Female Endurance Coach Standing In Front Of Athlete And Guiding The Athlete On Training

How Coaches Can Use GAP Analyses to Guide Training

BY Tom Epton

Conducting a GAP analysis can help you and your athlete set goals and guide training decisions. Here is how perform a GAP analysis with your athletes.

It’s not uncommon for coaches and athletes to sometimes find a lack of direction in training (especially during the winter). Conducting a GAP analysis is one way coaches might guide training a long way out from a goal event.

A GAP analysis is performed in many other contexts, originating from the world of management science. But in the context of endurance sports, a GAP analysis refers to a comparison between an athlete’s current performance level and their desired or target performance level. “GAP” stands for “Goal, Assessment, and Plan,” and it can help athletes and coaches identify the gaps between where they are and where they want to be in terms of performance.

Coaches can use apps like TrainingPeaks to identify fitness gaps and track progress. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to conduct a GAP analysis, along with an example of how a coach might utilize TrianingPeaks in the process.

How to Conduct a GAP Analysis in Endurance Sports: 5 Steps 

1. Set Goals

The first step to conducting a GAP analysis is to have your athletes establish clear and realistic performance goals. These goals could be related to race times, distances, or specific velocity or power-related outputs. For example, a goal might be to hold 250W for an IRONMAN 70.3 bike leg or to run a marathon in under three hours.

2. Assess Current Abilities 

After establishing goals, your job as a coach is to then assess your athlete’s current abilities. This involves a thorough evaluation of various factors, including physiological testing, velocity profiling, or a classic FTP test

It’s sometimes unnecessary to perform performance tests to get an accurate assessment of an athlete’s current abilities. For example, coaches using WKO5 could use the athlete’s power curve to calculate an assessment of their current abilities without further testing.

3. Identify Gaps

Once the goals and current abilities are known, you can then identify gaps between your athlete’s current state and their desired performance level. This involves identifying specific areas that need improvement. For example, your athlete’s power-duration goal might require a higher threshold or VO2 max. 

4. Develop a Plan

Now time for the fun part! (And where you earn your money!) Once you’ve identified the gaps, use your expertise to create a plan that addresses and improves the areas that need development. 

5. Monitor Progress

Tracking your athlete’s performance improvements and adjusting the training plan accordingly is key. This iterative process ensures that the training is effective and aligned with the overall goals. Monitoring can be done in many ways, but using an app like TrainingPeaks can be incredibly helpful. For example, it allows you to look at lap-by-lap data for an interval session.

No specialist training is required to perform a GAP analysis. Many coaches likely already do an informal version of this as part of an end-of-season review. These reviews can be just as effective – performing a GAP analysis is just one of many valid approaches to assessing your athlete’s training and progress.

Example GAP Analysis: Improving Off-Season FTP 

The Goal: Improve FTP By 26W

Let’s take a rider who has set an off-season goal of being able to pedal 300W for 20 minutes. This rider has a current 20-minute power PB of 274W, requiring a 26W improvement to meet their goal. This goal is specific and realistic given the rider’s fairly limited training history. 

The Assessment:

The first port of call for assessment is the athlete’s power duration curve. This athlete wants to do 300W for 20 minutes, and we can see from the power duration curve that their 5-, 10-, and 20-minute powers are currently 324W, 294W, and 274W. We can see the current gap between 10 minutes and 20 minutes is 20W.

Screenshot 2024 02 08 At 3.48.43 pm

We can see this athlete’s one-minute power (545W) relative to their other capacities is quite good, which is a strong indication of a large glycolytic contribution to energy production at lower intensities. This means doing work to improve the athlete’s ability to clear lactate (aka Zone 2 training) and increasing their oxidative capacity might form part of the plan. It may also be the case that the athlete’s five-minute power needs further assessment; therefore, a coach might prescribe a five-minute test in this situation. 

Screenshot 2024 02 08 At 3.49.35 pm

Gap Identification:

The obvious gap is the 26W difference between the athlete’s current 20-minute power and their goal 20-minute power. The less obvious gap, identified from analysis, is that this athlete’s oxidative energy system underperforms relative to their glycolytic energy system. 

Plan Development:

This is an athlete who might benefit from traditional “base training.” A long block of Zone 2-focused training (perhaps 6-8 weeks) before a re-assessment of their power or metabolic profile might be a good course of action.

