Training Stress ~ Fitness v Rest
information in this factsheet is complementary to the pearls of wisdom held
in the Intensity v Volume factsheet. You may wish to
review it before or after this essay, to familiarise yourself with the
trilogy of pain, power and success.
The graphic above depicts the "Darwin model" of man's
adaptation to his world over time. Luckily for you, as a cyclist,
we adapt to our training in much shorter timescales than those above,
and possibly a lot shorter than you'd actually believe.
Previously, we've discussed making best use of the genetics
gifted to you by your parents. We are however, more than the sum
of our genes. We are all different and all special; some of us
just take longer to find what we're good at than others.
To become a better cyclist we need to move from the position we now
hold, to that of one stronger.
In my opinion (here he goes
again!), we do that by:
taking a performance evaluation
deriving a baseline from our results
with baseline led duration, intensity and frequency
carrying out a period of structured, targeted
then after a
suitable period of time...
re-evaluating our performance to...
measure the fruits of our labour
Once again, I will use power training examples to make the
case for my propositions to you, as they are very easy to follow, quantify and
substantiate. It allows us to deal in facts, not opinion.
If you haven't got a Power Meter it doesn't really
matter. The core principles are the same. At the end of this
article I'll show you how to evaluate your training without having all
It's so simple,
it's almost harder to get it wrong than right. So why isn't
all ready know...
Remember school, and Newton's third law of motion?
For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Tuck
this little nugget somewhere safe because we'll come back to it later...
Training is a combination of
effort and recovery. Just as the effort has to be at the right
intensity, so does the recovery. Intense Recovery may seem an
oxymoron, but we have to pay as much attention to our recovery as
we do our training. Not everyone does.
So how do you ensure you hit the
right numbers and maintain constant, sustainable, measurable progression? As you'll see from other
supporting factsheets in this thread; each training session you undertake elicits
a training stress on the body. To be of value, we need to measure
or define that stress and make use of the information it gives.
To recap; a one hour ride at your
Functional Threshold Power gives a Training Stress Score
of 100 at an Intensity Factor of 1.0. For most of
you this will be your typical 25 mile Time Trial. For me it'll be
my best hour of screaming across the roads of Flanders next week.
I don't do time trials, there's no one to talk to!
So, now we all have a benchmark
against which we can compare all our rides. My best, your best,
their best, current 60 minute
effort equals 100 TSS and 1.0 IF. It doesn't matter if your my mum
or Jens Voigt, their best current 60 minutes will give them the exact
same relative training stress and intensity factor. 100 and 1.0.
Current, is an important word;
something else we will come back to later.
a quick recap of how it works. This 2 hour, 42k recovery ride had
a Training Stress Score of just 55.5 and an Intensity Factor of 0.531.
This session stressed me half
as much as a 25 mile TT but it was spread over two hours so it was a
quarter of the actual effort per hour. A perfect recovery session,
no training stimulus whatsoever! A TSS of 22.5 per hour.
It's like taking your bike for a walk.
is last year's Bernard
Hinault Sportive. 5 hours 40, 176k at 31 kph, and it was
hilly with 2600 metres of climbing. Giving a TSS of 400, 0.84
With 3600 kJ (calories) of
work undertaken it was a bit of a bugger. The equivalent of riding
four back to back 25 mile TT's at 84% of intensity. This ride gave a TSS of
around 71 per hour. A significant fitness contribution.
So now you begin
to get the picture of how the TSS works and how it can help make sense of our training
load. But what about Intensity Factor IF?
The intensity of your ride is defined as a ratio between two
power measurements. The first measurement is your Functional
Threshold Power (FTP); as we all know this is the sustained power you can dish
out for an hour. There's loads of ways of finding it, you can
review them here...
The second measurement is
Normalised Power (NP). Average Power isn't a good measurement to
use because it has lots of freewheeling, down hills, and hence, zero
wattage in it.
