Testing Our Limits – Why physiological testing isn’t just for the Pro’s!

Testing Our Limits – Why physiological testing isn’t just for the Pro’s!

Any coach, trainer, educator, therapist, or other personal growth professional will likely introduce you to a gamut of tests to determine where you are relative to where you’re going. In contexts we can’t physically see, this is such an important aspect to ensure positive growth, how else will you know when your blood lipid profiles have decreased, and thereby decreasing the risk of cardiovascular failure or diabetes? Track your efficiency in running 10km? The degree to which you’ve gained mastery over a mathematical equation? Or, determine the progress you’ve made in deepening your conscious experiences?


Various tests, physical or otherwise, exist so we can have a tangible and track-able explanation of where we currently exist relative to our targeted end-point. These tests can be early indicators of progress or failure. In the context of physiological testing, these indicators can be used to gauge the efficacy of your current training program or point to key areas that are lacking in your overall health and wellness routine.

Physiological testing is used regularly in the training regimen of professional and competitive amateur athletes everywhere. Tests are often used as a benchmark for qualification to certain groups or teams, such as the NFL Combine which employs several physical and physiological tests, to determine the prospect and potential of a developing athlete. That’s great, but how does is help Age Group athletes who aren’t looking to go pro?

Let’s take a moment to look at some of the physiological tests used for endurance athletes; Maximal Oxygen Uptake (VO2 Max), Lactate Threshold, Critical Power, Anaerobic Threshold, Running Economy, Time Trial, Time to Exhaustion, and many others (1,2). These tests each get at something different, and provide information on certain energy systems, their efficiencies, and their shortcomings.

This blog is going to focus on Lactate Threshold testing. This test involves determining the amount of power (Watts) that can be produced at the Lactate Threshold [Bla-]1. Lactate threshold is the point at which production of Lactate (measured by [H+]) reaches a point that cannot be physiologically maintained beyond it’s current production rate. This means, if you work above this level of physiological workload, you will produce more Lactate than can be ‘taken care of’ by the body, and progressively decline in performance.

So why does knowing your Lactate Threshold help you? Well, it gives you a fairly precise (depending on the quality of the test you complete) reading of what relative intensities you should be working at to target the training stimuli you need to develop as an athlete! If you overestimate your lactate threshold, and are constantly training at an intensity that is actually at or above your true threshold, you will be doing yourself a disservice by essentially over-stressing and overloading your energy systems, not allowing them the time they need to recover following long duration workout, while at the same time, you won’t be able to elicit the responses to increase your threshold over time by stimulating significantly above your threshold because you’ll be too fatigued from your ‘easy’ sessions to work hard when it counts. The opposite applies to having an undershot threshold number. By determining the appropriate workloads for your training goals and purposes, you essentially become more efficient at training and allow yourself the opportunity to develop the most in your sport with the least amount of time. (3)

How do you complete these tests? Well, there are simple ways you can complete these tests at home using your bike, a trainer, a heart rate monitor, and a power meter (see below test protocol). Some things to note here, an indoor trainer will be far more accurate than riding outside, where traffic, road conditions, and mechanical errors are more likely to occur. Testing on your own is also subject to error depending on your current state. If you are fatigued, dehydrated, under-nourished, under-rested, etc, these factors will all affect your performance come time for your self-administered Time Trial. Another way to ensure you’ve reached Lactate threshold involves a more in-depth ramp up protocol, which gradually increases intensity (wattage) and uses direct measurements of blood lactate [Bla-] to determine you have reached an actual threshold effort. These tests can be completed at a variety of sport performance clinics, or with myself at Limitless Training.

The data you acquire from these tests can then be used to determine your optimal zones of training and even to predict your performance in race scenarios! Use this data wisely though, as your performance is ALWAYS subject to other factors both within and outside your control! (weather, nutrition, mental state, fatigue, illness, course alterations, etc.)

Regardless of your goals, consider using some direct measure of performance to give yourself the best possible advantage and optimal usage of your precious training time! See you on the road!


At Home Lactate Threshold Test 2

Start with a 10’ warm up on the bike. Nice and easy, don’t go hard here.

Next you will start your 30’ test protocol. This is to be completed at your maximal capacity, as a Time Trial effort. You work as hard as you can for 30.’ No external motivation. No friends racing you. Just you against the clock.

At the 10’ mark during your 30’ TT, hit the lap button and take note of your Heart Rate.

Upon completing the remaining 20’ of the test, initiate a warm-down and keep the legs spinning while hydrating as you need.

Save your data. The average heart rate and power for the last 20’ of your TT is your approximate Lactate Threshold. Send the data to your coach, or use the available online tools to determine your relative training intensities.



1 – “[x] is chemistry jargon for the concentration of ‘x,’ x being whatever is inside the brackets

2 – test is further detailed along with how to apply the results at https://www.trainingpeaks.com/blog/joe-friel-s-quick-guide-to-setting-zones/



  1. Lorenz DS, Reiman MP, Lehecka BJ, Naylor A. What Performance Characteristics Determine Elite Versus Nonelite Athletes in the Same Sport? Sport Heal A Multidiscip Approach [Internet]. 2013;5(6):542–7. Available from: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1941738113479763
  2. Denham J, Scott-Hamilton J, Hagstrom AD, Gray AJ. Cycling Power Outputs Predict Functional Threshold Power And Maximum Oxygen Uptake. J Strength Cond Res [Internet]. 2017;(September):1. Available from: http://insights.ovid.com/crossref?an=00124278-900000000-95757
  3. Skovgaard C, Almquist NW, Bangsbo J. The effect of repeated periods of speed endurance training on performance, running economy, and muscle adaptations. Scand J Med Sci Sport. 2017;(September).