Managing Your Training Stress Balance
The Performance Management Chart within TrainingPeaks is a great source of information to use in the short-term planning of your training, as it clearly quantifies the mysterious realities of exercise physiology. The specific use for this tool is to manage your training stress balance, or control your workload in ways that ultimately maximize your performance in a peak race. Managing your training stress balance in this way involves ensuring that:
1. Your training stress balance is slightly positive (+5 or so) on race day: most competitors perform best with a slightly positive TSB.
2. Your chronic training load reaches its highest level two to three weeks before race day: your CTL is a measure of your fitness level, and you want your fitness level to peak close to your peak racebut not so close that you dont have time to reduce your fatigue level with a proper taper.
3. Your chronic training load never decreases for two consecutive weeks after you begin focused preparation for a peak: a declining CTL indicates declining fitness. Its okay for your CTL to decline slightly when you reduce your training to promote recovery, but if you reduce your training enough to see your CTL decline for two straight weeks, youre going beyond recovery and entering the realm of detraining.
4. Your chronic training load never increases at a rate exceeding 5 TSS/week: increasing the training load faster than 5 TSS/week typically results in performance decline or injury.
5. Your TSB does not drop below -20 more than once every 10 days: a TSB of -20 indicates a severe level of fatigue that endurance athletes cannot experience frequently without negatively affecting their performance in workouts.
Note that in managing your training stress balance according to these parameters you might not experience a positive TSB at any point in the training process until you taper for your peak race. This might seem counterintuitive, but its nothing to worry about. The fact is that you can carry a small to moderate fatigue deficit resulting from a gradually and steadily increasing training load for weeks on end without negative consequences. On the other hand, it is certainly not necessary to maintain a negative TSB throughout the training process, and for some athletes it might not be ideal. And if you do any tune-up races before your peak race, you will likely want to bring your TSB up to a slightly positive level for these.
Managing your training stress balance is essentially a three-step process:
Step one: create a sensible training plan that promises to keep your Performance Management Chart within the five parameters given above. In general, schedule your highest-workload training week as the third-to-last or second-to-last of your training before your next peak race. Choose a formal start date that allows you to ramp up your training at a rate that takes you to the level of our peak training week without transgressing the five parameters. Make each week between your first week and your peak training week more challenging than the last, except every third or fourth week, when you should reduce the workload to promote recovery.
Step two: pay close attention to how your Performance Management Chart develops as the training process unfolds and make adjustments as necessary to stay within the five parameters. If, for example, you find that your TSB falls below -20 in a given week and your next week of planned workouts is even harder than the last, consider scaling down the next weeks workload slightly. Let your body have the last word, however. If you find that you are able to sometimes sail through several weeks of training with a TSB that dips below -20 more often than once very 10 days, then dont hesitate to do so again periodically in the future.
Step three: study your Performance Management Chart in search of your own personal parameters and use these custom parameters to steer your short-term workout planning. Each athlete responds to training in a unique way, with individual limitations in terms of rate of training load increase, maximum tolerable negative training stress balance and so forth. Your personal optimal training parameters are sure to look something like the five general ones I gave you above, but the small differences could be important for you.
Finally, be aware that only after you have compiled a complete training cycles worth of workout data in your Performance Management Chart will these patterns begin to take a definite form. So use the general guidelines Ive given you to manage your training stress balance in your first digitally supported training cycle and then use what you learn from the first in managing the second, and so forth.