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By Hunter Allen
Any good coach can get you fitter than before, just like any smart training program that you design can make you fitter, however the true challenge it not just to be faster than before. The true challenge is to be fitter than before and during the exact time that you want to be fitter. That's the true challenge.
Athletes often talk about a 'peak' of fitness as having good 'form'. Form is this nebulous concept that we all talk about, but no one ever describes it nor has really defined it. When you talk with athletes about 'form', they describe it as, "a 'no-chain' day", "a day when the legs just didn't hurt", "a day to 'rip the cranks off'", "a day when I was just 'ON' ", and " a day when I just felt absolutely super". These are all ways of describing 'form' or a 'peak' of fitness. So, what exactly is 'form'? Dr. Andrew R. Coggan, I think, has defined it best. Dr. Coggan defines it as: Fitness plus Freshness. So, Form=Fitness+Freshness. A rider can be fit at the end of the Tour De France, but he is very tired, so not 'fresh' enough to have form. On the other side of the coin, you might have ridden your bike for 2 months, and are very 'fresh', but not very 'fit'. So, the correct balance of fitness and freshness will create 'form'.
Let's examine those things further. What exactly is 'fitness' then? 'Fitness' is a response to training stress. A dose of training is given to the athlete, and then the athlete adapts and responds positively to that dose, which create improvements and efficiencies in the body. These improvements are cumulatively called an improvement in fitness. So, fitness is the creation from a training stress or a load of training. This load of training has to be more intense or more volume than before, or both, in order to create a greater adaptation.
In using a power meter, we have come up with a way to give you a 'score' based on the work that you did during each ride. This is called the "Training Stress Score™"(TSS™) and is the creation of Dr. Coggan. The wonderful thing about using a power meter is that you have the actual complete record of your training, second by second. Because a power meter quantitatively measures training load in watts, each ride can be categorized in a numerical fashion by giving it a "Training Stress Score". TSS has been used widely since the development of TrainingPeaks WKO+ in 2003 and can now also be used in TrainingPeaks.com. TSS has come to be known as a useful metric to quantify the training stress of each workout, from long hard training days to easy recovery rides.
Once you have a single metric(number) for each 'dose' of training, or training load, then you can begin to see the levels of training that are needed for improvements in fitness and apply those specific 'doses' as you need. This is the key to this system and now we can exactly quantify your training load based on the Training Stress Score for each workout.
Training Load can come in many ways, but let's categorize them based on duration to begin with. We call the cumulative affect or impact of training that has been done as long as 6 weeks ago, the 'Chronic Training Load™' (CTL™). CTL can be shorter than six weeks or it may be longer, that is up for debate, however let's just consider the fact that the workouts that your did six weeks ago are without a doubt impacting your performance today. The workouts that you did 3 weeks ago are impacting you as well and most likely with a slightly higher impact than those done six weeks ago. What about the workouts that you did this past weekend? Or yesterday? We call these the 'Acute Training Load™' (ATL™) and these too impact your performance today and into the future. Let's consider the more 'near term' workouts as all the workouts you have done in the last 14days up to yesterday, and for ease of use, we'll use 7 days for your ATL.
So, now that we have introduced the concepts of CTL and ATL, let's remind ourselves about 'form'. Form is the proper balance of fitness and freshness. Fitness is based on training stress or training load, so based on this simple equation, we can rename 'form', "Training Stress Balance"(TSB)*.
Therefore Form comes from the combination of Training Stress and Rest Which can be re-named 'Training Stress Balance'
So, in this equation TSB represents the balance of training stress or how well you have been juggling your training load and your rest periods. If we consider that if your TSB is a numerical value and it is 'positive' number, then this would mean you would have a good chance of riding well on during those 'positive' days, and would suggest that you are both fit and fresh. While if your TSB was a 'negative' number, then you it would mean that you are most likely tired from a high training load, which could possibly consist of both your CTL and your ATL being high. See Figure 1 below.
Figure 1: An example of the relationship between CTL, ATL and TSB.
