The Craft of Coaching, Live Q&A: Managing CTL

Coaches want to see CTL, or fitness, on the rise. But there are times in the season when CTL will go down. Joe Friel explains why this is critical.

What to do when CTL is in decline

In peaking for a race Chronic Training Load (CTL) can be expected to fall, as Coach Joe Friel explains in the video above. Module 6 of The Craft of Coaching covers this topic in detail, and Friel specifically explains his process of preparing an athlete for race day using key metrics from the athlete’s training data to plan the taper, create freshness, and bring the athlete into form, which typically requires a positive Training Stress Balance (TSB).

Race-day readiness looks different for every athlete, so it’s up to the coach to analyze the data while also listening to the athlete. As Friel says, “If the chart says the athlete’s fatigue is not a problem, but the athlete says, ‘I’m tired,’ that’s more important.” 

Prioritize recovery to boost CTL

Regular feedback from the athlete (and athlete self-awareness) is fundamental to gauging recovery. Coach Trevor Connor gives his athletes a recovery goal for each week of training. He then asks his athletes to log a recovery score along with their other training data. Read about his method for scoring recovery.

While a week of recovery will cause a dip in CTL, routine recovery will maximize the athlete’s capacity for fitness and adaptation.

Review race prep and refine the plan

An honest post-race evaluation will make for a stronger coach-athlete relationship. Not only does it help the athlete better prepare for future races, it gives the coach valuable insight on how to better manage CTL and form going forward. Use Friel’s best practices for the post-race review with athletes. Then make time to do your own race postmortem.

Troubleshoot performance plateaus

Outside of recovery and tapering for a race, if CTL is not responding, it could be an indication of a bigger problem. Follow Friel’s guidelines to determine the possible cause(s) of a performance plateau.

The bigger picture is the best measure of fitness. In terms of data, this means balancing fitness (CTL) and fatigue (ATL). Further to the point, it means listening to the athlete as much (or more) as you look to the numbers.

Video Transcript

Joe Friel [0:03]:

CTL is really something that is definitely going to be going up and down throughout the season. It’s going to be going down whenever you’re resting. If you’ve taken…what you should be doing frequently, probably every three or four weeks…you should be taking some days away from heavy-duty training. It doesn’t mean necessarily days off, although it could involve days off, but CTL is going to fall during those times.

So if you’ve been averaging something like, let’s say, 70 TSS per hour in the several weeks you’ve been going through your normal training and now you come to a rest break, you’re going to take a five days of reduced training, maybe a day off, and then half the normal duration you normally do during this time with low intensity, it may come down to something like 60, 50, 60 TSS per hour. And that’s quite alright.

That means the CTL line is going to drop on your performance management chart. But that is alright. It should happen. If it never happens, there’s a problem going on. It’s got to go down at those times.

The other time it goes down is when you’re peaking for a race. When you’re peaking for race, CTL must go down. All we’re trying to do is control how rapidly it goes down. That’s a whole ‘nother topic. Which I’ll not go into right now because we haven’t got time to really to get it get into detail.


Rob Pickels [1:21]:

Yeah. So, I mean, basically the concept is sometimes you have to take one step back so you can take two or three steps forward.


Joe Friel [1:27]:

Exactly right.


Rob Pickels [1:28]:

Right. Awesome.