”My blue line”, they say, ”I hate to see my blue line fall like this”.
“My CTL is not changing, I am not getting fitter”
“My TSB is too low, I’m tired”
As many of us become more and more intrigued regarding our knowledge of training and performance, we seek improvement. We are told that the Performance Manager Chart will be the solution to all of your training related problems. Three coloured lines will be able to tell us without human intervention how we will perform at a race, how fit we are and the extent of our fatigue. There is little doubt, like many other metrics available it certainly has its merits but also, like those other metrics, it has its limitations.
Training Stress, not Total Stress
Many people seem to believe that their training on the bike, and the resulting ‘TSS’, which drives the PMC, are separate and in no way connected to the stresses of their daily lives off the bike. And that is just it, it is connected! Many fail to realise that the PMC makes the assumption that all of your time off the bike, is spent sleeping perfectly, eating flawlessly and generally recovering optimally. All that stress generated from your day at the office, driving four hours to a site meeting, or standing in a restaurant waiting tables, is not even given a token of recognition. Nor are the seven beers, the bottle of wine or whatever else you overindulged in at some time or another.
So when you’re TSB is positive, telling you that you should be firing on all cylinders, and then you barely make it out of the neutral, are dropped from the days breakaway with fifty kilometres to go after feeling exhausted, or just have one of those ‘off’ days, strangely, your fourteen hour shift at work the day previous, which the yellow line did not account for, does indeed have something to do with it. Your lifestyle and your training are very much interconnected. They have a huge impact on each other to an extent that cannot be emphasised enough.
Weekly Training Stress is Finite
Many believe that when their CTL stops rising, they simply aren’t getting better. So that means, when you have a maximum of eight hours per week to train, you, for example, should only do 3-4 for the first part of the base period? Because of course, otherwise, your CTL will plateau, and therefore, continuing with such a theory, so does your progress. This is where common sense must prevail, and it is once again highlighted that the PMC makes assumptions about us that, in many peoples case, are not true.
Simply, one must make the most of the time they have available, and limiting your already limited training time so that all the metrics line up as they should is not that. When your CTL flatlines because your lifestyle simply does not allow for more volume, frequency or intensity on the bike, does that mean that you’re wasting your time, or that you are no longer improving? What’s to say that just because the volume or training stress is not changing, that the composition of your training also cannot? Will the PMC reflect that change? Absolutely not- cue the next point.
Composition, not Collation
Following on from the previous points, a positive TSB, and therefore low ATL, combined with a high CTL, in theory, means that you should be ‘peaking’. And a peak: when an athlete is in optimum condition, at the height of their powers. But what about what all those hours on the bike were comprised of?
The PMC is generated from the Training Stress you, in turn, generated, as a result of all your time spent on the bike, in the pool, on the treadmill, or whatever your endurance based passions are.
120TSS however, could be generated from four hours of low-intensity cycling, or ninety minutes of high intensity running. It could be generated from a session focused on the development of your Muscular Endurance, of your Anaerobic Endurance, or your Economy.
You see my point?
You could ride the bike generally, with no specificity, simply accumulating and manipulating your Training Stress, or following a specific session within a tailored, structured training plan designed to enable your body to deal and cope with the demands specific to your target event. The results, of course, will be extremely different, but yet, set the two resulting Performance Manager Charts beside each other, and they could well be identical, leading to the false assumption that the two performances, will also be.
All of the rules regarding the specificity of your training to your event are not quantified. Don’t fall into the trap of believing that because you are using the PMC, and logging your training in quantified ‘stress’, that your junk miles are no longer that, or that you can forgo your harder sessions in favour of something longer and less intense, because 120TSS, is 120TSS. Don’t simply chart how much TSS you accumulated, but far more importantly, monitor and plan in what way you bring it about. It should be a result of what training you have done, not the goal of the training you are going to do. We no longer consider the counting of kilometres or hours, solely, a good practice when it comes to measuring performance or training quality, so why should doing so for TSS, be any different.
How you feel, or how you should feel?
Remain subjective, listen to your body. I have heard people be subconsciously talked into feeling fatigued or lethargic, based on what the metrics have been telling them, not completing a training session based on the fact that they ‘should’ feel tired, or even talked out of racing because their TSB was ‘too low’. This information is, without doubt, useful, and can serve as a predictor of training load, giving us an indication of when a certain dosage of training may be too great. But it is just that, an indication. As I have previously mentioned, it does not provide a complete picture for the majority of us with other things to do other than ride bicycles, and as a result will never be 100% accurate.
As I hope I’ve highlighted, being a slave to the Performance Manager Chart, will get you nowhere, or at the very least, prevent you from realising your true potential as an athlete. It was designed to be used within a certain framework and to be used as a tool to monitor fatigue and fitness as you carried out your training within this periodised model. Many fall into the trap of disregarding this framework to a certain extent, or even entirely, but meanwhile continuing to rely on it as if they did not.
Don’t make that mistake, listen to your body, because those subjective feelings and sensations on and off the bike can easily be, and often are wrongly forgotten about among all the buzzwords and jargon we nowadays use to define and quantify how we have, will and could potentially perform.
As we attempt to quantify more and more statistics and objectify training and performance to greater and greater extents, it is often the subjective feelings or ‘sensations’ that people forget about or disregard to a certain or total extent, and wrongly so. Sometimes the simplest of questions, and the ones I ask most often, such as ‘How did you find this session?’, or ‘How did you feel’, provide the most valuable information for both the coach and athlete. It doesn’t have to be answered with buzzwords and trademarked dialogue relating to all of the aforementioned, but instead with common sense, simple language. ‘It was tough’, ‘Legs felt heavy’, ‘Felt really strong’. Only when this is answered can a complete picture of an athletes performance in a training session or event be fully understood, as it is this information which ties it all together.
So perhaps the lesson here is not about disregarding the PMC or cancelling your training software subscription, but instead the importance of dialogue between you and your coach on a personal and subjective level, with both parties understanding the crucial role that plays in the planning and analysis of your training. If ever in doubt, ask yourself the question, “How do I feel?”.