Gear & Technology, Podcast

Q&A on gear and technology | EP#400

 July 24, 2023

By  Bernardo Gonçalves


EP 400 Q&A - Gear & Technology - That Triathlon Show

Mikael answers listener questions on the topics of gear and technology.

In this episode you'll learn about:

  • Carbon fibre plated shoes and barefoot running shoes
  • Crank vs. pedal based power meter
  • Lactate testing
  • VO2master and Moxy (muscle oxygen saturation, SmO2)
  • Are triathletes too tech-reliant?
  • Wetsuits: fit and sizing, difference in prize points, are entry-level suits any good, and the process of finding the right wetsuit for you

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Carbon fibre plate shoes vs barefoot running

02:40 -

  • In terms of running, carbon fibre shoes are the preferred choice for achieving faster speeds. Barefoot running shoes have some benefits in the gym, helping to work the foot's small muscles and improve foot stability. 
  • However, for actual running, barefoot shoes are not commonly recommended. 
  • The only scenario where they might be considered is to finish off a few weekly runs on a grass field to focus on biomechanics and perform strides. However, this approach is primarily theoretical and not widely practised.
  • Barefoot running shoes were popularised about ten years ago due to marketing hype, but the running community has largely moved away from them. There is little evidence to suggest any significant benefits from using barefoot shoes when running.

Crank versus pedal-based power meter

04:16 -

  • Some people still consider crank-based power meters the gold standard because they were the most accurate measurement method when power meters first came to the market. 
  • However, with technological advancements, pedal-based power meters have improved significantly, and there is no relevant difference in accuracy or precision between the two types.
  • I much prefer pedal-based power meters because of their versatility. 
  • They can be easily shifted between bikes, allowing for greater flexibility. When sizing down in cranks, which I recommend for many triathletes, you don't need to buy new cranks with an integrated power meter. 
  • This can save much money compared to purchasing power meter-equipped cranks of a shorter size.
  • I have been using the Favero Assioma power meters for years and have had a positive experience with them. They have been incredibly reliable and user-friendly. 
  • For athletes seeking recommendations, I usually suggest the Favero Assioma power meters. 
  • However, there are likely other pedal-based power meters and power meters in general that are also good options. 
  • Pedal-based power meters are the preferable choice with their flexibility and ease of use.

Lactate: testing and training

05:59 -

  • Lactate testing within day-to-day training is unnecessary for most athletes. While it may be entertaining and informative, it doesn't significantly impact training decisions. 
  • Top athletes have succeeded with and without lactate testing, indicating that it's not essential, even at the highest level.
  • Where lactate testing does hold great utility, especially for amateur athletes, is in formal testing to establish training zones and thresholds. 
  • This involves determining the first (LT1) and second (LT2) lactate thresholds, which helps set training targets based on heart rate, power, or pace, along with Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE).
  • While LT2 is often considered the "threshold" or Functional Threshold Power (FTP), I believe it's less crucial since alternative tests like critical power or critical speed can assess the boundary between heavy and severe intensity domains. 
  • Establishing LT2 helps define the range for steady-state high aerobic work (threshold training) and non-steady-state (high-intensity training).
  • It's important to understand that LT2 is a range rather than a precise value, as thresholds are not fixed points but gradual transitions. 
  • Knowing your LT1 and LT2 is essential as it helps establish the phase transitions between different intensity domains during training. 
  • These domains can be categorized as low-intensity, moderate or threshold, high-intensity, or VO2 max/interval training.
  • Regularly performing formal lactate testing to determine these thresholds and zones, even once per year, can monitor year-to-year progress and maintain a consistent relationship between lactate and heart rate. 
  • LT1 is particularly important to assess, as it ensures that low-intensity training is at the correct level, preventing the mistake of training too hard and hindering progress.
  • Although LT2 is valuable, we lack accurate field tests for assessing LT1, making identifying it more crucial. LT1 is especially significant for amateur triathletes focusing on half and full-distance events, as it tends to be a better performance predictor. 
  • In longer-distance events, athletes tend to race much closer to LT1 than LT2. However, LT2 may hold more importance for sprint distances as a performance marker.
  • The frequency of lactate testing is optional due to the nature of thresholds and their gradual transitions. There is no evidence comparing lactate intensity control to traditional metrics like RPE, heart rate, and pace or power in day-to-day training. 
  • Using lactate testing by some top-level athletes does not necessarily mean it suits every amateur athlete.
  • Instead of focusing on lactate testing, becoming proficient in using power, pace, RPE, and heart rate in training sessions is crucial. 
  • Being in tune with one's body and recognizing changes in effort levels can be more beneficial for amateur athletes.
  • Lactate testing can have value, primarily to determine the strength of LT1 and identify any weaknesses in aerobic pace. 
  • It also aids in training prescription and serves as a performance marker, with LT1 being particularly crucial to ensure low-intensity training remains at an appropriate level.
  • Even once per year, formal lactate testing can provide valuable insights for amateur athletes, helping optimize their training and avoid excessively intense low-intensity workouts.
  • One important caveat to consider with formal lactate testing conducted in a lab is that many labs may provide test results solely based on algorithms without critical thinking or individual analysis. 
  • These algorithms are useful for scientific research, where objective threshold measurements are necessary but may not yield accurate results for individuals.
  • The best way to determine LT1 and LT2 is by visually examining the lactate curve. LT1 is identified just before the first inflexion point, where lactate levels increase significantly from baseline. 
  • LT2 is located just before the second inflexion point.
  • For more accurate results, it's recommended to obtain the raw data from the lactate test and analyze it yourself or with the guidance of a coach. 
  • This way, you can better understand your physiology and avoid potential misinterpretations.
  • While formal lactate testing and other physiological assessments can be valuable in understanding your body better, it's crucial to avoid relying on automatic analysis without critical thinking. Sometimes, poorly interpreted results may even harm an athlete's training.
  • If you're unsure about how to analyze lactate test results or lack access to professional guidance, it's not essential to undergo formal testing. 
  • Common sense and being attuned to your body can still effectively optimize your training and performance as an athlete. While lactate testing can offer additional data points, it is not required for athletic training success.

