Ellen McDermott’s INSCYD Test and Results

By Ellen McDermott

I’ve just had probably one of the most in depth conversations about myself as a bike rider since I started racing 5 years ago. I want to take you through the steps that were involved with the INSCYD Power-Performance Decoder test.

Nothing short of a lactate test or gas exchange protocol would come close to the amount of information this test can give. And the beauty of it is it’s all done remotely.

Personal goals for completing the test.

I’ve never been able to produce a decent 20 minute effort, so using that evasive number to define all my training zones has always been a frustration. I often found myself comparing my 20 minute power to riders in a similar category to me and which is always a dangerous thing in competition. My number 1 goal from this INSCYD test was to have definite training zones, so I would know if I was prescribed VO2 training, I was going to make improvements to my VO2. Similarly if I was prescribed endurance training I would be improving my ability to ride long hours in the saddle over consecutive days such as in a stage race.

The next thing that was important from my perspective was knowing how much and what type of fuel I was burning at a given intensity. There are two types of fuel I am concerned about and that’s fats and carbohydrates. In particular for long races or stage races in the new year, I need to be pretty efficient at burning both fuel sources so I don’t have to eat or drink a mammoth load during the race to get to the end with enough gas for the finish.

Those were the main pieces of information I wanted to glean from doing the test, but after completion and a thorough understanding I have gained so much more.

What’s involved?

Step 1 – Initial Conversation

Conversation with the coach to outline the test. There are specifics of the protocol that are pretty important and would render the test inconclusive if not carried out correctly.  You’ll learn that you can spread the test out over a couple days, about the importance of recovery between or before the efforts the type of terrain that would be suitable and how there was wiggle room with each effort if you’d gone out too hard (or even too soft)

I was sent a full description of the test after this conversation

Step 2 – Complete 4 power tests. 

The efforts encompassed 4 flat out efforts, in the saddle, for 20 seconds, 3 minutes, 6 minutes and 12 minutes. I completed them over two days with an easy hour in between. 

Step 3 – Send files

The files will be put through the INSCYD software which outputs an online interactive report which will be used to generate a report.

Step 4 – Follow-Up Conversation

Now this was the important bit. The technology and the principles which the INSCYD tests are based on are so far removed from any testing protocol so this conversation was the key process to allow me to actually understand what I’m looking at when I read my report. The coach will go through each section of the report to explain each metric, graph and value.

The Report

There is so much information in this 10 page report along with personalised explanations for each section but I will only focus on the elements specific to my goals.

Is my inability to complete a decent 20 minute test mean I am unfit?

Actually a better marker for performance is an athlete’s VO2 max, this is the maximum amount of oxygen your aerobic energy system can use to create energy. A high VO2 max equates to a high energy turnover. Even though I said comparing yourself to other athletes isn’t healthy it’s important for me to see here that my VO2 max is in the top level for professional bike riders my age – so I don’t need to worry about that!

Then I look at my Anaerobic Threshold which is a performance marker for the highest possible intensity sustained before accumulating lactate faster than can be cleared. This one is important, and at the moment I fall smack bang in the middle of the range for professional cyclists – I can be concerned about that.

What cheered me up though is my VLamax – the maximum rate of lactate production. Also referred to as Anaerobic Capacity, it’s the maximum rate of energy produced via the anaerobic (glycolytic) metabolism. As a crit rider having a high VLamax is desirable to produce higher power over short spaces of time. Marc explained this is a product of having a greater amount of fast twitch (Type II) muscle fibers which prefer glycolytic fueling.

Training Recommendations

This might be where other INSCYD service providers will fall down. What’s important at this point is how I translate that information into my training. I had to ask myself what I wanted to achieve and it’s clear to see I can make improvement by focusing on increasing my Anaerobic Threshold – thus increasing the power I can ride at without accumulating lactate.

AT is not the same as FTP – your Functional Threshold Power is a measure of the best average power output you could sustain for 1 hour in a time-trial scenario. The term functional denotes that it is not an actual value, rather an estimation based on the completion of a 20 minute effort and taking approximately 95% of that value.

And there are some very important factors I can integrate into my training to do this. 

  • Decrease my VLamax so in essence – decrease any stimulus that would cause my anaerobic (glycolytic) system to kick in i.e heavy, explosive weight training and sprints.
  • Another way is to limit glycogen stores at lower intensities – thereby forcing energy pathways to utilise it’s fat stores as fuel
  • Include training which will recruit my glycolytic muscle fibers to make them more oxidative.

The knock on effect of these elements will decrease my VLamax somewhat but will cause a greater increase in AT and will also have the effect of improving the efficiency of both my carbohydrate and fat combustion.

Very excited to have a better picture of myself as an athlete and looking forward to seeing the direct effect of what the training recommendations will have on the next test!