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TSS, CTL and Measuring Fitness Progression

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TSS, CTL and Measuring Fitness Progression

Old 03-15-21, 09:44 AM
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goose70
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TSS, CTL and Measuring Fitness Progression

For the past year I've been using Training Peaks' CTL (Chronic Training Load) and TSB (fatigue measurement) to help me gauge my fitness level and plan my training, and using predicted TSS (training stress load) to plan what workouts to slot into my schedule and when. It recently occurred to me that the baseline metrics used to set TSS and thereby impact the rest of my scores is my FTP from 18-months ago. It was much lower then as I was recovering from injury. When I went to update it, I learned that all of these training scores are tied to it and so they all adjusted significantly downwards. So, I returned back to the old numbers because one of the most valuable aspects of Training Peaks is providing an apples-to-apples record of my fitness and fatigue throughout the year.

This leads me to my question: If I constantly update my FTP and other metrics into Training Peaks, what other measure of fitness could I use to visually compare progress/regress throughout the year. I feel like I'm missing something fundamental.
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Old 03-15-21, 09:53 AM
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well, let's start off with the basic thing that CTL is not a measure of fitness, despite it being called that by many people. CTL is just a measure of how much training you've done. A high CTL for me just tells me I have done a lot of work and, if my TSB isn't too far down, that I can routinely handle bigger rides. Currently my CTL is 83 and TSB is -23, but I wouldn't consider myself especially fit at the moment. I've just a lot of volume recently and have been able to do 165TSS back to back days in a way that left me less tired than if I were to attempt such a thing when my CTL is like in the 60's. Hope that helps a bit
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Old 03-15-21, 12:27 PM
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Well if larger CTL means "that I can routinely handle bigger rides," then I would say it is a measure of fitness. If "fitness" isn't that, then what is it? Along with being able to handle bigger rides, a high CTL means that I'll be faster on the shorter ones, too.

Anyway, back to the OP's question. When you update your FTP and then recalculate your zones in your account Settings/Zones, your workout TSS from that day forward will be affected by the new power levels shown for each zone. Your previous workout TSS will be unaffected. That's what you want. As you point out, it is possible to use the PMC to update past workouts to align with the new FTP, but IMO you never want to do that. Those TSS were based on your current physical stress at that time with the old FTP. As your FTP changes, you want future workouts to be based on the new FTP. I hope this answer addresses your concern, though I'm not really clear on what that concern was.
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Old 03-15-21, 12:54 PM
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Well people conflate CTL with some sort of race-ready fitness, which is kind of where my head was. So it's some sort of "fitness" but may not necessarily be the type of fitness one needs for the ride/event
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Old 03-15-21, 12:54 PM
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Your increased FTP is one measure of your improved fitness.
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Old 03-15-21, 01:05 PM
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Ok, thanks for the replies. I was (improperly, it appears) thinking of CTL as some sort of overarching, objective fitness score....sort of like FTP but more comprehensive. I guess I was using it wrong.

For my indoor workouts on the smart trainer (which has been about 60% of my workouts over the last year, sadly), I use Sufferfest, which adjusts my workouts to account for my periodic testing. So the workouts do progress relative to my fitness, as they should, but when that data is transferred to Training Peaks, TP reads those efforts through the lens of my old fitness metrics. I do wish there were a way to track daily fitness relative to some objective criteria. FTP is all well and good, but I don't plan to do daily or even weekly FTP tests. Probably overthinking this. As team rides and races (hopefully) start again, I'll be able to go back to using those to gauge where I am relative to others and to assess my own progression.
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Old 03-15-21, 01:06 PM
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Are you not happy that your CTL doesn't keep going up despite the larger ftp but likely similar training hours?

Big CTL numbers are closely related to big hourly expenditure on the bike (accounting for some intensity also).

A person with an ftp of 250 could have a CTL of 100 (albeit their ftp won't stay 250 for long). Or you can have an ftp of 300 on a CTL of only 60.

