuss about Zone 1? Is it really necessary? Like anything in health and fitness, if you read different sources you’ll find different answers. I won’t lie – I’ve been big on the “Zone 1 is a waste of time” camp, but the further I go into the research, the more willing I am to try it out.
When you think about participating in longer-distance triathlons or cycling and running events, they’re primarily aerobic. Sure, things like hills and the desire to pass that chick in front of you will require short anaerobic bursts, but when you’re working for 3 or more hours you’re predominantly in the aerobic zone.
So without going too far into research and science and opening myself up to an internet fight that I’m not really looking to get into today, I’ll say this – if your sport is aerobic, it makes sense to train aerobically, right? That doesn’t mean it has to be ALL aerobic. Hard efforts have their place for sure. But I think Zone 1 has developed an unnecessarily bad rep.
I’m beginning to believe that the reason the majority of endurance athletes don’t see any benefit to training in Zone 1 is that they aren’t really training in Zone 1. Boom. Mind = blown, right? A trap many endurance athletes get into is not taking their easy workouts easy enough, and not pushing hard enough for their hard workouts.
Zone 2 is that weird zone where it’s not really hard enough to elicit a strong training response, but it’s also not easy enough to build a strong aerobic base. So if an athlete goes out with the intention of spending the majority of the workout in Zone 1, but ends up spending it in Zone 2, they’re stuck in the “junk miles” zone where they won’t reap as many benefits for their efforts.
I love pushing myself and feeling like a badass. I love how strong climbing hills and doing sprints makes me feel. But I also know that I’m entering new territory with this half ironman, and new territory requires new tactics. Add a busy and pretty stressful life on top of that, and I’m looking forward to spending more time in Zone 1 over the coming months to help improve my endurance and to give my body a little bit of a break.
So What’s Next?
After reading through the results on my own and then sitting down and chatting about it all with Lewis, I’m feeling much more confident about my training strategies for the coming months. I’m happy with where all the high intensity work has brought me to these past couple of years, but I’m also excited to see how I can get stronger and faster by going slower. Speeding up by slowing down seems to be a recurring theme in my life these days.
I plan on spending more time in the saddle at lower intensities, but I’m also looking forward to the weather warming up so I can get on the local mountains to log those brutal Zone 3 workouts I still need to get in.
It’s time to get creative with my mid-workout fuelling strategies and really up my carb game. My hope is that by ensuring I consume enough carbohydrates before, during, and after my workouts, I can continue the lower-carb/higher-fat approach I’ve been adopting outside my workouts.
Peak Centre for Human Performance recommends testing every 8-12 weeks, which is great because it doesn’t conflict with my race schedule. I’m excited to go back in a couple of months to see how the large volume of Zone 1 work with some brutal Zone 3 workouts sprinkled in affects my performance!
You may be reading this and feeling excited by all the cool, geeky things you can learn about your body, but you may also be slightly terrified of the idea of cycling, running, or rowing at high intensities with a snorkel on your face. Trust me, I get it 😉
Fortunately, Peak Centre for Human Performance offers a number of different assessments that can help you get an accurate look at where you currently are in relation to your fitness and body composition goals. You can then take the results of those assessments, such as the Resting Metabolic Rate or Body Composition Assessments, and use them to put together a much more efficient plan of attack!
And lucky for you, Peak Centre for Human Performance is willing to offer all of my readers and clients a 15% discount on an assessment. There’s no need to remember a code to apply or anything like that. Simply tell them you’re a friend of Evolution by Ariana and they’ll hook you up.
Have you ever had a VO2 max or blood lactate test done? Any cool results you want to share?
Disclaimer: I was offered a discount on my assessment in exchange for my thoughts on the experience. As always, all thoughts and opinions are 100% my own. You guys know I would never lie to you.