Normalized Training Stress™ (NTS™) is a method of quantifying the physiological stress from a training session and is an essential element of optimized training. Join TriDot founder and CEO, Jeff Booher, and TriDot's VP of Athlete Services, John Mayfield, as they discuss how NTS considers a session’s discipline type, environment, intensity distribution, intensity levels, intensity durations, and your Training Stress Profile™ to quantify your training stress. Learn how this single metric, NTS, can help you achieve your best results and stay injury free.
Intro: This is the TriDot podcast. TriDot uses your training data and genetic profile, combined with predictive analytics and artificial intelligence to optimize your training, giving you better results in less time with fewer injuries. Our podcast is here to educate, inspire, and entertain. We’ll talk all things triathlon with expert coaches and special guests. Join the conversation and let’s improve together.
Andrew Harley: Welcome to the TriDot podcast. Great topic today. Great conversation today. But, hey, before we get to the fun, if you could just take a quick second and whatever you’re listening on, hit the subscribe button. Leave us a review. Doing that really quickly for us helps new athletes find our show. So be a friend of the podcast and do that for us. Today, guys and gals, we are talking about Normalized Training Stress. It’s going to get kind of science-y. It’s going to get kind of nerdy. But it’s going to be super beneficial to understanding the impact that every single individual training session has on your body. First up joining me for this conversation is TriDot founder and CEO Jeff Booher. Jeff is the creator of TriDot’s training optimization technology. He’s a multiple Ironman finisher who has coached dozens of professional triathletes and national champions, as well as hundreds of age groupers to podiums and PRs since he began coaching triathlon in 2003. Jeff, you ready to talk about normalized training stress?
Jeff Booher: I am ready for a stress-filled podcast.
Andrew: I’m not sure that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but it’s going to be an interesting thing. Also joining us today is Coach John Mayfield. John is a USAT Level 2 and Ironman U certified coach who leads TriDot’s athlete services Ambassador and Coaching Programs. He has coached hundreds of athletes ranging from first timers to Kona qualifiers and professional triathletes. John has been using TriDot since 2010 and coaching with TriDot since 2012. What’s up, John?
John Mayfield: Ready for another exciting day.
Andrew: I am Andrew the average triathlete, voice of the people, and captain of the middle of the pack. As always, we’ll roll through our warm-up question, settle in for our training stress conversation, and wind things down with our cool down. Let’s get to it.
Warm up theme: Time to warm up! Let’s get moving.
Andrew: Towards the end of your triathlete journey, when most of your prime racing, coaching, and TriDoting days are behind you, obviously, John, Jeff, your triathlon story is compelling enough, magnificent enough, interesting enough to merit its own book deal to pen an autobiography of all the things you saw and did during the sport. When your inevitable triathlon autobiographies hit store shelves worldwide and Kindle downloads all across the world, what is the title on the front cover of your triathlete memoir? John Mayfield.
John: I think mine’s going to be Those Who Can Do, Those Who Can’t Coach. There’s a little bit of humor in that, a little bit of truth. Not always true, but, you know…already, I was even thinking as you were reading that I can’t imagine when all of this is behind me. I don’t want to leave this behind. I want this to...
Andrew: John, to that point, I feel like these days…when I was a kid, an athlete’s autobiography or memoir would come out after they had retired. And now, athlete’s memoirs and autobiographies are coming out when they’re in the middle of their career. I always look at it and say, “They still have years left of playing sports. There’s probably so many stories and stuff that should go in their memoir, but it’s already been published.”
John: So they’ll have multiple parts—part 1, part 2.
Andrew: Let’s say yours is coming out tomorrow.
John: For me, I’ve wanted to do all these things in the sport and I’ve done a lot of things. I’ve had some success. I was never able to achieve that level that I really wanted to as an athlete. I think I have as a coach. I think that’s my true calling. I think I’m just a better coach than I am athlete. I’m blessed to have been able to find that. I still love training. I love competing. I’m still driven and competitive, but if I had to pick one, I think I would go with the coaching because I’m good at it. Better than…and I’m a decent athlete, but this is my passion and I’ve put a lot into it. For me, especially as the years pass, it becomes much more about coaching than racing myself.
Andrew: I think that’s a great pick for you. It’s a phrase that is dripping with meaning when it comes to looking at what you’ve accomplished in the sport and what you’re still accomplishing in the sport, and what you’re helping others accomplish in the sport. I want to make sure this isn’t lost on people. The twist is on a phrase. The common phrase is, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” It’s in the education sphere where that comes from and you’ve twisted is to talk about coaching. I think it’s a great pick, John. Jeff Booher, for you. What is your autobiography called?
Jeff: I went the same route as John did. Kind of took a more reflective…beyond just the athlete and really identified more with TriDot. That’s what I’m pouring…kind of the same as John. Some success as an athlete. A decent athlete. My contribution is what we have in TriDot. Building the community and technology and the team and all that. So mine I actually stole a couple phrases. There’s a title and a subtitle. They’re from our core values in little pieces. One: Doing the Right Things Right. Main title. And under that: Harnessing Knowledge and Wisdom to Better Educate, Inspire, and Serve Others. So one is it’s a focus on…not that I’ve always done things right or always do things right, but our core value is striving to do the right things right. We’re going to miss. We’re going to mess up. But continually striving to do the right things right. Harnessing that knowledge and wisdom, seeking that wisdom as we seek to better educate and inspire. So as we try to pioneer and do new things and think new creative ways and solve problems differently, that’s what I hope my legacy is and that’s what I’m remembered by. I don’t think this would be an autobiography, though. I’m hoping it would be more of a crowd source biography. What I would say in an autobiography about myself isn’t meaningful. I didn’t create the Jeff Booher coaching system or something. This is something else that we are all contributing.