Use it to plan, don't necessarily use it to measure ability. Use tests, races, a simulated race, KOMs on Strava to measure out ability. See how many sets of a workout you can do to gauge your "depth" at a power level. Only 5 reps of 30/30's for 3 sets? Not very "deep". Doing 10 reps of 30/30s for 5 sets.........deeper. Doing 8min sets 5x? Deeper than doing it 3x. Etc......

Performance itself lets you know how you perform. Not CTL. A CTL of 75 doesn't necessarily equate to doing 350w for 5min in a test or KOM try. Etc........
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Old 03-15-21, 01:18 PM
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Originally Posted by goose70 View Post
what other measure of fitness could I use to visually compare progress/regress throughout the year. I feel like I'm missing something fundamental.
Use performance to measure fitness.

As mentioned, CTL and TSB and all of that are not measures of fitness. They merely reflect what you have done, and the numbers are, as you've learned, relatively useless if the appropriate FTP is not used.

I use critical power values, i.e., what I can do for 1 minute, 5 minutes, 15 minutes, 45 minutes, etc. If those are trending to historical levels, then I know I'm good to go. If not, I know there's something to work towards. That plus actual performance on group rides and races.

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Old 03-15-21, 01:38 PM
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Originally Posted by burnthesheep View Post
Are you not happy that your CTL doesn't keep going up despite the larger ftp but likely similar training hours?

Big CTL numbers are closely related to big hourly expenditure on the bike (accounting for some intensity also).

A person with an ftp of 250 could have a CTL of 100 (albeit their ftp won't stay 250 for long). Or you can have an ftp of 300 on a CTL of only 60.
Yep, you nailed it. That was my concern. This thread has helped me better understand what CTL really means and how to use it (and how not to use it) in my training. BTW, this also explains why Training Peaks would show me with very high fatigue numbers and associated warnings about taking it easy, even though I felt fine.
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Old 03-16-21, 05:29 AM
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Originally Posted by goose70 View Post
Yep, you nailed it. That was my concern. This thread has helped me better understand what CTL really means and how to use it (and how not to use it) in my training. BTW, this also explains why Training Peaks would show me with very high fatigue numbers and associated warnings about taking it easy, even though I felt fine.
I have loved tracking KJ's per week as a really generic overall tracker of aerobic gains. As long as it isn't all a super ton of zone 1 farting around, it's building some capability. So, if during this 3 month quarter I averaged 4500 KJ/week instead of the 4100 I did in the last quarter of 2020 my aerobic engine should be bigger if I'm doing the same kind of work with the same number of hours.

That way, if my CTL stagnates due to hours I have something to be able to track advancement or progression that's indicative of hours plus ftp or hours plus time in zones kind of.
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Old 03-17-21, 12:46 PM
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A workout is a stress on your body, and if you have enough recovery, your body adapts to that stress by becoming fitter. If you slack off, you lose fitness pretty quickly. CTL and ATL are recency-weighted averages of the training stress scores from your last 6 weeks and 1 week of workouts, and are ways to quantify this. I did read one opinion that CTL and ATL are really only useful for calculating TSB, to be used as a guide for training and tapering, but I also know that coaches use CTL as a useful number in its own right.

The conventional wisdom is that you should re-test your FTP every 4–6 weeks. This can lead to some discouraging results: If you are getting fitter but using the same FTP number, your workouts get easier and easier—you're not stressing your body as much—but you keep stepping up your CTL. That seems great! No pain, all gain. When you eventually re-test, all of a sudden you need to work a lot harder to get the same amount of "credit"—that is, TSS—because TSS (and by extension CTL and ATL) is calibrated to your FTP. In other words, as Greg LeMond said, "it doesn't get easier, you just go faster."

It also means that if you're consistently riding (for example) workouts with a TSS of 80, your CTL can never go above 80 (I realize this is an artificial example).