Screenshot 2024 02 08 At 3.50.30 pm

This is an example of what that base block might look like. We see a steady progression of volume, weekly TSS, and the athlete’s CTL. A recovery week might follow this three-week cycle before it’s repeated and a test is done. This training block is designed to follow an offseason for a rider with a relatively extensive training history. For many riders, starting immediately on 15 hours a week is way too much, while for others, it’s not enough. Context is very important when viewing any portion of a training plan. 

In this context, a Zone 2 ride would take place just under LT1, which for this rider is a range of around 175-195W. A recovery ride would be completed in Zone 1 at around 130W. This athlete may or may not incorporate strength training during this phase of training, but for this specific goal, we will focus on their “on the bike” work. 

Progress Monitoring:

For some athletes, a 20-minute test might be quite daunting; however, we established a relationship between this athlete’s 10-minute and 20-minute power. In this instance, I would have the athlete do a 10-minute test at regular intervals to assess progress, perhaps after each 3-week cycle. Also, we know psychology plays a role when it comes to maximal efforts, so having the athlete expose themselves to maximal efforts regularly not only gives us a means of monitoring progress but also progresses their performance from a mental aspect. 

The other thing we could incorporate to monitor progress is physiological testing, such as a lactate threshold test and/or a VO2 max test. Improvements in the athlete’s submaximal lactate profile are likely to lead to improvements in their power-duration curve (and different points on the lactate curve likely correlate to different points on the power duration curve, but a rising tide tends to raise all ships). 

This approach to monitoring progress has two advantages: one, it’s objective (lactate values are likely to be less dependent on an athlete’s psychology than the result of a maximal power test) and two, it doesn’t require a maximal effort. This is very draining for some athletes, though it depends on the athlete of course – some love going full gas! 

The Value of GAP Analyses for Coaches

Remember that progress monitoring and adjustments should be continuous during training. While an athlete’s goals might be relatively static and there isn’t often time for comprehensive assessments, using an app such as TrainingPeaks allows coaches to continuously monitor an athlete’s training sessions and adjust planned training on a day-by-day basis. 

In our example, we might find that our athlete improves a bit for two or three cycles of base training and then plateaus – at which point we might want to implement a different stimulus into their training week. This could take the form of threshold work, VO2 max work, strength training, or whatever the coach feels would best address the issues that are limiting the athlete’s performance. 

A GAP analysis is one way that a coach can give an athlete more direction in their training. It’s very important to continuously monitor the athlete’s progress and adjust the plan on a regular basis. This is where a coach can provide much more value than simply buying a training plan. 

In the case above, the GAP analysis allowed us to identify that we have an athlete whose 20-minute power can be improved by placing more emphasis on improving their oxidative metabolism, though this may not be the case for all athletes. For example, we could have a more “slow-twitch” athlete of the same level in terms of 20-minute power who might be better served with a VO2 max/HIIT training block. (For more information on how to determine where your athlete is speed or endurance-dominant, check out this blog: Speed v. Endurance: How to Maximize Your Athletes’ Strengths)

In any sense, a GAP analysis provides a coach with the necessary information to monitor and adjust an athlete’s progress and training plan.


Gonçalves, B. (2023, January 9). Q&A on season planning, goal setting, and limiters | EP#372. Retrieved from https://scientifictriathlon.com/tts372/ 

Howell-Jones, J. (2019, June 19). Why riding slower makes you faster: the secrets of zone 2 training. Retrieved from https://www.globalcyclingnetwork.com/lifestyle/interviews/why-riding-slower-makes-you-faster-the-secrets-of-zone-2-training 

Kim, S., & Ji, Y. (2018, August). Gap Analysis. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/327879112_Gap_Analysis

Midgley, A., et al. (2012, October 2). Criteria for Determination of Maximal Oxygen Uptake. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.2165/00007256-200737120-00002

Image Of Three Profile Cards Of Trainingpeaks Coaches

Coaching Business Solutions

Increase your exposure to more athletes and earn additional income as an endurance coach through TrainingPeaks.

Image1 (4)
About Tom Epton

Tom Epton is a writer and data scientist based in the South East of England. He is a founding member and principal data scientist at PyTri Ltd, a consultancy specializing in applying data science techniques to performance sports and healthcare. Tom has a first-class BSc in Physics and has worked at several well-known brands on big data and machine learning projects. Away from work, he is an elite triathlete racing a mixture of draft-legal short courses on the British Super Series to middle-distance non-drafting triathlons. Tom also offers coaching, physiological testing and endurance sport consultancy services. Email him for more information.

Related Articles