TrainingPeaks is by all accounts the world’s largest digital training platform in existence, especially for triathletes, runners and cyclists. Read on to find out how using this amazing training aid can benefit you.
TrainingPeaks was developed first and foremost as a no-nonsense training tool to help athletes’ up their game, and the entire social media aspect (typically found on other online training platforms) takes a back seat. It’s also used by more athletes and coaches than any other available software – so much so that Garmin’s latest range of multisport watches all come pre-loaded with the TrainingPeaks app, which says a lot. This ground-breaking platform is the brainchild of renowned American endurance sports coach Joe Friel. And when it comes to planning and analysing your athletic performance, a more sophisticated system would be hard to find.
Trying to explain TrainingPeaks in its entirety would lead to a manual of untold proportions. Fortunately, in principle you only need to understand the basics to get going. However, when I say basics, I mean quite a bit more than just logging your activities. Basics in this context means planning and analysing your training in the same manner as top professional athletes would do.
The platform has both free and paid versions. That said, the free option has a number of limitations, for understandable reasons. After all, nothing worthwhile ever comes without a price. You also need to know that, although TrainingPeaks can be accessed via your smartphone or tablet, it’s always best to use a desktop or laptop computer – especially if you want to get the most out of it.
For simplicity’s sake, I’ll be explaining how TrainingPeaks works in terms of the full, paid version. I’ve called this article “TrainingPeaks for Dummies” because all the complexities will be avoided – my sole aim being to make the core benefits evident. So if you’re already accustomed to TrainingPeaks, all of this will probably be familiar to you. But if TrainingPeaks is new to you, the core of their approach should become evident, and the complexities will unfold intuitively as you get to use it.
When setting up your account, the platform will ask for all your relevant info like gender, age and heart rate zones, to mention a few. Then, as your training sessions are uploaded, a whole bunch of sophisticated algorithms will execute their analytical processes, giving you optimal control over your training. All major online sportswatch platforms sync directly to TrainingPeaks in the same way they do with Strava. So you can bank on the fact that your data will be waiting for you once your training session is done.
Planning your training
The first thing any athlete needs to excel in sport is a structured training program, and TrainingPeaks sets you up perfectly in this regard. It allows you to plan your own training program, or have your coach manage it for you. Should a coach manage your program, you allow him or her access to your account, and they then upload your weekly or monthly programs. All you then need to do is check your program, execute the session, and enjoy a hot shower afterwards. The coach will get notified via email of your completed session and check up on it.
To plan your training calendar, click on the “+” icon on any day of the week/month/year. A dialogue box then opens up with options for run, bike, mountain bike, brick session, cross-train, MTB, custom, other, an event and more. Each discipline allows you to enter the three main variables of your sport, namely duration, distance and speed/pace. There are others too, such as calories, elevation gain, training stress score and intensity factor. Once you’ve added the session to your calendar, it appears as a grey block with the title and minimised info. Click on the block and it opens as a larger dialogue box with all the detailed info included.
For example, if you select “run” and add two variables like distance and pace, the third one – which is duration, will be calculated by the program. So if you add a one hour run, with a pace of 4:45 minutes per kilometre, a distance of 12.6 km will be added. You or your coach can also add pre- and post-activity comments. The same goes for swimming and biking.
Once you’ve upload your latest training, the grey block of that session will change colour according to the extent to which you completed the requirements of the training session. Green means you stuck within a +/- 20% margin of your session, yellow means 50% to 70% variation, and red means you didn’t do it, or over-did your program with an 80% margin or more. There’s another variable, called Training Stress Score, that gets taken in account here too.
The training library
Obviously, it’s not always necessary to recreate each workout from scratch. You or your coach can create a library of proven workouts, then drag and drop them onto your training calendar as and when they are required. Once on the calendar they can be customized further – that’s because one size does not fit all when it comes to personal training. You also have access to Joe Friel’s incredible default library, and its value can’t be counted in monetary terms. I find browsing through all these workouts gives me great insights into the proper training methods used by the pros.
