This is a post to show you how to interpret the training load plugin for SportTracks. There are other links to how to do that in this ZoneFiveSoftware TrainingLoad forum BUT my slant comes from talking you through the highs and lows of my specific graph leading up to an event ie trying to tie all the complex lines on the graph to real examples of training and, in my case, miss-training!
Training Load is not a plan; it’s a tool where you can retrospectively monitor your fitness and fatigue and their impact on performance. It helps you listen to your body and CAN then input into your FUTURE plans by helping to know when you can push hard in training and when to back off. It costs a couple of quid/dollars and will easily pay that back when you come to your 5k, duathlon, triathlon or any endurance sport. The small cost will have a far greater positive effect on your race/PB performance than any other gadget you buy for 10 times the price!
Caveats: You should really get your HR zones set up properly. You can do this later but I’d suggest doing it straight away for each sport based on your LTHR for each sport. An easier alternative is to go to the other extreme and base it on one single HRmax for all sports. But again you still have to determine your HRmax.
Your zones CAN affect the results materially if done wrongly, although bizarrely they might not matter if they are a little bit out. HOWEVER, don’t worry about it too much as you are comparing the figures only against what you do NOT against other people. You must enter figures for all your endurance sports. So if you swim but, like me, haven’t got a device to get swim HRs into SportTracks then you have to estimate your effort somehow. If you don’t get the inputs broadly right then it will be rubbish-in and rubbish-out on the graph, so you don’t want to waste your time. Set it up properly. By the time you get to the end of this article, you will hopefully see why it will benefit you much than any new piece of kit you can buy (for the same price!)
Firstly – Setting Up
This article is not about setting up TrainingLoad.
Secondly – Understanding the Graph
Here we go: Training leading up to an end of April race. See below!
At first sight, this graph IS complicated. At second sight it remains complicated. It does take a while to get used to it. Here it is:
What the graph shows is my build-up for an end-of-April Triathlon. This triathlon is my A race and a reasonable standard. There are no B races leading up to the race. In fact no races at all; which is probably a mistake but I consciously chose to ignore all advice – Glory or Death!
It all starts with the brown vertical bars at the bottom of the graph that show daily TRIMP scores (HRZone x Time in Zone +clever maths). The higher your bar the harder your day’s worth of exercise. These are either manually input or determined by the HR track from your HR monitor. You will see that I train most days but nothing too crazy, no massive 4 hours, high heart rate rides and no half marathon tempo runs. I’m not training for an Iron Man.
If you follow a ‘proper’ plan, and you have to if you want to do well, then there will be many aspects built into that plan such as periodicity and taper. You will also know that for every exercise stimulus there will be several bodily responses including fitness and fatigue.
Let’s check all of that out on the graph.
Look at the blue line which has the blue shaded area beneath it. This is your Chronic Training Load (CTL basically it is how fit you are). So you want this to go ever upwards, right? Well yes and no. Broadly speaking it should go upwards as your training progresses. It takes a while for your body to adapt to exercise stimuli and so this line is relatively hard to get to go up quickly. It is a long term moving average of your TRIMPs. You don’t need to know the maths.
But to get fitter you know you have to try harder and harder and harder. As you try harder and harder you get tired and more tired. You get tired fairly quickly. Although you might recover reasonably quickly after one session there is cumulative stress associated with more and more exercise. After more and more exercise you will take longer to recover.
This is the red line, the Acute Training Load (ATL…on the same scale as CTL). If this goes ever upwards AT SOME POINT YOU WILL BREAK. You are physiologically near enough the same as me; you WILL break at some point. So, especially if you are older or less experienced, you build in plenty of recovery time. Perhaps, like me, having every 4th week a bit easier than the previous 3. So, week-on-week, the red line goes up, up, up and then down. You will see that on the graph my red line dips twice corresponding to two easier weeks. Ie Starting training 5th January the slight dip/flattening after 2nd Feb. Building towards the end of Feb and then I dip again, more drastically.
HINT: Because ATL is a short-term moving average then when you take it easy for a few days your fatigue falls quite a bit but your fitness does not fall so much (it being a longer-term moving average)…that’s the maths over for the day!
These initial increasing red line periods are my build periods; essentially trying to mostly raise my LT thresholds (base is already done and speed is to come as I peak and taper). In my plan, there should be 3 of these build periods but unfortunately, I only have two as I got injured. The third one should have been similar to the second, rising to a slightly higher level.
