Learn about the training components of race-day readiness and which training zones your athlete should avoid or stay in to maintain optimal fitness come race day. Joe Friel outlines how to create a performance management chart unique to your athlete to find the right training stress balance to properly taper their training load and peak in performance.
We’ve been through a lot so far talking about how you bring your athlete up to a level of fitness, which is high, while controlling their their fatigue. Now we want to talk about the last stage of this, which is the part where we actually have the athlete ready to race on race day.
The Training Components of Race-Day Readiness
Race day preparation. This really comes down to the term we use in sport called form. I talked about form with you before, and it’s really just the matter of trying to bring an athlete to a peak of performance readiness. It involves really two sub portions. One portion is race readiness, that has to do with fitness, strategy, lots of things. But for our discussion today, the primary thing we’re talking about here now is fitness, which you’ll recall, we call CTL, or Chronic Training Load. That’s been displayed in our charts all the way along, and it’s going to be one important component now, as we prepare the athlete for race day.
The other piece of this, in preparation for race day, is freshness. Quite honestly, this now becomes the most important piece. Freshness means on race day fatigue has been removed, and the athlete comes to the race feeling refreshed, and ready to go. If we do all this, what we wind up with on race day is the athlete is on form, which means they’re ready to race. We call that TSB, or Training Stress Balance. If we take CTL (fitness), and we take Acute Training Load ATL (fatigue), and we look at those two items, they really respond and reflect what has been going on in training all along. We’ve been trying to build fitness in the athlete, and at the same time, we’ve been trying to control their fatigue, so it doesn’t become too great, doesn’t become excessive.
Now what we’re trying to do is we’re going to prepare the athlete for competition by making sure their fitness remains high (CTL remains high), and we reduce their fatigue, (they become more fresh). Taken together, these two things produce what we call form. This is again, what form looks like in the performance management chart that we’ve been talking about so far.
You’ll notice here again see video above (02:19), we’ve got that dotted line across the screen, that represents zero TSB because TSB (form) can be either positive or negative. Realize the line is simply being drawn in there to give you a reference point so you can see where zero is, it doesn’t really exist on the chart.
How to Achieve TSB
Now let’s look at TSB as being something that stands alone all by itself in this preparation for the race, because that’s really the bottom line, this is what we’re really trying to achieve. If you look at this chart see video above (02:51), for example, now, I’ve tried to overlay the three metrics together: CTL is the light blue area on the chart, ATL (fatigue) is the greenish line you see, which mostly is along the top of the chart, and finally, form is the dark blue line with that dotted line that runs through it that we saw on the previous chart. What we’re trying to do is we’re trying to balance out CTL and ATL to wind up with a TSB which is indicative of where the athlete is right now in terms of their readiness to race. On the right hand side, I’ve indicated another table, if you will, or chart, of how to interpret what the athlete’s TSB is, what their form is. You’ll see, for example, that around the middle area, around zero, in fact, what I’m showing you there is from plus 10 to minus 10, is the is what I call the grey zone. In other words, when an athlete’s TSB is in that area, and not much is happening. There’s no change going on in fitness, fatigue is under control. There’s really not much it’s happening at this point, I’ll come back to that in just a little bit.
The Four Training Zones
Optimal Training Zone
Look down to the space just below that see video above (04:05), which I call the optimal training zone, and that’s minus 10 to minus 30. This is the area that you should be training your athletes and most of the time, this is where fitness occurs. This is where you’re really doing the most good for the athlete’s CTL.
High Risk Training Zone
Below that is the the lowest zone, which I’ve labeled as the High Risk Zone which you can see there in red in the video above (04:29). That’s minus 30 to minus 50. That is the overtraining zone. When you’ve got your athlete training in that zone, you are pushing them too hard. Now there can be very short, very brief, incursions into that zone. For example, you could have an athlete who is running about minus 20 to minus 30. Then, you give them about two or three days of very hard training, and it might spike down. But what you need to do then is allow for the athlete to rest, and it can spike right back up again, that’s okay. These short little spikes that only lasts a day or two are not going to cause a problem for the athlete. It’s when you get into that red zone, and then you stay there with the athlete for several days. We’re trying to not go into that red zone too often. You can very briefly go into it throughout the season, but be very cautious when you’ve got the athlete at around minus 30. You need to be watching very closely on how their training is going.
