Ask the Experts: Building Chronic Training Load

BY Jeff Vicario

CTL should not begin to plateau until you begin to taper, at which point your CTL will slowly drop and your level of current training fatigue, or ATL will more rapidly drop.


I’d like to know how my Chronic Training Load (CTL) as shown on my TrainingPeaks Performance Management Chart should change throughout the season. Should CTL be at its highest at the end of the base period (when volume should be highest), or should we look to increase CTL all the way through the build period? And is there a recommendation for percentages of increase/decrease as you move from training block to training block?


Great question. CTL or fitness should steadily build throughout the season leading into that next “A” event. Remember that CTL is measured in terms of TSS points and represents the overall quantity (i.e. combination of frequency, duration and intensity) of training that you have been performing over a substantial period of time (several months or more).  CTL should not begin to plateau until you begin to taper, at which point your CTL will slowly drop and your level of current training fatigue, or ATL (Acute Training Load) will more rapidly drop. If things go as planned, this will bring you into great shape on race day. If your taper goes poorly by not having the proper mix of volume and intensity, much of the work of building up to the “A” event could be wasted. 

Fitness occurs over long periods of time, whereas fatigue occurs in short periods of time. To raise CTL you need your Training Stress to exceed CTL more often than not. The rate at which your CTL should climb is very variable athlete to athlete, but generally 5-8 TSS/day per week is a good ballpark to start with. See the diagram below for illustration.

The higher your cumulative (absolute) CTL, the less you will be able to load. Keep in mind too that after several weeks of building CTL your fatigue level will be high and you will need a recovery to prevent overreaching. At this point, the ATL will drop for a week or so, but CTL may continue to climb or at least remain flat.

Remember, the name of the game is consistency and this is the key to success. Tomorrow’s workout builds on today’s. Don’t try to build to much too soon or you may be setting yourself up for poor training quality due to accumulated fatigue, while also increasing the likelihood of breakdown (ie. overuse injury, illness or the early stages of overtraining).

Never compromise recovery to gain fitness. It doesn’t work.

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About Jeff Vicario

Jeff Vicario is an Elite TrainingBible and USA Triathlon Youth and Junior Certified Coach. He coaches athletes of all levels to extraordinary results ranging from first time racers to Ironman personal bests. For more information about Jeff’s coaching, to ask a question you’d like to see here on the TrainingPeaks blog, or to simply contact him for further information, you can email him at jvicario(at-sign)trainingbible(dot)com.