Thursday, July 24, 2008

Strong and Weak Form

In order to become race ready you need to gain form. Form may be defined as “race restedness.” In other words, when you are at your peak of readiness for a race you must have shed some of the fatigue you have built up over several weeks of training. Only then will you be ready to race well. You do not want to go into an important race tired. That seems to be accepted by everyone.

But here’s one that isn’t so universally accepted: In order to be really ready for a race you also have to give up some of your fitness. Let me explain. Go back to the statement above that in order to be race ready (“on form”) you have to shed fatigue. How do you shed fatigue? You rest more and create less physical stress. What happens when you reduce the stress in your training? You lose fitness, right? If that was not so no one would train. They would only sit around watching TV if that created fitness. But it doesn’t. So in order to gain form you must give up some fitness. That's just another way of saying that in order to race well you have to give up some fitness. Make sense?

The key here is how much fitness you are willing to give up. During a peaking or tapering period in the last several days before an A-priority race you should be reducing the stress in your training by including more easy workouts punctuated by hard workouts. I have athletes do an abbreviated, race-like workout every 72 to 96 hours for several days leading up to their race week. The easy workouts are very easy; the hard workouts are very hard. But there are more easy than hard workouts so on the whole training stress is reduced over this period. As a result form is gained while fitness is lost. But again, you don’t want too much fitness to be lost.

I try not to have the athletes I coach lose more than about 10 percent of their fitness as measured by their average daily TSS (Training Stress Score) on their WKO+ software. I want to see their form (TSB – Training Stress Balance) trending upward over this time and rise above the zero balance point (red dashed line). When both of these occur I refer to that condition as “Strong Form.” Form may still be positive but if fitness drops significantly more than 10 percent then the athlete has “Weak Form.” In the latter condition the athlete will feel great on race day but lack power and perhaps intensive endurance abilities (muscular endurance and anaerobic endurance). Weak Form would not be expected to produce race results as good as would Strong Form.

The accompanying chart illustrates two times in an athlete’s season when he came into form. The first time form was weak. The second time it was strong. Notice that when form was weak the TSB was well above zero (+30) and when form was strong TSB was actually lower (+18). So the issue is not how high form rises but rather how low fitness drops when peaking for a race and form is rising.

In this example, fitness (TSS/day) is also higher when the athlete achieves Strong Form (76.3 vs 42.0) which is obviously also beneficial to race readiness. But even had the TSS/day been the same on race day, the race outcomes would still be closely related to how strong or weak the athlete’s form was at the time—in other words, how much fitness the athlete had lost in the days leading up to the race.


At July 28, 2008 2:15 PM , Blogger Bahzob said...

Does the absolute value of CTL/ATL have a part to play here?

It feels logical that approach may differ between someone on a CTL of 50 and someone on 100.

On a related topic, from your experience do athletes tend to vary much in terms of the CTL they sustain through the various phases? (e.g. do some maintain 50 while others 150). And what if any relation does CTL have to performance (e.g. assuming overtraining is avoided, is a CTL of 100 likely to lead to a better outcome than 75).

At July 29, 2008 4:02 PM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

bahzob--Absolute CTL and ATL certainly play a role in the performance of the individual athlete. If one is able to manage a higher level of stress then biological fitness is likely to rise along with the mathematical model used in this chart. But trying to compare the CTLs of individuals to predict relative performance is not effective at all. My son is 38 years old and races as a cat 1. I'm 64 and very slow and underpowered by comparison to him. But I think our CTLs are quite similar since he has limited time to train due to work and family responsibilities. He trains with a lot of intensity although little time. I train with a lot of time but much less intensity. That explains our similar CTLs. His FTP is about 100w higher than mine, too. This is a much better predictor of race performance than CTL.

At July 30, 2008 7:26 AM , Blogger WheelsVT said...

Thanks for the insight.
I was trying to figure out why I did not live up to my performance expectations after a week of vacation. My form/tsb was very positive, but CTL had droppped significantly = weak form. It's more of a detraining vs. a controlled taper.

At July 30, 2008 8:18 AM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

wheelsvt--Exactly right. "Weak form" is detraining.

At July 31, 2008 10:20 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

When reviewing the PMC for fitness & form leading up to race day I was wondering if you would look for similar markers when looking at the bike/run data seperatly. The reason I ask is because if I am coming off of a running injury so naturly my run fitness will be lower since I have not been doing much running. This will have an affect on the combined PMC. Should I be looking at the run and bike data seperatly in such cases?

At August 1, 2008 8:28 AM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

anon J: I think it's more revealing to look at the PMCs for the sports separately. Blending them, while interesting, is like looking at averages--it doesn't really tell you the details.

At December 26, 2008 8:44 AM , Blogger Astorian said...

Hi Joe

Could you recommend some guidelines for how long you can safely run a negative TSB? Using the ride length recommendations from the Training Bible along with target IF values based on the intensity guidelines in TB, I find that my plan will have me below below -20 for 5 days in Base 1,and below -20 for a majority of days in Base 2.

I'm finding it difficult to tweak the plan to both meet the right length and intensity guidelines in TB and keep my TSB at a reasonable level.


At December 26, 2008 4:02 PM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Hi Astorian--That's a good question. I seldom have an athlete stay near -20 TSB for more than 2-3 weeks at a time. Staying that low is rare for the people I coach, however. But I've seen charts for a pro cyclist who stayed at a low and negative TSB for several months. And had a good season despite this. But I wouldn't recommend that.

At December 12, 2009 6:59 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

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