This is the same chart as was used in Part 1 (click to expand). If you haven’t read that I’d suggest you do as it will help you to understand this chart which is pretty busy and confusing.
In Part 1 I listed three quite basic lessons that may be learned from this athlete’s periodization in the 2010 season. Here are four more.
Lesson #4: You must let fitness fade at the end of the season. Notice how fitness declines steadily in the Transition period on the left end. It drops from about 87 (TSS/day) at the end of the 2009 season on October 5 to 44 by the first week of December when training began again in earnest. The training that was done during this period was very light workload and low stress. It’s not necessary to lose as much fitness as this athlete lost in Transition, but it is necessary to give up some. I’d suggest losing at least 20%. And that’s just a blind shot. For some athletes who have been training at a high level for a long time much more time away from training with a greater than 20% drop in fitness may well be warranted. For others who had a rather mundane season or who had a break near the end of the race season a 20% drop may be too much. There is no answer that fits everyone’s needs.
I can tell you this, however. Generally, athletes who attempt to stay race-fit year round, year after year, have short race careers, I’ve found. The old saying is true: Variety is the spice of life. You need some variety if you are to recharge your battery and do it again for several weeks and months without a significant break. If all you do is train hard all the time, 52 weeks a year, your days as an athlete are numbered. Extended rest is necessary at least once a year.
Lesson #5: Training becomes more sensitive the closer you get to the race. Notice how long the periods are on the left side of the chart (Prep, Base 1, Base 2, Base 3a, Base 3b) and how short they are starting with Build 1 around May 1. It’s like you’re building a house. Early in the construction you’re laying the foundation and framing the house. This is a time in the process when the results are very obvious. Big changes are taking place and they are evident on almost a daily basis. The house (fitness) is taking shape quickly. But once the finish work begins (Build 1, Build 2) the changes are less obvious, but more important to the finished product. This is the time when construction (training) increasingly takes on the characteristics of the desired finished product (specific fitness for a given type of race). The changes aren’t nearly as obvious as you get closer to completion (race day) but much more critical. Note the large changes in fitness on the left side of the chart with the much smaller changes for a given period of time on the right side.
Lesson #6: Fitness is lost when form is gained and that can be a good trade off. Having high form is not always good. Notice how high it is in October and November at the start of the season. Fitness at this time is quite low. So although the athlete is well-rested (as indicated by the high form) he is by no means race-ready. I call this “weak form.” It happens again in early March. Rested but not race-ready. “Strong form” (high form and relatively high fitness) occurs a few times, most notably preceding the A-priority races. This is precisely what you want. Give up a little bit of fitness – about 10% – while gaining a lot of form. This, of course, is done by cutting back on training stress, especially workout duration, while keeping intensity race-like for last one to three weeks before the race.
Lesson #7: The season’s top-10 CPs moving to the right indicate improving fitness perhaps better than any other marker. Okay, what’s that? It’s time to introduce one more set of metrics on the chart. Notice the tiny squares with multi-colored lines connecting them. They are labeled CP30, CP6, CP1 and CP0.2. “CP” stands for “critical power,” what is called “mean maximal power” in WKO+-speak. These markers indicate the highest average power the athlete created for given durations at certain times in the season. CP30 is his best effort for 30 minutes. CP6 is 6 minutes. CP1 is 1 minute. CP0.2 is 12 seconds. The best 10 for each of these categories are shown in the chart and connected by the multi-colored lines.
Notice how the CP markers tend to congregate on the right side of the chart with the exception of CP0.2 which I’ll explain shortly. This movement to the right is one of the best indicators of fitness on the entire chart. It essentially means that power is increasing as the season progresses. That’s good.
This athlete is a road cyclist. The most important CP marker for his type of racing is CP6. The others are not unimportant, just less important. So seeing his CP6 top 10s shift to the right is good. Seven are found in the last 16 weeks. For his type of racing CP0.2 has the least impact on performance so not having a significant shift to the right is not a big concern. It is a small concern, however, and next season I’d like to see more CP0.2s on the right. For a triathlete, especially for long-course triathlons, CP30 is perhaps the most important marker. I don’t even chart CP1 and CP0.2 for triathletes.
There are other lessons here but I’m not going to go into them. For example, one is that a rising fitness line indicates an improvement but doesn’t really tell us what the athlete is fit for (short duration-high intensity or long duration-low intensity). The training for a 45-minute criterium is not even remotely like the training for an Ironman triathlon. Yet fitness on the chart looks the same. The software and its many charts (there are lots more in WKO+) provide only general markers of progress. It’s still up to the athlete (or coach) to decide exactly how to train in order to be race-ready. Using such software makes training only slightly less of an art and a bit more of a science than it was before we had such software. It simply allows you to make better-informed decisions about what to do next in training.