Periodisation is a big word that TrainingPeaks uses to say your planning should be done in terms of time periods that allow for building your fitness, fine-tuning your fitness for maximum performance, and making sure that you can perform at your best come race day. For pro athletes periodisation is moulded around the racing season, but for age groupers that want to race all year round, it gets a bit trickier. To manage your periodisation properly you need to know what to apply in your training on a long, mid and short term basis. TrainingPeaks calls these Macro, Meso, and Macro Cycles. And to keep a handle on these cycles, the Performance Management Chart comes into play.
The Performance Management Chart
The way TrainingPeaks turns you into a better athlete is by measuring four factors that play a big role in getting you in the best shape to achieve your goals. They are Training Stress, Fatigue, Fitness and Form. Of these four aspects, form is the essence of Training Peaks and the info gets reflected on what TrainingPeaks calls the Performance Management Chart (PMC).
1. Training Stress Score (TSS)
The first one is Training Stress Score, or TSS. This reflects the impact of every training session you do and is illustrated by the dots on the Performance Management Chart. The duration and intensity relative to your current heart rate threshold determine the stress of the session. In simple terms, the harder you train, the higher the TSS will be. The only thing is, TrainingPeaks attempts to use the real data you upload, such as heart rate and power – not, for instance, how hard it felt to you on the day.
2. Fatigue or Acute Training Load (ATL)
Acute training load reflects the fatigue you’ve incurred over a period of time. This is indicated by the purple line on the Performance Management Chart graph. ALT takes heart rate into account in relation to your pace or speed, as well as threshold percentages. For example, if you do the same workout, let’s say a week apart at the same pace, but with a higher heart rate, it means you’re more fatigued than a week ago. Your fitness would not have necessarily dropped, but adequate rest would have allowed for a lower heart rate on that day.
3. Fitness or Chronic Training Load (CTL)
Fitness is deduced by taking the average of your Training Stress Score over a period of time. This is reflected by the blue graph. As fitness goes up fatigue also increases, but fatigue goes up at a faster rate – and that can have a negative impact on your health, mental strength, perception of fitness and race-readiness.
4. Form or Training Stress Balance (TSB)
Form reflects how well prepared you are for a race. This is reflected by the orange graph. The aim is to have it taper in the correct way, so that your fitness will allow for maximum performance on race day.
Training stress leads to fatigue, which leads to fitness, but too much fatigue can indicate rest or an amendment to the program is necessary. On the other hand, if form is too high over an extended period, it can indicate that you’re losing fitness. In essence it’s all about doing the right thing at the right time – and Training Peaks aims to give you the ability to judge that.
If you can come to grips with the above principles, you’ll understand the essence of
TrainingPeaks. However, you need to know that what’s been said about TrainingPeaks in this article is just the tip of the tip of the iceberg. Other aspects of Training Peaks can only mentioned by dropping keywords. So it’s up to you to find out more by opening your own free account.
To know what the premium account offers over and above the free account follow this link.
More about TrainingPeaks and what it means to you
TrainingPeaks has developed their training methods to the point where they’ve coined their own terms for certain aspects, of which some have even been registered as patents. To give you an idea, both the Performance Management Chart and its components are TrainingPeaks registered patents.
The platform summarises your training in terms of all three cycles in more detail than you can ever possibly imagine. It reflects all the obvious stuff like heart rate, time, distance, pace plus a whole lot more, enough to fill a book. It also shows the planned duration and distance of your program, plus the completed duration and distance afterwards – for all the disciplines together, as well as individually. The charts also reflects details like time in heart rate zones by week, per discipline and overall. Time in speed and pace per workout and over time periods, time in power zones (if you train with power measurement tools) … the list goes on and on.
In the end each athlete learns to focus on the stats that allows for best personal control and insight. Your coach will also make use of all these to parameters to plan your coaching to your best advantage. The best thing to do is to open up your account, try the 30 day free premium account and find out for yourself. Happy training! – (c) 2017 NavWorld
To open your TrainingPeaks account click here.