Lance Armstrong, Lactate Testing and Rowing

Lance Armstrong Book

Perhaps because of the Tour de France just starting, I have been reading an excellent new biography of Lance Armstrong by Daniel Coyle called Inside Lance Armstrong's War. If you think you've heard everything already, let me assure you that this book comes at things with all sorts of new information. Moreover, it is a far better written book than your average athlete biography. If you're a Lance fan it is highly recommended.

If you're a fan of sport science it is also a great read. We see here that contrary to popular lore, Chris Carmichael who has become one of the most well-known coaches in the world for his use of sport science, was probably not Lance's primary coach. Dr. Michaele Ferrari who has been embroiled in controversy surrounding doping spent far more time than Carmichael working with Lance. Ferrari was a protege of famous exercise physiologist Francesco Conconi who also has been associated with doping in cycling. One chapter explores the question of who really was Lance's coach - Carmichael or Ferrari. Several opinions are offered, including this juicy one by former Armstrong teammate (and current leader of Team Phonak) Floyd Landis "(incredulously) 'Come on. You've met them both. Who would you listen to?'" Clearly Landis is not a fan of the more media savvy Carmichael.

In the book it is made clear that Lance underwent regular lactate testing during the season to gauge his readiness for the tour. This testing revealed the wattage he could hold at his lactate threshold. This threshold wattage, when divided by his mass in kilograms provided Ferrari with a measure of Lance's "power to weight" ratio - something that is becoming increasingly common rowing parlance.

There are now scores of cyclists, both professional and amateur, who are embracing the science of sport in their training. I'm sure that it has a great deal to do with Armstrong and Carmichael who have brought its power to the attention of so many through their company Carmichael Training Systems and a book on Armstrong's Training system called The Lance Armstrong Performance Program. Cyclists now have access to precise power meters on their bikes which enable them to see their exact wattages, heart rate meters of course are commonly available and there are now portable lactate testing kits which work essentially like a blood sugar monitor used by diabetics. The unparalled success of Armstrong and the availability of accurate and simple testing equipment has popularized a scientific approach to training in cycling.

Rowers have the ability to do the same testing on the erg, which reports wattages and heart rates quite easily - but few seem to take advantage of it.

I thought it would be interesting to look for the next few posts at lactate testing, how and why it is done and what it reveals. I'll touch on experiences with rowers in particular and how it can be used by athletes and coaches to monitor and prescribe training. Finally, I'll look at simpler, non-invasive methods of monitoring training that can be easily used by anyone with access to an ergometer and a heart rate monitor.

I have had the opportunity to test national team rowers, swimmers and cyclists in both Canada and the United States. I think it is safe to say that the application of sport science to rowing - at least physiology as there are some interesting strides being made with biomechanics in rowing - in most cases lags far behind other sports such as swimming and cycling. Perhaps these sports can provide some insight that can help our rowing.

Come back tomorrow for a look at the lactate threshold and common testing protocols.