Lactate meter

20:25 -

  • For the majority of amateur athletes, lactate meters may not be worthwhile. The only scenario where it could make sense is if an athlete has a coach who is well-versed in lactate testing and can interpret the data effectively. 
  • Additionally, the athlete should be at a stage where they have mastered the basics and seek to optimize and fine-tune their training process.
  • However, lactate testing requires a learning curve, as it involves learning how to sample the data, preferably from the earlobe rather than the finger. 
  • It may not be as straightforward as it appears on YouTube. 
  • Hence, it may not be a practical or necessary investment for most athletes. 
  • Nonetheless, exceptions exist that might be beneficial based on individual circumstances and goals.

VO2master and Moxy in daily training

21:29 -

  • I have experience with muscle oxygen saturation devices, particularly the Moxy, and have seen them used in elite athlete settings. 
  • Additionally, I have personally experimented with another SmO2 device. 
  • While my answers may not fully reflect the Moxy's capabilities, it is considered the gold standard in muscle oxygen saturation measurement.
  • Both the Moxy and VO2master devices have potential as part of formal testing, not for daily training. One of the benefits of these devices is their ability to facilitate real-world testing, such as running on a track with lab-level power available.
  • The VO2master is well-known for measuring oxygen consumption and is commonly used for VO2 max testing. 
  • However, knowing the exact VO2 max number may not be crucial for training decisions. 
  • Instead, measuring the running economy, especially for longer distances, is more critical as it can inform adjustments in training volume, frequency, and the potential addition of strength training.
  • Cycling gross efficiency can also be measured, but it has less variation from person to person compared to running an economy. 
  • Improving cycling efficiency involves similar levers: adjusting training volume, frequency and adding strength training.
  • Knowing running economy and gross efficiency through these devices can offer more actionable insights for training improvements than just knowing VO2 max. 
  • These measurements can be valuable in formal testing settings but are not necessary for day-to-day training considerations.
  • Regarding the VO2 master, it measures various respiratory parameters, providing insights into potential limitations in the respiratory system. 
  • It is best used in formal testing rather than day-to-day training. On the other hand, the Moxy, which measures muscle oxygen saturation (SmO2), is interesting for detecting transitions between intensity domains, such as moderate, heavy, or severe. 
  • The SmO2 curve obtained through a step test could replace lactate testing, offering advantages like cost-effectiveness and continuous monitoring.
  • However, the usability of the Moxy for day-to-day training may be limited, as accessing SmO2 data requires using specific platforms like WKO or Golden Cheetah. 
  • Incorrect device placement and individual factors like pigmentation and adipose tissue thickness can affect readings, which could lead to variable results. 
  • While some athletes confidently use Moxy, I invest more time and effort in understanding lactate testing, which I find more reliable. 
  • For dedicated coaches with ample time, exploring devices like Moxy or VO2master might be worthwhile. 
  • Still, it may not yield significant gains for average amateur athletes without dedicating considerable time and effort to learn and interpret the data. 
  • Thus, focusing on direct training-related improvements might be more beneficial.
  • The VO2master and SmO2 technology can be valuable tools for formal testing, but they are challenging to use correctly. 
  • I don't recommend athletes purchase these devices due to the high cost and complexity. 
  • Instead, seeking out a coach or lab with expertise in using these devices for occasional testing is a more practical approach. While power meters were once costly and rare but are now common on serious athletes' bikes, SmO2 may follow a similar trajectory.

