Monitor Your Training by Keeping Some Type of Training Log

We’re off to a great start with Paddle Monster and people on all three levels of programs are busily engaged in their training.  I can tell by the level of questions that I’m getting in the forums that people are conscientious and want to do everything on the program to the best of their ability. 

One thing that is causing some to have some stress is missing workouts due to real life commitments that interfere with their ability to do all the training.  I addressed this in last week’s blog post.  Obviously you should do your best to do all the workouts, but when real life intervenes you have to do the best you can.  You find a way to minimize the effect these conflicts have on your paddling preparation and move forward.  There is no sense feeling inadequate or guilty for training time missed due to unavoidable circumstances.

The other things that are causing some stress (perhaps more for me than for the paddlers) are people trying to taper for every small race, people wanting to do their favorite workouts instead of those prescribed, or people doing extra work because they feel good at the time, are enthusiastic and believe more is better.  All of these things, though they seem minor and of little consequence at the time can, if they occur frequently enough have disastrous implications on the training program. 

There is a method to the madness of a program.  Things are arranged in a sequential order within a training cycle or block and within each week.  Tinkering with the workouts and the order in which they occur is something that should be done through collaboration of the coach and athlete rather than randomly by the athlete alone.  In this way the overall integrity of the program in terms of training load and balance of workouts within the week can be maintained, meaning the chances of achieving the long-term goal are minimally affected.

Already on occasion I have acquiesced to a request to alter the program in a way that does fundamentally change the load or balance in order to help a paddler meet a race commitment they have or balance training they are doing for more than one sport.  I’ve done this on the condition that they log their training so that we can better monitor the effect of the altered load and balance and, if things go off the rails, can pinpoint where it happened and learn from it.

If you’re going to learn from your training then one of the most important things you can do is record all your training in some kind of log or journal.  If you work with a coach it’s a good idea because it will help you and your coach monitor your training and fatigue levels and assess the impact the training program is having on you.  If you don’t have a coach and set your own program, I’d suggest it is even more important to log your training as it will help you recognize things that are successful in helping you improve, things which are not, and it should be able to help you ensure you are cycling your training properly in order to achieve maximum results.

I have recorded all of my training in some form or other since January 1979.  It’s allowed me to look back from season to season and that has allowed me to refine my training plan.  I have always taken the philosophy that if you are trying to be the best in the world at something you should leave no stone unturned.  Spending a few minutes to reflect on your day’s training and then no more than a minute or two to record some details based on that reflection seems a small investment in time and energy if it can help you better understand what you’re doing in training and the effect it is having.

There are many different ways to approach this, and the key is finding the one that works best for you both in terms of convenience and meaningful detail.  Some of the new GPS/Heart rate monitors include online software that will record your training for you.  Both Garmin Connect and Polar Flow do this, and Polar’s even allows you to record your own notes for each workout.  However if you are doing strength training in the gym like you should be, you’ll find it difficult to use these programs to log and you’ll have to have some type of ancillary log as well.  Basically it all comes down to the level of detail you wish to record.  Some people are really meticulous, recording every set of every weight workout in addition to detailed information about all their paddles and other cardiovascular work.  I tended to be much more brief in my notes, recording the workout and its objective and a couple of brief notes based on workout details and how the workout went.  The point is to find a system that works for you.

A useful approach to take is to consider the training load each day.  For cardiovascular workouts like paddling, running, swimming, cycling and cross-country skiing the training load can be estimated by considering the intensity and the duration of the day’s training session(s), with the intensity measure derived from either heart rate or perceived exertion and volume being the time in minutes.  For strength training the idea is the same, only in this case intensity is measured as the percent of your one rep max (1RM) and volume can me measured in “tonnage” (total weight lifted).  You can then use these variables to sort of figure out an overall perceived exertion value for the entire training session.

The value of considering the training load in this fashion is that it allows you to estimate the day’s “Training Impulse” which is equal to the intensity multiplied by the volume of training.  This allows you, if you’re interested, to graph your training each day.  You can do it pretty easily on your computer if you’re handy with Excel or you can just do it the old fashioned way with graph paper by just plotting the training impulse on the Y-axis vs. the date on the X-axis.