Normalised Power is a
complicated algorithm that takes measurements over a rolling 30 seconds
and returns a quantifier that gives a close approximation of the power
you could have sustained if you had rode the relevant time period at a
You'll see that my average
power for the Bernhard Hinault was 176 watts but the normalised power is
218 watts. If I'd ridden at 218 watts for the entire 176k, uphill,
flat and down hill, I'd have finished in exactly the same time. If
I'd ridden at 176 watts, Dianne would have beat me!
Intensity Factor = FTP/NP
We now have a set of consistent and
replicable metrics against which all our training sessions, races and recovery
rides can be compared. Which is great, but how does it help us in
Bringing it Together
We can now track all our on bike activity over time, to give
us a series of fitness indicators. We can track the workload we've
undertaken in the short term and the workload we've placed on our body
over an extended period of time.
With this information we can gauge our level of fitness
progression. We can also
interrelate that work with our rest and recovery to see how fresh we
Here's some more in-depth
info, so sit up and take notice as it may take a while to make sense.
I've tried to make it as clear as I can but I'm afraid my writing skills
aren't fully up to the task.
Acute Training Load
Here's one of my very recently completed (last week of Feb) green weeks; which
is week one of my three on (Green, Amber, Red), one off (Grey) training
pattern. In this week I did four training sessions.
I train on Tuesday and Thursday on the turbo, and do road rides on
Saturday and Sunday. In Training Peaks, I download all the SRM data
and it does all the hard work for me to give me a nice graph of my
Acute Training Load (ATL) for a rolling week; which is the
pink stuff below.
The turbo sessions are short
but intense and give TSS's of around 70 to 75 points. As you can
see from the IF results, they are ridden above threshold because
even with the rest periods and warm up, cool down, they still come out
around IF 1.
I've cut back the duration of
the road rides as I build up to the season start. But they're
around 100 - 120k, all in the big ring, which gives mid 250 to low 300
TSS points. Remember, the Bernard Hinault in June was a 400 TSS
On a graph ATL scores look like
this. The week above is the third peak from the right.
ATL, takes your
rolling seven day training stress score, adds it all up and divides by
seven. So you get a training stress of so much per day. This
takes in to account your rest days, missed days and recovery rides.
If you take the green boxes above, you get 71+75+282+255= 683.
Divide by 7 and you get; 97 TSS/d. So I rode the training
equivalent of a 25 mile TT per day for a week.
You can see above that my
first recorded week of the training year brought a training intensity of 21 TSS/d, on the 1st November. The
equivalent of less than a 25 mile TT per week.
My winter sessions built up to a
significant peak of 152 TSS/d by Valentines day. It was just a quick snog this
year, I was too tired for anything else as I'd ridden the equivalent of
one and a half 25 mile TT's per day for a week!
Hopefully I've explained it
well enough that it now begins to make sense. ATL is your Acute
Training Load because it measures in near time; it's what you're doing
now. ATL is your weekly feedback on how much training stress
you've placed on your body.
Chronic Training Load
Don't fall in to the trap of thinking "chronic" means sick.
Chronic, relates to chronological. it's time, a period of time. In
this instance it's a period of time that covers 42 days. It can be
manipulated, but it's best to just accept that 42 days is a good number
over which to track your fitness.
After 21 days your body
begins to adapt to the training loads placed upon it. These
adaptations will hang around for another 21 days or so. Hence, the
rolling 42 day, Chronic Training Load, measurement period.
Something's we just have to accept as a given. This is one of them.
Obviously the training you've
done this week will have a bigger impact on your fitness than the
training you did 42 days ago. But that training will still have
made a contribution. If it didn't, why would we spend all winter
CTL is the acronym, for
Chronic Training Load. CTL is the accumulated
measurement of a rolling 42 day training load. Our objective is to
make sure it continually, steadily, and gently rises.
