Traveling to events around the world and listening to athletes talk about their training, keeps showing me a recurring theme, what methods they are using to measure performance, it is becoming clear still that athletes are not fully understanding their potential within their endurance sport.
The number of athletes I come across that don’t know their maximum heart rate or cyclists who are only using power with no heart rate understanding, that are then left questioning what went wrong when they did not hit the numbers in a race where the air temp was 30 plus degrees.
I know it’s a little cliché but we are all capable of achieving more than we think, when it comes to this arena of ultra-endurance, myself included, push training methodologies that create the most efficient athletes, you know the zone 2-3 type stuff, yes this is your racing area for sure 100% and so yes we spend most of our training time here, but when we build our training zones, understanding our max effort (heart rate) is a vital piece of data.
Imagine your building your training plan, you choose your race then work back and build the phases, knowing your max effort you means you can then work back and build your zones more accurately.
Another and possibly the more important reason for knowing your max is that, during events we have to dig deep, we have to work through some tough times, understanding what it feels like to be at your absolute max will bring you a psychological confidence and understanding that is so valuable it can take you to your next level.
How? Why? Is this possible. Imagine going to the darkest scariest point ever, you have this banked in your mind, taking that thought now when you are racing and you hit this point your mind will have a past experience and the key point is your mind knows you survived last time and so it will tell you don’t panic we have got through worse and you are still alive, now let’s push on.
By taking ourselves to these (let’s call them) dark places we build a psychological armour that protects us in future hard times. The psychological term here is “Self-Efficacy” that can be grown through experience, our ability to believe we can achieve, survive or get through a tough experience.
In my experience to get the max from your heart rate, doing a maximal sport science test works better than any other method, the test must be max/to failure (sub max does not go to that dark place).
Most labs I have worked with have a great team that push the athlete to a place they have most likely not been before, they learn a new max heart rate, they get measured for lactate concentrate (a great score for suffering) plus if the coach is present to watch you see all kinds of things.
Body position during fatigue (important for running or biking), mental strength shows through, Athletes understanding of different efforts and finally we learn why they stopped/finished the test, was it muscular failure? If so maybe max heart rate was not reached, Cardio failure, mental failure or all combined (that’s the one that shows good balance)
As you can see taking it to the max can give you so much more, but you have to get there. Once this has been done and in most cases I have seen 90% of athletes say they can go harder, and when they re-test they do go harder because they have this understanding of what it feels like and so can push that limit, but unless you have been to your limit how do you know how far you can push?
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