Ensuring training progression with power

Last month we discussed the ins and outs of training with a powermeter and briefly touched on the analysis of training data. This month we will discuss how a powermeter can ensure that your training is actually paying dividends.

Training is defined as the act of performing a given athletic task with the goal of creating a stress to your body’s homeostasis with the intention to trigger signals to cause positive physiological adaptation. In simple terms, after a training session, your performance will first decrease to a point (depending on how hard the training sessions was) and then will slowly increase until your body has adapted, leading to improved performance. This physiological principle was first described in 1936 by Hans Seyle and it is known as the general adaptation syndrome (Figure 1).

 

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Figure 1: A diagram describing effect of training stress upon performance, as described originally by Hans Seyle in the general adaptation syndrome.

 

The general adaptation syndrome and its application to training


The simplified explanation of the general adaptation syndrome shown in figure 1 consists of an alarm phase and a resistance phase. In brief, the alarm phase is the body’s initial response to the training stress and may be demonstrated by performing an extremely hard session or effort two days in a row. This will normally lead to a worse performance the second day. The resistance phase is the phase after the body has responded and adapted to the training stress. During this phase a repeated very hard effort will lead to an improved performance.

 

An ideal training program should consist of very hard training sessions which are repeated once you have adequately recovered and are within this resistance phase. There really is no way to know when you are within this phase until you analyse the specific session retrospectively. Frequent analysis will inform you and teach you about your body and how you recover from specific training sessions.

 

It is very important to note that each individual responds totally differently to a certain training stress. For example, you may have noticed when training with a training partner and you both perform the same session on a Tuesday, that when you perform the same session on a Thursday, that your training partner feels great and has improved, but you feel sluggish, tired, and simply can’t sustain the same power as what you did two days before. This is a perfect example of two individuals, who respond differently, and again highlights the importance of analysing data to gain knowledge of how rapidly you recover and adapt to hard training sessions.

 

It is also important to note that when we think about the general adaptation syndrome and stress in the context of training, we can’t exclude the effects of other sources of stress on your body. Stress, whether it is training stress or work stress, accumulates and may prolong the alarm phase, or even blunt the resistance phase. Therefore, if you responded positively to 3 days of rest between key hard training sessions in the past, you may need more recovery if you have had a couple of late nights with a lot of work stress.

 

How to analyse your training session?


This leaves us with the question: “How should we be analysing our data to ensure that we are improving?” Commonly, hard training sessions consist of interval sessions. The major advantage of training with a powermeter is that it provides you with an exact objective measure of your performance. You should analyse and plot each interval and calculate your “session average” for the specific sessions. Therefore if you do a 3 x 10 minute interval session, and you achieve 410W, 398W and 388 watts for the 3 respective intervals, your session average is 399 watts. It becomes a bit harder to measure performance objectively when you are not training with a powermeter, because measures such as speed and distance may be affected by the wind and other factors. Below we have included an example from an athlete.

 

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Figure 2: A diagram showing session analysis of all 4 minute (typically 6 x 4 minute intervals with 2.5 minutes rest) and 2 minute intervals (8 x 2 minute intervals with 90 second rest) that a certain athlete has performed. These sessions are analysed to ensure that the session average (shown on the figure with a short horizontal line) is improved from session to session.

 

Sticking to a standardised training session which is repeated often allows us coaches to compare apples to apples. It may seem monotonous to some repeating certain sessions, but it is difficult to compare 5 x 5 minute intervals to 6 x 4 minute intervals. For this reason, our library of sessions are often limited and would recommend you do the same for you to be able to repeat certain session to ensure that you are progressing.

 

What should I do when I am not improving?


Referring back to Hans Seyle, if training is not bringing on improved adaptations you are either not training enough (in which case you are past the resistance phase and detraining has occurred), or in most cases you simply have not rested long enough.

 

The most common error made among competitive recreational, amateur and elite cyclists is that they simply do not include enough rest between training sessions. Therefore, they are training and performing hard training sessions within the alarm phase before their bodies have adapted from the previous training sessions. This will eventually lead to a downward spiral of performance and may eventually lead to a state of overtraining, where prolonged rest is required. However, not to be alarmed, in most cases simply including adequate rest (days) between hard training sessions and ensuring that the easy days remain easy are normally enough to get most athletes out of their ruts.

 

What about the days between interval sessions?


Without spoiling an up and coming article feature too much, the principle of polarized training is also very important. In brief, polarized training implies that your hard rides should be very hard and constitute approximately 20% of your training load. The remaining 80% should remain very easy. Therefore, in support of this principle, and in support of the general adaptation syndrome, ensure that your days between your hard interval days remain very easy and do not add significant training stress.

 


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About the author: Science to Sport

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18 Comments

Jaco-fiets, Jul 11 2016 03:10

Cool article! Just like the previous 1.

SciencetoSport, Jul 11 2016 03:28

Thank you for the kind words Jaco-fiets. We are glad the articles are being well-received.

Are there any other topics you would like us to cover?

scudd, Jul 11 2016 03:44

Many of us train with power in parallel with heart rate.  I always find it helpful to scrutinise both numbers.  Perhaps a handy article on how best to interpret heart rate numbers in relation to the various stages of recovery, fatigue, illness etc.

SciencetoSport, Jul 11 2016 04:01

Many of us train with power in parallel with heart rate.  I always find it helpful to scrutinise both numbers.  Perhaps a handy article on how best to interpret heart rate numbers in relation to the various stages of recovery, fatigue, illness etc.

 

Great suggestion. We actually use the relationship between heart rate and power to track progression and fatigue too.

