You hear stories of athletes training 20 hours a week for an Ironman and logging 10,000 miles a year on the bike. This is great for some athletes, but in analyzing all of my athletes data and files, I have realized that these huge hours are not needed for many typical athletes looking to make progress and improvements. This blog is meant to show you why data is so important to track and how it can make your training time both effective and efficient.
Note: To become a world class athlete you will need to put in many long hours, but to become an elite-amateur I don’t feel that these hours are necessary.
What Type of Data Should I Track?
The data that is most valuable for a coach are the metrics of watts (power), heart rate, run pace, or calories. Depending on your goals and what you are trying to accomplish will determine what metric should be used for your training. The metrics that you want to stay away from on the bike are mph and miles ridden. The reason we want to stay away from speed on the bike and overall miles is because they are subjective and influenced by other factors outside of your control. From a coaching perspective, I may hear someone tell me they rode 23 mph for a ride and they are ecstatic about it. I am not here to discredit their ride at all. Riding 23 mph on a bike is very exciting. However, what I am wondering is what does 23 mph even mean? Was there a tailwind, was it a group ride, was it rolling hills, did they do a mountain descent, was it all uphill? Do you see how speed is subjective and doesn’t actually tell us what your body was going through for that effort? 23 mph has no implications on how much you stressed your engine.
For example: Lets look at what 23 mph looks like from different perspectives
23 mph in a group ride = 200 watts
23 mph with a strong tail wind = 175 watts
23 mph on a descent = 0 watts
23 mph on a mountain climb = 450 watts
Huge difference in training days for all four of these examples.. don’t use mph for tracking purposes.
How to Properly Track Data
You need to find the metric that is reflective of your work. The best two modes are heart rate or power which I listed above. Once you have determined which one you will use, you then need to test your training zones which I discussed in the previous blog (click here to read). Now is when the magic starts to happen. Everyone has their own zones that are catered to them and thanks to the brilliant minds of Dr. Andy Coggan and Hunter Allen, we have a way to track overall workload in a non-subjective manner for effective training.
This non-subjective manner is called Training Stress Score (TSS). What this metric does is takes your duration of activity and and multiplies it by your intensity (which zone you are working in) to give you an overall stress score for your workout. The calculation is more detailed than that, but for our purposes we will just think of duration and intensity to give us an overall stress score. In theory, a score of 100 would be your overall 1 hour maximum effort based on your training zones. If you rode at zone 2 for 1 hour you would be looking at a TSS of somewhere around 40-50 TSS. You can start to see that by tracking this number you will start to gauge how hard rides were in comparison.
This is a much better way to track your fitness than by mph. Imagine if you rode with a tailwind at 23 mph in zone 2 for 1 hour and had a TSS of 45 but the next day you rode into a headwind for 1 hour at 16 mph but because you were in z3 you had a TSS of 70. If you only tracked by mph you would feel day 1 was far better than day 2. However, by tracking the actual stress to your body, Day 2 far outweighs Day 1.
Building Your Fitness with Data
Once you start to compile multiple days of data (TSS), you begin to see that you can track TSS on a weekly or monthly scale. Now instead of of saying I want to ride 200 miles this week (what does that really even mean?), you might say I want to register 600 TSS this week. If we go back to blog number 2 of this series (click here), you will see that the 10% rule should be used for safe and effective building. So if last week was 600 TSS, then this week should be 660 TSS. Now you are programing an effective program that is going to make progress because you are measuring stress to the engine (body), not some theoretical concept that more miles is more stress. I hope you can see how we are starting to loop all of the blogs together now to create a much bigger picture. To loop periodization and specificity back in, you know that you will have portions of the year were TSS grows much higher and then you will have specific times where TSS is mostly all one type of zone for race day specifics. This is fun right :) ?!
Being Efficient and Effective for Time Crunched Athletes
So this brings us back to the purpose of this blog, how can you utilize this information for the athlete that is time crunched. In my coaching endeavors I have found great improvements to be made in 6-12 hours/week by athletes ranging from 1st time finishers to elite-amateur’s. The reason is simple, because we tracked the stress to their bodies and followed the efficient methods laid out in blog 2 for building fitness. I tracked their TSS and gradually built their engines to a point that maximized their time, and then once the athlete was used to this training load, we began to get very specific (training zones) to their race demands and goals. By periodizing their season and knowing how long you can get specific, we were able to maximize their results and peaks for race season on only 6-12 hours a week. Here are some examples of results that can take place within this time frame
Cyclist: From an FTP of 320-380 in 14 months
Cyclist: From an FTP of 290-345 in 7 months
Cyclist: From an FTP of 170-215 in 5 months
Runner: From running a 2:04 half marathon to running a 3:40 marathon in 15 months
Swimmer: From swimming a 28 min 1500 to swimming a 22 min 1500 in 6 months
Note: To reach the top levels of their sport the next step would be to take these athletes higher in volume, but that wasn’t needed to obtain these goals and results.
Its all about tracking the right metrics and having the correct tools for progress. I urge you all to stop measuring subjective data and thinking it is the difference between a strong athlete and beginner. True progress happens when you track your workload and constantly monitor it for progress and performance. I hope that this showed some of those looking to improve their abilities a new way to think about tracking progress. To become as efficient and effective as possible with your time, this tactic needs to be utilized in your scheduling of workouts.