In the ‘Learning’ Zone and Training Peaks University!
On Guy Fawkes night I found myself walking in the dark along the Rochdale carrying two rucksacks (one with a pair of well-worn Asics GT1000 which should have been replaced 100miles ago) canal heading in search of my first ever air b’n’b for the next 4 nights on the outskirts of Manchester, and it sounded like a warzone. I signed-up to the Training Peaks University and Endurance Coaching Summit and had been anticipating this excursion north for a few weeks now. A back-to-back, combined brain infusion of Training Peaks platform brain infusion at the TPU and annual ECS with top sports scientists and coaches discussing contemporary scientific issues practitioners face when training their athletes… I was not disappointed, plus the air b’n’b was top notch too!
The venues for both events were world class, The Manchester Institute of Health and Performance and ETIHAD Stadium (Home of Man City) and the National Velodrome (Home of British Cycling)…all world class sporting facilities. The first pleasant surprise came at the start of the TPU introduction, as the legendary triathlete and Sports Scientist Joe Friel provided 70 or so coaches spread across many countries, from all backgrounds (although huge bias to triathlon which made me feel more unique but humbled), with the history and foundations of TP and its now firm place in any serious coaches prescription and analysis armoury. The course material was delivered in a progressive manner covering the crucial if not sometimes complex components of TP that provide a holistic tool to facilitate coach-athlete interaction. From the basics of on-boarding athletes, synching devices to uploading files, setting training zones to the intricate components of the Performance Management Chart (PMC) and the Annual Training Plan (ATP), there was something for all levels of experience.
Notably, as I have been using Training Peaks almost 5 years as a sports scientist and endurance coach….there were lots of little snippets of information that many received with delighted nods….habitual users do just that, stick with many of the same functions without taking time to investigate some further helpful tools….tucked away in both the athlete and coach settings and profiles. These include dashboard and metrics, and the small tweaks to workout prescriptions, views and analysis that make a world of difference to really get into the real data that matters amongst much of the general signals.
Dave Schell and Cody Stevenson provided excellent technical support to Joe being one of the first advocates of the benefits of training with both heart rate, (with the first Polar devices available), and power (having been given a prototype Power Tap wheel which he still has in his garage), together back in the early days of the technology infancy. Joe eloquently offered out real-world anecdotes, although he is no longer formally coaching (his role as the Training Peaks well-versed ‘ornament’ is firmly set, while Dirk his son and co-founder provides the passion and energy that has grown Training peaks to over 1 million users in the last few years) that were delivered with panache and in an easy-to-digest format, that highlighted important principles of training to TSS, and building CTL….whilst being vigilant of ATL and TSB for timing recovery, adaptation and ultimately form. Although running is lacking an objective power metric, Joe confirmed his stance on the importance of pace and graded pace rather than training to heart rate for runners. However new devices such as Stryde may soon fill that gap. I’m not sure why, perhaps intuition, but for some reason I brought Joes book with me, the Training Bible latest edition…..obviously I made a fuss and got him to sign it with compulsory photo! Perhaps quite trivial, but not too many people get the chance to be in such company, and his presence really set the ambience for everyone there.
Throughout the day we discussed strengths and limitations of the platform, much like a client athlete and suggested improvements, cue a list of additions the TP team put forward for voting for immediate work on, that even non-coached athletes may benefit from. My top three were 1. Having multiple custom dashboards for each athlete, 2. Ability to track life stress. 3. Set custom zones for athletes who may be more at beginner level. There were plenty more suggestions that I’m sure TP will address asap as they seem to be well engaged with user experience as a priority, as you would expect from a high level software company.
Joe defined what ‘thresholds’ were and how lactate threshold anchors the training zones physiologically (according to Dr. Coggan) with FTP being a surrogate if you really don’t have anything else available, as measuring under controlled conditions is practically difficult and a somewhat flawed representation of lactate threshold (not everyone has enough muscle glycogen to fuel a 60 minute effort, and even with a 20min ‘test’ with correction, the effort is performed well above threshold with error, but I digress ‘scientifically’, and unnecessarily from this post topic.