* The term 'Training Stress Balance' was coined by Dave Harris. Thanks Dave!
Once you have created your Performance Manager Chart(PMC), then we need to interpret it correctly, so that you can learn from your data and also make plans for the future. Just as every picture invokes a thousand words, behind every set of data is a thousand stories making up that data. So, especially with the PMC, the story behind the data is critical to your interpretation of it. One of the fallacies of the PMC is that it relies completely on your Power meter data, so if your power meter is broken for any period of time, you instantly create distortions in your chart. On the other side of the coin, every power file makes up the PMC, so even your easy days are important to have in your data set as you still get a Training Stress Score value for them. In Version 2.1 and greater of WKO+, you have the ability to 'override' TSS values in the Calendar page of the software, this comes in very handy for those days you might not have used a power meter, or for those files that are missing for one reason or another.
One of the best ways for you to learn about your own PMC is through looking at other cyclists' charts, learning the story behind each chart and then lessons learned from these very revealing charts. Each of these case studies are a little different and from very different athletes, I hope that this helps you to understand your own chart better.
Case Study #1- Matt Smith, 30 years old, Category 1 racer, power profile is upward sloping to the right, 5.2w/kg at FTP.
Matt started out the fall season in 2005 with some serious cyclo-cross races, and did 11 races throughout the winter, including a nice top 10 placing at C-X nationals. While training and focusing on cyclo-cross, he did a high level of intensity on the trainer, as he lives in a relatively cold climate, so can't train outside in the winter. With the volume low, but the intensity high, his CTL was not very high in the fall, although he was training pretty intensely. See Figure 2 for more details.
Figure 2: CTL increasing at different rates for Spring 2006
As you can see from Fig. 2., the CTL increases at different rates during this time period, as each different mesocycle of training is completed and a new one is started. As CTL continues to rise, your TSB will continue to drop, however, even a small decrease in CTL can result in a positive TSB which could be a good predictor of a good performance.
In Figure 3, we see the addition of the TSB line, which shows exactly how small a decrease in CTL can create a positive TSB. Also, take note of the addition of the 20minute Mean Maximal line as well, which shows the 10 'best' 20 minute wattages for this time period. Note that four of Matt's best 20 minute wattages all occurred at the end of January after a taper, which was proceeded by a large increase in CTL. Matt's 3rd best 20 minute wattage occurred at the end of March, which was immediately after another sustained increase in CTL. Although, the TSB is still negative at this point, it's clearly climbing 'positively', which is important for you to recognize that TSB does not necessarily need to be a (+) positive number, in order to create a peak performance, it really just needs to be climbing to a positive number.
Figure 3: Impact of (+)positive TSB on performance.
Now, that we have looked at some specific parts of Matt's PMC, let's take a look at the overall chart (Figure 4). When we look at his chart, we need to remind ourselves that not only are we looking to confirm that the training plan did the job and he peaked when he wanted to, but we are also looking for clues about this season's performance and how we can improve on it for next year. Matt had two major objectives this year, with a top performance at Tour of Gila in early April and also at Master's Nationals in mid July.
Figure 4: Matt's PMC for 2006
When we examine his PMC, we see that his very highest wattage numbers occurred in January, coming off of an intense C-X season and then his first solid 'build' cycle. This was unplanned and while it occurred at an early season stage in which he placed top 3 overall, it wasn't until we looked back at the season and realized that these were his peak wattage numbers for the year. The next thing to notice are the two times that he got sick this year. Both of these times you can see that his TSB became very positive, from the lack of riding. Unfortunately, the first time he was sick, was right after his second main build in March. We can ask ourselves the question, "What this increase in CTL too rapid?". During this time period, not only did his CTL increase at a relatively quick rate, therefore he was under a high load of training stress, but he also got sick the week after a very hard race in which it rained and snowed, and he became slightly hypothermic. So, the stress of the race, coupled with the high CTL, his body's immune system was likely compromised and he picked up a cold. Of course, this was poor timing to have him 'on form' for Tour of Gila. Another thing to notice is the dramatic slip in CTL from 122 points to 90 points while he was sick.