Let’s now go above the line see in the video above (05:28), I mentioned the grey zone. The grey zone is that area where not much is happening, just above that is plus 10 to plus 30, and that’s the freshness zone. This is now where the athlete is coming into form. When you get TSB into that level, that’s what I would define as coming into strong form. Things are really going quite well for your athlete at this point, or they should be because they’re quite well-rested, their fitness is high, everything is going as it should. If it goes above that plus 30, we get to plus 40, plus 50.
Now what we’re talking about is a time, which I call the transitional zone. This would only really happen because of two reasons. One, the athlete is injured, unable to train or two at the end of the season. The athlete is transitioning to a new season, they’re taking a rest break at the end of the season, which is perfectly acceptable, and something the athlete should do.
Zones to Avoid and Zones to Stay in
We’re trying to avoid that upper zone, that grey zone except at the end of the season. We’re trying to avoid that very bottom zone where the athlete is overtraining, or being pushed to the limits. We’re trying to get to spend a lot of time between minus 10 and minus 30, where fitness is being boosted. When we do that, what we’re trying to accomplish at the end of the season, (this is up for the open for debate, you may have a different way of seeing this. I’ve seen all kinds of ways of accomplishing the same outcome for the athlete) what I would do is I would look for a very high CTL as we move into this lighter part of the season. I would like to see CTL remain high, that means fitness remains high. It does not mean fitness won’t come down, it will in fact come down a little bit. There shouldn’t be a small decrease in fitness, because that has to happen whenever you decrease the amount of training the athletes doing, fitness has to be reduced. There’s no way to get around that. At the same time, though, because fitness is coming down, and because we’ve reduced the training load (the TSS is coming down), that also means the TSB is becoming positive. What I would like to see happen on race day for the athlete is that they’d be in the range of plus 5 to plus 25 as far as the TSB is concerned.
Individualizing the Technique
Now, you may not agree with that, and I’ve seen lots of coaches use different methods, that’s quite alright. You need to decide what works best for you as a coach and for your unique athlete. Also, I’ve seen athletes who come in to race form better when they are starting to feel just a little bit of fatigue, starting to build up again. What the coach may do is, they may arrest the athlete, wind up increasing TSB, and then just a couple of days before the race, they start bringing that TSB back down a little bit. It may even become slightly negative like minus 5 or something like that, because the athlete for whatever reason, just feels better on race day, if they’ve got just a little touch of fatigue going on. I’ve seen that with lots of athletes. That’s that’s another way of doing it. There are many ways of doing this. You’re trying to come up with what is the desired TSB, and what is the desired CTL. These the two things you’re trying to come up with, and we will let ATL take care of itself. It’ll be coming down.
How to Plug TSS into Daily Workouts Going Forward
In the example you see here in the video above (09:16) what I’ve done is I’ve inputted for this athlete, tomorrow’s workout is going to be 150 TSS. Now that may be really high for some athletes. It may be kind of low for some athletes, it depends on who we’re talking about. The number here is really inconsequential, it just depends on who we’re talking about. You’d have to decide every day what you want that number to be. Let’s say 150 represents a high CTL for your client or whoever your trying to taper for the race. That’s high, probably what you want tomorrow is a very low CTL. Maybe tomorrow is only going to be 75 TSS. Then, the next day after that the third day into the taper period, you decide what the TSS should be, maybe it’s going to be 90. You plug that in, and you keep doing this all the way through up until race day.
Now let’s talk about that part of the planning process where you’re plugging TSS into daily workouts going forward. Realize now we’re talking about the future. We’re talking about tomorrow’s workout, the day after that, and so forth for these last few weeks of training that the athlete is doing before the race. What we want to do is we want to come up with numbers that we think are appropriate for that athlete, and yet will also cause that athlete’s CTL to slightly come down. In other words, we are going to lose a little bit of fitness while TSB is rising. That’s what we’re after.
Then you look at the performance management chart and you see what you’ve created:
- Is this what you want?
- What is the athlete’s TSB going to be on race day?