It is also important to consider your own perception of effort (how hard the exercise feels), especially when tracking fatigue, but we will explain further in a following article.

 

Please keep the topic suggestions coming guys.

cadenceblur, Jul 11 2016 05:20

Hi

Same great insight!
Is it true that as one gets fitter, your body becomes more efficient at using oxygen / or your heart rate doesn't spike as much or quickly? So hitting a given heart rate zone requires more effort? If that makes sense.

SciencetoSport, Jul 11 2016 05:30

Hi

Same great insight!
Is it true that as one gets fitter, your body becomes more efficient at using oxygen / or your heart rate doesn't spike as much or quickly? So hitting a given heart rate zone requires more effort? If that makes sense.

Hi Cadenceblur

Thanks for the kind words and the question.

As you become 'fitter' you will require less oxygen to do the same amount of work.

For example, cycling at 250 Watts might result in an oxygen consumption (VO2) of 40 ml/min/kg. Then following a few weeks of training, the same workload (250 W) might only result in an oxygen consumption of 35 ml/min/kg.

In other words the 'metabolic cost' of cycling at 250 W is reduced.

Heart rate responds in a similar fashion and if we stick to our example above, heart rate might reduce from 160 bpm at 250 W to 150 bpm after a few weeks of training.

 

One must be careful when considering a reduced heart rate at the same power output. If the exercise feels harder and your heart rate is slow to respond, this could indicate fatigue. So a reduced heart rate at the same power output may not always be a positive sign.

 

I hope that answers your question

cadenceblur, Jul 11 2016 05:36

Yes thanks. I've picked this up. When doing a series of intervals heart rate generally escalates over the period of the session. Not dropping to the same level during recovery. This depends on length of the intervals and the recovery period in between.
What I've also found that when comparing segments on Strava over time, times decrease as does the HR.

Antoo, Jul 11 2016 05:43

Informative and useful articles, for sure!
#homegrown

SciencetoSport, Jul 11 2016 05:48

Informative and useful articles, for sure!
#homegrown

Thank you for the feedback.

BrandonF_, Jul 11 2016 07:35

I LOVE redwine..(alot✔)....what now??

LOOK695, Jul 11 2016 07:39

I LOVE redwine..(alot✔)....what now??

Ride more than you drink😗

BrandonF_, Jul 11 2016 07:44

Ride more than you drink😗


....is jy MAL?😅

milky4130, Jul 12 2016 01:13

How to interpret/setup/configure/personalize data in software i.e. performance management chart (PMC) from TrainingPeaks or any other free software.

SciencetoSport, Jul 12 2016 08:29

How to interpret/setup/configure/personalize data in software i.e. performance management chart (PMC) from TrainingPeaks or any other free software.

Hi Malcolm

We hope you are well.

Thanks for the suggestion. Great topic and one that we think would benefit a lot of other Hub users.

I think we all have our own preferences for our own data and for each of our athletes, but perhaps we could compile a 'best of' article.

We are slowly moving over to Golden Cheetah for most of our analyses, but most of the software options can produce similar graphs or tables.

 

Just throwing it out there, but what about a workshop where you bring your laptop and data? Is that something that would interest you?

Thanks again for the interaction.

Hope all is well your side.

flames, Jul 12 2016 01:38

Hi Guys, I think that the idea of a workshop would go down well with those of us that like to know a little more about what and why we are doing certain types of training...

 

One question: How do you interpret the PMC when using a combination of HR & Power or cant you? In this instance should you rather just use the Stress chart in GC?

koukie, Jul 12 2016 01:50

How to interpret/setup/configure/personalize data in software i.e. performance management chart (PMC) from TrainingPeaks or any other free software.

 

 

Hi Malcolm

We hope you are well.

Thanks for the suggestion. Great topic and one that we think would benefit a lot of other Hub users.

I think we all have our own preferences for our own data and for each of our athletes, but perhaps we could compile a 'best of' article.

We are slowly moving over to Golden Cheetah for most of our analyses, but most of the software options can produce similar graphs or tables.

 

Just throwing it out there, but what about a workshop where you bring your laptop and data? Is that something that would interest you?

Thanks again for the interaction.

Hope all is well your side.

This is a great idea, I'm using a power meter now for a while but I dont really "use" it as I should.

milky4130, Jul 12 2016 01:57

Hi Malcolm

We hope you are well.

Thanks for the suggestion. Great topic and one that we think would benefit a lot of other Hub users.

I think we all have our own preferences for our own data and for each of our athletes, but perhaps we could compile a 'best of' article.

We are slowly moving over to Golden Cheetah for most of our analyses, but most of the software options can produce similar graphs or tables.

 

Just throwing it out there, but what about a workshop where you bring your laptop and data? Is that something that would interest you?

Thanks again for the interaction.

Hope all is well your side.

All good my side, thanks. I think the regular power articles is awesome, please keep it coming. A workshop with our laptops & data would be great & would definitely interest me.

SciencetoSport, Jul 12 2016 02:52

Hi Guys, I think that the idea of a workshop would go down well with those of us that like to know a little more about what and why we are doing certain types of training...

 

One question: How do you interpret the PMC when using a combination of HR & Power or cant you? In this instance should you rather just use the Stress chart in GC?

Thanks for the comments above Flames. We will definitely look at putting a workshop together.

 

Many of our athletes have more than one bike and sometimes only one bike has a power meter on. This then creates 'gaps' in the PMC.

 

There are different ways to deal with this:

1. Use different metrics to create the PMC (TRIMPS - which is based on time in each heart rate zone)

2. Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) generated PMC

3. Manually assign a TSS to the sessions - This can be based on a similar session done with power.

 

I hope this answers your question.