Thursday, 26 November 2015

Training Peaks - worth a look?

Massive overtraining (circled in red) recorded in Training Peaks... or not.
I'm giving Training Peaks a try. I'll get onto a fuller review at a later date, but here are a few snippets to start out.

1. The "app" seems to be an add-on to the online program, rather than being a stand-alone app.

2. There is a "free" version and a paid "premium" version. The "free" version is basically a training diary, plus the program calculates how "tough" the workout was (Tss - training stress score). The "premium" version (costs £75, $120, €105 per year) gives you the fancy graph you see above.

3. Training Peaks makes the usual "default" assumptions - no, my resting heart rate ISN'T 60 (!) and my "threshold" heart rate ISN'T 148 either!

4. The "default" assumptions can be changed, but only in the computer version, not the app.

5. The amount of information is almost overwhelming. Be prepared to a lot of reading up on various topics to get the best out of Training Peaks.
Or get a coach that can do it for you!

6. Training Peaks, even in the "free" version, allows some pretty fancy analysis - stuff that "free" Strava users can only dream about.
"Premium" users get to see the graph at the top of the page which allows even more analysis.
For example, do you know when you are recovered enough from a hard training session to take on an event? How long should your tapering period be? (If you don't taper, then I think "premium" Training Peaks might be a bit beyond your needs for the moment. Even I taper!)
(update: Strava has a "fitness and freshness" page in "Premium", but it was really Training Peaks that started this stuff!)

7. Training Peaks assumes you start logging you rides etc. from a low level of fitness. So you look ("premium" version only) like you are getting massively fit in the first few weeks, but are so fatigued that you should be unable to walk, let alone train. I "preloaded" about 2 months of estimated activities to "flatten out" the initial training figures. Another few months of "real" activities, and the graphs will be showing sensible numbers ... An example can be seen in the picture at the top of the post ("premium" version only), where Training Peaks has assumed my fitness level is far lower than it actually is, and the area I have marked in red would normally be showing a dangerous level of overtraining, but it just a "getting going" artifact.
See the update section further down for an example of a more sensible graph that I have preloaded with the bulk of my major activities going back about 4 months. Yes, I really do perform about 100 TSS points of activity at medium intensity on 5 days or so a week!
You can set "start fitness" numbers in Training Peaks, but without a coach, or a friend who uses Training Peaks, how would you know what numbers to start at?
8 ... Which leads to the next point. If you are going to switch to Training Peaks, then do so when doing general training in the "off-season", NOT while doing structured training in the run-up to an event. Training Peaks relies on quite a few months of data input to give realistic (and useful) graphs (I'm getting bored of writing it, but, again, premium version only).
I believed I have helped things along by loading up about 4 months of activities, including a lot of manual entries to cover the stuff that I don't bother logging on Strava - I don't wear an HRM 14 hours a day, you know!

9. For me, the best feature is the summary graph (yep, premium version only) that shows fatigue, fitness, and "balance". The object is to get fitness as high as possible, yet get "balance" positive by the time you do an event. Exercise increases fatigue and fitness, but rest causes fatigue to fall faster than fitness (this is basically why we get fitter by doing exercise!). Too much rest, and fitness falls unnecessarily - once you are decently rested, further rest won't help, yet fitness is falling all the time. Training Peaks aims to help you get that balance right. In the picture at the top of the post, the blue line (with the shading below it) is my level of fitness, the pink line is my fatigue, and the yellow line is my balance of fitness and fatigue. In the picture above, I can see that if I had an event/race/sportive coming up, I should rest up for a few days, during which time I will lose a little fitness, but recover from a LOT of fatigue. Really, I should be trying to get the fitness line (blue) as high as possible and at the same time get the balance line (yellow) back into the "positive" range before an event/race/sportive.
But don't worry too much about my graph for the moment - the system has yet to catch up with the decent level of fitness I already have :-)

10. Like I said in 8 above, start using Training Peaks BEFORE you need it because in the first few months of use, the figures for fatigue and recovery aren't going to be that accurate unless you really are as unfit as the program assumes. Get a good few months of data in there, and it should sort itself out. See the graph further down to see how loading about 4 months of "old" activities makes the numbers look more sensible. I have kind of repeated this point because it is SO important!

