Getting faster doesn’t always mean massive weekly training stress. This can be true in many cases, but improving fitness is mostly dependent on the types of stress, when you apply it, and how well you manage it.
For more information on TSS and training check out Ask a Cycling Coach Ep 271.
- High Weekly TSS may not be necessary to improve your fitness.
- Workouts can have the same TSS but have different effects on energy systems, bodily stress, and recovery.
- The goal is to train just enough to elicit consistent and measurable improvement.
- When improvements plateau, some change is necessary.
A lot of cyclists can get hung up on the numbers. And that’s not to say it’s a bad thing. Data is informative, but can be misleading is misused. In a data-filled discipline like cycling, it can be hard not to get wrapped up in the numbers.
TSS is an important metric and provides a general overview of how much work you’re doing. But comparing TSS from rider-to-rider is a mistake because it doesn’t take into account physiology, recovery, and the type of workouts. That said, high TSS does not necessarily equate to high fitness.
Not All TSS Is Created Equal
It’s important to remember that not all TSS is equal. Two different workouts can have a similar training load but can vary significantly in duration and intensity. For example, the workouts Boarstone and Ansel Adams +1 both have 97 TSS. Boarstone is a two-hour endurance ride, while Ansel Adams +1 is an hour-long anaerobic workout. Same TSS, but distinctly different energy systems, bodily stress, and recovery.
It’s critical to understand that the two types of workouts mentioned above will stress different systems in your body that need to be managed in different ways. Long-duration, low-intensity training exerts less strain on the body, hormonal imbalance, muscle damage, nutritional requirements, need for recovery, etc., than higher-intensity, higher-strain work.
How Much TSS Do You Need?
So how much weekly training stress do you need to get faster? That number will vary. The primary goal is to train just enough to elicit consistent, measurable improvement without affecting your ability to continue doing so. This concept is called the minimum effective dose.
If you’re improving your fitness, then the dose of training stress is sufficient. The amount of TSS needed to drive gains varies between athletes due to training experience and the ability to recover. So the right amount of weekly TSS is the one that improves your fitness and doesn’t compromise your consistency by overwhelming your ability to recover.
While weekly TSS is a valuable metric, one high TSS week won’t do much to grow your fitness. Instead, you’ll want to increase training stress throughout a training block steadily. You can track your six-week average TSS on your career page.
When to Add More TSS
At some point, the amount of training stress won’t be enough to drive adaptations, and the benefits will plateau. This is when some change will be necessary. You might need to aim for better recovery, sleep, or nutrition before increasing your training load. Try to see the bigger picture and recognize that slow but steady progress is always rewarded.
If you decide to increase your training stress, the easiest way is to increase your volume. However, jumping to a higher volume plan could be too much. Instead, you can increase your training load by doing a “plus” version of a workout, extending your cooldown, increasing the intensity, or add some strength training. Whatever you choose, add it slowly to prioritize sustainability.
While consistently high TSS can mean a lot of potential for gains, consistent but lower TSS can also translate into sizable fitness growth. But again, you have to manage the stress. The balance lies in following a training approach that best suits your time availability, how well you recover, and how much you want to train. Just because you can handle high TSS doesn’t mean you should. And just because you can’t handle high training loads now, doesn’t mean you won’t ever be able to in the future.
While TSS is an important metric for training, it doesn’t always tell the full story. This is why TrainerRoad’s structured workouts and training plans are strategically designed to prompt meaningful adaptation in a sustainable way.
For more cycling training knowledge, listen to Ask a Cycling Coach — the only podcast dedicated to making you a faster cyclist. New episodes are released weekly.