1 Massive Reason Why Obsessing Over Your CTL Can Ruin Your Race Season

CTL, ATL, TSB - are you running your training schedule with these acronyms but not entirely sure how they effect your racing? Read on!

If you aren’t into reading, check out the video below instead!

Once Strava started to incorporate their version of a Performance Manager Chart, calling it Fitness and Freshness, athletes started to dig into their data more and look at graphs of how fit they were. While I like that Strava made the idea of Chronic Training Load (CTL), Acute Training Load (ATL), and Training Stress Balance (TSB) very easy to understand, there is one massive reason why you shouldn’t obsess over this curve and base your overall fitness solely on this one number.

CTL is what Strava calls Fitness.

ATL is what Strava calls Fatigue.

TSB is what Strava calls Form.

Ideally, you have a Fitness that is at or above 70 and a Form that is close to, or above 0.

When athletes start to rest, I hear people saying “My fitness is plummeting!” Well, sort of. You need rest, as this is when the body adapts to the stress you put on it (the riding) and you come back stronger.

Can’t I Just Count TSS Points And Look At CTL For Race Fitness?

There was a great question asked at one of our EVOQ.BIKE Power Builder Mastermind Sessions about Training Stress Score (TSS), and we discussed how you can count TSS points all day but they don’t actually show how race ready you are. They don’t account for things like Repeatability, Intensity of Workouts, Race Specific efforts.

After the Mastermind Group, I decided to do a ton of base mile riding at zone 2 and zone 3 to build up my aerobic capacity. While this will drive FITNESS according to Strava, am I really fit in the sense that most athletes are interpreting this as? What will riding a ton of base miles do to my CTL curve and Fitness Score?

As you can see from the graph from WKO4, the Blue line is Fitness, the Purple line is Fatigue, and the Yellow line is Form.

How Can I Tell If My Riding Is “At Intensity?”

From October to Late December I was just riding for fun and lifting in the gym a lot. My fitness hit a high of 84 but was mostly hovering in the mid 60s, which is very low for a competitive Category 1 racer. As you can see below, the mileage (SHOWN in percentages) was nearly ALL Zone 2 (light blue) and 3 (light green).


Let’s see what happens when I do a bunch more base mile riding to build my aerobic fitness. Here is the riding from 12/26/18 until current day, 01/22/19.


It clearly a bunch more Zone 2 and Zone 3, with just some small bouts of intensity as I tested different anaerobic benchmark durations. Remember that these are percentages of the zones, so even a hard race will only have small sections of orange and red compared to the other zones. Here is the race season from 2018:

race season.png

Clearly the orange and red is more visible, but I wanted to paint the picture that most of the lines will still be blue, green, and some yellow.

Can I Use Polarized Training Numbers To Gauge Intensity?

A different way of showing that I didn’t have much intensity is looking at the percentage of work above 85% vo2max. This is NOT percentage of FTP.

Currently my power at VO2Max is 461W, around 25W less than race season. To look at a polarized report, you can add a new column with an expression to tease out tempo wattage or below. To do this, insert the following:

“rev(sum(if(ewma(bikepower*0.0108+0.007*metric(weight),25)>0.00*athleterange(date-89,date,vo2max(meanmax(bikepower))) and ewma(bikepower*0.0108+0.007*metric(weight),25)<0.75*athleterange(date-89,date,vo2max(meanmax(bikepower))),deltatime),"week")/sum(if(ewma(bikepower,25)>=0,deltatime),"week"))”

When you do this, you’ll see the column with the blue arrow.

tempo and below.png

I’m averaging mid to high 90’s percentages for endurance and tempo; said differently, I’m not going hard at all for almost all of those months! NO SPRINTING. I had done some PMAX intervals and a one hour test which made those two weeks’ percentages much lower on the top of the chart.

Now, let’s move forward….I want to build my aerobic capacity. Let’s see what kind of riding I did.


You can see loads of endurance and tempo, one day of a threshold effort (yellow), and some zone 5, but not much.

Have you noticed, there’s almost ALWAYS very little zone 1?

Okay so let’s double check the percentages:

The first week looks too hard but it’s just one ride where I did a 15 minute effort then tempo bursts, so that’s an outlier. I have 85% tempo or close by, and less than 5% at 85% of VOMax (FTP), so I’m not going hard. Anaerobic wattage is almost less than 10 minutes each week.

Okay, you get it, I haven’t been riding hard, but riding a lot. Again, I’ve been building my aerobic fitness. Here’s the CTL:


A zoomed out view does it more justice:


The blue arrows indicate periods of rest, and between the red arrows is the previous graph.

See how important it is to step back and see the forest vs the trees? When the purple dips below the blue, you’re getting rest. When the purple climbs for a while, you’re NOT resting, and while you’re building Fitness, don’t forget that you are ALSO getting TIRED (yellow).

Am I Fit and Race Ready?

Fitness peaked at 112, and I’m currently at 106, with a Fatigue at 127 (peaked at 190) and Form at -39 (peaked at -80).

112, I’m fit!! Actually, NO!!!!! Look at how long I’ve been fatigued for! Even if I rested a few days and come to zero, I’ve been riding a ton and will be tired. A full on rest week is in order, and most people HATE rest weeks. When I provide free power file analyses for athletes, many people NEVER take a rest week. They just ride and ride and ride. This is a recipe for being overtrained, plateauing, a combination of both, and less than your best riding performance. We can help you change that.

Here is the 1 Massive reason why focusing just on CTL or Fitness Scores Can Ruin Your Season

The FITNESS score may be just AEROBIC Fitness, NOT Race Readiness

I haven’t worked ANY intensity

I haven’t worked ANY repeatability

I haven’t worked ANYTHING REMOTELY CLOSE to a race or event specific effort.

A few blistering attacks from someone with similar caliber of riding (cat 1-2 or a strong Cat 3) with only a fitness of 80, but who has been training interval specific efforts, has time at 95% VO2Max or higher, has done ANY tabata type workouts, or hit race specific efforts, would drop me like a hammer!

Said differently, while I’ve accumulated a lot of Chronic Training Load, OR FITNESS, I am NOT RACE READY and not RACE FIT. I’m actually TIRED!

Do not only use the PMC Chart to gauge whether you are ready for a race or truly fit. Use it to track what is actually tracks: Chronic Training Load and the balance between your Fitness and Freshness.

Interested to learn more? Let’s start a conversation. Respond with your thoughts in the comments or reach out to us directly!

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