Going Anaerobic at Boulder Performance Lab

18 09 2008

Going Anaerobic at Boulder Performance Lab- By Ryan Wood

Hoping to leverage the world’s collective energy on 9/11, I eagerly rolled the Zipp 808 Power Tap equipped Cervelo into to the Boulder Performance Lab. It was my first bike-based VO2 Max, lactate threshold (LT), spin scan, pedaling efficiency and caloric burn analysis. Jason Smith the test administrator/owner gave me a preview of the process, the warm-up (15 min), the LT test, with finger prick (35 min), then recovery (10 min), next the VO2 Max test (17 min) and finally the cool down—total sweat time 90 minutes. I had rested the day before, recovered well from the previous weekend’s sprint race and had mentally prepared myself for a serious and focused workout.

Since, I am an engineer at heart and like lots of data; I knew that the BPL experience would fascinate me. I had brought my 2003/4 running test data from Boulder Sports Medicine to review along with my latest race data from the September 6, Oktoberfest Sprint Triathlon (which by the way is a great venue and race). The race results were 250 watts, 21.9 mph, 91 cadence, for the 33 minute time trail. Personally, the race was great, I PR’ed the 5K for a new altitude record of 22 min / 7:06 ppm, taking 2nd in my age group, just missing 1st by ½ a minute, all at 200 lbs with ~21% body fat.

Next, Jason and I discussed the interplay of weight on VO2 Max, spin efficiency impact on cycling and estimated what the test results might show. Then off to change clothes and jump on the bike for the beef of the experience.

Predicting that my LT would be between 230-250 watts, we set up ten, 3 minute intervals in 10 watt increments from 170-270 watts. At each stage Jason did a finger prick (much less noticeable than the pricks four years ago) to measure the amount of lactate in my blood. He even spread it out over all five fingers, a nice touch.

The bike effort felt like normal training for awhile, then like racing, and at 260 watts, 145 bpm and a perceived exertion level of 8.3, I eased off and recovered, after all this was not the VO2 max test. Cadence was not a problem, averaging 96.

Jason, also recorded a Hemocrit level of 42%, and a glucose of 108 mg/dL. My mental note: eat more red meat, and or be more religious about multi-vitamins. Below is a chart of fat and carbohydrate calorie consumption vs. bike watts.

So the results were a LT of 240 watts at 139 bpm for a 2.64 watts/kg at 200 lbs. Pros of my same height weigh 155 (Matt Reid) to 165. However, realistically, at age 53 getting down to 180 would dramatically improve run performance (2-3sec/lb/mile) and move the LT watts/kg closer to 3.

Next was the spin scan and pedaling efficiency test. Left leg 53% right leg 47% percent—this was particularly noticeable in the aero position: riding upright the difference was lower. Next we did some drills, right and left leg, clear conclusion: right leg needs spin drills and possibly strengthening. Spin efficiency was 69-71% (there was room for improvement there too) ideally needs to be near 80%.

The last test was the VO2 Max test. Taking a lab test is not like the open road. First your nose is clamped, your mouth is holding the gas sensor (which feels like a horse bit), there is not much adrenaline to use, that you often get from chasing that fast 22 year old female, or passing people—it takes concentration to do well.

The test started for me with 4 minutes at 70% of LT, then 4 minutes at 85%, then 4 minutes at 100% of LT (240 watts) then increasing each minute by 25 watts, until exhaustion. I stopped at 340 watts at a VO2 Max of 46 ml/kg/min at ~155 bpm. However, since no one besides Jason was there—no coach, no wife, no group of supporters shouting encouragement to generate an adrenaline response—I cut off the pain and say that’s enough.

The test results put me in the high-level-amateur category of male athletic VO2 Max norms. Losing 20 lbs would improve my VO2 Max figure ~51 and would move me in the Pro/Elite category for my age. Realistically, this is likely the only way I can qualify for the Hawaiian Ironman, which is on my life’s goal list.

The neat thing about Jason and the Boulder Performance Lab is that they have all this data, perspective and information that can truly give you the tools to become a better athlete. However, like most of life it is still up to you to execute, get out of bed, do the workout, participate and grow.

So what did I learn? What should I do to further improve?

1) Lose more weight. No surprise there, just a perpetual effort to calorie counting/logs along with focus, discipline, motivation, patience, smart training, time management and spousal negotiation. i.e. life.

2) Do more long, low wattage (100 watts below LT) rides to burn more fat.

3) Pedaling style and efficiency needs more work, more leg drills and spin-focused workouts, easy to do and could add both speed and reduced fatigue on the run.

4) Be more consistent about using my bike training zones to further improve wattage.

5) Pump more weights to increase resting metabolic rate (RMR) and burn more calories (although the sports medicine literature is mixed on this).

Ryan Wood

F4 Triathlete




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