CTL Ramp Rates, TSB floors & Loading Patterns:
Easy as 1,2,3!
Alan Couzens, M.Sc. (Sports Science)
May 22nd, 2015
Joe Friel wrote a great blog last week addressing the question of CTL (Chronic Training Load) ramp rates, i.e. just how steep can we ramp an athlete’s training load before the proverbial engine stalls and the athlete comes plummeting back to earth?
I agree 100% with Joe’s statement that the 'right' answer to this is incredibly individual. Some athletes are simply more robust than others and can handle a more aggressive ramp. As luck would have it, this type of athlete also typically needs an aggressive ramp to keep up with the more ‘talented’ (but also more fragile) ‘natural’ athlete who is easily broken with an overly aggressive approach.
Joe suggests that most folks can handle a ramp of 5-8 CTL per week. Perhaps it's just me growing more and more cautious as the years pass, but I’ve found these numbers to be a little too aggressive over the long term among my sample of high performance (often working age group/'high life stress') athletes. I typically aim for a more conservative long term ramp of 3-5 CTL per week (or ~10-20 per 4 week block) as a good long term figure. The words of Alberto Salazar always in the back of my mind….
“Be patient not a patient” :-)
If we play this out, even at a ramp of 10 per month, over the course of a full annual plan, an athlete beginning with even modest fitness can begin to approach typical top age group CTL numbers of 150 or so providing the ramp is gentle enough to not create any of the interruptions through the year that Joe talks about – overtraining, illness, injury etc.
OK, I hear you say, it’s all well and good to have this mathematical concept in mind, but I’m guessing that as an athlete reading this blog, your next question is, OK coach, so what day to day training will lead me to this ramp rate?
The 1,2,3 rule of thumb I mention in the header is a good starting point…
It goes like this... (assuming default constants of 42/7)
Target CTL ramp rate = ~10 per month
Target TSB floor (i.e. where your Training Stress Balance will bottom out at the end of a 3 week loading period) ~= -20 TSB
Target daily TSS load = CTL+~30 per day.
Easy as 1,2,3!
A worked example....
Athlete’s current CTL (fitness) is 100 TSS/d and we want it to be 110 TSS/d by the end of the 4 week block.
We know that a TSB of -20 is a safe ‘bottom’ for this athlete.
So we plan the loading days for the 3 loading weeks (of the 4 week block) as 100 +~30 = ~130TSS/d.Of course at the end of the block, the athlete will have a new CTL of 110 so loading days for the next block will need to be 140TSS/d… Finnegan begin again (until Finnegan runs out of time/life space :-)
So, what does the recovery week/recovery days look like?
Conveniently enough, 7 days at CTL-30 at the end of the block will bring the athlete back to a ‘neutral’ freshness of TSB ~ 0 ready to start the next block (for our athlete above, a TSS load during the recovery week of 100-30 = ~70TSS/d)
With a proven athlete or an athlete with a high constitution but lower than average response, it may be more like a 2,4,6 rule, i.e. ramp rate of 20, TSB floor of -40, daily loading of CTL+60. But athletes who can handle this sort of 5TSS/wk ramp over the long term are the exception rather than the rule.
Of course, this ‘flat loading’ process is as boring to the body as it sounds to the head. There is real benefit in implementing more variability in the load to avoid ‘training monotony’ - something that can significantly diminish the response than an athlete gets from a give training load, i.e. for an average load week of 100TSS/d, having some days at 150, others at 50 and maybe even a big day at 200 & (perish the thought :-), a true rest day of zero. I’ll talk about the advantages of that type of approach in a future post. But for now…
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