The load, balance and performance of athlete development

18 July 2018

One of the most common questions we receive at Today’s Plan is “am I on track to achieve my goal?”. Using your activity data to quickly and easily understand this allows an athlete to track their progress and ensure they’re heading in the right direction with their training.

In this article we’re going to explore 3 pillars of athlete development and data analysis and how you can use these tools to track your progression.

Training Load

The first pillar is training load and relates to the total stress imposed through the course of our workouts. Training load can be monitored in a wide variety of manners and may be as simple as using total volume in hours or distance. In Today’s Plan we use T-score. This metric combines the duration of a workout with the intensity of a workout. At the core of athletic development is the principle of ‘Progressive Overload’. This means that we’re regularly pushing ourselves a little further before a period of recovery that lets our body absorb and adapt to the load we’ve just applied to ourselves.

This is where the load chart comes into our monitoring. Using the aforementioned T-score metric, we’re looking at the long term average of this value to define our Chronic Training Load (CTL). When building towards a goal you’ll want this value to trend generally upwards. The load chart will also look at your short term T-score’s to define your Acute Training Load (ATL). An ATL that is higher than your CTL, will indicate that you’re currently training harder than you have been on average compared to the last ~3 months.

The Load chart also helps us to monitor and predict fatigue. The two metrics you can use for this are Training Stress Balance (TSB) and Training Stress balance ratio (TSBr%). Overloading the body with harder training is just the primer to improvement. It is our periods of recovery where the body is able to absorb that training load. If you’re monitoring your TSB you’ll want to see this number jump to a positive number every couple of weeks. It almost looks as if you’re coming up for air!

It’s at this point its important to note the limitations of this methodology. CTL is commonly referred to as “Fitness”. This is a largely inaccurate term and places too much emphasis on its importance in the overall scheme of your training. Some key points to note here are:

  • A higher training load (CTL) doesn’t always mean a higher level of performance. There are athletes who are simply able to tolerate more load than others.
  • The foundation of CTL is the long term combination of training duration and training intensity. As amateur athletes we often have a time limit per week. If we’re only able to train for 8 hours, then there is an upper limit of CTL we can achieve.

Of course we can always just train harder? But is this right for us? Absolutely not! And this leads us into the 2nd pillar of athlete development, Training Balance.

Training Balance

Training balance is based on one of the other core principles of athletic development, specificity. As mentioned above, if you’ve reached the maximum time you’re capable of training in a week, then simply training more intensely is not going to increase your fitness or help you achieve performance. It’s at this point that you need to consider the type of training you’re completing and how its contributing to your development.

There are a number of different ways you can monitor your training balance. One option is considering the amount of time you’re spending in each training zone. Similar to this you can review the distribution of your power, pace or heart rate. Another option is to look at a time series chart of your duration, intensity and variability. This will let you know how each is contributing to your overall training balance. Another metric you can consider is the % of your training time that is completed above your threshold value.

Ultimately there are many ways to skin the cat in this situation and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to defining the correct balance of training to achieve a particular goal. If you’re an athlete with a coach then listen too and trust them. They know you best and are most qualified to make those decisions for you.

If you’re a self-coached athlete then I’ve placed some simple tips below that can help you monitor your training balance.

  • In the final 3-6 weeks leading into your goal, you should be completing intervals that are highly specific to your goal. Take a look at the below example of a time-trial specialist. Time trial events are characterised by relatively smooth efforts and strong performances at approximately threshold. Applying the principle of specificity, this athletes time in their Threshold zone is progressively increasing over time in the lead up to their goal.

  • Change up the focus of your training every 3-6 weeks. This will ensure you’re constantly being stimulated to improve.
  • Look at past races or events, ask friends or drop us a Support ticket for advice if you’re not sure what type of training you should be completing leading it your event. It’s here that a little experience goes a long way and using the full suite of tools available to you can help you really gain a greater understanding of your development. Take a look at the image below, we can see that this athletes distribution of power in training vs. racing are quite different and might be an area to address.

The final aspect of athlete development is the one we’re all striving for and is the most important of the lot.

Performance

As athletes, improved performance is the end-game. All our hard work, sweat and tears are for the ultimate goal of performing when the time comes. This final piece of the puzzle is a derivative of our training load and training balance.

Performance can also come in many ways, perhaps we’ve achieved a new personal best at a particular duration or won our A-race. Performance is also a multi-faceted concept that can be applied and reviewed at regular intervals during our training. If we’re looking to achieve performance in a maximal sprint that will help us win a road race in 4 months time, then we don’t necessarily need to worry about our maximal sprint performance 4 months out from the race. At this point we might be more interested in other aspects of performance that will underpin our ability to unleash that sprint to win the race. Perhaps 4 months out we’re more focussed on our aerobic conditioning. Performance at this point might simply being capable of completing a 4-hour ride with a negligible level of aerobic decoupling.

The key here is to define regular benchmarks through our training. Little goals that we can tick off that will ultimately build the foundation to achieving our potential.

Wash, rinse, repeat (and learn)

When you achieve performance you’ve then managed to define a recipe for success. Take note of your training load, the balance of your training and the performance outcome. Use this information to replicate future success and if things didn’t work out for you, then perhaps consider a new approach next time.