Dylan Johnson's "The Problem with TrainerRoad Training Plans": it's gonna be a busy day around here

A few people here have touched on this, but many more are completely missing the point.

If you are a newbie starting TR from scratch, there is nothing in the plan descriptions that push you towards the LV plans. Please put yourselves in the shoes of a new TR user:

  • You haven’t read any blog posts
  • You haven’t read any forum posts
  • You haven’t listened to an podcasts

Even using plan builder can potentially push a newbie into a HV plan. If you’ve been putzing around in Z1/Z2 rides for 10+ hours a week, not an inconceivable task having done it myself, the plan builder might suggest a HV plan.

Yes, absolutely long time users know to stay away from HV plans unless they’re absolutely sure it’s appropriate, and many long time users are aware of the potential issue for MV plans to be too much, but the new user doesn’t know, not yet. To blindly suggest they should just intuit it or figure it out the hard way does a disservice to TR and it’s entire user base.

There is plenty the TR team can do to address this.

The easiest is to start with new descriptions for the plans. At the moment the only distinction here is time, and for a new user they may well assume more is better. TR can be much more explicit about this, pushing users to the LV plans until they are absolutely sure a higher volume plan is appropriate.

They can make new plans with distinctions in both volume an intensity. They can officially add a version of their LV plans with extra Z1/Z2 to match the volume in MV and HV. This could go a long way in providing good will to the user base, steering people away from the existing HV plans who have the time but not he physiological capacity to follow them.

They can add dynamic text to the workouts to check in with the user. Imagine instead of the same old 'instructions" each workout, the text is based on where you are in the plan. They can help the user guide themselves, check in on how they’re feeling, remind the user about ability to adjust the plan as a whole to better suit the individual.

I’m sure there’s a million other things they can do to address this, but that’s a start.

I say this all as someone who appreciates what I’ve accomplished following TR plans, and someone who has also felt burn out twice now following MV plans.

24 Likes

They both actually agree. If you listen to Chad on the Podcast he pretty much pleads with everyone that almost everyone does best on 2 hard days per week, not 3. The problem is . . . TR doesn’t do that in their plans. They put in 3 hard days no matter what plan you are in. The first question in any plan builder should tease out which direction the rider wants to go - 2 hard days per week or 3? Then build-out the plan based on that very first decision.

11 Likes

:rofl: :rofl: :rofl: Are you talking about me :hot_face: :hot_face: :hot_face:

2 Likes

Yea, that is a problem. I entered Beginner (to structured training) currently training 10+ hours/week, with a Gran Fondo in the summer and Plan Builder put me in HV all the way. Ouch!

5 Likes

I agree with this 100%, that the plan builder makes it hard to follow the advice given on the podcasts

A post was split to a new topic: Training Plan Calendar Edit Issue

I will put this out there. Polarized is not a training plan or training method. Polarized is a logical outcome for individuals that have bike raiding as there day job.
Don´t think it needed to take the deep study of a sports scientist to figure that out.
I do think that for some people (me included) sometimes the TR plans are a bit to hard, but everyone can change them as they go along if needed.
But saying that polarized is “the way” is (imho) nonsense.

1 Like

I think that Pol/Pyr is going to be the logical outcome for anyone with the time or inclination to spend more than c.14 hours a week on the bike (rough/guesstimate time, don’t @ me).

But either can also work for people with less time. As can SS, HIIT, etc. N=1, ymmv etc.

I think there are some flaws with some aspects of the TR plans/approach, but they can and do work.

Personally, I’ve finished 2 weeks of c.600 TSS on a polarised plan and don’t feel beaten up, which is a nice change from SS, but then I’m 40. While I have a full time job and a family, it is possible for me to find c.12 hours a week to ride/train (and possibly 15 in the summer with lighter evenings): not everyone is in that boat.

1 Like

I guess you don’t know sports scientists. They can turn just about anything into a publication. One recent gem led to the shocking conclusion that it is hard to win a sprint at the World Tour level if you start too far back. :roll_eyes:

2 Likes

What would be the point of these plans? I don’t think this is a good idea, because consistency will be lower. It just seems to be a reaction to overinflated egos — I should be doing more volume. Or I did more than that just riding outside, so I should be able to handle this. Going up each level in volume requires adaptations of your life around that training — sleep, nutrition, stress, etc. That is not at all obvious from the app.

I take your larger point that for beginners, this is daunting. But I would say this is just because it really is complicated. Users can override good judgement of the app by selecting plans they are not yet ready for. A personal coach would gently steer the athlete in the right direction.

1 Like

Plenty of people have the free time available to do more than 3.5 hours a week, but definitely not he capacity to handle an existing HV plan with up to 4 hours of threshold, 2 hours of sweet spot and 1.5 hours of Vo2max in a single week.

Surely there must be some benefit to providing a gentle “HV” plan, this very concept seems to be touted quite often by the TR team as they often suggest adding Z2 rides to the LV plans. Why not just make it official? Or better yet, make the Plan Builder much more sophisticated and able to fill in the gaps?

