Performance, Fitness and Fatigue

As interesting as it is to track changes in fitness what really matters is performance. We want our training to deliver better results. The Performance Management Chart (PMC) is a useful tool for tracking the development of fitness and build up of fatigue, but high numbers don’t necessarily equal race success. We have to consider performance metrics and training composition to ensure genuine progress.

Earlier this week I completed forty days of biking; cycling at least an hour every day. Daily riding ensured daily training stress and the result was a steady rise in fitness. Increased fitness naturally leads to improvements in performance, but they would be limited had I only ridden an hour easy each day. Aside from minimal fitness gains there would have been little to specifically benefit my performance.

Each week was structured with a balance of intensity and volume (frequency was fixed of course). Raising fitness wasn’t my only aim, I wanted to target adaptations that addressed my limiters – time spent near my threshold, hard efforts within longer rides. Challenging sessions timed to ensure I could ride hard when needed. The aim was to always hit my power targets, being fresh helped.

I used my Two Day Rule: two days of recovery whether full rest or easy cycling allows me to ride hard again. It’s a rough guide that fits with experience. Sometimes I can back up two or even three good days, but I’m more likely to have success following a two day break. Three or more days works too, but wastes training time. To a point more rest means better performance, but recovery loses fitness with fatigue.

Performance Management Chart and Peak Power

Having looked at the whole of the season in Tuesday’s blog I’m now focussing on the most recent five weeks, a period containing the bulk of my forty days of biking. Along with the familiar PMC chart I’ve added the ten best sixty and twenty minute power outputs – each point represents the best average watts on that day. Some were produced during specific sessions, others happened spontaneously when my legs just worked.

Hitting high points often depends on the workout. During my training camp I mostly rode long and steady so wasn’t likely to set twenty or sixty minute PBs. Normally tempo rides and threshold sessions provide me a means to raise numbers and test performance. As mentioned on Tuesday, early in the season my capacity to sustain intensity was limited; threshold efforts occupied less of my weekly mileage, but after my training camp I began focussing on this area.

I’ve added a Two Day TSB change to the chart, to see how my Two Day Rule applies. In general my better performances follow periods of rising TSB around the peaks in Two Day TSB change. Whilst some performance are the product of session plans, many were the result of my legs feeling good at the start of a ride. It is worth noting that I often felt unable to perform on rides scheduled during TSB troughs. When TSB was dipping I was unlikely to hit my best.

Performance Management Chart and Peak Powers at Epic Camp 2010

It’s no surprise that allowing recovery also allows better performance. The real challenge is balancing fitness losses against the benefits of being able to train harder. During my training camp the fatigue built through volume prevented me pushing any harder. In contrast during last year’s Epic Camp (PMC above) I was able to hit some power highs. Motivation and environment overcame fatigue.

Recent trends might lead me to expect that within a week of Epic I would have set some power PBs. At the time I was dropped once the wattage reached 180; there was no chance of performing my best. The deep, protracted dip in TSB took time to recover from. The Two Day Rule may work within a regular training week, but beyond that it’s open.

Performances result from many factors. I know I need a sufficient level of CTL (fitness) and that generally an upward trend in TSB (recent easier training) which means falling ATL. I’m also aware that the recent depth of TSB, the ramp rate of CTL and the composition of training can have significant impact on the length of recovery. But it goes beyond numbers – motivation, fuelling even the weather play their part.

I don’t have an algorithm, but I can observe trends. If they hold true then they’re useful guidelines to train by. I can build my week knowing that each significant bike workout will be most effective if the two previous days were easier. I appreciate that stringing hard sessions together won’t allow the power output I want. These aren’t new findings, but a demonstration of sound training principles through my data.

Optimising training and recovery is personal. For some two days may be too short, others bounce back in one. Performance management is about learning how you respond; what ensures you are able to perform each session at your best? Analysing your data can back experience and demonstrate patterns worth exploring. It’s another tool to aid effective training, but it’s doing the training that matters.

After a couple of easy days I have no excuses – if I ride you can be sure I’ll work. The Two Day Rule may be simple, it may not always hold true, but on a psychological level it helps lift my game.

Ironman Training Library

From nutrition to pacing - a collection of CoachCox blog posts focused specifically on Ironman training and racing.