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Fitness Test For Triathlon

Fitness assessments are a way of measuring where your fitness currently lies. They can provide you with information about how you are progressing, what areas you need to focus on in training, and what intensity to train at to get the results you want.

Carrying Out A Test Can Help You:

  • Identify strengths and weaknesses
  • Find out why you are performing as you are
  • Monitor and assess progress over time
  • Determine appropriate training intensities
  • Reduce the risk of overtraining

What Are The Options?

The most accurate and detailed fitness tests are carried out in a physiology or sports science laboratory. The advantage of these sorts of tests is that actual physiological measures are taken such as:

  • Heart rate
  • Blood lactate concentrations
  • Oxygen uptake
  • Power output

The downsides are that they can be relatively expensive, and that the quality of this sort of service can vary quite widely. You will probably be able to access lab-based testing from a university that has a sports science department.

Some of these will have staff who are experienced in providing this sort of athlete-focussed service, whilst others may just use research staff who are not so experienced at providing feedback in an athlete-friendly way. You may want to check if the staff providing this service are professionally accredited. National accrediting bodies include:

UK: BASES

USA: ACSM

Australia: ESSA

There are some alternatives to lab tests that you can do yourself with minimal equipment. These will give you a good basic assessment of your fitness.

When To Test?

How often and when to assess where you are will depend on your training and competition schedule. In an ideal world you would do some fitness tests at the start of your winter training to set your training intensities and targets, and then again mid-way through winter training to assess progress.

An assessment about 2 to 3 months out from your main race will help you to make any final adjustments to training with enough time for the training to have an impact. A further one when you’re at your racing peak can also be interesting to see what your values are when you’re at your best.

What Is Involved In Lab Testing?

Most sports science labs will have the facilities to carry out both running and cycling assessments. Needless to say swimming assessments are not so easy to carry out and less common.

The bike and run tests are generally done in two parts, a maximal assessment and a submaximal assessment. The maximal assessment is usually relatively short (~10 minutes) and involves exercising at an intensity that increases fairly rapidly until you can no longer sustain the work load.

You will generally wear a face mask or a mouthpiece so that all the air you breathe out can be analysed to determine your maximal oxygen uptake. You will also find out how high your heart rate went.

In a bike test you will also receive information about your maximal aerobic power output – the average power output you sustained during the final minute of the test.

The submaximal assessment usually lasts around 20 – 30 minutes and consists of 3 or 4 minute stages. These start off at an easy intensity, with the work load increasing by small amounts each stage. The last stage is usually fairly hard but not maximal. Again you would be wearing a facemask or mouthpiece so that the air your breath out can be analysed.

Your oxygen uptake during this part of the test can be used to assess how economical you are. Generally a small blood sample will be taken from your earlobe or finger tip to determine the concentration of lactate in your blood. Your heart rate will also be monitored throughout.

What Should I Be Asking For?

As a triathlete the really useful measures and information that you would want to find out would be: 


Hopefully you would also receive a written report containing all your results and an explanation of what they mean. An analysis of your results in relation to the training you have been doing and your competition goals, including highlighting your strengths and weaknesses is useful so that you know what your short and long term training goals should be.

If you can’t access lab assessments, then there are still things you can do yourself, read our ‘Do-It-Yourself Fitness Tests’ page (coming soon).

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