3 Likes

Agreed, with life’s pressures and job demands - I might have the time but then look at the workout and say “no way”.

Yeah see, this is the problem. When I said the ramp test does not work, I didn’t mean it didn’t work in a mathematical sense over an entire population - I meant that it does not work as a method to train by.

It can under estimate, over estimate, or it could be dead on. But you have no way of knowing - and it could change for you over time, based on training (like it did for me), or it could stay the same!

An analogy is probably the best way I can think of to illustrate what I’m trying to get at.

You could almost certainly derive an estimate for shoe size based on height, which would on average, over the entire population, give the correct result. The estimates would be off in plenty of cases, some not too bad, some where the shoe would be too tight and would cause pain, and if you persist over the long-term thinking that’s how a shoe should fit, could do even more harm. In some cases the shoe would be much too loose, which would be inefficient and slow you down. So why on earth would you use such an estimate when you can just get a ruler out an measure your foot size?

You could use the shoe-size estimator as a first guess, and then try the shoes on and go up or down a size depending on how it feels. The trouble is, what if it’s your first time wearing shoes, and you don’t have anyone around to tell you how it should feel? The analogy here being that for many of us starting with TR, this is our first time following structured training according to power - i.e. our first time wearing shoes!

Now, the problems are further compounded if you only have to wear the shoes for short trips. You can squeeze your shoes on, pop down to the shops, get home, and take them straight back off, still thinking that the pain is “normal”. The analogy here, is that the TR plans only have very short intervals at or near threshold, allowing many to overcome them through either anaerobic capacity or sheer force of will.

So measuring your feet (aka a field / TTE / KM / whatever you want to call it test) is one solution. Or you could mitigate the problem if you were forced to confront your FTP through say working up to 3x30 minutes with 5 minute rests at 100% FTP over the course of however many weeks (of course, tailoring to your TTE and working to expand that would be better, but lets just take a 60 minute TTE as a “goal” here for a stock plan and leave it at that). And of course, once you have enough experience with either of these (field tests and/or properly long FTP intervals), you could probably use the ramp test to ballpark things and then you’d be able to feel if it was wrong or not during your intervals as you’d have experience riding at your actual FTP. But honestly, at that point, maybe you’re better off just going by feel? Or just… avoiding all doubt, at the same time as getting in a solid workout, and doing the field test…

TTE (Time to Exhaustion) @ FTP can occur anywhere between 40-80 minutes (maybe slightly less, like 35, if you’re very fresh or just had a big bump in FTP). It is totally possible to ride for 45 minutes above FTP, and it is exactly as painful as you just described. Lower your target by 10W, and you can probably ride at a level that lets you go a bit longer, but instead of your legs screaming at you they’re, well, “discomfortable” is a great word for it I think.

In my experience, there’s three phases you go through, first you’re like “this is super easy, I should just dial it up” - but don’t. Then it’s like “ugh this isn’t fun, how long can I even hold this for”, and finally “okay I guess I can hold this for a fair while, I don’t really want to, I’d rather go easier, but I’m not watching ever single second tick down and/or praying for the sweet release of death so I guess I’m ok” - these three phases, for me usually happen in the first 10-20 minutes. Then eventually, after somewhere between 40-80 minutes, you sorta just run out of gas - your legs don’t explode, they just can’t hold the same watts anymore, regardless of what your brain tells them to do.

I think most people go through something similar, have a read of the Kolie Moore FTP test thread if you’re interested. But there’s also some people who, for whatever reason, will still push through and try and get as close to their ramp test FTP as they can rather than try and “feel out” their FTP - and yes, the test would be miserable for them.

In conclusion, TR developed the ramp test for a specific reason - people weren’t doing the 8 or 20 minute tests that they already had - probably because they’re long and painful. Not only that, but pacing either of those would be extremely difficult for a beginner, and I imagine not an exact science even if you’re experienced? The ramp test negates all of this, you only need a rough estimate of FTP to start with, no pacing is required, and the pain although more intense promises to be shorter lived. This makes it more attractive all around than their existing alternatives, so it makes sense they’ve made it the default. And they say they did a lot of tests, and set the FTP = 75% MAP based on the ability to complete planned workouts after it. Sure, that makes sense too - but, and this goes back to my original point, and the whole reason I risked re-opening the ramp test debate, with how short the intervals in the TR plans are, I don’t believe this was a sufficient test.

It’s a difficult problem to solve, to be honest. You do need some mental preparedness for a field test (think it’s been covered already but field test does not imply outdoors, just using that term since I think that’s the original term for such a test, happy to be corrected here). It’s also not trivial to convey the instructions for how to pace one, and some people are going to push themselves too hard no matter what, which will of course lead to just as bad an outcome as an overinflated FTP from the ramp test. And if you are completely fresh off-the-couch then you need either a fair bit of patience in the test and/or might need to take it more than once to really sort things out - with some recovery in between since truly going to TTE will mean you’re unlikely to be able to hit the same TTE the next day without any rest intervals. It probably works best with 1-on-1 coaching, but I also think KM has put out enough info for free to figure it out yourself, if you’re willing to go through it all.

