Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Most Overrated Training Metrics

Continuing with the theme on Training Metrics, here are the two most OVERRATED metrics for athletes and training.

This is likely the most overrated metric in all of endurance sports. Remember, intensity is the key, not volume. Certainly there is a bell curve of the amount of volume which will help stimulate maximal adaptation, and that bell curve is dependent on many things for different athletes, the most important being the individual athlete’s previous training history, and individual training response. How you can figure out the right amount of volume for you or your athlete is the entire purpose of technology and training. Technology allows us to dial in training stress specific to our bodies and goals, in terms of volume and intensity.

Heart Rate (HR)
If volume is the most overrated metric in all of endurance sports, heart rate is the second most overrated metric. No one ever won a race based on the heart rate they achieved. HR is measured by beats per minute, or bpm. How high your HR can reach doesn’t mean a thing, but you’ll hear athletes brag about the bpm they reached in a workout or race. In truth, if you take an out of shape, overweight individual, and have them go for a jog, their HR will likely be higher than that of a fit individual. HR plays a role in determining a few important metrics we will discuss, (see my Efficiency Factor post), but HR by itself doesn’t really mean much.

I realize for a lot of you, this sounds earth-shattering. Why wouldn’t you pay attention to HR in the workout or in the race? How am I supposed to judge how I’m doing? What if my HR gets high? What if it doesn’t get high enough? The answer is, it doesn’t matter. HR is variable from athlete to athlete, and even day to day within the same athlete, sometimes due to training, sometimes due to things which have nothing to do with training.

The main issue with athletes getting so hung up about HR is that it is a metric which truly doesn’t mean anything by itself. My wife can reach heart rates over 200 bpm in a run workout, while I can go as hard as possibly and never break 185 bpm. Does this mean she is faster than me? No, of course not.

You probably noticed that when you start an interval, heart rate lags behind, as it takes awhile to catch up. If you’re doing very short intervals, say 15 seconds or less, there isn’t enough time for HR to catch-up to truly represent the intensity of the effort. It’s just an input metric, communicating how your body is responding to the stress you’re giving it in the moment. You can’t do much with that.

Output metrics on the other hand, such as the pace you run at, mean something. If I told you I did a run at 150 bpm, you wouldn’t really know what that means. Was it a fast run? A slow run? But if I told you I did a run at 6 min mile pace, now you understand how fast that is. Output is the entire point of performance and competition.

I want to be clear about HR though, as you should collect HR during just about all training sessions. Sometimes you should actually pay attention to it during the session, but those sessions will be outlined later on by me here. Otherwise HR should be given no attention during a session. It is important to collect it for later analysis, but otherwise don’t let it dictate the workout, and NEVER let it dictate your racing.

Coach Vance

Monday, January 21, 2013

Recovery as Part of Training?

I was the guest co-host this morning for the TrainingBible Coaching podcast, which is a great show on training by TBC Coaches Adam Zucco and Scott Iott. You can actually listen to the podcast here:

I was asked by Scott today to describe what a typical week for me was like as a professional triathlete, back when I raced and trained full-time. I hadn't really thought about that in awhile, and it seemed to hit me that everyone has always wanted to know what my "training" was like, but I have never once had an athlete ask me what my "recovery" was like.

In the podcast we discussed what the week looked like, and how many hours of training I did, but the conversation turned to me actually describing all the hours I put in which didn't show up on the power file or in the Garmin run data, and that was the recovery and preparation, which honestly were quite the commitment, and probably best allowed me to actually accomplish and maintain the level of training I was at in workouts.

For example, in the podcast I discussed these things and how many hours per week their commitment were, which don't show up in the "hours of training" on TrainingPeaks weekly summary.

Naps - 1 hour per day, 7 days per week = 7 hours
75 min massage each week = 1.25 hours
Rolling on the TP Therapy kit for 20 mins before each run, 6 days of running = 2 hours
Rolling every night to help advance recovery each night, 30 mins = 3.5 hours

This alone is 13.25 hours per week of training which is never posted in my training log as "training", but were just as important to the performance as training was. Oddly, 13.25 hrs is more time than many athletes spend training in a week, and that was my minimum commitment to recovery alone each week. When I was really tired, those naps might stretch to 2-3 hours, or if I was battling some slight injury, I was at ART appointments getting some specific areas more attention, which were 30 mins each session.

Maybe what we need to start doing as athletes and coaches is start prescribing recovery time, as much or nearly as much as we prescribe training time.

Coach Vance

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Buckman Road - Your own metrics

I'm in Chicago this weekend for TrainingBible Coaching's annual meeting, where we meet as a group of coaches from different areas of the country, and different sports even, (cycling, triathlon, running, combinations of these), and share ideas, discuss different training topics, new technology, and more.

Ryan Bolton, a 2000 Olympic triathlete for the US, is a TrainingBible Coach who gave a free lecture to the community here on the run training group he leads in Santa Fe, New Mexico, which includes many of the top  male and female Kenyans racing the US marathon and half-marathon circuit, (his top female just took 5th at Chicago marathon this year in the mid 2:20's.)

