Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Iron Family Tri Tech #001-Training Effect

I (John) have been training for endurance sports/activities for almost 10 years now.  I started out as a cyclist and made the leap to triathlon in 2011.  Over the years, I have done a ton of things wrong (and a few things correctly) pertaining to training, racing and nutrition.

From these successes and failures, I have been able to formulate a solid plan and strategy for my triathlon participation.  This will be the first of many posts specifically addressing what has worked and not worked for me on my journey.  So here we go:

Training Effect ("TE")

Recently, a local triathlete posted a picture of his Garmin 910XT screen after a training run, on a Facebook forum that I am active in.  Kudos to him for a successful run under difficult conditions.  In evaluating the photo of his workout summary screen, I took notice of his Training Effect ("TE") value.  I posted a comment asking him if he was familiar with that value, what it means and how to use it.  Although he was familiar with TE, he was unaware of the effects of a 4.7 TE value obtained from that workout.  Others in the group were also curious about TE, so I gave a brief summary as to what it is.  I am going to elaborate more on that explanation and how I use it in this post.

If you have a Garmin 910XT or a Suunto device, you have TE built in.  Most people do not know they have an extremely powerful training tool in their toolbox, even fewer know how to use it effectively.  TE is an algorithmic calculation developed by FirstBeat that uses the device's existing heart rate data to "accumulate" the cardiovascular and adrenal system effects of a particular workout or set of workouts.

Heart Rate ("HR") data is vitally important for effective endurance sport training.  However, there is one big inherent flaw.  HR is just an instantaneous snap shot of your exertion level.  We look at our watch on a recovery or aerobic workout and see a HR of 120.  That's good, we are not working very hard.  But, what about 10 minutes ago?  What about that hill we had to power up?  I still have X miles to go to get home, how hard should I work?  TE answers these questions.

Most athletes, when evaluating their workouts, look very closely at the average HR number.  This is useful, but does not tell the whole story.  Let's say you did a 90 minute run where you sprinted for the first 15 minutes, holding your HR at 180 BPM.  The rest of the workout, you did at a steady 120 BPM.  Doing the math (weighted average), you would have an average HR of 130 BPM.  This would appear to be a good recovery/aerobic workout based on the 130 average.  But, that 15 minutes at max effort just trashed your body.  It put huge stresses on all your systems, and without proper recovery, will adversely effect subsequent workouts.

Here is how TE is a much more effective training tool.  TE is a cumulative value that starts at 1.0 and goes as high as 5.0.  The accumulation of "points" is not linear, so getting from 1.0 to 2.0 takes less effort than going from 2.0 to 3.0.  In fact, if I am doing a run off the bike, the run TE value shoots to the 1.7 range in the first half mile or so.  As you stress your body, the value goes up.  One thing to keep in mind is that since it is cumulative, the value can NEVER go down.  If you overdo it, you overdid it and can't un-ring that bell!  This is why TE is much more effective than HR alone.  Decreasing your effort will stabilize the TE value, but if you don't back off enough, you could push it up further if the length of the workout is long.

The easiest way to start using TE is to set one of your data screens to TE, HR ZONE and TIME.  Make the TE window the largest because this value is what drives your training session.

On a side note, I have contacted Garmin and suggested that they allow TE value to be an "Alert" option on the 910XT.  This would allow us to set a value, do our thing and get feedback from the device when we have hit our goal.  I will keep you posted as to how they respond.

Since I started training with TE, I established a baseline recovery time for each value.  This is what I use, but you may want to vary it based on your fitness level and experience:

  • 2.0 = Twelve (12) hours of recovery.  Do a 2.0 effort in the morning and you can hit another discipline in the evening.  Most of your training volume each week should be done in this range.
  • 3.0 = Twenty-Four (24) hours of recovery.  I usually do these in the mornings when I do not have an evening workout planned.  I also try not to make both legs of a brick session 3.0 efforts.  Bike to 2.0 and then run to 3.0 or vice-versa.  About 2-3 sessions at this effort has worked well for me.
  • 4.0 = Thirty-Six (36) hours of recovery.  Harder or longer intervals that are near race-pace efforts.  I usually try to keep these to a maximum of one (1) per week, maybe even one (1) every other week.
  • 5.0 = Forty-Eight (48) hours of recovery, minimum!  I have only hit 5.0's in races.  This is reserved for all-out efforts in race conditions.  Simply stated, if you hit a 5.0 and you do not have a timing chip around your ankle, you waaaaaay over did it!  Take some time off.  You will be thankful later on.

Obviously, this is just a suggested baseline.  If I did a 4.0 workout, I have, 24 hours later, followed it up with a very easy (1.5 or less) trainer spin or a very easy swim effort.  Easy swims where you focus on form are a great way to get in some time when you are technically supposed to be recovering.  Just keep the effort low and the HR down.

I usually do workouts that would be described as "less than 2.0" or "build to 3.0."  Once you hit your number, back the effort down to Zone 2, or stop the workout all together.  Remember, you cannot undo over-training!

This is a graph of one of my "less than 2.0" runs.  Notice the varied pace to stabilize my HR.  Also notice the slow pace (10:59 min/mile average).  When using TE, don't worry about pace and speed.  That will come all by itself with effective training.  Just for reference, that same run, on the same course only 5 months ago was completed at a 14:37 min/mile average pace.  Next year, this easy run may be at my current race pace!

See the complete data set for this run here.

HR is in Red, Pace in Blue, Cadence in Yellow.  My Zone 2 for runs is 118-133 BPM.  This run's average HR was 126.

Below is a graph of my "build to 3.0" bike trainer workout from earlier this week.  I did about 30 minutes in Zone 2 then dropped the hammer.  As soon as TE hit 3.0, I backed it down to an easy effort to finish out the workout.  Notice the very sharp HR drop after I let off the gas.  This comes from tons of TE 2.0 workouts.  I can recover from over-exertions very easily.  This comes in handy during a race when you go off your race plan or have to go harder than you wanted to on hills or to chase down a rival.

See the complete data set for this bike trainer session here.

I hope this post helped identify why using TE is valuable and why you should pay attention to this feature if you have it.  You can find more info about TE here.  Also, feel free comment and ask questions if you have them.

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