A Beginner’s Guide to Recovery, Part 2: Tracking Effort Using Software
Last time, we looked at the need for recovery and the metrics that would tell us how hard we have been working in each individual workout. Today, we will look at using software to see those numbers and then start using them to plan recovery.
Before the activity, I had already input my maximum heart rate and FTP, so that the app can set up heart rate and power zones and establish metrics based off these targets that are unique to you. You must have these numbers (at least max HR) to get anything training stress related. You must also have a bike computer or use the phone app with HR or power sensors to get the data into the app.
Strava- Basic metrics are displayed after every ride, and you can get a sense of how hard you rode. Here is a look at the basic ride info and the HR data from the Two Days of Buffalo Race.
Training Peaks- This app is one of the original apps for training athletes. You can see the basic data is the same as Strava, it just looks different.
Each of these apps will tell me how hard I rode and how much workload I put on my system. The Intensity in Strava (83%) or IF in Training Peaks (.85) tell me how hard I rode based on my best numbers (see last post). If you recall from the race post, you know that I worked with another rider or riders for a lot of the race, so a .85 IF reflects that.
The Training Load in Strava (81) and Training Stress Score in Training Peaks (85) tell me how much overall work I did. The harder OR the longer the ride, the higher the Training Load or TSS will be.
Just Pick One and Pay I think you could get away with the free versions of these apps. They work great as a basic log, and are all you need except for those of us interested in tracking fitness and fatigue levels throughout the year. If you just want to figure out when to rest without a quantifiable number, do it when you feel like it, stop reading now and just go with the free versions and be happy. That’s fine, and in many ways, how you feel is an important and sometimes overlooked metric in the data driven world of cycling. I like to have a quantifiable number to track. I think the complicated algorithms used in TP and Strava work well. I think that one or the other is worth paying for.
The Strava app does a good job of logging your rides at a pretty good price. The free version is quite excellent, and the premium is only $59 a year. That is chump change in the bike world. Training Peaks premium has many great features, but it is $9.92 a month if you pay for the whole year at once. It is used almost universally by athletes with coaches because not only does it track and break down rides and workouts, but it also has a powerful training calendar where you can plan and share workouts with training estimates and figure out your weeks and training blocks.
Because I don’t use a coach, I opt for Strava premium as my one paid app. I had TP for a long time and found that in the long run the two were redundant, and that Strava was just fine for what I needed as a recreational rider and wannabe racer.
When to Consider a Rest
Daily When I see a high training load or “Suffer Score” in Strava, or when I see a high TSS in Training Peaks, I start to think before I follow that up with another hard day. There will be times when you want to hammer it a few days in a row or when you have to in the case of a hard training block or stage race. Watching those scores will help you know when to finally take a breather. It will also let you know when your active recovery is easy enough (more on that in a few installments).
Weekly This is where the programs really shine in my book. Look at the two programs and how they generate a weekly training score. This week had the A ride on Tuesday, a couple easy days, and then three races on the weekend.
These screens show the load built up over the week. Looking back at weeks, you will get an idea of what an easy or hard week is for you based on the scores. Each of the apps calculates the numbers a little differently, but you will start to see patterns develop.
I like the Strava feature (accessed through the phone or tablet app) that shows the band of usual training stress and tells me whether I am over, under, or right on track for that week.
Below, here is the Strava for this week (following Sunday's race) You can see I have had only two easy rides (before writing this on Wednesday morning). It gives me a number to keep below if I am looking to rest and maintain. It also allows me to swipe back to see other weeks.
Strava via Phone App
Fitness and Freshness
Strava and TrainingPeaks both track and give you a number that is your current “fitness” and “fatigue” score. They will also tell you your “form” which is sort of the balance between the two. As you know, we need to train hard and rest hard. As your fitness goes up, so does your fatigue. If you don’t take a few rest days, you will never be in the best “form” for big events. So, you need to watch the interaction of these numbers to help you decide when to put your foot on the gas, and when to take it off a bit. You will see that as you approach an event, you can maintain fitness and increase form by taking it a little easy. You will not lose your fitness instantly! Watch your numbers and see.
This is a premium feature in both apps, so I can only show you the Strava interface. The numbers do not correlate exactly to how TrainingPeaks does their numbers, but the total effect is the same. I have found the fitness and freshness numbers either generates to be pretty good, and I use these and the weekly totals to chart out rest days and rest weeks, as well as, increase training loads when trying to prepare for a race season or event.
So, there is only a brief look at how I use apps to track fitness and plan recovery. You really need to just go in and play with the apps on your own. Please don’t hesitate to shoot me a question. Next time, we will look at heart rate variability and how that can help give more data to make informed decisions about rest and recovery.