Given that my recent posts deal with metrics, and understanding them, Ryan mentioned a run workout he has the athletes do, where they run a tempo workout on a tough road called Buckman Road, which happens to sit at 8,000ft elevation. Buckman Road may not mean much to you and I, but to Ryan, it is an excellent metric, that after an athlete completes the effort, he can estimate very precisely what their marathon time will be.

We all have our own metrics, much like Ryan created. For you, it might be your neighborhood run loop, where you know when you run it within a certain time, possibly without even trying that hard, or even if a tempo effort, Maybe it's a hill or climb near your house, that you've done a number of times and you're testing your fitness to beat the record you have set.

The important thing is that you have a metric that matters to you, because you probably haven't had a power meter your whole biking life, or a GPS your entire running career, but you know what fast is to you. And when you can break through with that metric, your confidence will soar, and your satisfaction and motivation for training will likely improve as well.

Now imagine when you start looking at more metrics, from data you've collected for years. You can probably guess how much you're going to improve your daily training.

So what is your own personal metric?

Coach Vance

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Efficiency Factor Metric in Cycling Training

The ability to measure your progress toward your goals is IMPERATIVE in high-level sport. As the sport of triathlon has grown in popularity, and the depth of high performing athletes has improved, from elite to even the age-group level, the margin of error which can be allowed in training while still performing at a high level, has dwindled significantly.

One of the biggest reasons has been the improvement and emergence of training technology, such as power meters, GPS, and most especially training analysis software. With more data to analyze, we've even come up with metrics to assess training which didn't exist just a few years ago. When training is better analyzed, and mistakes, plateaus or injuries are avoided, training becomes more consistent and new higher performance levels are achieved.

Talent will get you far, but attention to the details of training will get you to your potential. The metrics provide the details of your training.

One of those metrics which has emerged in the recent past is Efficiency Factor, (EF). EF is simply the watts produced per beat of heart per minute, or EF = Watts/HR. So if you can produce 200 watts at 100 bpm, your EF is 2.0.

This metric does an excellent job at assessing aerobic conditioning, especially if you use your HR monitor with your power meter. If you begin the aerobic base-building phase of your training with some easy rides, by the end of the phase you should see the power you can produce at easy, aerobic efforts, increase. Or you should see that for the same power output, your HR is lower.

This time of year is perfect for tracking your EF, and seeing if you're improving your aerobic efficiency. It gives you something to judge the quality of your training, build your confidence with, and get some satisfaction from all the effort you put in through the winter.

This metric isn't very reliable for assessing training on hard rides, such as group rides with attacks, or big climbs, hill repeats, etc. You will have long recovery periods, sitting in, attacks of high output, etc. These have too much variance in a workout to really give you a consistent stimulus to base any inferences on of EF for the effort.

How do you assess this? TrainingPeaks will do it for you, just click on the "Map & Graph" button for your workout, and it comes up in the metrics on the right. (See example below).

(Click on image to enlarge)

Start tracking this metric now, and get your aerobic base strong for 2013!

Coach Vance

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Estimate Your FTP - Field Tests

Some athletes like to get metabolic testing done to find out lactate thresholds, threshold power and VO2 max. Honestly, I don't care about lactate threshold or VO2. I think testing in a lab can be fun, and that data is interesting sure, but it isn't important really.

FTP, or Functional Threshold Power, is important. It is extremely important if you want to better understand the training stress you are under as an athlete, improve strategizing and pacing during endurance events, and predict your performance.

FTP is simply an estimation of the best power output an athlete can do in an hour. This is NOT related to heart rate, as this is about output, not what your heart does. This about the watts you can produce, which equates to performance. HR does not equate to performance, everyone's HR is high who is competing hard.

So how do you estimate FTP, if not in a lab. Field tests are the best estimation tool in my opinion, because they are easily repeated and replicated, with results that can be trusted, based on years of experience from many coaches. The key is just simply having a power meter on your bicycle.

Here are the 3 common field tests I do with athletes....

1. 30 min SOLO time trial - The key part of this is solo, where an athlete does a 30 min interval as hard as they can go, on a flat stretch of road, and take 100% of the average power value for that 30 min interval. The reason it needs to be done alone and on a flat stretch of roads is competition and climbs inflate the number.

2. 30 min trainer time trial - Much like the test above, this one is simply done on a trainer. The results of this are usually a little lower than out on the road, but if you are consistent with this test, this test will be fine.

3. 20 min trainer time trial, minus 5% - This test estimates FTP quite well, and is probably a bit easier mentally than the 30 min version on the trainer. After the 20 min TT, you take 95% of the average power for the interval.

Which test you choose to do doesn't matter so much as being consistent with the follow-up testing you do. If you do a 20 min trainer TT test in the winter, that is what you should do in the summer months as well, even if the weather is better.

Once you have this value, you can now begin to track and better understand your training. I hope to discuss different training metrics over the coming weeks.

Coach Vance