Performance diagnostics for runners

Performance tests are not only for professional athletes. Even beginners and athletes with little free time often get important insights from taking them.

Author: Raphael Huber, MSc, Movement and Sports Science, MAS in Nutrition & Health, Medbase Winterthur WIN4

 

 

Where do I stand in my training? How well is my general fitness? How do I train most efficiently despite little free time? And what is the best way to achieve my goal, for example, the half marathon? Those who ask themselves questions like the ones above are candidates for performance diagnostics since it provides the most accurate answers.

Performance diagnostics comprises two categories: Endurance and strength diagnostics. The core element is a lactate level test. Most athletes do it on a treadmill or bicycle ergometer, rarely on a rowing ergometer or while swimming. Every three or five minutes, the speed or resistance is increased – until the athlete can no longer do it or no longer wants to continue.

Ideally, the performance level test measures three components

  • the fitness of the cardiovascular system
  • the subjective perception of stress
  • the metabolic state

The continuous measurement of the heart rate during the performance test shows how trained the heart is. At the same time, the athlete should indicate at the end of each performance level how resilient they still feel.

The “Borg Scale”, named after the Swedish physiologist Gunnar Borg, serves as a measure for the perceived exertion. Six as the lowest value of the scale corresponds to a very light strain, the highest of twenty is the effort at which the athlete reaches their limit which can’t be maintained for long.

The performance test is most meaningful if the lactate concentration in the blood is analyzed as well. Lactate (lactic acid) is produced as soon as the oxygen supply through respiration is no longer sufficient for energy production in the muscle. As a result, muscle cells increasingly switch from aerobic to anaerobic energy production, which is reflected in a sharp increase in the lactate concentration. To determine this, it is best to extract one drop of blood per performance level from the earlobe. Such a performance diagnosis takes about 1.5 hours (including training advice) and costs around 250 Swiss francs.

Individual training areas

The measured values – heart rate, subjective perception and lactate – can be used to determine when the runner is still training in the range of their basic endurance, when the aerobic (first lactate increase) and anaerobic threshold values are reached and when the athlete starts running in the interval range. This varies from person to person.

If, for example, the heart rate and lactate values are already high, but the perceived exertion is still in the middle range, this may indicate that the athlete tends to “bite their way through”. Those runners are mentally strong but often overtax their bodies.

Athletes who know their performance values, strengths and weaknesses can focus their training on what is important for their type of sport: Marathon runners, for example, need a good basic endurance, while 800-meter runners have to cope with high lactate values.

Good long-distance runners have low lactate values (about one millimole per liter of blood, mmol/l) in the test over several performance levels. This is partly due to the ability of their muscles to produce less lactate at a given level and partly due to the fact that their body can recycle the lactate more easily.

For good short-distance runners, on the other hand, lactate levels rise faster. However, their organism is able to continue to perform at its best despite high values of over ten mmol/l. In technical jargon, this is called “good stamina”.

Without knowledge of the individual thresholds one– in the truest sense of the word –  runs the risk of training incorrectly. This is all the more serious when the time budget is tight. If you train for a marathon alongside work, family, and commitments, it is essential to manage your time very well. Here, the performance test can help to make the training efficient and goal-oriented. The running.COACH training plan is adjusted to your individual threshold for you to train in the right training areas.

Test results and nutrition

The training plan also helps to coordinate nutrition. As long as the training is within the range of basic endurance, the body primarily uses fat reserves as a source of energy. At this stage, there is no need for an extra portion of pasta providing carbohydrates. In high-intensity training, on the other hand, the organism can hardly burn any more fat reserves. In this situation, a “low carb” diet makes it difficult to achieve the required performance.

A performance test makes sense also for amateurs and beginners

Knowing where one’s own thresholds are thus makes sense for several reasons – not only for competitive athletes but also for amateurs and especially beginners. They in particular often make the mistake of expecting too much of themselves according to the motto “Only hard training is good training”. If this happens too often, the “basis” is neglected, and the risk of injury also increases.

The right training is one that is adapted to the individual organism. And this can best be determined by the performance test.

RULE OF THUMB

A rule of thumb can help to determine the performance areas:

  • Basic endurance 1: The athlete can still talk normally without getting out of breath
  • Basic endurance 2: Only short sentences are possible
  • Threshold range: “Yes/No” only
  • Interval range: Speaking is no longer possible

 

This post is also available in DE.

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