Performance test – that sounds like bringing top performance (we want to!) and being compared with others (we don’t want to). Because often it is exactly the comparison with others that spoils our pleasure in sports. But it is like this: Your best opponent is yourself!
And if you want to achieve something – whether it’s the first half-marathon or a few kilos less on the hips – it’s worthwhile even for non-performance athletes to take a closer look at their own body and measure their sporting performance.
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That is why performance tests are useful for everyone
“If you want to reach a goal in or through sport, you have to know where you start from,” says sports scientist and coach Sebastian Rosenkranz. Because only those who know where they stand in sports can plan their training in a targeted manner and optimally adjust it to their own body. Of course you can also try out for yourself how fast you run 5 kilometres and then meticulously analyse pace & co. on the computer.
But the fact is: “The bare figures alone are of no use, because they do not provide useful tips for further training” …so Rosary, who is with Jes! Bewegungsschmiede in Hamburg also offers performance diagnostics. A professional test examines how your body functions during sports, where it gets its energy from, when it gets really strenuous and where your performance limits actually lie. And only with this knowledge can you adjust your training plan. Which measuring methods are available?
- The lactate test
- The spiroergometry
- The muscle fiber test
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Keep your hair on! Train more effectively thanks to lactate test
Lactate is a metabolic product. It is produced in the musculature when it does not get enough oxygen. The faster you run, the more oxygen the muscles need to produce energy. So the more you get out of breath, the more lactate is formed. This is not a problem at first, your body simply breaks it down again so that the formation and breakdown are balanced.
However, if you increase the pace further, the breakdown processes will no longer be able to keep up and the lactate concentration will continue to rise.
The faster you run, the more oxygen the muscles need for energy production. Lactate is formed in the process. © Jacob Lund / Shutterstock.com
The lactate test (costing around 90 euros) uses a step test to find out at what walking speed this (anaerobic) threshold lies. While you are running on the treadmill or pedaling hard on the bike ergometer, the intensity is increased in small steps every 3 minutes. “It is important that the test is always sport-specific. For cyclists a test on the treadmill is not meaningful”, says Rosenkranz.
After a short adaptation phase, a little blood is taken from the earlobe and the lactate concentration is measured. This is repeated step by step until you can’t do any more and stop the test. A curve created at the end shows the intensity at which the lactate concentration in the blood rises steeply – and so you know in which range your anaerobic threshold lies.
And on the basis of this curve you can determine intensity ranges for further training: “The anaerobic threshold is considered the continuous performance limit, you can only maintain this speed for a certain period of time. “If you want to run longer, you must slow down.”
Breathing correctly during sport
To shift the lactate threshold (so that you can maintain higher speeds for longer), you need to improve your basic endurance. In concrete terms, this means that your body should learn to better supply the muscles with oxygen during exercise. You practice this by running particularly slowly, i.e. at the speed at which the lactate curve has not yet risen. But many people find this difficult: “Most people are still much too fast in the basic endurance area.
For some, this range only means walking fast,” says Rosenkranz. But even if you think you are going at a snail’s pace and that has nothing to do with training – wrong! It is the right way to more endurance in the long run. And it also makes you slimmer. Because in this intensity range the body primarily burns fat.
Spiroergometry shows who has the longer breath
While the lactate test only measures one value, the respiratory gas analysis (from 180 Euro) considers several parameters at once: the concentrations of oxygen and carbon dioxide as well as the respiratory volume. A step test with a breathing mask and pulse watch is also carried out. “Spiroergometry provides a more complex picture than the lactate test. It makes the complete energy metabolism measurable,” the expert explains.
Performance diagnosticians calculate the respiratory quotient from the ratio of exhaled carbon dioxide and absorbed oxygen. If this ratio is 0.7, the muscles are well supplied with oxygen and draw their energy mainly from the fat metabolism. If the respiratory quotient is above 1, the body breaks down lactate. This produces additional carbon dioxide, which can be detected in the air we breathe.
A performance diagnosis helps you to become faster and also to lose weight faster. © Jacob Lund / Shutterstock.com
These data can be used to define training ranges at the end of the training, and they also reveal the speed or pulse range at which an athlete burns the most calories. But the expert also emphasizes: “There is no optimum pulse that applies to everyone. We are not machines that all function in the same way. One is already at his power limit at a pulse rate of 160, the other is just trotting loosely.”
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Have a drink? It’s all a question of muscle fibre type
The strength of a person can also be measured. Sports physicians distinguish between red, thin and particularly enduring muscle fibres (slow-twitch fibres) and white, thick, very strong muscle fibres (fast-twitch fibres). They determine whether we are able to run long distances, throw far or sprint fast. In every muscle both types are present, but sometimes one predominates. Which one it is depends on the function of the muscle on the one hand, but on the other hand, genes also play a role.
Medically, the predominant type of fibre can only be determined by removing muscle tissue – or you can do this practical test:
Strength coach Andreas Pürzel from Intelligent Strength in Austria explains how strength athletes can test their muscle fibre type for each individual muscle group and use this knowledge optimally for their training: “The starting point is the maximum weight, i.e. the weight that you can lift only once”, explains Pürzel. This must be determined at the beginning for all basic exercises (bench press, squat, cross lift, shoulder press).
“If you really want to push yourself to your limits, you should already have experience in weight training. For all others, the so-called 5-rep variant is more suitable”, says Pürzel. Meaning: Instead of one repetition, you do 5 with the same weight each time and increase it step by step in the following sentences until you just manage the last of 5 repetitions with this weight.
Give me some muscle! How women build muscles How powerful your muscles are depends primarily on the type of fibre. © Jacob Lund / Shutterstock.com
From this the maximum weight can be calculated: Maximum weight = weight × (number of repetitions ÷ 30 + 1). The expert explains how to find out your muscle fibre type on the basis of your maximum weight: “With 80 percent of the maximum weight you do as many repetitions as possible without a break. If you manage more than 12 repetitions, the muscles you use are predominantly endurance muscle fibres. Less than 7 repetitions indicates a high proportion of fast-acting fibres.”
What the maximum weight tells us about your muscle type:
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And what does this mean for your further training? Unfortunately, the genetically predetermined muscle fibre type cannot be changed at will by training. But: Through targeted training you can develop your strengths and compensate for weaknesses in a targeted manner Even if the fast-twitch muscle fibres predominate in your leg muscles, you should still do exercises with more than 7 repetitions during leg training.
The aim is to vary the number of repetitions as much as possible in order to always set new training stimuli”, says Pürzel. Depending on the type of fibre, he therefore recommends the following combination:
The training plan to compensate for your muscular weaknesses:
Requirements for a meaningful performance diagnostics
There are several factors that could affect our performance and therefore falsify test results. In order for performance tests to be meaningful, these 5 standard conditions should therefore be met:
- They are healthy and motivated.
- The last sweaty training session was at least 48 hours ago.
- You’re not on a diet.
- You haven’t eaten for about three hours before.
- You take the test at your regular training time. If you train in the morning, you should also test in the morning.
A performance diagnosis is useful for everyone. Because with the knowledge about your own fitness level you can not only show off a killer performance, but also train more effectively and plan your training optimally. Whether more endurance, strength or weight loss, who knows where his or her own performance limits lie can use them in a targeted manner and thus also reach his or her sporting goals more quickly.