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Old 03-17-21, 01:38 PM
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Originally Posted by adamrice View Post
A workout is a stress on your body, and if you have enough recovery, your body adapts to that stress by becoming fitter.
Workouts stress your body and provide stimulus for adaptation. Rest or recovery doesn't provide any further stimulus for adaptation. Fatigue may mask performance improvements in the absence of enough rest.
Originally Posted by adamrice View Post
CTL and ATL are recency-weighted averages of the training stress scores from your last 6 weeks and 1 week of workouts, ...
Not now. Not ever.

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Old 03-17-21, 02:56 PM
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Originally Posted by burnthesheep View Post
I have loved tracking KJ's per week as a really generic overall tracker of aerobic gains.
In the last 12 weeks, I've one 6x 10 MJ weeks interspersed with 5-7 MJ weeks. I just posted 10-17 minute lifetime PRs, and I've been riding for 15 plus years, with 14 years of structured training, so I don't typically make that many gains.

I'm kind of blown away at the improvement, even if my training hasn't been as consistent as initially planned and my second vaccination shot has affected my upper end abilities this last week.
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Old 03-17-21, 03:01 PM
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Originally Posted by adamrice View Post
If you are getting fitter but using the same FTP number, your workouts get easier and easier—you're not stressing your body as much—but you keep stepping up your CTL. That seems great! No pain, all gain.
Do people actually do this in real life? I don't know anyone that does the same workouts in the hopes they get easier. It's completely antithetical to the entire point of doing workouts: getting faster.

I can understand maybe group rides getting "easier", in the sense that maybe you don't get dropped. But going out for 4 x 5 minutes of hill repeats? Or 45 minutes of threshold? Or whatever other random workout that's become the flavor of the week?

I don't ride with or really talk to newer riders, so maybe this does happen, but it sounds pretty bizarre.
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Old 03-17-21, 03:07 PM
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Originally Posted by rubiksoval View Post
Do people actually do this in real life?
I do. I spend a lot of time on my erg, and have a relatively small repertoire of interval patterns that I ride. I don't do them "in the hopes they'll get easier," but they do get easier: when I set a new FTP mark and then start training to that, initially those same workouts I've done before are noticeably harder. Gradually they get easier. Then I set another FTP mark, and the process repeats.
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Old 03-17-21, 03:22 PM
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Originally Posted by adamrice View Post
I do. I spend a lot of time on my erg, and have a relatively small repertoire of interval patterns that I ride. I don't do them "in the hopes they'll get easier," but they do get easier: when I set a new FTP mark and then start training to that, initially those same workouts I've done before are noticeably harder. Gradually they get easier. Then I set another FTP mark, and the process repeats.
Why do you not just ride it harder? Or extend the time of the interval? Or do another one?

I'm not sure anyone should ever be doing the exact same workout. It's a bit redundant from a stress point of view. Waiting on a test to tell you to change your numbers is a very non-organic way of training.

That's another great part of a powermeter. Instant adjustability, instant feedback, instant "testing:".
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Old 03-17-21, 03:27 PM
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Originally Posted by rubiksoval View Post
In the last 12 weeks, I've one 6x 10 MJ weeks interspersed with 5-7 MJ weeks. I just posted 10-17 minute lifetime PRs, and I've been riding for 15 plus years, with 14 years of structured training, so I don't typically make that many gains.

I'm kind of blown away at the improvement, even if my training hasn't been as consistent as initially planned and my second vaccination shot has affected my upper end abilities this last week.
Epic gains! Good work.
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Old 03-17-21, 03:34 PM
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Originally Posted by rubiksoval View Post
Why do you not just ride it harder? Or extend the time of the interval? Or do another one?
1. I'm incredibly lazy.
2. When I reset my FTP, the change is probably by only 4% or so. If I'm trying to keep my perceived effort the same (which I consider unreliable, or of which I am a terrible judge), an additional rep would be overkill; extending the duration of the interval happens to be impossible with the software I'm using (Rouvy). I could increase the resistance.
3. There's a sort of chicken-and-egg problem here. I could subjectively say "this workout seems easier than last time," but I feel like a big reason for regular FTP tests is to quantify that and remove the guesswork.
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Old 03-18-21, 12:56 AM
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Originally Posted by rubiksoval View Post
Why do you not just ride it harder? Or extend the time of the interval? Or do another one?