As we stated above, older training
has less, but still some, contribution to make towards your current
fitness. Highly devious and complicated algorithms do all the work
for us and present us with a nice graph, like the one I've suffered to
You'll see that I started
from a CTL low of 40 TSS/d on 1st November, which is higher than my ATL
of 21.6, because I had big sportives and heavy training
rides from the previous season (within the 42 day window) contributing towards my CTL. So I
went in to this year carrying residual fitness from last season. A
Each week I manipulated my
training intensity and volume to keep a steadily rising Chronic Training
Load. Using the same methods as for the ATL, only spread over 42
days instead of 7, and with the earlier sessions making less of a
contribution than the latter, the training stress scores are
calculated and displayed.
We have to train a little bit harder each
week, increasing either volume or intensity, and in some cases both, to
ensure we get fitter, faster, stronger as the season approaches.
This year we've changed
our winter training regime at flamme
rouge. It was time to try something different.
During the whole of last season I never recorded a CTL higher than
75 TSS/d. . This year I enter the season fitter than I
ever was last year.
It's nice to see the
theoretical plans on paper in September, transformed in to real life
personal high, sustainable pre-season peak TSS scores in March.
It's the same for all our riders. They've all screamed in to
the new season.
Training Stress Balance
Okay, for those that have been paying attention (I know it's
hardly edge of the seat stuff and a little sciency, but stick with it)
we now come back to Newton and his third law.
For every action there
is an equal and opposite reaction. We can use this to
demonstrate how training works. You train (an action), you get
tired (a reaction). The harder you train, the higher the action;
the more tired you get, the deeper the reaction. I'm sure you're
more than aware of, and constantly suffer from, the concept.
Now we throw in Darwin for
good measure. We train, we get tired, we rest, we adapt. We
train again, we don't get as tired. We've adapted! We can
now do one of two things. We can take shorter rests, or we can
By taking shorter rests and
keeping the training stress the same, we won't get any stronger, we'll
just increase our endurance. By increasing the stress, and keeping
the rest the same, we get stronger but may compromise our endurance
To reach our potential we
need to mix and match the stress/recovery quotients. The skill is
in finding your magic formula. Not mine, not
his, not hers, yours. You are unique, make sure you follow a unique path.
To prove the point of how
training affects you, there is a third training metric; the Training
Stress Balance (TSB). TSB reflects your reaction to the CTL and
ATL. As your stress goes up your freshness goes down. Training Stress Balance (TSB)
is the physiological response to your training. Take a look at
yet another of my many graphs...
Blue Line is the CTL (Chronic Training Load) measured over a
42 rolling day period. It climbs slowly, through necessity.
Pink Line is the ATL (Acute Training Load) measured over a 7
rolling day period and is quite spikey. You can just make out the
three on ~ one off, training pattern.
Yellow Bars represent TSB (Training Stress Balance) of which
I'm now going to explain the relevance.
Training Stress Balance is a
fancy name for Freshness! How rested you are, how recovered, how
ready to go. High is obviously good, but not necessarily the best.
My mum will have a super high freshness as she's now retired and potters
around all day, but I doubt she could win a Crit!
You'll see that on November
1st, I was nice and rested at 12.9. The peak of a steadily climbing line as I
recovered from the stresses of the previous season.
Then we started training, and
you can see the gradual decline (dips in the yellow bars) of "freshness" over time, as my training
became harder, longer and faster. The recovery periods became,
through necessity to create the required adaptation, shorter. I began to eat away at my reserves of freshness.
does it all mean?
As you all now know, the training load came to a peak on
Valentine's Weekend. Two laps of the legendary flamme
rouge Classics Circuit and an hour
big ring to finish off. You can see the figures below. The
112/24.3 figure in the Workout column, is the distance/speed in
These two rides (classed as
Cross Train to get the red shading in the colour code) were the training
equivalent of a 100 mile TT on Saturday and a 80 mile TT on Sunday.
You'll see that the Saturday ride was harder than the 176k, 2600 metres
of climbing, Bernard Hinault Sportive used as an example above.
To squeeze every last drop of
freshness out of us, we did it again on Sunday, but without the added
hour. Train hard, race easy.
