Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Lab Rat for a Day

A couple of weeks ago (before I got sick), I spent an afternoon at the
UC Davis Sports Medicine Clinic. The purpose of my visit was mainly
for a professional bike fitting and pedal stroke analysis. Since I
was feeling really good at the time I also decided to do a V02max

I always felt my road bike fit me pretty well, but really wanted a
good fitting just to be sure. Since I spend so much more time on my
road bike these days, I felt it was a worthwhile investment. Prior to
this my bike fitting measurements were based on the on-line calculator
at CompetitiveCyclist.com. As it turns out the on-line calculator was
pretty darn accurate in my case. The only thing the fitting
specialist changed was my stem length and rise, or drop in my case.
My original stem was 110mm with an 8 degree rise. My new stem is 90mm
with -8 degree drop. With the sloping top tube of my bike the stem is
almost parallel with that. This was the one area of the original self
bike fit that I kinda ignored. I never really measured the saddle to
handlebar drop and the reach etc. I'll have to go back and review the
numbers from the on-line fitting and see how close they match up with
my new numbers. More details on the fitting later.

The session started off much like a physical exam would. Height,
weight, temperature, blood pressure etc. Then it got more
interesting. They hooked up little sensors all over my body and did
an EKG. Next they did a caliper based body fat analysis and a few
other measurements. After they had all these figures and I filled out
the standard medical questions I was seen by a real Sports Medicine
doctor. They just want to determine you are healthy and in good
enough shape to even attempt the V02max test. Everything checked out
ok and I was ready to begin the indoor suffering of the V02max test!

My bike was set up on a CompuTrainer which was hooked up to a computer
to record everything and so the technician can make the wattage
adjustments on the fly. I got on my bike and did a good solid 15
minute warm up with a couple of big sprint outs to really get the
blood pumping and the legs thoroughly warmed up. Next I was told to
take my last drink of water as I would not be able to drink during the
duration of the test. The test would start out with relatively easy
pedaling, and then the wattage would be increased to a higher level
every 2 minutes. This would continue until the test was over or until
my numbers plateau or until I called it quits. On the window on front
of you is a chart with the different levels of RPE, rate of perceived
exertion. 1 was easy - no effort, 2 was minimal effort. As the scale
started to reach 6,7,8 it went something like strong, very strong, and
finally 10 was maximum effort, i.e. you're done! The technician
informed me that the 6,7 & 8 zones would sneak up on my rather
quickly. She was right. Before the test actually started you also
get to put on what is essentially like a regulator for scuba diving to
breathe into and they also put a plastic pinch on your nose, so you
can only breathe out of your mouth.

As the test started it went exactly as the chart stated. I could
barely feel the wattage increase for the first few stages. Since you
have the breathing tube in your mouth and cannot speak you signal to
the technician with your fingers the RPE. The hardest part for a
while was just breathing only through my mouth. My throat got dry
very quickly and I tried not to focus on that and just continue to
hammer out a smooth tempo. Finally I could start to feel the
resistance increases. Up through level 5 I felt really good, plenty
of lung capacity; legs were starting to work noticeable harder. As
she mentioned earlier I think my RPE went from 5 to 7.5 or even 8 very
quickly. A few more minutes at this level with strong words of
encouragement and then I was done. My numbers had started to plateau
which is a signal you've reached your max. I don't recall exactly how
long the test took, maybe 15-20 minutes though. I was worked by the
end. She asked me at the end of the test if it was my legs that were
out of gas or was I out of breath. It was definitely my legs.

After the test was over I did a 10 minute warm down on the
CompuTrainer and gulped down a bottle of water. Meanwhile the
technicians were taking the measurements from my bike and applying
them to the Serotta Size Cycle.

When I finished my warm down they quickly switched my pedals over to
the Size Cycle. When I jumped on it and started pedaling The Size
Cycle now felt exactly like my existing bike setup. This Size Cycle
has an SRM power meter on the cranks to measure the power and
efficiency of your pedal stroke. The rear wheel was also hooked up to
another CompuTrainer so they could change resistance remotely while
monitoring data on the computer. I pedaled for about 15 more minutes
as the technician increased and decreased the resistance a few times
then walked all around to view my position from all angles.

As I mentioned earlier the only thing he changed was the handlebar
drop and reach. My shoulders were kinda scrunched up as I rode, and I
had always noticed this when I ride as well. I always had to tell
myself to drop my shoulders. With a few quick adjustments on the Size
Cycle I was now in a much more comfortable position. The one other
change I forgot to mention was that he put a small wedge underneath my
right cleat. I think with my knee injury a few years ago I had been
babying the right leg. There was a bit more power being generated by
my left leg which indicated this. He noticed my right knee was
pointing slightly inward towards the frame. One small plastic wedge
and now my knees are parallel.

So what's the point of all this and what did I learn? Well, #1 I
learned that I am no Lance Armstrong. My V02max was 56.1 mL/kg/min.
Lance's measured somewhere between 70-80. My power at V02max was 310
watts. Since I don't have a power meter, yet ;-) I now have specific
target heart rate zones I can train in. Overall he said I'm in very
good shape for my age group and with the right training I should be
able to be competitive in Masters 4/5 races if I wanted to. He also
put together a 1 month training plan based on the limited time I have
available to train with work, family etc.

Overall it was a good experience and I would recommend the UC Davis
Sports Medicine Clinic to anyone interested in taking their cycling up
to the next level or just getting a proper bicycle fit.

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