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CTL Concerns

The following is a portion of an email I received today from a US serviceman in Afghanistan. He expresses quite well a common concern I hear from athletes in regards to their Chronic Training Load (CTL) on the TrainingPeaks Performance Management Chart (PMC).

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The email:

Joe,

I’m something of a CTL junkie when it comes to training. If the blue line isn’t going up at 5+ ramp rate/week, then I’m not happy. But lately, I’ve realized that under my current time restrictions (around 10 hours a week of training time), there’s simply no way to maintain that level of increase, and I’ve begun to wonder what’s the point.

I got back into recreational road cycling last year as a way to lose some weight and improve fitness. But I have aspirations of racing when I get home. Last year, my CTL peaked at ~65 (starting at a hard zero), before tapering off when the weather got cold and the days got short. So I essentially re-started from zero again when I got here, and now I’m at around 80. I’m in great shape, about 7% body fat, ~150 lbs, FTP went from 180ish to 233 (@ 6000’ elevation).

So now my question is this: Should I stop worrying so much about what the blue line does, and start doing focused workouts that target FTP, VO2max, etc? Say my CTL hovers at 80 for the next 8 months… does that even matter if I’m able to increase my FTP 50 more watts and add 10% to my VO2max? Or are the two inextricably linked? E.g., my FTP/VO2max won’t actually increase if my CTL stagnates?

Jeff

My reply:

Hi Jeff,

Good questions. It sounds as if cycling race performance is your primary goal. CTL is not an expression of performance but rather a proxy for fitness. Performance and fitness aren’t the same things. You can be quite fit and yet perform poorly. The other way around is unlikely, however. FTP is a better predictor of performance than is CTL. But it’s not perfect either. It doesn’t speak to time trial pacing, sprinting, stamina, or climbing—all important subsets of cycling performance. And that doesn’t include the mental side of the sport. Or strategic and tactical skills. And many other predictors of performance such as heat tolerance and refueling. The only true predictor of race performance is racing. This is not to say that fitness markers are unimportant. But just because CTL plateaus doesn’t mean that race performance can no longer improve. 

I like to see a rider’s CTL increase rapidly throughout the base period and then show only small increases during the build period. The purpose of the build period is race readiness. While that includes fitness it also includes all of the above markers that aren’t reflected in the CTL. 

The bottom line is that there is no single metric in TrainingPeaks that is the end-all and be-all of race performance. But at the same time, there are metrics there; such as CTL, FTP, EF, VI, TSB, and more; that show you how you’re doing. Performance preparation should not be boiled down to just one of these metrics. There are likely several that are unique to your personal performance weaknesses. I call these your “limiters.” Those should also be measured and frequently monitored to see how you are progressing.

I hope this helps a bit. Thanks for your service to the country and all the best for your training.

Joe


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