How do you proceed from an exercise test to a training plan? Of course, just having received the report of the exercise test in your mailbox will not make you run or bike stronger. You only go faster if you train better and smarter. The first input is training within the individual training zones that your exercise test yields. Second, an exercise test shows the strengths and weaknesses of your aerobic and anaerobic systems. This is shown in your metabolic profile, the second building block for your training schedule. The third input is the goal you are training towards and how much time you have to train for it.
1 From exercise test to training plan: individual training zones
An exercise test reveals your individual training zones. Each zone corresponds to an energy system. By training in the correct training zone, you will achieve the goal of that training. Shoot with precision instead of randomly shooting with buckshot. An exercise test at 3in1Sports for running gives you your individual zones in heart rates, speeds and wattages (Stryd). If you do your exercise test on the bike, you will get zones in heart rates and wattages. Each zone has a specific training effect. Below you see an example of the zones of an exercise test on the bike.
Most athletes who take an exercise test at 3in1Sports have the results translated into a personal training plan. This means that your zones are put in TrainingPeaks, so that you can perform your workouts in your individual zones. This way you train exactly what you want to train. As you can see, all zones are specified in wattage. The first four zones are also expressed in heart rates, so you can train on either one. I prefer to see athletes train in those four zones with the combination of heart rate and wattage. In this way you have a double-check to train the right system. The three top zones are deliberately only indicated in wattage. Training in those zones often consists of shorter intervals in which the heart rate responds with a delay. That makes wattage the best way to control your intervals. For running, these intervals are specified in speed or wattage.
2 From exercise test to training plan: metabolic profile
Energy is required to make an effort. You need to generate energy to swim, bike or run. Your body has several systems for this. The aerobic system provides energy through the conversion of fatty acids using oxygen. Hence the term aerobic. The anaerobic system produces energy by converting glycogen into energy. This happens without oxygen (anaerobic). Lactate is the byproduct. The third system is the anaerobic alactic system: without oxygen and without formation of lactate. In this process, creatine phosphates are burned. That system is exhausted after 10-15 seconds and falls outside the scope of this article.
There are quite a few misunderstandings about the connection between aerobic and anaerobic systems. In many test reports, a distinction is made between thresholds. The first threshold is the aerobic threshold, the second the anaerobic threshold. The aerobic threshold is the point at which the body switches from primarily burning fat to primarily burning glycogen. The anaerobic threshold is the point at which the body produces more lactate than it can absorb. Too often I hear athletes say that they have done ‘a pure fatty acid training’. As if all the energy during that workout was supplied by fats.
How the aerobic and anaerobic systems work
The body works much more nuanced. During endurance exercise, energy systems are always work simultaneously, but in different proportion. By now you know that the aerobic system has fatty acids as its main source of energy. Even the most trained athlete has enough fats on board for several days of moderate exercise. The disadvantage is that the conversion of fatty acids is relatively slow. You can sustain an effort for a long time, but at a relatively low intensity.
To go fast, you also need your anaerobic system. That converts carbohydrates into energy. In addition to ATP (energy), this conversion also produces lactate. Lactate has a bad reputation. It is often seen as the molecule that causes ‘acidification’. Incorrectly, because the lactate that is produced in your anaerobic system is fuel for your aerobic system. To put it simply: the anaerobic system turns on your lactate tap, the aerobic system is the drain for the produced lactate.
There is a limit to that. Above a certain point, your aerobic system can no longer process the produced lactate. This is reflected in the ever-increasing lactate levels in the blood. Measuring lactate during exercise shows the ratio of your aerobic and anaerobic energy metabolism at different levels of exertion.
And now it gets interesting. If you link the heart rate, speed and wattage data and lactate values, you gain insight into how your aerobic and anaerobic system relate to each other. This is called your metabolic profile. Below you see two metabolic profiles. The left one belongs to an athlete with well-developed aerobic energy management. The right profile shows a dominant anaerobic energy supply.
Have you ever wondered why in your training group, which has athletes of the same level, one responds much better to the same training than the other? Most likely they have a different metabolic profile.
A metabolic profile allows to look ‘under the hood’. It shows what your strengths and weaknesses are in terms of aerobic and anaerobic energy management. With that knowledge you can make the training program even better and more targeted. The athlete who is aerobically good (the left profile) advances by activating his anaerobic systems. That means short, intense intervals. Those intervals, coupled with endurance training to further develop the aerobic base, will make this athlete bike and run faster. By getting better anaerobic, more energy can be released. Because the aerobic basis is good, this athlete can process the lactate that is produced by the anaerobic system.
The athlete who is mainly dependent on his anaerobic energy system (the right profile) should mainly invest in endurance training. By doing his endurance training consistently and in the right way, he will become more efficient and better able to process the lactate that his anaerobic system supplies. He has to be careful with intervals. By avoiding short, high-intensity intervals, he deactivates his highly anaerobic systems, which is beneficial for long distance events.
3 From exercise test to training plan: periodisation
To translate and exercise test into a training plan, we first use the correct training zones. The second input is the metabolic profile. The third determining element is the main event the athlete is aiming for. A five-kilometer running race requires a different preparation than a ten-hour Ironman. How much weeks are available to work towards the event is the fourth factor for the training program.
For this blog we take as inputs:
1. A sprint triathlon (1 hour effort)
2. With a preparation time of 16 weeks,
3. For an athlete with a dominant aerobic metabolic profile
This results in this periodization.
Block 1: 6 weeks of short VO2Max intervals endurance training
The metabolic profile shows that gains can be made by engaging the anaerobic systems. That’s why the schedule
starts with six weeks of short, high-intensity intervals. They activate the anaerobic energy system and learn the body to produce more lactate. An example workout is shown right.
You can do two to three of these workouts per week. The rest of the workouts are endurance and technique workouts. This increases your aerobic base.
Block 2: 4 weeks VO2Max intervals (8-12% volume) + 88-92% endurance and recovery training
Now that the anaerobic systems are activated, we schedule a block of four weeks of VO2Max intervals. These are
longer than in the first period and help to increase the maximum oxygen uptake. Every week the intervals get a little longer.Those are really tough workouts. Just look at this run interval session.
In the first week, the core of the training is 15 to 20 minutes, in the fourth week 30 to 40 minutes. Every week there is such a training on the program for biking and running. Good swimmers also do one in the pool. In between you do recovery and endurance training.
Block 3: 6 weeks Lactate Balance intervals (10-15% volume) + 85-90% endurance and recovery training
For a sprint triathlon, developing the highest possible lactate balance is the most important thing. That is the rate at which you produce the same amount of lactate (anaerobic) as your aerobic system can process. The last six weeks before the race, intervals on the intensity of the lactate balance are the core workouts. That means one interval session per week on the bike and one interval run session. Good swimmers can add a third interval training in the pool. In the thumbnail you can see an example of a lactate balance interval training.
Whether you’re training for a five kilometer run race or an Ironman, maintaining and developing your aerobic system is the foundation of all endurance sports. If you train that consistently, you can keep growing from year to year. Drilling out the cylinders, as I like to call it. In this blog you can read how best to do that.
After all, the better your aerobic energy management, the longer you can sustain an effort. And also: the more lactate you can burn that your anaerobic energy system produces.
Now you know how to translate an exercise test into a training schedule. Would you also like a test with training schedule? Then make an appointment.