Thursday, January 17, 2013

Post-Season Analysis Equals Next Season Success

By Hunter Allen

How many weeks of hard training are you able to handle before a rest week? How much rest did you need before you achieved peak wattage for the year? The end of the season is when each of us should be taking time to reflect on and analyze our previous year of data. If you used a power meter and recorded your data for every ride/race you did, you should be able to go back and see some patterns in your training and racing that will help you make some better decisions for your next season. I do this kind of post-season analysis with each of my clients, and it’s a critical part of the coaching process, because we all want even more success in the coming year.

The first thing to look at when examining your season is the Training Stress Score vs. Intensity Factor chart. This chart presents a rough idea of how much training stress you can handle vs. the need for a recovery week. Whether or not you had a coach or followed a loose training plan, this chart will reveal your rough periodization of training for the year, and that’s a great place to discover a few interesting patterns. Take a look at the chart below for an example.

My racer represented in this chart had a solid and steady build-up of TSS through the season, culminating in June. From June to the end of the season, his ability to create TSS was reduced because of his need to recover from weekend races, some summer travel, and then a slight injury.

There are a couple of interesting things we can learn from this chart:

1. This racer can handle between 3-4 weeks of hard training before needing a true rest week. If we look at the green bars in the chart, we’ll notice that after every 3-4 weeks there is a smaller bar indicating a reduced amount of TSS for that week, which means that he had a planned easier week or he was forced to take an easier week because of the previous 3-4 hard weeks. This observation should be noted as a key characteristic of this rider that can be planned around and watched in the upcoming 2013 season.

2. Later in the season, after he created a solid foundation of fitness, this racer was able to handle some very big TSS weeks, but those big TSS weeks cost a lot. In order to handle them as his coach, I had to taper and rest him beforehand and then rest him afterward. Those big weeks were key goals for him, so it wasn’t a mistake to do the easier weeks, but it’s important to note the cost of big goals and take them into account for the following season.

The next chart that I use for end-of-season analysis is the now ubiquitous (for power meter users) Performance Manager Chart (PMC). This chart goes a level deeper than the one above, since it takes into account the accumulated training load and fatigue throughout the season, while displaying the rider’s best efforts. This display of best efforts is where you’ll want to begin correlating your chronic training load and your training stress balance (how fatigued or fresh you are). By reviewing your season, connecting the dots on your peak performances, and correlating this with your training stress balance (TSB), you can learn your optimal range for how fresh you need to be in order to create a peak performance. This is incredibly valuable knowledge for the coming season, as it allows you to plan your taper exactly for any race you might want to create a peak performance for, which means you will have the best chance for success on the day that you want it.

The Performance Manager Chart helps you not only with your taper, but also with determining your optimal training load. By reviewing your season, you can see the height of your training load with the chronic training load line and correlate this to your peak of fitness, along with your review of your notes and power files from that time, which will remind you how well you rode.

My racer’s PMC above illustrates perfectly the relationship between freshness, fitness, and form. Every time this athlete had a peak twenty minutes for the year, his training stress balance (TSB) was either close to balance or a positive number, with most of his bests occurring when his TSB was +5 to +12, and we can use that knowledge for the coming year in order to plan for the perfect taper. The maximal training load he could sustain for 2-3 weeks this season was around 80 TSS/day for the chronic training load (CTL) chart, which means that he basically averaged (at his maximum) fifty minutes of equivalent threshold training stress each day for six weeks in a row. This is a good amount for an amateur masters racer with 12-15 hours a week to train, and while he was able to build up to that training load, he was not able to go above it, nor was he able to sustain it for more than a couple of weeks. That knowledge gives me valuable information about how to plan out his training for the coming season in order to give him the correct build of fitness at the proper time.  

By utilizing these two charts, I can now plan my athlete’s weekly training load with more precision, knowing that when he exceeds 800 TSS per week for more than three weeks, I should pay close attention to his fourth week and prepare for a rest week if warranted. I can also understand the bigger picture better, as well, since now I know that when his chronic training load begins to reach 80 TSS/day, that means I should watch how negative his TSB is and for how long, since that’s the upper limit of his ability to sustain that training load, and while it might not be at the end of a three- to four-week build cycle, I can ensure that he has proper rest, along with the right amount of taper in order to either peak for an event or prepare for another build cycle.

A proper post-season analysis of your power data can reveal some relationships you might not have otherwise seen, and it’s critical that you understand the correlations between peak wattages and fatigue so you can be sure to create your peak watts on the day you want them. These two charts may seem intimidating at first glance, but they’re really pretty simple to master once you understand the basic concepts. For a deeper discussion of these topics, I highly recommend that you read the chapter titled “User Power to Manage Performance” in Training and Racing with a Power Meter, the book I wrote with Dr. Andrew Coggan.

We want to help you create the best season ever!

Hunter Allen is a USA Cycling Level 1 coach and former professional cyclist. He is the coauthor of Training and Racing with a Power Meter, co-developer of TrainingPeaks’ WKO software, and CEO and founder of Peaks Coaching Group. He and his coaches create custom training plans for all levels of athletes. Hunter can be contacted directly through