Metric tracking was a common theme (TP article here), as this really highlights the over-abundance of data that we are spoilt with. There ae a plethora of trackable external metrics from apps and wearable devices Choosing the right parameters to prescribe and also monitor is key for a successfully applied and executed work out. Not meaning to re-iterate too much but this TP article provides brief but good info. Prescribing duration and intensity relative to actual NP (hence threshold) is easily assessed through IF- Intensity Factor, my next priority is to track changes in EF- which is basically power-to-heart rate, and a sign of positive aerobic conditioning when compared to other previous or future workouts, or decoupling within a workout as Joe referred to himself as an example with much humility, although I’m sure he has a good engine. Where greater than 5% may signal poor conditioning for the effort, as cardio-respiratory stress is overwhelmed by the effort, but also mechanical power may suffer due to nutritional issues where heart rate may stay the same and power declines. Either way an underused metric by many coaches. In more advanced context IF can be used to prescribe pacing strategies for events based on target stress/ TSS which is employed for a race, relevant to the objectives and athlete. Prospective training prescription can then be based on models, as seen with Best Bike Split and Cycling Power Lab. Typically this is where the VI metric comes in handy depending on course or non-steady state nature of racing (drafting or not). The consensus was that this is an intensive approach to optimising athletic performance, but a very effective one which has more demand, and applied during the specificity phase of a programme.
Joe moved on to describe the PMC and functionality (and other charts were highlighted later as shown here), as a powerful mechanism to monitor fitness, fatigue and freshness which is well documented parameters. This was a chance for him to highlight his previous clients, how recovery isn’t adaptation, how life stress negatively affect adaptations, how sleep and nutrition are critical, are you performing subsequent sessions at the right time? and basically how honest clients should be with providing info so that their coach can be as objective is as possible….a common complaint, although severe life stresses like divorce or financial problems are difficult to share, they can explain problems with training, fitness and direct a more effective programme, rather than unrealistic overload or frequency. In fact, monitoring TSS is all well and good but keeping an eye on TSB for the duration of an overload block is relative to the fitness of the athlete and the type of discipline being trained for. TSB of below -30 for prolonged periods can put athletes at risk of illness or injury …whereas conversely, excessively positive TSB scores above +30 are suggestive of excessive deconditioning concurrent with injury or transition into starting a new programme after a period of rest. TSB scores between 10 and 30 indicate freshness but may be associated with flat responses. My experience has been that some athletes perform well with a negative but ascending value others more positively. This tends to highlight that difference in ATL and CTL values are typically not 7 and 42 days for the decay exponents, for everyone. Finding out what these unique values are takes skill and insight to avoid trial and error.
After the PMC, a good chunk of time was spent covering the secondary focus, the ATP, which admittedly I haven’t been using on the platform for many reasons especially as I haven’t taken time to migrate over from my original (and comfortable excel format)…but now, finally I feel compelled to upload to TP for each of my clients as it both has tremendous flexibility with TSS planning (fitted to number of hours expendable time) for optimal stress loads over each cycle and how stress may be designated for each discipline, or steady-state and interval session, but also visually attractive and easy application of TSS ramp rates, set target and training races, anchor points etc. In fact, creating an ATP for specific athlete was our homework at the end of the first day! A helpful shortcut rule of thumb is that 0.75, 1.0 and 1.5TSS per minute generally equate to easy/moderate/ hard sessions.
Another observation Joe made that perhaps still sits uncomfortably with some is that fitness needs to decline before it can be improved upon, firmly exemplified by super-compensation (something I have previously described here) (and here). Someone had tweeted that he wanted peak-performance all of the time, and nothing else would do….which inevitably leads to ‘Over-training’…or under-recovery. Athlete verbal comments should explain if they are fatigued and for what reason….if the athlete didn’t keep pace (i.e. high VI) for a steady-state session then there are obvious reasons for fatigue, and room for correcting session execution to hit goals. Pacing must be the number one skill that affects training, racing and nutrition preparation for events, which many people, even experienced competitors typically screw up due to emotions, never wanting to be over-taken by the person behind, at the start! Training the brain for pacing is a key discipline and helps tremendously with proprioception (gauging relative perceived exertion).
