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Wed Jan 30 2013
Here is a list of training metrics or put simply, the numbers we use to train going from most basic, to most sophisticated:
A big deal is made nowadays about training with power and it's true it's one step closer to what's trying to be measured, but utterly useless if the wrong training intensities are prescribed:
Training metrics are merely ways of quantifying effort expended and more importantly determine what's happening physiologically -which metabolic energy pathway we're using-.
So now lets review the previous list:
Power measurement tells us how much power we're producing. It does not tell us whether we're working anaerobic glycolysis (I call this lactic power), whether we're at the top end of aerobic glycolysis (lactic tolerance), whether we're fatigued, or not, or for what period of time this is sustainable for. It tells us how much force is being applied to the pedals in a certain amount of time.
Rate of ascent tells us (with some significant degree of error) how much power we're producing; this is calculated via inclined planes and the gravitational constant. It tells us a little about about efficiency, as it's the result of power to weight. It's highly variable (every gradient produces a different result) and pedalling mechanics affect it quite a bit. And air resistance is a significant factor. With familiarity and some good climbs to train on, this one can be interesting.
The much belittled heart rate, is the only metric that actually gives us any feedback directly from our body. It tells us how fast our heart is beating and as such can give us feedback such as state of fatigue (heart rate not rising briskly at the beginning of an effort), training response (left ventricular capacity increase markedly and maximum heart rate drops with training)-it's also the only metric that has any relevance off the bike (resting heart rate, heart rate response).
Pace, of little relevance in road cycling, pace is still the standard in swimming and frequently used in athletics. Presuming constant environmental variables then velocity can be a very accurate training tool: power= force x velocity; velocity is easily measurable, leaving only drag force to find in order to give power, or a ramp test (those nasty test where you go faster and faster in 3-4' steps) can correlate pace to metabolic pathway.
Time is the dark horse of our list, people use it all the time for everything and in terms of training it's absolutely the most important thing since it's key to determining every single other metric. If we presume effort to be maximal, then time is also useful in prescribing training zones especially near the top end of the scale (anaerobic alatic Pcr-ATP systems) and aerobic glycolysis. This is familiar to anyone who has done track athletics.
Finally there's another one that's sneered at a lot: training with sensations. This has some significance if you learn to recognise what metabolic zones are being trained at a certain effort. A word of warning though, I've only ever known mature athletes with many years experience to be able to have any notion of what they are doing when it comes to sensations. I once did an experiment for a week where I did my prescribed training, but with the heat rate monitor in my pocket where I could not see it. I was accurate within 5%.
One thing to bear in mind is that all the aforementioned tools are utterly useless unless used correctly. They need to correlate closely with what's happing physiologically, hence the most important element in training is being able to determine what to train and what it correlates to in your chosen training metric. This is why getting a coach will be the best investment you can make in improving your performance. As a coach I use each and every single one of these metrics. As an athlete I use rate of ascent, sensations and heart rate.
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