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How Two 8-Minute Sessions Can Improve Your Cycling Performance

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What does it take to become a great cyclist or athlete? A whole lot of grit for one. There’s also a “human spirit” that seems to appear in many of history’s great athletic contenders.

But, obviously, that’s a shallow understanding of athleticism. You don’t win the Tour de France by sheer will alone, and the need to reach measurable benchmarks is crucial to athletes. You strive to lift heavier weights in the gym over time, so why shouldn’t that same logic be applied in cycling? You can figure out your current level of fitness (and where to go from there) in just a few minutes.

A study into a process called the CTS Field Test was published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (Klika et al., 2007), and brought hope to weekend warriors looking for lab-serious ways to track their cycling progress. It proved that you don’t need a huge facility filled with sensors, trackers, and scientists; you just need about 30 minutes, an HR monitor (like the TICKR), and some physical effort, to get real, accurate performance data.

Photo: Riley Wolff

What is the CTS Field Test?

In short, the CTS Field Test is a quick performance exam, very similar to a HIIT workout. The data you get from this test can be plugged into a formula and will help you determine your recommended training intensity.

It is a simple, three-part workout:

  • 8-minute, high-intensity start
  • 10-minute, easy recovery period
  • 8-minute, all-out finish

Two 8-Minute bursts? That’s it?

That’s it. Chris Carmichael, in the book “The Time-Crunched Cyclist, 2nd Ed.”, explains that while you can output solid data from a 60-minute (or even a 20-minute) time trial, it isn’t realistic. It’s very difficult to maintain full-intensity for an entire hour, for both professionals and amateur cyclists alike. 60-minutes is a significant commitment of time, and even with the right amount of effort, it would be hard to integrate into a regular training program.

With the proper conversion formula built specifically for the CTS Field Test and its factors, you can get predictably close to true lab results within just a half hour.

The Math Behind the CTS Field Test

CTS Field Test initially produces metrics that are roughly 10 percent higher than an athlete’s lab-tested lactate threshold power output. So no — the raw data isn’t a perfect representation of an athlete’s power at lactate threshold. Thankfully, researchers have already considered this factor; when you plug your data into the formula, you’ll be converting with this variance in mind. You’ll get your metrics without needing to pull out your abacus and fancy calculators.

As always, remember that these are just numbers. If you’re not pushing yourself and training efficiently, you’ll never reach your goals. Performance metrics can help measure your progress, but it’s the effort on your bike that makes all the difference!

Want to try the test for yourself? Grab a TICKR, download the CTS Field Test Instructions, and let us know how you fare in the comments!

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