Dave Schell and Cody Stevenson did a fine job of delving into the nitty gritty of TP features and functionality. Prescribing workouts is typically governed by the 3 parameter relationship of TSS, IF and duration in that if 2 of the 3 ae set, then the last can be imputed. The tips and tricks for coaches came thick and fast, with full features of session data display and analysis, also programme review by week, and comparisons with previous performances or workouts, with easy ways to clean up the data and remove unwelcome spikes in the data or long pauses on the road for punctures for example or coffee stops!
Adding charts from MFP, can easily compare calories consumed with those expended or macronutrients over a week. HRV synchs from HRV4Training, Elite HRV or iThlete and can be a powerful metric for decisions on training, and overload. I am awaiting the new Oura ring, that could well supercede all of those. TP now supports FitBit, Garmin Health workout data and can automatically sync weight, body fat percentage and BMI metrics from any Fitbit Aria. In general, setting up dashboards can provide the perfect amount of information to answer important questions such as How are athletes spending their time? Are we periodising? Are we being Specific? Are we improving? Is the data accurate?
The remainder of the last day was dedicated to available tools for improved coaching, such as Best Bike Split for modelling and strategy to provide an optimal pacing plan through data informed planning, help with equipment choices, set realistic expectations, better understand the demands of the course, and dial in bike fit. Having been briefly walked through BBB, I now think it may be worth moving over from Cycling Power lab…who are probably being left behind. Also WKO4 for deeper data analysis, offers similar features to Golden Cheetah which I have been using to understand some sessions in more detail, looking at Anaerobic Work Capacity (AWC) and how deep athletes have ridden in races, and gain an understanding of their force/ cadence preference in quadrant analysis. Training Plans were also discussed as a great way to support clients who may not want to commit to full coaching, but help them benefit from workout prescription for a set event with a customised plan, or semi-customised that targets improvements in performance such as progressive lactate threshold and critical power increase, or perhaps just event demands. I believe there is definitely more scope for this, as event demands can be easily translated to training, although profiling an athlete initially in terms of trainable markers would be necessary to bridge the performance gap so an athlete has the best of both worlds.
The TPU was delivered well for the time that was allocated, perhaps if it wasn’t crammed in over just 2 days, then there may have been fuller and more meaningful discussions to help people learn, which the content deserves. Anyway, it was relief to leave the little seminar room and into the space of the ETIHAD stadium for the Summit.
In all…both days at the TPU were pretty full on, making full use of Training Peaks is a work in progress, but with the TPU knowing the bigger principles and the in’s and out’s of the platform can help coaches deliver quality programmes, apply them to diverse athletes and really get the most out of their training. The TPU, along with other courses they hold (Training with power etc.) count towards TP accreditation and a worthwhile rubber stamp of competency. Coaching has definitely become more scientific, and at the same time more creative….understanding your subject is critical to apply the most effective solutions to the objective, in that respect many believe endurance coaching can be considered an ‘art’…..and even more challenging to the time-crunched recreational athlete where training takes a back seat to work and family life. I was privileged to be surrounded by some very skilled real-world artists.
My intention wasn’t for this post to be so lengthy, as I wanted to include a run-down of the ECS that took place over the subsequent 2 days with high profile sports scientists, renowned coaches and a full complement of the Training Peaks team which were flown over from Boulder, Colorado where the Summit is usually held each year. So instead I’ll leave room for another post dedicated to the two days of presentations and workshops that would put our heads in a spin, quite literally, starting off at the National Cycling Centre and Velodrome for a brief beginners track session, world class!