I’ve posted a few times here on how you can use the Performance Management Chart to manage your training with topics on CTL (“fitness”), ATL (“fatigue”), and TSB (“form”). If you are unfamiliar with these three TrainingPeaks terms you can find brief definitions here. A topic I’ve never written about before is how you can use TSB on the PMC to manage your training throughout the season to achieve what you are aiming for at any given time.
The accompanying chart (click to enlarge) for Dave Schell, a TrainingPeaks employee, shows his training for an entire year. The jagged lines are CTL (blue), ATL (fuchsia), and TSB (yellow). What I want to focus on with his chart is TSB. That’s a proxy for “form,” or in another word, “freshness.” Basically, it has to do with race readiness. As the yellow TSB line falls on the chart Dave is becoming less fresh—he’s losing form. As the line rises, Dave is becoming more fresh—“coming into form.” When TSB is above the dashed yellow line in the middle of the chart Dave is “on form.” But if that line gets too high, as it was at the end of his race season around 9/1 to 10/1 on the right end of the chart, then he is very fresh, but has lost so much fitness (CTL dropped precipitously) that he is certainly not ready to race.
All of this is how TSB is typically used to monitor training. But I’d like to show you another way to think about TSB—and help you manage your training.
On the right side of the chart is the yellow TSB legend. Notice that there’s a “0” (zero) in that legend about in the middle. That’s the balance point for TSB. Above that is positive TSB/form ("fresh") and below it is negative TSB/form ("not fresh"). The more positive (the higher above 0), the fresher Dave is. The more negative (dropping below 0), the more tired Dave is.
Now notice the circles also on the right side legend. I’ve put circles around five, numerical “TSB zones.” Each of these represents a zone indicating a stage in the training process. Those colored zones are also indicated by similarly colored straight lines across the chart. I’ve put a title in each zone. I’ll walk you through each of them.
Let’s start at the bottom with the red “High Risk Zone.” Back on the right side legend again you can see this zone is below -30 TSB. I call it “High Risk” because if you spend much time here you will create great fatigue and are flirting with extreme overreaching that would likely become overtraining if continued for too long. Notice that Dave was in this zone several times throughout his season, but only one episode was long enough to be risky—in the last few days of March and early April. This represents a period of very hard training for Dave. In early April he backed off by doing easier training and his TSB began to rise indicating he was moving toward freshness. That’s exactly the way you should react when you find yourself deep in the High Risk Zone. This is the time to reduce training so that you exit the red zone quickly. How quickly you need to react depends on your unique capacity for training stress. It’s usually best to stay there no more than a few days at a time. You may only get into this zone two to four extended times in a season with an R&R break ending each of them.
The green circle and horizontal line mark the “Optimal Training Zone.” On the TSB legend the green circle covers the range of -10 to -30. Notice that Dave is spending quite a bit of TSB time here throughout the season. That’s good because, as the title indicates, this is typically when the most effective training occurs.
Going up the legend, the grey circle (-10 to +5) and grey line indicate what I call the “Grey Zone.” You don’t want to spend too much training time here because there’s not much happening that will improve fitness. You’re sort of at a plateau in training. This is typically the zone you are in during a rest and recovery week, when tapering for an A-priority race, and when returning to hard training following an extended break.
The “Freshness Zone” (blue) extends from +5 to +25. Some place in this zone is probably where you should be on race day when coming into form for an A race or at the end of the season when taking an extended break (the “Transition” period). You can see that Dave’s yellow TSB line is in this zone just a few times for races and when entering end-of-season recovery (about 9/1 to 10/15). Freshness is fully realized when in this zone, but how high an athlete may want to be here on race day varies. Some athletes race better when high in the zone around +20 to +25, and others when low in the zone at about +5 to +10. That’s one of thing you can only determine from trial and error.
The orange “Transitional Zone” is typically only entered at the end of the season when in the Transition period. The only other times you may unfortunately find yourself in this zone is when you have an extended break due to injury or illness. In other words, this is the zone of little to no training. It’s very safe, but fitness is also very low.
So that’s it. I should also point out that the numerical ranges I’ve described here for each zone will work for most athletes, but there are many outliers for whom the zones are either too high or too low. Adjustments should be made based on experience. This is just another reason why having a smart coach is a good idea. He or she can manage all of this—and a lot more—taking the burden off of you.