The Training Peaks guys gave me a t-shirt at the 70.3 Worlds Expo this year because when they asked if I’d heard of “Training Peaks,” I pulled out my phone and showed them my data in the mobile app with typical Kelly enthusiasm. Any opportunity to data obsess, right? I use the technology at my hands (err on my wrist) to leverage a variety of metrics from heart rate, pace, power and even feel. I upload my data from my training watch into Training Peaks which is a comprehensive training log on a web based platform. Today, I want to talk about what I understand about their performance management chart that I love. It’s included in the premium membership.
Many athletes just hire a coach to analyze their numbers & leave them to it I think even if you have a coach it’s important to understand as much as possible about what’s going on in your training.
Every workout file tells its own story. Data analysis goes far beyond reviewing each individual file though. In Training Peaks, I have the fun ability to monitor the whole training picture. Ever since I found out about the PMC or Performance Management Chart in Training Peaks I have been fascinated with it. The chart quantifies the cumulative effects of training stress over time. You can literally SEE your fitness in general terms at any point in time in the PMC. Yes, one beautiful chart displays my entire year of hard work, blood, sweat & even tears in training. I think the PMC is intended to be a tool that can assist an athlete in arriving at the start of the “A race” sharp & rested just enough to optimize performance potential. That timing can be tricky.
What I like best though is the ability to watch my fitness change as I’m training. I enjoy drawing logical conclusions for some of the rather emotional driven questions that could haunt my athlete brain such as the ongoing, “why am I so tired” or “I missed a few days…did I lose all my fitness?” I also just like the memories the chart holds for me in that quantitative visual of my fitness. I like looking back but also enjoy watching the fitness trend upwards as I train. It’s the fitness climb! In the PMC the pink, yellow and blue lines dance on the page to convey information about my fitness in every little step.
The PMC is useful when all workouts are logged with a “Training Stress Score” assigned based on duration and intensity. That number just indicates how hard a session was with 100 being the score for one hour at an all out effort. Each day derives a TSS score which is just a value assigned to capture how hard the athlete worked. When I upload data, a TSS is calculated using my established training zones. I can also estimate a TSS. If the data is not consistently logged and the scores aren’t based on training zones with my current abilities the chart would be useless in my opinion. Here’s what I have learned about these pretty little fitness lines:
The pink line is the ATL or acute training load. It represents freshness. This is a weighted moving average of the daily TSS over the past 7 (generally) days of training. That just means it’s an average of the past 7 days with the more recent days having greater significance. The harder the sessions are, the higher the ATL will be.
The blue line is the CTL or chronic training load. This represents fitness.
It includes the past 6 weeks (typically) of training and is a weighted moving average as well. The CTL and ATL therefore will follow the same general trend with the CTL being a smoothed version since it includes data points over a longer duration.
The yellow line is essentially the inverse of the pink line. Yellow is the TSB or Training Stress Balance. It represents how rested an athlete is which is considered the form. An athlete wants to be fit but come into “form” for race day. Intense, long training days will generate a high ATL from the stress and a low TSB as the athlete will not feel as rested and will have worked hard.
Form (TSB) equals fitness (CTL) plus freshness (ATL).
When my fitness is climbing quickly for a period of time, I will feel tired and notice my TSB in the negative numbers. Once I have built a higher CTL I’m fitter so those same sessions with the same ATL figures would take less out of me. When that blue line is elevated, I can handle more training load without feeling as fatigued. The numbers generally ring true to how I feel but not always which l will explain later.
So the ruminating “Why am I so tired?” is usually because I’m gaining fitness.
If I miss a few days, the yellow TSB will rise and that volatile pink ATL will go down. The blue CTL (fitness) will drop some but I generally haven’t “lost ALL my fitness” which can be reassuring.
What it cannot account for is the impact of life stress but it is a model and those aren’t ever perfect. Overall, I find it to be a great general tool.
Last year looks good when I evaluate results alone and I’m proud of everything I accomplished. However, I am always looking for more progress. My PMC shows me that there is a ton of room for improvement in my overall training when targeting an A race. The specific insight I have is that there was a lot of inconsistency in the build. Here is my year. You can see all the ups and downs mathematically. I love this.
Some of the drops or funny ups and downs were from racing frequently with interruptions coming from short course races as I chased the VTS/MTS series. I’m glad I did that but it sure was a lot of racing. The rest I took before and after these less important races (compared to IMMT or Worlds) interrupted a steady build.
The shoulder issues around the end of March impacted volume and ability to train so we see a drop in the blue line there.
The impact of tapering and recovering from both half irons in April & June reduced my fitness for a short time but this was purposeful and planned. I was able to easily return to the upward trend after these.
Some life stress started in July & carried through September. The line is not a smooth upward trend there. Factual analysis shows me that carrying such tension when my ironman planned block was more physically demanding impacted my ability for a textbook build. I did it, but it wasn’t the ideal climb. This is where the PMC is not exact as at the time, I’d see very positive TSB figures but feel dead in the legs. The body processes stress from life similar to how it does stress from training but with no fitness benefit. I could not recover or hit the intensities as planned. I appeared rested in the chart but my body could not repair itself from the simultaneous physical and mental stress.
I also think I could have hit higher ATL & CTL entering IMMT since a positive 41 TSB seems unusually high to me. My performance on the day was good. We know it’s better to be too rested than too tired but it might not have been optimal.
I took an entire month off from structure this fall before rebuilding and the climb is back on. It was steep (but still a safe ramp up) at first as I quickly regained after the long break but I am adapting well now.
My 2014 PMC gives me hope for the future. I had a great season but the figures show me there are many gaps and areas to improve upon this year. I’m not racing as frequently or if I do, I will train through.
Looking forward to the climb of that blue line.
If you want to obsess and learn from where I learned this go to www.trainingpeaks.com and pour through their guides or read Andrew Coggan & Hunter Allen’s, “Training & Racing with a Power Meter.”