As we look further, we see his performance at Master's Nationals was his 3rd highest wattage for the season and this came during his longest period of time with a (+)positive CTL. He performed very well at Master's Nationals coming very close to a national championship, with a 2nd in the road race. Finally at the end of his racing season, we now see his CTL gradually slipping as he has backed off of his training and is just starting to ride for pleasure and fitness maintenance.
In this Performance Manager Chart, not only does it show us how a small drop in CTL can create a good performance, but it also helps us to understand the impact of sickness on training load and also how tough it can be to be on that fine line between too much training stress and not enough. Matt's PMC also shows us how his Mid-July fitness really shines through after his longest period of (+) TSB. For an athlete that has multiple goals for the season, especially at different times during the season, it makes planning training loads more difficult, although another great reason to utilize the PMC to it fullest extent. For all the science involved in the Performance Manager Chart, it does not mean it will always easily predict a peak performance, and the Performance Manager Chart is only as good as the interpreter reading it. Knowing the 'story' behind the PMC, is critical to that interpretation and rest assured, the art of coaching is still very much a part of the process
Case Study #2- Dave Johnson, Masters 55+ racer, Category 2, power profile-time trialer, 5.2w/kg at FTP.
After two years without a stars and stripes at Master's Nationals, Dave decided that he was going to put all of his eggs in one basket this season and going to do everything 'right' in order to win a national championship. From a coaching perspective, this is both easy to plan for (one main peak) and also scary to plan for (what if something goes wrong, hence the 'eggs in one basket' metaphor).
Dave had a solid off-season and put in some good workouts on the trainer and in the gym, and came into the season strong and ready to perform well. My goal as his coach was to bring up his CTL gradually to 100 points at the peak of his training, while at the same time not dig too big of a hole with his TSB that he would be able to recover from and get even stronger. He had one smaller intermediate goal in Mid-May that he wanted to be sure to win as well, which fit nicely with the plan of having him rested before his final 'build' to Nationals.
Figure 5: Complete racing season for Dave Johnson
By looking at fig. 5, we see a steady build up of CTL throughout the season. During May, his CTL stabilized somewhat as he wanted to be 'fresh' for the weekend races. Then in late May, his CTL started climbing as he was putting in the workouts required to be 'on form' for July nationals. It is interesting to note that even while Dave was (-) negative TSB, he still was winning races from March through June. His level of fitness was already that much higher than his peers, so even when tired, he would still easily win. As we look to his performance at Master's Nationals, he achieved his best 20minute and 60minute Normalized Power for the season, during this time. While he was (+) 25 TSB for much of this time period, he was clearly riding well and his fitness was at an all time high (5.2w/kg, not too bad for 55year old!).
After his success at Master's Nationals, he decided that he wanted to go to Master's Worlds and give it a shot for a rainbow jersey. As you look at Figure 6, you will notice that Dave's CTL takes a dramatic slide downward during and after Masters Nationals. This was planned, as Dave had originally decided to call it a season after Master's Nationals, but then after nationals, made the decision to race for a rainbow jersey. Once this decision was made, you can see the heavy ATL that he began to endure in order to re-build some lost fitness. As that ATL goes up, this brings up the CTL to about 80points, which is close to Dave's 'normal' sustainable training load.
Figure 6: The Decline in CTL, and re-build for Master's Worlds.
When Master's Worlds approaches, it's time to taper off the training and hope for the best! Dave goes into the time trial with a (+) 35 TSB, which nets him a solid top 10 placing in the TT. However his 'form' is clearly not the same as it was in Mid June, as he is only able to ride at 4.9w/kg for the TT. The great thing about the PMC is that it allowed me as his coach to re-build his CTL at the correct rate, and to a level that I knew he could sustain easily for a couple of weeks before tapering. This guaranteed that Dave's fitness would increase and at the same time not overdo it, in order to protect his immune system and/or have the ability to recover before worlds.