I'm not sure anyone should ever be doing the exact same workout. It's a bit redundant from a stress point of view. Waiting on a test to tell you to change your numbers is a very non-organic way of training.

That's another great part of a powermeter. Instant adjustability, instant feedback, instant "testing:".
That might be relatable for outdoor riding, or freeform indoor training... but with most interval training apps done in ERG mode, the standard approach is
i) do FTP test (or whatever fancy fitness test the app calls for)
ii) workouts are automatically adjusted to results of (i)
iii) repeat (i) where appropriate, which automatically triggers (ii) afterwards
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Old 03-18-21, 05:53 AM
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Originally Posted by atwl77 View Post
That might be relatable for outdoor riding, or freeform indoor training... but with most interval training apps done in ERG mode, the standard approach is
i) do FTP test (or whatever fancy fitness test the app calls for)
ii) workouts are automatically adjusted to results of (i)
iii) repeat (i) where appropriate, which automatically triggers (ii) afterwards
For now, machine learning is coming.

Coached individuals and individuals with the time and knowhow to intervene already do the "machine learning" themselves. The machine learning will adapt your training automatically to the patterns it sensese.

So, it won't be test, do exact workouts, retest for much longer.
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Old 03-18-21, 06:17 AM
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Originally Posted by adamrice View Post
3. There's a sort of chicken-and-egg problem here. I could subjectively say "this workout seems easier than last time," but I feel like a big reason for regular FTP tests is to quantify that and remove the guesswork.

I think that's the problem with FTP tests and training to FTP tests, in general. You have a bad day on the test, then what? You keep doing what you're doing? You have a chainless day on the test, then what? You have numbers you can't recreate on a daily basis? You put in big blocks of training and get fitter but the test number only shows a 2-3 watt gain, then what? It can be very circular.

I feel like it's a lot better to shoot for power targets in workouts and adjust accordingly. On good days, I've hit 15-20w over target. On bad days, I'll be 10-15 below or simply bail on the workout depending on the purpose of the workout.

I can't remember ever doing exactly the same workout twice (but I don't do workouts indoors, either, so I can see that being a factor). Even then, variability is the key to adaptation, and extension of work is one of the top workout goals in elite level coaching repertoires.
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Old 03-18-21, 06:19 AM
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Originally Posted by atwl77 View Post
That might be relatable for outdoor riding, or freeform indoor training... but with most interval training apps done in ERG mode, the standard approach is
i) do FTP test (or whatever fancy fitness test the app calls for)
ii) workouts are automatically adjusted to results of (i)
iii) repeat (i) where appropriate, which automatically triggers (ii) afterwards
Yeah. I understand how TR and Sufferfest and all work.

My question is why you'd follow that to the T? If you have the tools that give you instant and accurate feedback, why limit yourself to a program that has no idea what kind of day you're actually having on the bike?

Maybe, as you say, it's simply a result of training indoors all the time. But you don't have to use erg mode for everything!
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Old 03-18-21, 08:57 AM
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Originally Posted by rubiksoval View Post
Yeah. I understand how TR and Sufferfest and all work.

My question is why you'd follow that to the T? If you have the tools that give you instant and accurate feedback, why limit yourself to a program that has no idea what kind of day you're actually having on the bike?

Maybe, as you say, it's simply a result of training indoors all the time. But you don't have to use erg mode for everything!
Well, ERG mode is very convenient. No need to think, just pedal and the system takes care of the rest.
It's strict - you can't sneak in a break. If it wants you to do 300W, you do 300W.