At this point, if you’re not familiar with the idea of a periodized training plan, I’d suggest you refer to my blog post at from November 16, 2012 called “Training for SUP Part 4 – Structure of a Periodized Year Plan”.  In a periodized year plan the idea is to cycle your training into chunks of increasing training loads followed by periods of lighter loading which you use to consolidate gains and prepare for the next training cycle.  Generally this results in a step-like build up of training load lasting two to three weeks, punctuated by periods of easier training usually lasting for up to a week.  Getting back to your training log, if you’re taking the time to graph your training impulse each day, over a three to four week period you’ll get to see how well you’re actually cycling your training as the step-like nature which I mentioned above should become readily apparent (see the blue lines on fig. 1).

While it’s great to record the quantitative information like training impulse, what about the qualitative, subjective impressions you have of how the training is affecting you?  Hooper and MacKinnon (1995) suggest using seven questions to monitor factors like stress, fatigue, quality of sleep, muscle quality/soreness, attitude towards training, irritability and impression of rest and overall health.  Each of these factors have been proven useful in identifying over-reaching and over-training in athletes and, although they can be affected by anything going on in our lives, often fluctuate as a result of the effects of the training program. 

Hooper and MacKinnon suggest using a 7-point rating scale for each of the following questions, where a score of 1 is good and a 7 is bad (tired, over-stressed, irritable, poor quality sleep, etc.):

  1. How do I feel?  (1- great…………………7-fatigued)
  2. How stressed do I feel?  (1-none…………………7-stressed)
  3. Am I sleeping well?  (1-yes…………………..7-no)
  4. Are my muscles sore?  (1-no……………………7-very sore)
  5. Am I enjoying training?  (1-love it……………………7-no)
  6. Am I irritable?  (1-no………………………7-yes)
  7. Do I feel healthy and well rested?  (1-yes……………………….7-no)

The sum of the scores for each of the 7 questions can then be generated and plotted on the same graph as the training impulse (see the green lines on fig. 1).

training graphFigure 1 is a graph generated by one of the sports scientists working with the Canadian Canoe-Kayak Team for an unnamed athlete.  It shows pretty clearly the relationship between the quantitative recording of training (training impulse) in blue and the qualitative assessment of training (sum of Hooper/MacKinnon questions) in green.  If the training is cycled properly and the athlete is responding appropriately the two should mirror each other with the qualitative (green) lagging slightly behind the quantitative (blue) as there is a slight lag in the body’s response to the training impulse. 

The value of showing this graphically is that it allows you to pretty readily see the following:

  • Whether your training is properly cycled
  • Whether you are responding appropriately to your training impulse

If either training impulse or the Hooper/MacKinnon sum graph looks significantly different than shown it can quickly clue you in to problems with your training program or can help you identify issues like over-reaching in training before it becomes a full blown problem of over-training. 

Whether you choose a really detailed approach to monitoring your training through some type of training log or prefer a much simpler approach, it is really advisable that you find some way that works for you to record what you do in your training – especially if you are doing more than the recommended work or altering the base program a lot.  At the very least you’ll look back on it at the end of the season with a sense of accomplishment and it will help you realize all the great work you’ve done on your fitness.  However if you are a serious racer, the records you keep will also contain a treasure trove of information about the training you did, its effectiveness, and what worked and what didn’t.  It can provide you and me as your coach with lots of valuable feedback on how to structure your training in the future to get maximal benefit from it while avoiding any mistakes that may have had a negative impact on your performance in the past.  Please, give it a try.

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  • T1000

    Larry – 3 questions: (1) you’d suggest H&M scale be recorded daily? (2) are the solid blue/green lines on the figure a smoothed average of the raw data? (3) is the training load here on the right hand side TRIMPS as measured by mins x session RPE (1-10)? I like to geek out on this stuff as you can tell 🙂
    Cheers, thanks for the great info.

    • Larry Cain

      Hi Tony,

      Thanks for the positive feedback.

      Yes, H&M values are recorded each day. Day to day variability can be quite high depending on the nature of training, sleep, quality of nutrition, etc and of course all the other things going on in an athlete’s life. Collecting data daily helps recognize trends (and potential problems) more quickly than if done weekly and larger sample of values means a weekly average is more accurate than doing the H&M at the end of the week by recall.

      Yes, the lines in the graph posted are smoothed. Somewhere I have the graph of the actual scatter for daily entries and it is pretty crazy. There has been a lot of smoothing going on here in the conversion to a weekly graph.

      Yes, training load is defined as a “TRIMP” or “training impulse”, calculated by the minutes of training x the RPE. You could also use HR zone, but I would use RPE as in this graph. If you want to really geek out figure out the time spent in each training zone to figure out an accurate average RPE for the workout.


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