The accompanying chart illustrates the actual periodization of a road cyclist for the season just ending. The chart was created using WKO+ software and data from the rider’s power meter. If you are a runner data from a speed-distance device (GPS or accelerometer) would produce a similar chart using WKO+. Heart rate can also be used for this purpose but can only be done online at TrainingPeaks. (I’m not going to go into how the data points are created as the technology behind this is not the point of this discussion. For details on this pick up a copy of Training and Racing With a Power Meter by Allen and Coggan. The book also explains the running data.) Regardless of sport, the charts look similar. I want to use this one to make a few points about training for you.
I’m sure this chart is rather messy and confusing looking, so let’s get oriented on it first (click to expand it). The horizontal axis is time. Notice that the first day of the season on the left end is October 5, 2009 and the last day is October 3, 2010 on the right end. It’s almost exactly a year. The vertical axis shows the magnitude of the various metrics I’ll be explaining.
Now for the metrics. The blue line is “fitness” (“CTL”-Chronic Training Load in WKO+-speak). Red is “fatigue” (“ATL”-Acute Training Load). The yellow portion is “form” (“TSB”-Training Stress Balance).
When the blue line is rising the athlete’s fitness is improving. When the red line is rising fatigue is increasing. Notice that the red and blue lines trend in the same directions. When you train hard fitness increases and you become more fatigued. And conversely, when you back off of training fitness declines and you are less fatigued. Simple concept.
You undoubtedly understand fitness and fatigue so let’s get up to speed on form. This is simply a way of expressing the athlete’s race readiness. It has to do with reducing fatigue so that the athlete is rested on race day. That’s not quite as simple as it seems because the challenge is to keep from losing too much fitness while shedding fatigue. I’ll get to that in a later post here. There are a couple of basic concepts to be understood about form on this chart. Whenever the yellow portion is rising the athlete is “coming into form.” In other words, fatigue is being lost. When form rises above the purple dashed line running horizontally across the middle of the chart he is “on form”, i.e., fresh or well-rested.
So here are a couple of more basic concepts. The object of training is to elevate fitness. The purpose of peaking is to reduce fatigue so that the athlete comes into form. I usually try to have the athlete’s form at about +20 TSB on race day. You can see the TSB scale just on the left side of the chart.
I’ll explain the little squares with the multicolored lines connecting them and the CP30, etc labels later on. I don’t want to overwhelm you with details right now (I may have already done that, I’m afraid).
Across the bottom on the chart in black print is the athlete’s periodization. If you’ve read any of my Training Bible books you should be familiar with these terms and what the training during each period is like, so I’m not going into that again here. The vertical dashed lines in this region indicate when a training period ends and another begins. By looking above each of these periods you can see what happened to the athlete’s fitness, fatigue and form at these times.
I’ve also shown here when the athlete’s A-priority races took place (there were 3) and other significant activities (“1 week camp,” etc).
So, with all of this in mind there are several lessons to be learned from this athlete’s seasonal progression. Let’s look at three of them.
Lesson #1: Seasonal progression is never a straight line. Fitness, fatigue and form are never static. They are always changing due to hard and easy training, illness, injury, and other commitments in life. If you increase the workload, fitness and fatigue rise. Notice the “1 week camp” in late June. Here fitness rises exceptionally fast and fatigue spikes at the highest level of the year. We know the athlete was training with a very high (for him) workload. Conversely, note what happened during a week of “no training” in early September due to other commitments. There is a significant drop in fitness as fatigue drops and form rises to about the highest level of the season.
Lesson #2: Periodization must be flexible. Because of this training volatility you must constantly make adjustments to the training plan. In 30 years of creating plans for athletes I’ve coached I’ve never had one that went unchanged from the start of the season to the end. Not only must changes be made frequently, but you must also make changes that correct the course. Fitness is the most likely metric to need changing and that’s a bit like trying to turn a huge ship – it takes time, as in several days or weeks. On the other hand, reducing fatigue is rather easy – just stop training. When you that, however, fitness is also lost although not as quickly as fatigue. The smart self-coached athlete will be frequently tinkering with training to stay on course.
Lesson #3: Base fitness must be maintained throughout the season. If it is compromised then it must be regained before going to more advanced training. Notice in the chart back in February that Base 2 didn’t go well and these training conflicts continued into March (Base 3a). So we extended the athlete’s Base 2 and then repeated his Base 3 period (Base 3b). After A race #1 on June 5 we went back to Base training again (Base 3c). This was also done after race #2 and again after the week of no training. This was done because whenever fatigue drops and form rises for an extended period of time, regardless of the cause (peaking, illness, injury, other commitments), Base fitness must be regained. Whenever you see a “Base” period the athlete is primarily focused on aerobic endurance, muscular force and speed skills, as described in my Training Bible books. Without these most basic abilities anything else the athlete may do to gain race-like fitness would not produce good results. If you make a mistake in training make it on the side of too much Base training.
There are several more lessons to be learned from this chart. I’ll cover a few more in Part 2.