You can see the cumulative
results of the final red week rides in the above three charts.
CTL 87.9 and a
TSB of a jaw droppingly low, - 65
My work is done. And
this isn't just me; we had loads of riders out this winter who all
slowly but surely drove themselves right to the edge of fatigue. I
truly believe that they are all going to win races, medals and achieve
personal bests this year due to their unstinting commitment to their
winter training. I can't wait to see how well they're going to
perform as the season unfolds.
With freshness at an all time low, it's time
to allow the body to recover, rebuild and realign.
You'll see that there is a
significant drop after the highest pink spike, and that's the recovery
week. At the end of that week I'd "recovered" to a TSB of -15.
There then followed three
slightly, relatively decreasing weeks of effort (they were still
full-on), more a consolidating plateau due to
the drop in volume rather than holding back on intensity. These
weeks held the blue CTL (my fitness) steady, while allowing the yellow
TSB (my freshness) to climb.
Next week sees my first
sportive of the season, the
E3 Prijs Vlaanderen, using technology such
as this I know 100% that I'll be at my strongest and my freshest.
It won't be left to chance, it won't be guessed, it won't be hoped for.
It'll be a given. According to the data, I'll have a CTL of 80 and
a TSB of +25. I'm confident I'll be as well prepared as I can for
the big day.
Planning your training, and
more importantly, planning your recovery, with or without these tools
will help you meet your goals and objectives for the forthcoming season.
Don't race yourself to your objective and ultimate fitness then be too
tired to capitalize on your efforts.
Recover your way to success.
You heard it here first!
The truly clever bit is being
able to predict when enough is enough. Pushing yourself hard
enough to constantly adapt but not pushing yourself so hard that you
break. Which begs the question; Where's the overtraining tipping
point? The answer to that little season-saving conundrum will be
revealed next month.
Fitness, comes from quality training.
Freshness, comes from quality rest. Form, comes when fitness and
rest are least compromised. Someone who is fully rested could
never win a race. Someone who is at full fitness could never win a
People in "form" win races.
Form is what you are trying to achieve, hold on to, and predict.
You need to be in form for your key objectives. Form, as a
cyclist, is your only objective. Hit peak form at the right time
and your only concern should be, which side of the fireplace shall I put
The rise of your CTL has to
be "controlled". Taking it too high, or increasing it too rapidly
can lead to overtraining. You control it by steadily increasing
the training stress you place on your body to raise the TSS. Each
week you should monitor your ATL to ensure your body is adapting to the
stresses previously placed on it. As TSS goes up the TSB goes
down. Balancing the two is key to realizing your potential.
Graphs and charts and all
these gizmo's aren't to everyone's taste. But for me they allow me
to make best use of the very limited time I have to train. They
help me far more than a new frame or a new set of wheels ever could.
To me, buying a power meter is the best value for money return on
training investment you can make.
Does this stuff work?
Look at this...
Compare my dotted line Power Curve from 2004, when I
started recording my power outputs on the road, to the yellow Power
Curve from this winter's November to March training sessions.
All I need to work on as the season approaches is my 30
second to 1 minute outputs. But as you can see, I've
increased my power output (massively in the neuromuscular and anaerobic
levels) across the board over the last six years. Could I
have done that by just doing more now of what I was doing then? I
doubt it. By the way, I've deliberately cut the wattage scale off!
If you haven't got a power meter you can apply similar
principles if you can be bothered to set up a spreadsheet to track your
cumulative figures. Or just write it in a diary. However you
do it, try it, it's worth the effort.
For every intense interval turbo session, you're looking
at 70 TSS points per hour. For endurance turbo sessions you're
looking at 60. Flat road rides, little ring, 50 TSS p/h, Club Runs
55 TSS. Heavy, big ring, hilly interval rides 80 TSS p/h. A
60 minute 25 mile TT, 100 TSS.
Or you could bite the bullet, buy a power meter and open
yourself up to a whole new world of cycling!
Until next time...