Monday, November 23, 2009

Stress-Based Training - Road Cycling

For the road cyclist the issue of race stress isn’t just total stress; it’s also the rate at which stress is experienced during key portions of the race. Whereas triathlon and endurance running are typically steady state events, road racing is quite variably paced. So the roadie will train for total stress and also for TSS rates which are appropriate for his or her event. These rates are often very high for short episodes. And it's during these brief episodes that the outcomes of races are often decided. These may occur on climbs or when there is a strong crosswind.

The way to train for high-TSS rate episodes is by doing intervals at the anticipated episode intensity and duration. The goal is to manage greater amounts of stress in such an interval session over time, especially by making the work intervals longer and the recovery intervals shorter over several weeks.

Here’s a personal example. I had a bike road race back in October which I had done before. In 2008 my finish time was 2:58 and my TSS, interestingly enough, was 258. (The similar numbers are just a coincidence.) So in training for this I did weekly long rides in the late Base period that totaled about 258 TSS. These were were about 4.5- to 5-hour rides at a moderate intensity (around 50-60 TSS/hour). In the Build period I did a weekly workout which included a group ride, hill repeats and tempo efforts. These rides took about 3.5 hours and also were in the neighborhood of 258 TSS (problem is, of course, that you don’t know real-time TSS so have to estimate it; this will be corrected by the new PowerTap Joule head unit). Also in the Build period I did long hill repeat intervals at the same rate as from prior-year-based hard TSS episodes of the race. For example, one prior-year segment was 20 minutes with a TSS of 37 so I started by doing 4x5-minute intervals at about TSS 10. I eventually built this to 2x10 minutes at TSS 20 on each. All of these were very hard workouts but quite specific to my race goal.

So what happened in the race? I was going well and riding in the lead group until I flatted at mile 48 – about two hours into the race. The best-laid plans of mice and men often go astray.

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At November 24, 2009 11:45 AM , Anonymous Kate Butterworth said...

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Kate Butterworth

At November 24, 2009 11:55 AM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Kate--I'd be glad to do that but it appears your business is more management and sales coaching-oriented than sport. Feel free to write me at

At November 25, 2009 1:30 AM , Blogger Bahzob said...

Joe I really appreciate your wisdom and look forward to getting your blog updates. However do think in this case you are in danger of spreading more confusion than clarity.

TSS is useful as a measure of overall training load and gives some measure of how different events may compare in terms of difficulty. However I would draw the line there. When it comes to training for specific events the first rule of all training applies: SPECIFICITY. (Combined as you have said in past blogs with an objective view on needs/strengths/weaknesses) as an e.g. I have 2 files from this year, both TSS mid 130s. One was a road race, the other was a time trial. However my needs to improve in the events are quite different. The VI for the files tells the story. Road race 1.21, TT 1.08.

Also while I agree having a TSS measure is useful for training it is only really useful for long open road rides or overall training planning (e.g so in a given week I aim to increase TSS CTL by 4 pts made up of 1x250 Level 2, 1x150 Level 3 and 2x100 Level 3/Level 4 sessions).

(eg. For the former I have an ergomo which I use on my winter road bike and its nice to go out on a ride with a goal of putting in a TSS target in a time but leaving myself some flexibility on how to achieve it.)

For short intervals however TSS is just confusing. It can only really be measured if you have a powermeter and if you have a powermeter then it adds nothing apart from an additional number. (in fact just the opposite. If you follow wattage et al. you will know that the pursuit of TSS points and CTL seems to be the objectives of some. This ignores the fact that TSS points are easy to amass. Time allowing a couple of 5-6 hour rides per week will generate huge TSS/CTLs with no real training benefit. Less time doing lower TSS sweetspot work would be a lot more time efficient and most likely give much better training benefit)

If you dont have a powermeter then IMO using an independent variable like speed is much more reliable than subjective measures like self assessed TSS.

* Final comment: From a scientific pov one objective of any pursuit is to try and reduce the number of variables to a minimum and ensure each variable retains a precise and consistent meaning. TSS means something specific and should remain at that.

At November 25, 2009 4:20 AM , Blogger Bahzob said...

PS to above

TSS is very useful in fulfilling its primary purpose which is to give a relative measure of training stress. The important word here is "relative". This has 2 meanings:
1 - Relative to others: If I and Brad Wiggins both have a ride of 250TSS then, broadly speaking, you could say we had a similar ride in term of how "hard/tough" it was. Obviously you would know nothing about distance/speed etc.
2 - Relative to self: TSS is measured relative to FTP. So if your FTP changes then so will TSS for exactly the same workout.

This last point is a killer as far as I am concerned for using TSS in the way you suggest since it simply adds complexity without any real benefit and makes it difficult to compare or use for specific event prediction rides done at different parts of the season.

Sorry to sound lecturing but really do feel you have gone off in wrong direction here. There is a well tried and trusted way to prepare for an event like the one you mention, especially if you have your own data to go on but even if you dont. This relies on you using real and absolute power measures rather than subjective and relative ones like TSS.

Your example proves my point. I am left without a clue as to how your training compared this year to last or if there was any realistic prospect of you bettering last years performance. On the other hand if you had said that last year end of base you could maintain a 5 hour ride at 220W, this year 230W and that your FTP is 10% up and you weigh 2lbs less then I would be pretty confident in saying you would do better all other things (and luck with punctures) being equal.

(blowing my own trumpet I've an example of how I planned using power as a guide for this years etape. Simply this was a ride of 2 halves: getting to Bedoin and then climbing Ventoux. I had a time target in mind and to hit it set myself power/weight goals in order to complete each half, basing first half on data from my own rides, second from a friend who had ridden Ventoux with SRMs. It went extremely well and I finished top 200. My use of TSS was limited to what it should be, keeping overall training in balance. Using it for other than that would just have been a distraction.

If interested a bit more here

and some of my thoughts on preparation for events if got powermeter to hand here

At November 26, 2009 9:30 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Joe, just wanted to point out that the iBike Gen III with latest firmware displays realtime TSS, brilliant feature.


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