Dave performed his best just as predicted by the PMC. His CTL climbed at a steady rate and his TSB generally was negative for most of the season, in building for his peak at Master's Nationals. Even though his TSB was negative, he still performed well against his peers, as he was fitter than them even when tired. It's no surprise that he performed well at Master's Nationals having performed well nearly all season with a negative TSB. In hindsight, had we known he was going to Master World's, I would have not let his CTL drop so much after Master's Nationals, but since that was a relatively late decision, I did the best I could as his coach to get his CTL back to a sustainable level, without absolutely skyrocketing his ATL. In terms of managing his training loads, this is a perfect example of how powerful the PMC can be when you have some very focused goals that are based around a select duration of time.
Case #3- Bob Tourista, Fast Recreational Cyclist, Power Profile- Flat, 3.9w/kg at FTP
Bob's goal for the year was to ride with a touring group that was going to ride in France during some of the Tour that year, and they were going to go over many of the famous climbs that the Tour went over, including Alp D'huez. Bob has a regular job and family, so his time is limited, however, he has the luxury of riding his fixed gear bicycle to work most days, and rides his road bike when he has to do specific workouts. Since many of his rides are not using a power meter, I had him ride to work and back a few times to see exactly how many TSS points he accumulated on his typical ride back and forth. This allowed me to create some 'manual TSS entries' in WKO+, to get the correct training loads he was experiencing. See Figure 7.
Figure 7: The Manual Override for TSS values in your Calendar page.
When we first examine Bob's PMC in Figure 8, you can see immediately when his largest 'dose' of training occurred. In May to the first week of June, Bob stepped up his game and put in the time and efforts required to improve his fitness and be ready for the trip in July. You can see that his CTL climbed from 38 on May 11, to 86 on June 4th, which of course resulted in a (-)negative 94 TSB in late May after a particularly hard week and weekend of training. Once his rest week begins on the 10th of June, then we see his TSB go positive, but just barely hovering at zero and +5. Since he commutes to work each day, it's hard for him to take completely off the bike, but he did manage some easy days during this time, before beginning his final prep to tune up for his trip. As we look at his taper, which began on July 2nd, his TSB crosses into the positive side on July 7th , and stays positive all the way till July 13th, which is the day of his first big day in France and second day on the tour. See Figure 8.
Figure 8: Bob Tourista's Training Loads before his "Tour de France".
Now, let's look at the results of all his hard training in Figure 9. Bob used his power meter on the first two days of the tour, and forgot to bring his download cable, and knew he was close to filling up the memory on it, so he didn't ride with it for the rest of his tour, in order to preserve these first two days of data. Bob was right to do so, as he achieved a new Peak 5 seconds (947w) on the second day and also produced his two best 60 minute normalized powers(257,252) on the first two days. Since he didn't have his power meter for the rest of the time, we estimated his Training Stress Score for each ride for the rest of the week, based on the length, amount of climbing, perceived exertion, and level of fatigue after each day. Based on this, Bob created some serious training stress, as he achieved -95TSB by the 4th day of the ride and held it there for 3 more days!
Figure 9: The Performance Manager confirmed again!
Some Conclusions: With Bob as a bike commuter, he was fortunate in that he could create a very significant training load in a short period of time, without it impacting the rest of his life too much. He also responded to the load very well and recovered fast enough that he did not feel like he was overtraining. One of the hardest parts of coaching Bob was getting him to drive his car to work! He lives is a metropolitan city, so it actually takes him longer to get to work by car than by his bike, since it is such horrific gridlock everyday. Based on his daily commutes, if he never took a day off, and just commuted back and forth, his CTL would gradually climb and climb at a slow but steady rate. However, when he did his final taper for his France trip, his CTL dropped nicely and his TSB climbed positively and he was 'on form' for France. He not only broke many of his personal bests, but he was the strongest rider in the group, which also was one of his goals for the trip and gave him much personal satisfaction. Now, it's time for him to start training again and get back to intervals in order to prevent his CTL from sliding too much and losing the great fitness he gained.