11. You have a LOT of flexibility in how to enter workouts. If you do a regular thing and you work out training load (expressed as tss and intensity) then you can add a manual entry WITH the full effects showing on the training graphs ( you know what I am going to say - premium version only), rather than just the Strava way of adding it to total mileage, but not much else.
I do a physical job, so I measured the outdoor part of it with my 310xt and HRM belt today. So I got an estimate of how much "training" I do as a by-product of my job. Turns out to be quite a bit. I walk about 5 miles (8km) a day, just for starters. But I don't have to measure it every day. I can just use today's figure for a manual entry for other days. Yes, every month or so, I ought to recalibrate the activity, because if I am getting fitter than I am likely to be doing the same amount of "work" at a lower heart-rate, and therefore incurring less "training". But at least I can do it like that.
I don't wear an HRM 24 hours a day, so it is good to be able to make an "educated estimate" of workload. But you have to be honest with yourself - that 30 minute gym session is unlikely to be the same as a 100km cycle session, however much you sweated!

12. No social side. You can make your training public, but if you want social, then that is what Strava is for.

13. No segments. If you want to pretend you are a top rider, then, again, that is catered for by Strava. If you want to train to be closer to actually being a top rider, then that is where programs like Training Peaks take over. Training Peaks isn't about competing with your mates, it is about competing with yourself. Segments can still be useful as training exercises, though, as part of a broader training program.

14. No little trophies and badges. Play on Strava, Train on Training Peaks.

15. Is Training Peaks better than Strava, then? Nope. It is just different, to do different things. I've met a lot of interesting folks through Strava, and picked up a lot of tips. I still use Strava. I like the badges :-) I like the social side. Indeed, my runs and rides are currently "auto-forwarding" from Garmin Connect to both Strava AND Training Peaks.
But Training Peaks has better training tools, especially in the "premium" version, as long as you are prepared to put the hours in to learn how to use those tools properly. Twelve months ago, I would have found Training Peaks rather intimidating. Since then I have read half a dozen training books, maybe 50 scientific papers on training, and a lot of general training articles and blogs. I have spoken to long term marathon runners to check that what I am reading makes sense. I did my first 200+km ride, and about 6 other "metric" centuries. I've learnt a lot, and developed a lot. I think I am ready for Training Peaks. But like I have mentioned before, it is a steep learning curve for a novice without a coach to understand all the graphs and their purpose.
There we are just a taster. I'll do a proper review in a couple of months time when I can say for certain whether the numbers have settled down after there initial rise from an assumed-low base.

Update 29th November 2015:
The first graph again, showing "start-up" artefacts even after being pre-loaded with a couple of months of (mainly) estimated data.

That;s a bit more like it. The data for the last couple of months is the same as the first chart (excepting I have added another day or two to the "current" end). But this time I have added all my big rides and every run I made that was 5km or over, stretching back to July (so about 5 months of data in total). I have similarly used estimates for the non-Garmin part of my training.Slowly rising fitness, with big improvements in "balance" when I have a few days off from work.
After all, I SHOULD have gotten fitter in November - I have run two 10Km runs, and those are the first 10Kms since late July.
So easy to come up with a basic training plan with Training Peaks.
I just entered how many hours a week I wanted as training (1 chose 10). then I enetered any big events I have, and how important they are to me.
For me the "big" event is the one in the middle of the plan (the end of June). It is the local charity "sportive" 100km ride.Then later, near the end of August, I fancy a go at beating my PR for distance in a day. I did 161km in 2014, 232km in 2015, and it would be nice to push the 300km mark in 2016.
These two events are marked with the little trophy with an "A" on it (A = the most important stuff).
I like to start the year with a January 1st ride, so I put in a 50km for that date. But if it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen. I can reschedule it for another day. So that one is just a "C" on the trophy symbol.
The plan is in grey, because it is a plan. When I actual do some of the training, the grey bars get replaced with coloured ones, so I can see what I have done, and what I still have to do.
The plan has added a "light" week on every 4th week (for recovery). Train for more than about 3 months without a "recovery week" and your chance of an injury goes up quite a bit! My busy life means I tend to get a rest week every now and then anyway!
Of course, the plan is fully customisable, so if you really know what you are doing, or you have a coach, they can fiddle with the plan to get the best from it.
But for the rest of us, a decent, sensible, "automatic" plan is a good place to start,
It even handles my "double peak" in the Summer in a sensible manner.

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