Most professional and top amateur athletes keep a training diary.
Training diaries are used to keep record of your training rides and races to track your progress over long periods of time. As a coach I have all my athletes keep a training diary. When filling out a training diary, it is important to record both subjective and objective data. You will also need some way to keep track of training metrics. With some performance testing, discipline, and a diary tracking your training, you can achieve those all-important long term gains in your cycling.
Subjective data is information about how you felt during a particular effort or training session. When recording your efforts, make sure to give detailed information about how each effort felt to you as well as how long your efforts were. How you feel is not just important on days when you do hard intervals: it’s equally important on your easy, recovery days. ‘Grade’ your workouts in order to track your progress. I like to use the traditional ‘A’ through ‘F’ scale with plus or minus indications on each grade if applicable.
Objective measurements or ‘metrics’ are critical to record in your training diary. There are more than a few types of metrics to use when keeping records of your training activities. The coaches at Crank Cycling use Training Peaks software to record metrics with their athletes. Using metrics that give you specific data points like watts from a power meter or heart rate from heart rate monitors are best. Most power meters and heart rate monitors come with a software program to upload your data files for analysis. These are certainly not the only kinds of metrics available, but they are the most reliable. Here are four metrics that I use with my clients and a brief explanation of how they work.
Heart Rate is one of the older metrics available and there’s quite a bit of information about it out there in books, cycling magazines and on the internet. Because heart rate can be influenced by many variables (atmospheric temperature, stress, sleeping habits and diet, for instance) this metric has some inherent limits that will affect and limit reliability.
Wattage measured by a power meter is not new to cycling but power meters have become super reliable in the last few years. They’re inexpensive enough that even a beginning cycling enthusiast can afford one and use it with ease. Power meters have strain gauges in them that measure the force and torque (the power that the cyclist applies with their legs) in order to calculate the wattage being produced. The use of a power meter is one of the most accurate ways to measure a cyclist’s progress.
Speed and Duration can show you how fast you’ve gone on a specific course or how much endurance you have built as your workout times increase. If one of my cyclists chooses to use a heart rate monitor, I always make sure to use speed and duration along with heart rate data.
RPE-Rate of Perceived Exertion is usually represented on a 1-10 scale, 1 being an easy walk and 10 being the most physical exertion you can endure for 10 to 15 seconds. RPE scales seem to work well for riders who are in tune with their bodies and who enjoy pushing their limits. Riders who do well with RPE usually find objective data unhelpful when riding, training, and racing. They might put black tape over their computer’s head unit during training and have their coach look at the actual metrics at a later time. RPE is, of course, considered a subjective metric.
Testing yourself on the same course every 3 months to see if you have improved your performance is important to overall, long-term improvement. Make sure you take tests and record them a minimum of 3-4 times a year. Be careful to record test results in your training diary, as they will show your improvement over time. In my next blog post I’ll talk more about the types of tests you can perform.
Tracking Long Term Gains:
Your subjective feedback (how you felt during the training session), and the objective data (your heart rate, watts, speed, and duration of the session) will help give you a picture of how you are progressing. If you keep good records, you will be able to look back at past years and find out what has worked best for you over time. You will also be able to see long-term trends which will help you focus your efforts on what you are making the most gains in.
Set yourself up for success! Create realistic habits for filling out your diary on a daily basis. Make sure that the act of filling out the diary is something that you can realistically do, at a certain time, every day. For instance, if you don’t have time to fill out your diary in the evening don’t plan on doing it then. Plan to do it when you know you’ll have the time and are free to take advantage of that time like just after your ride or during a post ride snack. Attach the chore to something you’re doing already so you’ll never forget to do it!
I try to download my power/heart rate data just after my workout if possible. I write down how my legs felt before the start of my workout, after my warm-up, and how they felt during each repetition of efforts, and then grade myself (A+ through F-).
Filling out a diary will help you make sure that you’re staying on track with your training. If you need help designing a training plan for your next big ride or event, let us know: we’re experts at it and we’ll be glad to help!