- What is the athlete’s CTL going to be on race day?
- Are these now fully in compliance with your notion of how to peak an athlete?
If not, then you have to go back and change TSS per day to get the outcome you want. This is the truly refined moment in the coaching process, where you’re trying to get things down to a very narrow margin for success. It really requires a lot of time on your part to make sure that things are going as planned.
The Build Period
Here you see a five-week chart in the video above (10:45), it shows that the athlete’s preparation for the race over this longer period of time, the first three weeks just represent the normal training the athlete’s been doing to that point in time. This is what I call the build period, it’s sometimes called the specific preparation period. You’ve been training the athlete at a relatively hard level. They’ve just come off at the left end of this chart, they’ve just come off a few days of recovery may have been three, four, five days, or it may have been a total week where they’ve been recovering. Because of that, what we’ve got is TSB is relatively high, and so the athlete is actually too well rested at this point. Now we go back into normal training, and as we return to normal training, fitness begins to rise, fatigue begins to rise, and TSB begins to fall or form begins to fall. Those are the three things that we want to see happening when the athlete is training at a normal level. Meaning they’re not peaking, and they’re also not in rest phase, and they’re in their normal high level of training.
We follow that process in this chart to see up until the end of the third week. At the end of the third week, we’re going to start the athlete’s two-week peak period, the taper. It doesn’t have to be two weeks, you could be one week, it could be 10 days, it could be three weeks, it depends on your philosophy of coaching, the athletes you’re coaching, and how you’ve prepared them in the past for races and what you find works for them. What we see here then in the video above (12:06) the last two weeks is, we see all these things changing. What begins to happen is you can see that the athletes fitness is beginning to fall a little bit. You can see that from the high point there were reaches in the middle of the chart, over to the right side, there’s a change taking place, a slight decrease taking place, but it’s no more than 10% because that’s my way of preparing an athlete for a race. Yours may vary from that. But that was my way of doing it, so I had the athlete’s CTL, their fitness, falls no more than 10%. At the same time, I want to see their fatigue, their ATL, falling rather rapidly, and you can see that with the green line at the very top of the page, you can see that is falling rather rapidly, which is good. That means fatigue is being shed, the athlete is losing all of this fatigue that’s been built up over the course of the last several weeks.
Now they’re coming into form, which is represented by the blue line at the bottom of the chart. We can see that line is rising rather rapidly, which is good also. I’m bringing the athlete up to a range at the very end of round plus 10. Plus 10 is in that range of which I mentioned earlier, if plus 10 to plus 20 where I’d like to have the athlete be on race day.
Each Athlete is Unique
Again, yours doesn’t have to be that way, you could do it in various ways. I know athletes and I’ve coached one athlete who had we had to be somewhere between zero and plus 5 on race day. Athletes are unique. You need to find what works for the athlete, and you need to then prepare the athlete in that way, when they come to some of our competitions. This is not really measuring the athlete’s fitness. For example, there’s no place in here we’re talking about the athletes VO2 max. We are simply talking about what we think is happening to the athlete because of the way we train them, so that’s why it’s a model. They’re not perfect, but they can be very beneficial in preparing your athlete for competition. They give you good feedback on what you’re doing with the athlete, but realize there could be some problems with what’s going on. For example, if you’re training a cyclist who is using a power meter, and you’ve got the FTP wrong, functional threshold power is not right, that all the numbers we’re talking about are messed up. They mean absolutely nothing, so all you’ve got here is now is garbage that you’re looking at. You’ve got to make sure that things like that are correct, as close as you can get them.
You need to keep your eye on how the athlete is progressing with their FTP over time. You need to be also paying attention to what’s going on as far as the athlete’s responses. Coaching is not just looking at a chart, you’re talking about a person: what is the athlete telling you? If the chart says the athlete’s fatigue is not a problem, but the athlete says I’m tired, that’s more important. You need to be paying attention to what the athlete is telling you also and what you’re seeing happening with that athlete, despite the fact that you’ve got it all on paper here in front of you. The chart is strictly just a way of modeling what may be happening, but we can’t predict that this is exactly what’s going to be happening for your athlete. It’s just a tool that you can use to help you become a better coach and to help your athletes perform at a high level.