Reliance on technology

31:06 -

  • Triathletes rely more on technology than swimmers and runners due to the sport's young and open-minded nature. 
  • Triathletes challenge the status quo and are willing to adopt new methods and technologies to improve their performance. 
  • Conversely, traditional coaching practices in running and swimming have been passed down for generations, leading to a less tech-oriented approach.
  • However, being open-minded should also be balanced with critical thinking. 
  • Triathletes should be curious about potential improvements but should question marketing claims and carefully evaluate new technologies before incorporating them into their training. 
  • On the other hand, runners and swimmers may be more resistant to change, preferring to stick to traditional methods that have worked for them. 
  • Triathletes, however, may sometimes be too trusting in marketing claims and see technology or supplements as a guaranteed way to enhance their performance.
  • When evaluating any technology, I consider four key questions.
  • Does the technology deliver on its promises? I question what it measures and whether it has been validated. 
  • For example, Garmin watches claim to measure recovery time, but this metric has not been directly validated, making it essential to scrutinize such claims.
  • Is what the technology measures relevant to my training? For instance, while VO2 max measurements are available, they might not significantly impact my training decisions. 
  • Focusing on data that genuinely contributes to becoming a better athlete is crucial. Quality over quantity is critical—proficiency in a few data channels is more beneficial than being overwhelmed by many.
  • Is the technology useful in specific contexts? Muscle oxygen saturation (SMO2) is more relevant for professional athletes with extensive resources, like full-time coaches, who can analyze and utilize the data in depth. 
  • However, this might not be the most valuable parameter for most age group triathletes.
  • Is the technology the best use of my resources? When considering purchases like a new bike, I assess if there are more effective ways to improve performance. 
  • Investing in aero testing and upgrading components on an existing bike might provide more significant performance gains than buying a new bike.
  • As triathletes, we must critically evaluate claims and technologies, making informed decisions rather than succumbing to marketing tactics. 
  • It's essential to focus on what truly enhances our training and performance.

Wetsuit breakdown

36:47 -

  • There are differences between sleeved and sleeveless wetsuits, with sleeved wetsuits generally being faster. 
  • However, individual preferences and comfort levels should be considered, as some athletes may prefer sleeveless wetsuits.
  • The most crucial factor in selecting a wetsuit is the fit. Even the best wetsuit will not perform well if it does not fit properly. 
  • Finding the right size for a particular brand and model is essential, as different brands may have slightly different sizing.
  • Expensive wetsuits often use high-quality materials and advanced technology, but their performance gains may not be significantly greater than more affordable entry-level wetsuits. 
  • Entry-level wetsuits have improved and can be competitive with top-end wetsuits at a fraction of the price.
  • The performance gains from a wetsuit or bike are marginal compared to the athlete's skills and abilities. 
  • Proper fit and swimming technique have a more significant impact on performance than the price or features of the wetsuit.
  • Ultimately, whether an athlete swims well or poorly depends on their swimming ability, regardless of the wetsuit they use. 
  • A well-fitted wetsuit can enhance performance, but it won't compensate for poor technique.
  • I would consider the following options to optimize my swimming performance with a budget of $1,000.
  • Invest $200 to $300 in an entry-level wetsuit from a reputable brand that fits well.
  • Allocate $300 to $450 to join a swim squad for three months, allowing for more frequent and longer swim sessions.
  • With the remaining $300 to $450, schedule two one-on-one coached swim sessions with video analysis.
  • Prioritizing the right areas can yield significant improvements in swimming times. 
  • Spending more on training and coaching can impact performance more than investing solely in an expensive wetsuit. 
  • For triathletes aiming to improve their swim times significantly, focusing on training, technique, and skill acquisition is essential.
  • Choosing the right wetsuit can be challenging. Try wetsuits from friends or fellow triathletes with similar body sizes and shapes if possible. 
  • Alternatively, visit a store that sells triathlon wetsuits for expert guidance. 
  • If those options are unavailable, consider ordering two to three wetsuits to try on at home and return the ones that do not fit properly.
  • While there is currently a lack of widespread opportunities for testing and purchasing wetsuits, it is hoped that, like in the running shoe industry, stores may offer services that allow customers to test and buy wetsuits after trying them out in the water.


Bernardo Gonçalves

Bernardo is a Portuguese elite cyclist and co-founder of SpeedEdge Performance, a company focused on optimising cycling and triathlon performance. He writes the shownotes for That Triathlon Show, and also produces social media content for each new episode.

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