And yeah, I don't have to use ERG for everything. When I don't feel like ERG intervals, I go ride on Zwift. Maybe do a climb on ADZ or Ventoux. Or try to keep up with one of the pace partners. Or join a race.

As for the good day/bad day thing, I think that can be a double-edged sword. The good thing is you can alter your effort based on feel; but on the other hand, it can turn into a lazy excuse to do less work. Oh I didn't sleep so good tonight, well let's do 220W instead of 240W. Oh I did some housework earlier, oh I spent the whole day doing this, that, etc. But having said that, I don't know about TR but The Sufferfest does let you alter efforts by % up/down if necessary. But personally if I don't feel like doing VO2 Max intervals that day, rather than reduce effort I'd rather just pick a different workout, like maybe doing longer tempo intervals, as long as the resulting TSS is somewhat close.
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Old 03-18-21, 10:04 AM
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Originally Posted by atwl77 View Post
Well, ERG mode is very convenient. No need to think, just pedal and the system takes care of the rest.
It's strict - you can't sneak in a break. If it wants you to do 300W, you do 300W.

And yeah, I don't have to use ERG for everything. When I don't feel like ERG intervals, I go ride on Zwift. Maybe do a climb on ADZ or Ventoux. Or try to keep up with one of the pace partners. Or join a race.

As for the good day/bad day thing, I think that can be a double-edged sword. The good thing is you can alter your effort based on feel; but on the other hand, it can turn into a lazy excuse to do less work. Oh I didn't sleep so good tonight, well let's do 220W instead of 240W. Oh I did some housework earlier, oh I spent the whole day doing this, that, etc. But having said that, I don't know about TR but The Sufferfest does let you alter efforts by % up/down if necessary. But personally if I don't feel like doing VO2 Max intervals that day, rather than reduce effort I'd rather just pick a different workout, like maybe doing longer tempo intervals, as long as the resulting TSS is somewhat close.
But are you training to hit a particular TSS, or are you training for improved performance?

That's the thing I'm kind of getting at...If your goal is improved performance relative to other people, i.e., racing, then it's a bit different than saying I don't want to do one workout so I'm going to do a different one instead as long as my TSS is the same.

TSS really doesn't have anything to do with anything; it's a number (potentially quite arbitrary) that should be relatively reflective of the stress you've implemented, but may not be. Using it as an indicator of whether or not a workout is appropriate is, in my opinion, 100% wrong, unless your entire training regiment is based solely around said numbers.

If you're actually trying to become a better/faster/stronger rider, there are more effective ways of doing that.

It seems erg mode and generic systems like TR and SufferFest have really taken away the art of actually training and replaced it with notions of mechanized training that may or may not be applicable to any given person on any given day. And that, I assert, can be more detrimental to gains than using periodized training, specificity, and your power meter to tailor your plans and daily training to best meet your hoped-for outcomes.
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Old 03-18-21, 09:40 PM
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Originally Posted by rubiksoval View Post
But are you training to hit a particular TSS, or are you training for improved performance?
Well yes I am training to target TSS, because it represents load or what was mentioned upthread, "ability to handle bigger rides". Maybe the kind of stuff you do prefers a different sort of training - I can see the periodized thing you prefer would benefit seasonal races and such, and that you have the time put into training for it.

But for me, my weekday time is limited. Sometimes I'm tired from work. Sometimes I have an hour to cram a workout in, sometimes I can afford 90 minutes. Sometimes I miss days due to either family, work or personal circumstances. I don't want to follow a structured or periodized plan that prescribes doing specific things, because each day is highly variable. At most I'll think "this week I want to do climbing-focused workouts", "next week I'll do some tempo work" and so on, with some TSS in mind to fit into a longer term CTL/TSB goal. So if on some particular day I had planned for a shorter high IF workout but I didn't get enough sleep that day, screw that plan. I'll just pick a lower IF but longer duration, assuming I can afford the extra duration, to try and match the TSS. Or even a simple 20 TSS recovery. After all, some TSS is better than no TSS.
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