Injury: I probably pushed a bit harder than my plan said I should on each exercise each day. I also added more swimming to my usual plan. I probably over-cooked it! There were signs with my run sessions not quite being of the right quality…but not far off. Everything was improving in my tests but…snap! I also noticed a significant, negative mood change. I’ll come back to that as well.
So after the injury, I totally rest with the running (not cycling). Rest a bit more. The red line falls quite a bit and keeps falling. And then I panic as my running is still not happening. I get my act in gear and really push the cycling and get a bit more cross-training in through swimming. Hey! and the red (and blue) line goes up again in mid-March.
So we’ve seen periodicity and increased load in the red line and increased fitness in the blue line. So it all sounded good. But clearly, it wasn’t. Why?
Well if you look at the difference between the red and blue lines you get the green line. The Training Stress Balance. This is the important bit. This goes above and below zero. Above the line and you are resting/recovering below it and you are stressing your body. Stress is good of course to a degree. But funnily enough when my TSB was at its most negative that was when I had the injury..at about minus 20 TSB, for me.
So the next time my TSB gets to that level you can be sure I will take note and ease off.
FYI, and as a guide, I get my PBs when my TSB is 20+
Additionally, I have to say that I was probably fatigued as indicated by my mood swings, which I’d never really had before. I think I nipped that in the bud with the time off for the injury. Apparently fatigue can set in and cause a psychological reaction that can take months to get rid of. I have to say I felt somewhere close to experiencing that albeit for a short time. And that would not be a good place for you to go, believe me. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY!
So it is fine for the TSB to go below zero and to stay below zero. But not forever. Certainly not for your race. My personal interpretation of a neutral/zero TSB is that I can do some intense sessions and do them well but I would be well off a PB if I tried to do it say at least 5% off a PB in either running or cycling.
Let’s come back again to the red line and my last build/peak period from the middle of March, a dash to try to increase my training load focussing on the bike. I had to do this because this period is where your most effective training is done. This is the period that you put in all those hours for! And here’s why. You know if you train one day you won’t be faster the next because of it. That training will take a while to kick in, maybe 2 weeks. Well is it two weeks or is it 15 days, or 13 or 12 or how many before the race? Hmmm, would be nice to know wouldn’t it?
This is where the final smoothed red curve covering the orange area beneath comes in. This curve is NOT LINKED TO YOUR TRIMPs. In fact, it’s not really linked to anything else on the graph. Instead, it is linked to your race day (and a few other variables you don’t need to know). Basically on the day when your brown TRIMP bar points to the very azimuth of the curve THAT is your most effective training day up until that day you can see that the effectiveness of your training gradually gets more and more. After that day the effectiveness of what you did tails off very quickly. So the peak period is when this curve is at its highest. No holidays here just lots of quality sessions.
So in your peak period, you are stronger from all your previous training AND it will have the most effect on your race day. The graphs all show it. Pay very close attention to all of that.
So that’s it.
All we come to now is the taper. Your effort (red line) falls as your TRIMPs fall. But you still do enough to keep your fitness as high as possible (blue line) while your green line rises to race-winning potential glory. Because your fitness is a long term moving average it takes a while to decline so this is (sort of) why you try to keep it up with shorter intense sessions. These shorter intense sessions also do not tire you out too much so your red line (fatigue) starts to come down very quickly. This is precisely what you want. The net effect (the green line) rises quickly in your taper (or it should do) and you want to get that as high as you can for race day. Future Green line = race readiness.
You will see that I put in MUCH too much effort late in my training in an effort to get my running back (after the injury was fixed). This had the problem that I did not taper properly. Therefore I was fatigued going into my race (only slightly positive TSB). Unfortunately, you see my race readiness (TSB) peaking at 30 (actually TSB=40 a few days later) which is the highest it has ever been for me. Unfortunately, that is 2 weeks AFTER my race. Oh dear. I’ll just have to focus on a few Time Trials and 5K run PBs.
I don’t think training load works well for the details of your taper. It does help a bit though. Essentially it tells you to do nothing for 2 weeks and top coaches will say that doing nothing is plain wrong. However, as you are doing whatever you do in your taper I would recommend looking VERY closely at your TSB and forecast TSB for race day.
TIP: Don’t let you CTL (fitness) fall by more than 10% in your taper. But it MUST fall for you to recover and hence for you to be able to use your fitness effectively.
I was probably 4-7% off my real race pace on the day. From a race-day TSB of about 8. That was enough to finish way down the field when in fact I was hoping to achieve something a little more personally special.