What Makes Chronic Training Load (CTL)?
Chronic Training Load is a rolling average of your last 42 days to 3 months of training. For example, if you were to train at 70 tss every single day for 3 months, then your CTL would be 70 CTL. If you were to start bumping up your daily tss though for a month to 90 tss/day, then your CTL would start to gradually grow upwards from 70 and find the average of 2 months at 70 tss and 1 month at 90 tss… probably around 78 CTL.
If you are confused at how we get TSS, you can go back to my previous blog which discusses this topic and how it is set up. TSS is an extremely important component of CTL and should be correct before calculating CTL
Starting an Athlete With CTL
Anytime an athlete starts with Dalzell Coaching I often discuss with them that the best results for that year will be between 6 and 12 months of training. The first reason for this is that it takes roughly that long for the body to adapt to a large chunk of training and peak for a race. The other reason for this time period of training is because it takes the data from your training about 6 months to fully catch up from 0. I find that many athletes have all of the technology they need, but they don’t use it properly and never have their zones set up correctly. So while I can adjust zones and formulate an estimated CTL, it is often a guess at best because the athlete wasn’t training properly to begin with. Each new athlete resembles a clean canvas and those first 3-6 months of coaching are really priming the canvas in order to paint the best picture possible.
Building Athletes CTL
If you read the book “Training and Racing with a Power Meter” by Hunter Allen and Dr. Andrew Coggan, you will find a bunch of numbers on how to build athletes CTL effectively. When first starting out I would use this as a base line foundation of my understanding. Anywhere between 3-5 CTL/week should be sustainable for most. However, just like anything, it always depends on the athlete, their life circumstances, vacations planned that week, etc. What I have found is that a 2-4 CTL is often manageable by many and that when warranted, some can jump as high as a 6-8 CTL/week with caution! This is an important metric to measure each week for each athlete because as CTL builds rapidly, so does opportunity for overtraining and injury.
If you look at last weeks blog, you will read about Training Stress Balance (TSB) which is simply the amount of fatigue on your body. As your Acute Training Load (ATL) rapidly climbs, your TSB will accumulate fatigue quickly. What this does to CTL is spikes CTL and shows a peak in fitness. This should only be done for 1-2 weeks max at a time and should fall within the 6-9 CTL range/week. If you were to continue on this trend for long periods of time I would suggest your training zones aren’t correct or you are setting yourself up for injury rather quickly. While an overload and overreach can be extremely beneficial for peaking an athlete, it can only be done in short bursts and then should be followed by recovery for time to adapt.
Top Numbers of CTL
This is going to differ between every athlete and their lifestyles. However, what everyone wants to always know is what my top athletes have in terms of CTL. Again, this is a long process as you should really only jump up about 2-4 CTL/week to keep things safe. That being said, what I have found for my athletes and optimal success is:
Pure Runners: 50-70 CTL (From running only)
Pure Cyclists: 100-115 CTL (from cycling only)
Triathletes: 100-125 CTL (from cycling/running)
I hesitate to post these numbers because as a reader its easy to just look at these numbers and say “oh, they are doing that so I can too”. No, that isn’t the point of posting these numbers. The point of showing these numbers is to show a peak form fitness for athletes peak races that took 6-9 months to achieve, plenty of sacrifice, and dedicated training of 8-12 hours/week for those 6-9 months.
Also what is missing from here is how well an athlete adapts to the training load. Some of my exceptionally fast athletes will only ever hit 70-80 CTL but they adapt well to their training sessions and life responsibilities don’t allow for higher CTL due to daily stress levels already being high.
As athletes begin to understand the process and what we are looking for in terms of building, they often become in love with a number (100+ CTL). They have worked so hard for that number and don’t want to let it go. This is where you often see athletes trying to maintain training loads after an Ironman or after a cycling season. However, what you need to understand as a reader is that your body can only handle 2-3 true fitness peaks a year, then you must recover and rest. Trying to maintain peak form all year will only lead to overtraining injuries and at a certain point Burnout due to your bodies inability to perform at levels you think it should. As your body starts to give out and your mind expects it to perform, you will enter into severe training depression and question if training is even worth it, this is what burnout looks like. As you come down off your season peak and its time for a recovery period, your CTL should decline and you as an athlete should see this as part of the process for better results the following year/build. Without the full recovery, your body can’t fully adapt and it can’t fully prepare for an even larger build next time.
While I have given you a lot of points here, understand that this is still only a piece to the puzzle. While CTL is great for showing overall fitness, it doesn’t account for specific fitness which is a key ingredient for performance. It is easy to trick CTL into rising if you know how, but if you can raise your CTL with race specific training, that is when true performance increases. This can all be measured and should be. We have the tools handy to properly monitor and track fitness. If you are currently an athlete with the technology but aren’t tracking your actual training load, I would urge you to sit down and start. We don’t have to be subjective in our training anymore, you can become objective and extremely efficient with what you’re doing.
For more information on CTL, Jeremy Brown of MindRight Multisport and I will be hosting a google hangout on Wednesday at 10 AM Est.
For questions or concerns please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org