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Training Center with BCSM: The nuts and bolts of a cycling training diary

The Cyclist's Training Diary.
The Cyclist’s Training Diary.

Training logs are useful tools to learn from past experiences and maximize your potential as a cyclist. The complexity of your training log will vary based on the technology you use to gauge and guide your training and the amount of analysis you wish to perform for each workout.

In its simplest form, a training log affords the cyclist a way to record the total volume of training each day in terms of time and/or distance. A simple spreadsheet or calendar (electronic or paper) is adequate for recording this information; Using an electronic spreadsheet allows for easy manipulation of data. However, it can be beneficial to record additional metrics beyond your total training volume when planning and improving your training.

By adding in some quantifiable measures for the intensity of each ride, and perhaps some brief notes about conditions and effort levels, you can make a simple training log much more effective. For instance, you could record your average effort on a 0-to-10 scale as well as your time and route one day, then ride the same loop a few weeks later, at the same effort on the 0-10 scale. If you cover the same route faster but at the same effort you have improved. The perceived effort method of gauging cycling intensity is subject to the interpretation of the individual cyclist and can be skewed by outside factors.

The 0-10 scale and any perceived effort scales are obviously quite subjective. By adding in a measurable intensity factor like heart rate, a cyclist may vastly improve the quality of his/her training and also make the training log an even more useful tool. Heart rate is a simple and relatively inexpensive way to measure your workload. Your body will respond to a certain workload by adjusting your heart rate to a certain level. This relationship is predictable with testing and experience. As your fitness improves you will be able to do more work (produce more power and cover a certain route faster) at the same heart rate.

Although external factors can affect heart rate, it is still an objective measure of cycling intensity; significantly more useful than perceived effort. If using heart rate to guide your training you should add average HR to your training log. You could also add heart rates for specific intervals or time periods depending on the workout. More advanced heart rate monitors can be downloaded to a computer for further analysis. This allows you to track not only total training time, but also the time you spend in each of your heart rate training zones.

The ability to measure one’s power during training allows the cyclist to increase the precision with which training is tracked. Riding at 150 watts will elicit a predictable heart rate and lactate response whether you are riding uphill, downhill, or even on a trainer. 150W is the same whether you are dehydrated, amped up on caffeine, or riding after an all nighter, although all of these factors can affect your heart rate at that workload. This is the great thing about training with power. Power training also allows for better and more regular tracking of performance improvement.

The necessary components of a training log vary based on the cyclist, the method or methods they use to track their training, and the level of detail they want available for analysis. The more detailed the analysis desired, the more detailed the training log must be. At the minimum I recommend a cyclist’s training log contains:

total time of ride
total distance of ride

Notes: (include description of route covered, quantifiable measure of intensity (average HR, average power, average perceived effort), conditions (hot, humid, windy, perfect…)).

Other factors that may be worth keeping track of if you have the ability:

total altitude gain/loss,
heart rates or powers for specific intervals,
best power for different lengths of time (from 1 second to 1 hour)
time in each training zone.

The more detailed your notes the more useful your training log as a record of what you’ve done. A detailed log allows you to track improvements in fitness and also provides a basis for answering questions when issues such as overtraining or poor performance arise. With proper recording of training a cyclist can learn when to push hard and when rest is necessary. Without recording your training history you increase the possibility of repeating past mistakes and missing out on future successes.

There are websites (www.trainingpeaks.com) and computer programs (WKO+) that allow a cyclist to track training volume and intensity very precisely if you have the tools and the knowledge to use them.

Adam St. Pierre is an exercise physiologist, a gait biomechanist, teaches indoor cycling training and gravity training classes, and coaches athletes at Boulder Center for Sports Medicine. Adam also coaches the Boulder Nordic Junior Race Team and coaches masters athletes in cross-country skiing, running, and cycling. Adam competes in running and cross country skiing events, primarily marathon distance and longer.

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Boulder Center for Sports Medicine was founded by Andrew Pruitt, EdD, PA-C, in 1998. For the past 12 years BCSM has been providing athletes from around the world with the highest possible level of care. BCSM offers a wide range of services, including Orthopedic Clinics, Physical Therapy, Expert 3D Bike Fitting, Running Gait Analysis, Coaching & Training, Nutrition Services, Performance Testing, and more. For more information, visit www.bch.org/sportsmedicine, or call (303) 544-5700.