Performance Testing


I’ve been on a health kick for the past year. I’ve lost 25lbs, lowered my cholesterol, increased my core strength and my tennis game is mildly respectable (according to me). During this period I’ve been focused on trying to introduce QS techniques to help motivate and inform me. This started with the basics: FitBit for general activity, Zeo for sleep, Endomondo and RunKeeper for route tracking, and I’ve used the Withings scale for years but added the blood pressure monitor for resting heart rate. Around December of last year I realised my current metrics were showing some sign of wear … the easy weight loss has been lost, the electrical impedance model for measuring body fat is temperamental (especially through foot pedals), and while I measure heart rate when exercising I don’t really use it effectively. I thought it would be useful to get a professionally measured set of “performance benchmarks” that I could use as a baseline and get educated in the process.

On February 16th I got off my duff and got the baseline taken at the Surrey Performance Institute in England.

My Goals

The primary goal in this exercise was to set a “performance baseline” that I could try to improve on. While I was interested in the broad base of measures that they’d give me, the one variable I really wanted was Lactic Threshold as I felt it would help me tune my heart-rate driven exercise. In addition to this primary goal I also hoped to:

  • Learn what measurements a professional institute valued measuring and why
  • Ensure there weren’t any lurking problems hidden way
  • Get an understanding of how my Withings body fat score relates to a skin fold measurement system. Ultimately I’d like to calibrate the two systems so I get more from my Withings scale.

The Tests

The tests I signed up for were:

  • CPET – Cardiopulmonary Exercise Test. A comprehensive test that uses a Oxygen/CO2 meter, EEG, and heart-rate to measure a variety of factors including:
    • VO2max
    • Anaorobic Threshold
    • Lactic Threshold
    • Aerobic Threshold
  • Blood Profiles
    • Lipids/Cholesterol (HDL/LDL/Total Cholesterol)
    • Blood Counts
    • Biochemistry
    • Kidney Function
    • Liver Function
    • Bone Function
    • Hormones (Insulin, Testosterone, Free Androgen, Sex Hormone Bind)
    • Thyroid Function
  • Body Composition
    • Using 8-pt calliper measurement system
    • Durnin & Walmersley 4 site approximation to get to total body fat
  • Hydration Status

The Results

I feel the tests were successful in most regards. I know have a much better sense of my “performance baseline.” I was happy to find that the average body fat measurements from the Withings scale matched up almost perfectly with the higher precision calliper-based measurements. And overall I ranked rather well for my age I do have an excess of Ferritin (marker for iron storage) that may need looking into.

So why qualify my success with “in most regards?” Mainly because I see this kind of a service being equally as much about education and inspiration as it is about data conveyance. And while I did get the data, the education process was muted in ways that I felt were not appropriate for what I see as a “luxury product” in the wellness area. Clearly your mileage will vary based on the facility that you go to and the Surrey Performance Institute is substantially less expensive than the London equivalent on Harley Street; this may just be a case of “getting what you pay for”. To be fair, it’s not to say that I got nothing more than numbers, there was some analysis but it was done by 21 year old kids who were experts in executing the tests but not in nuanced understanding. My complaints were:

  • In some important areas they completely missed an explanation. For instance, for hormone levels all I got was a normal range and a number for my result.
  • In other areas I heard about data verbally or visually inspected on the machines during the testing cycle that then did NOT show up in the analysis.
  • Finally, the VO2max test, I was told that there’s really nothing you can do to raise this number … largely it is genetically predetermined. That seems to be true but only for some people and for a majority of people you can raise it or at the very least you can prevent it from declining. I am looking to be inspired and to be challenged to make myself better and I found these kinds of statements misleading and unnecessarily uninspiring.

Believe it or not I still am really glad to have done this and will be doing a follow-up test in 3-4 months to see if I’ve made any progress. Will I do the follow-up at the Surrey Performance Institute? Maybe. Probably not. That said, I have scheduled a debrief session in a few weeks with the Surrey team and I do get the sense that they really do want to become more consultative and learn from their mistakes.

About Ken

Ken is an American who calls the UK home. He is a regular member of the London QS community and an occasional speaker (although not on this topic yet). You can follow Ken’s QS ramblings on his blog: LifeGadget Blog.

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One Response to Performance Testing

  1. Chris says:

    A few corrections, I think they recorded an ECG not an EEG, and unless they were taking finger pokes during your VO2 test you didn’t get a lactate threshold test. That said your VO2 can change, but getting it checked frequently would be a waste of time and money. It is not going to change much unless you have big changes in fitness or body mass, then it wouldn’t be too meaningful. For the blood tests they probably ship those to a different lab to have them checked, I would send them to your doc and see what he has to say. I’m sure they kept a record of your bike or treadmill test and would be happy to make a copy for you if asked. People usually want their results summarized not every data point from every second of every test. That is not data that is just noise.

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