Seeing your personal fitness progress is very rewarding and motivating. In this article I will explain to you a simple objective way to easily track your progress during your warming-up. You don’t need to do an all-out effort and you definitely don’t need to wait until your yearly V02max test in the lab. Let’s get started.
If you want to track your progress, it is important to do it regularly. If you only track progress once a year in a lab, you end up looking at day-to-day differences that give you a wrong idea of how your fitness behaves. Ideally you track your progress at least once a month.
Of course you don’t want to visit an expensive test center every month. You also don’t want to do an all-out effort every month, that requires multiple rest days before the test. This would negatively affect your progress, while progress itself is more important than measuring it. So, we are looking for an easy way to track progress regularly. A test that can be done without sophisticated technology, without interfering our training plan. But still a test that measures our progress objectively.
Simply said, when your body needs less energy (internal) to do the same effort (external), you are progressing. Or the other way around, when your body needs the same energy (internal) but produces better results (external), you are progressing. Therefore, we are going to use two parameters. One for internal load and one for external load. Examples of internal load are heart rate and RPE (rate of perceived exertion, on a scale of 0 – 10). Examples of external load are power or pace (running, swimming, rowing, cycling, etc.). If you don’t have a power meter or GPS, pace can be expressed as the time it took to go from point A to point B.
Pick your combination of internal load and external load, pick which one is your variable and which one you are going to keep unaltered and you are ready to start tracking your progress.
Case professional cyclist during COVID-19 lockdown
What kind of results can you expect? Let’s look at some results Spragg Cycle Coaching recently shared on twitter, from a professional cyclist during COVID-19 lockdown. He/she performed a LSCT protocol in which you measure cycling power (external) at a certain heart rate (internal). This was done at a low heart rate (blue line), medium heart rate (orange line) and high heart rate (red line). You can see an increase in power on the Y axis between 29/11/2019 and 29/02/2020 on the X axis, in all three heart rate lines.
At 28/04/2020 you can see a clear fitness decline after 6 weeks of COVID-19 ‘house arrest’, when power almost plummets back to pre-training values. Although studies show you have less day-to-day variation when using heart rates at 85 to 90% of maximum heart rate, you can see all three heart rate lines show a clear picture of what happened.
Back to your personal progress. As said, you could use pace or the time between point A and B instead of power, and RPE (rate of perceived exertion on a scale of 0 – 10) instead of heart rate. You can also choose to keep the power or pace steady instead of the heartrate or RPE. Personally, I find keeping power or pace steady more practical.
You then pick a submaximal pace or power, stick to it for let’s say 2-3 minutes so your heart rate can stabilize, and check what your heart rate is at the end of this interval. When you repeat and log this over time, you create a graph that is the opposite of the one above, since progress at a set power or pace means you are going to lower the heart rate.
If you don’t have a heart rate monitor or power/pace tracker: choose a certain distance, perform it at the same RPE (for example a 7 on a scale of 0-10) every time, and track the time it took. The less time you need to cover the distance at the same RPE intensity, the fitter you are. Good luck!