The other alternative to a field test is to use modelling software like WKO5, which uses multiple “max-efforts” along your power curve to estimate your FTP. That doesn’t negate the need for testing, in fact it requires more of it, and you need to keep the model up to date with such efforts as you go. But it is an alternative that does pretty damn well without requiring you to ride at your FTP until exhaustion. Such tests are useful for giving you supra-threshold to target as well, if that’s something you’re interested in. I don’t think TR will go down the multiple-duration tests path though, because if that was their plan, they would like have implemented something along those lines already.

I think they’re more likely to keep the ramp test, and try and implement some “smarts” to suggest if your FTP is too high or too low. In fact, I think this is the “Thing #1” that Nate keeps mentioning. If you recall, they revealed a while ago that Amber was working on some specific functionality for female athletes, to help them track the impact of their menstural cycle on their performance, and perhaps adjust their workout targets accordingly. They said this was close to release quite a while ago as well. I think, and this is all just speculation so I could be way off base here, but I think that that functionality would have some overlap with detecting over-estimated FTPs, and perhaps the reason it hasn’t been released is due to it being folded into the development of “Thing #1”.

Assuming that my guess is somewhat on-target, and that they’re working on some sort of ML algo to complement the ramp test, I really wish they’d just acknowledge the issues with it now. I can see why they wouldn’t though, because it could undermine peoples confidence. But the thing is, the intertwined problems of the structure of the TR plans, which are targeted at “bang for your buck / minimal effective dose” type training, AND the over-estimated FTP problem, is already causing a loss of confidence - just look at the powder keg that is this thread, the multiple other threads popping up here and on reddit asking if they should just abandon their TR plan thanks to this (frankly, underwhelming) DJ video.

By:

  1. Adding plans that guide people towards filling extra training time with more Z2 rather than more intensity days, rather than just suggesting it in the notes and/or on the podcast, and
  2. Adding options that include longer intensity on the threshold days, for those that want a “moderate to large dose” rather than just a “minimal effective dose” , and finally
  3. Acknowledging the ramp test problems, and providing a guided “field test” workout as a suggested alternative for those who have at least a little experience under their belt.

- they would not only be adding lasting value to the TR product in the long run, they’d buy themselves time to roll out and refine “Thing #1”, assuming it is what I think it is.

Thanks for coming to my TED talk :grin:

15 Likes

Also @OreoCookie I’d just like to apologise for my the rancorous manner of my posting last night. Not an excuse - but I was way more wiped out than I realised from a long, tough event* earlier that day :sweat_smile: I’m gonna leave it up without editing as a lesson to myself not to post potential flame-war inducing stuff when I’m feeling like that.

(* I live in a country/state with zero COVID transmission, before anyone @'s me about that lol.)

9 Likes

Yep, agree with you both - IMO, Training Intensity Distribution is an artefact of basic principles (recovery, required training stimulus, etc) and constraints such as time available, rather than a goal in and of itself. i.e. the TID for a given block of time is an output of the overall plan, not an input to it.

So I definitely thing it’s legitimate to question the applicability of Polarized training as a prescriptive tool to people who are time-constrained vs those who are not (which includes, but is not limited to, pro-athletes).

What I was asking though, was if anyone had any research that pointed to pro-athletes having a different physiology than the rest of us, rather than just a “better” version of what we’ve all got. If there’s no evidence to suggest the former, then I don’t think we should be reasoning along the lines of “we can’t learn anything from the training of pros because their bodies work different to us”. Which was how I was reading a few responses on here as trending towards.

2 Likes

Not trying to derail but, since his names come up, Kolie’s commented on Reddit re Dylan’s vid and wasn’t speaking that highly of TR. Outside of it being somewhat adjacent to the theme of this whole thread I bring it up mostly because in it he also says “death to the ramp test”

Damn dude, nailed it. Most of my issues with the ramp test rolled into a neat little analogy, however you even missed the fact that in this analogy you’re still growing so your feet size is changing relative to your height all the time.

4 Likes

Good addition! I was trying to think of a way to incorporate something along those lines, best I could come up with at the time was switching shoe brands (ie changing training focus, like from endurance to anaerobic). Your idea is clearer and more accurate though.

1 Like

I get it. Just search for MV+/HV- and you will see several thread, in which people make the same argument — yours, truly, included. But with a little bit more experience, I am no longer sure whether it isn’t better to instead start from a lower-volume plan, making those workouts mandatory and pad with other workouts as time allows and you see fit. Balancing granularity with offering overwhelming choices is not easy from a product design perspective.

TR has a big hump ahead of it, and that is truly interactive workouts. Ideally, TR should take your past training history into account when suggesting a new plan. It should be more flexible and recognize when you are fatigued, and perhaps suggest to pre-pone a recovery week. Implementing this seems like a very hard problem.