Perhaps the greatest thing about the training technology we have now is the ability to track how training and performance are progressing. Before the digital age this was done largely by guesswork and rough estimations. Now it’s fairly precise if you have a heart rate monitor, power meter and speed-distance device.
For example, I’m in a training block right with the focus on aerobic endurance training. The objectives are to improve fat metabolism, create a bigger capillary bed in the primary-mover muscles, increase the aerobic enzymes, cause type 2x muscles to take on the characteristics of type 2a muscles, boost movement efficiency, and more. Now I can’t measure all of these in field tests but I can get one metric which tells me how the “black box” is doing. This is the output-input ratio which TrainingPeaks now calls the “Efficiency Factor.” (EF).
I’ve talked about EF before, only not with that name. All this represents is the ratio of output (power or pace) to input (heart rate). It’s found by simply dividing the normalized power (or speed for running) by average heart rate. For the information to be dependable the variables in the workouts to be compared should be quite similar.
Below is a table that shows my workouts since November 27 when I started doing aerobic threshold (AeT) in this block of training. The AeT sessions are very similar. The warm-ups were about 20 minutes on the same stretch of road at the same power range. The AeT portions of the workouts were done on the same course with the same equipment for 90 minutes each. The heart rate for each AeT portion was kept in the range of 120-125 bpm (lower half of zone 2). They were done at about the same time of day and at about the same time relative to breakfast. The breakfasts were quite similar. The cool down was about 10 minutes. (Sound boring yet?)
Below is the table that summarizes these workouts. The ones labeled “AeT” are the ones we’re focused on here. The EF ratio is shown for each of these. A rising EF is a good indication that aerobic endurance is improving. There were other workouts also. And you’ll notice a large number of days off. These were due to business travel. There were also 2 days of relentless, hard-driving rain during this period (December 12-13) when workouts were shortened and modified.
Nov 27 AeT EF=1.41
Nov 28 Day off
Nov 29 AeT EF=1.43
Nov 30 2h “force” workout
Dec 1 AeT EF=1.50
Dec 2 Day off (travel)
Dec 3 Day off (travel)
Dec 4 Day off (travel)
Dec 5 AeT EF=1.44
Dec 6 AeT EF=1.42
Dec 7 AeT EF=1.46
Dec 8 2h recovery ride
Dec 9 Day off (travel)
Dec 10 Day off (travel)
Dec 11 1h hill reps z3 (late on day of return from trip before sunset)
Dec 12 1h hill reps z3 (rain)
Dec 13 1h AeT EF=1.29 (indoor trainer, rain)
Dec 14 AeT EF=1.37
Dec 15 AeT EF=1.42
Dec 16 2h recovery ride
This is a good example of what inconsistent training does to fitness. There are 3 segments here in which AeT rises: Nov 27-30, Dec 5-7 and Dec 13-15. Each of these segments generally shows EF improvement. But after each of the first 2 there was time off from training due to travel. That resulted in EF dropping back down again.
That’s what inconsistent training does to us. Hard-won gains are lost by days without training. If you don’t use it you lose it.
Now, while this sounds all very scientific it is by no means “science.” There are many variables which were controllable (weather, for example) and there was only 1 subject—me. And I certainly wasn’t blind to the outcomes which introduces the possibility of placebo.
The lesson here, however, is simply that if you frequently miss workouts you are relinquishing, to some degree, your gains made in training. This is not meant to be an indictment of anyone. Missing workouts is common for everyone, including pros, at this time of year, especially. But you need to understand what it means to your fitness and plan your training accordingly. In my case, it means that when things begin to settle down for me (less travel) I will need to keep plugging away at AeT workouts to get my aerobic endurance to a point at which it stabilizes. Then I know it’s time to move on to the next block of training.