Sunday, January 1, 2012

Post Analysis - Block #1

"It's not about the bike". What Lance Armstrong meant was that, to get faster on the bike, one needs to work on the engine; a lighter, faster bike isn't going to do it for you. Actually, I could dispute this. My carbon Masi is probably about 5 kg lighter than my steel framed Bauer and I can average about 2 kph faster on a long ride for the same effort. That's pretty substantial. Nevertheless, to be competitive against your rivals, one must focus on building a stronger engine. Which is precisely the goal I set for myself this Winter.

There are many ways to skin the bike fitness cat. My preferred method is based on the axiom "what gets measured gets done". As such, I rely heavily on my power meter to measure bike performance and a software tool called Training Peaks WKO+ to analyze my performance data. In this blog, I use WKO+ to analyze progress over my first six-week training block. A secondary theme is to see how many quotes I can fit in.

A first principle in building fitness is "progressive overload", otherwise known as "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger". Apply a training stimulus in excess of what the body is used to and the body will overcompensate by getting stronger. In WKO+, training stimulus is expressed in terms of Training Stress Score (TSS). A one hour ride at Functional Threshold Power (FTP) gives a TSS score of 100. To get the same score at a more practical low to mid Endurance pace requires about 2 hours of saddle time. Progressive overload, in these terms, entails a daily TSS in excess of one's recent TSS average.
Figure 1: A plot of average TSS (blue line) against time (horizontal axis).

The blue line in the chart above shows average TSS plotted against time where TSS is averaged over the most recent 42 days with more recent days given more weight. What the line shows is that my Chronic Training Load (CTL) at the end of last season was around 112 TSS. Attempting to introduce progressive overload from such a high starting point is not very practical as it would require progressively greater training stimulus either in the form of more riding or higher intensity resulting in diminishing returns. For this reason, an "unloading" period is required to shed some of the cumulative training load from the previous season. Or, as former FMCT coach Rob McCue would say: "To get in shape, you have to get out of shape". My 3-week unload period enabled me to shed close to 30 TSS (from 112 down to 84) which translates to roughly half an hour less riding per day required to produce an overload. The shedding should have been even greater but I got restless towards the end of my unload period and started to ramp up my training ahead of schedule. In retrospect, I should have shown more patience and let my CTL drop even further; 84 TSS is still somewhat high as an off-season starting point.

The goal for block #1 was not so much to introduce progressive overload this early as to establish a solid base. This is reflected in the blue line of Figure 1 where CTL rises modestly from 84 to 92 TSS before dipping again to only 87 TSS by the end of my recovery week, a cumulative increase of only 3 TSS over 6 weeks. To ensure that my CTL didn't rise too quickly during this base period, most of my rides were in the Endurance range as shown in Figure 2 below.

Figure 2: Percent training time in each zone.
Figure 2 shows that 75% of my training was in Zone 2 (Endurance) or below with 20% in Zone 3 (Tempo) and only 5% in Zones 4 to 7. My training consisted primarily of one hard ride per week targeting high Tempo range with two rides per week at mid to high Endurance range and 3 or 4 mountain bike rides per week at no specified target. Since I didn't have power data for the mountain bike rides, I estimated TSS using perceived effort and/or heart rate (WKO+ can actually provide an estimate based on estimated intensity factor and duration of workout).

Another important principle in building fitness is "consistency" of training. Figure 3 below shows my weekly TSS for each week of the six-week block.

Figure 3: Weekly TSS for Block #1.
Figure 3 shows weekly TSS was fairly consistent at around 700 TSS per week with recovery weeks of around 540 and 490 TSS for weeks 3 and 6, respectively. I found a weekly TSS of 700 to be hard enough to provide a good training effect but manageable enough that I didn't feel burnt out at any time during the training block.

Despite a fairly flat CTL (training load), my FTP by the end of block #1 was at or close to what it was at the end of last season. This bodes well for future progress as that important measure of fitness was achieved with a lower overall training load, meaning I have some head room to grow. My goal for block #2 is to increase FTP with some targeted high tempo/low threshold efforts. So time spent on the bike will remain about the same but effort on key workouts will increase. I'm optimistic about realizing solid gains during this next period.

1 comment:


Pretty cool analysis Richard. I wish I was organized enough to complete a similar process. I always forget something (HR monitor, recahrging Garmin, etc) and end up winging the workout. Go hard or go home will catch up to me one of these years.

Just don't get too powerful. It is tough enough keeping up as it is!