Andrew: We are all TriDot.
Jeff: We are all TriDot. So I would see it as being written from the athletes and coaches and race directors and club presidents and the whole triathlon community. How can I touch, inspire, and educate, and serve as many people as possible, then turn and equip them to do the same for others?
Andrew: I’ve given a shout out before to Mike Riley’s book Finding My Voice. That’s almost what he does. He talks about how he landed in that role as the voice of Ironman. He really uses that platform to say…in my career…he really looks back on other athletes. Here are the finish line calls that stood out to me and he’s telling other athletes’ stories in his memoir. In TriDot you’ve created this thing where your legacy lives on in the athletes listening and the athletes…
John: Your story becomes a conglomeration of other people’s stories and how you make their stories richer or more satisfying.
Andrew: I love it. Mine’s not that deep. I can’t even lie to you. I can’t make it up. The one that I thought of would be my title here on the podcast: Andrew the Average Triathlete. Stories from the Middle of the Pack. I have to give credit. There’s a running story out there that I believe is called Stories from the Back of the Pack.It’s something along those lines. It’s a girl who really enjoys endurance sports. She does a lot of marathons. She does a lot of Ultra trail runs. She’s typically toward the end of the pack in there. She reminisces on what she’s seen there. That would be my multi-sport journey. Whether it’s the age group race down the road or the Ironman event on the other side of the world, I always land squarely in the middle of the pack. My experiences with the sport largely come from there. In that I don’t think that’s a bad thing. To me, the average age grouper is the heart of the sport. I think I’m right smack dab in the middle of the heart of the sport. Every time I toe the line at a starting line and I love talking with other athletes that are just like me. Hearing their stories. Even an athlete that’s in the middle of the pack that seems unremarkable, the accomplishments they’re doing, the races we’re finishing. Every finish line, every medal is a remarkable accomplishment. There’s beauty in the middle of the pack. There’s inspiration in the middle of the pack. And there’s Andrew, the average triathlete, in the middle of the pack.
Main set theme: On to the main set. Going in 3…2…1…
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Andrew: Every training session puts a certain amount of training stress on the body. A large part of optimizing triathlon training is knowing how much training stress an athlete should be looking to incur with each and every session.Guys, as we talk training stress today, this is a bit deeper and a bit tri-nerdier than our typical episodes. John, as we get a little more scientific today, is there anything our athletes need to know as we get deeper into this conversation?
John: Largely all of this is going to be informational. From there, the athlete can do with it what they want. We have a lot of athletes that are just connect and train type athletes. They connect their data, they get set up, and they do the training.
Andrew: They don’t care how it works. They like knowing it does work and just let me train.
John: The great thing is the results are the same. If you follow the training you’re going to get the results. And then there are some that do want to dig more. It’s kind of like using a cell phone. You don’t have to necessarily understand the technology that goes into it to use it. You look at things like do I have bars? Do I have signal? Do I have battery life? And that’s all you need to know and you’re good to go. Others want to dig in more. We want to make athletes aware of of this information, and then also provide information for those that do want to dig in more so they can have a level of understanding as to what’s going on.
Andrew: I’ll say for me as an athlete when it comes to TriDot, I’m usually one that likes knowing a little bit about how it works but I don’t super need to nerd out. But knowing what we’re talking about today, the more I hear you guys talk about accumulated stress and how stress affects us as triathletes, whether you like digging deep or not or consider yourself tri-nerdy or not, this is a very interesting topic. So, folks, listen in. Learn what you need to learn. Then go back to doing your training and not worrying about it.
Jeff: Andrew, you’re well on your way to becoming a full tri nerd, for sure.
Andrew: Thanks to you guys, yeah. Episode 42 of the TriDot podcast was called “The Impact of Stress on Triathlon Training.” In that we talked about how eustress or lifestyle stress can impact our training. I bring this up today because today we’re talking about stress, as well. But today it’s less about lifestyle stress and it’s 100% about the physical training stress that we incur through our training. So, guys, what is training stress and why is it measuring it so important?
John: Stress is stimulus applied to the body. Today we’re going to be specifically talking about training stress, the training, the required recovery, and the resulting adaptation from that training stress. A phrase we often use is specific training produces specific result. That’s what we’re looking to do here. Training stresses the body. Training damages the muscle fiber. It depletes glycogen, electrolytes, produces metabolic waste and byproducts. It causes inflammation.
Andrew: All that, huh?
John: All that is stress. The body must recover from that and that’s where we make adaptations, as well. This is where we gain stamina, power, efficiency, strength, speed. All of the training objectives are achieved through measured training and the recovery from that stress.
Andrew: So the concept of measuring training stress is not new. It’s the first time we’re talking about it on the podcast, but this has been understood in the endurance sports world for a long time. There’s benefit in measuring the training stress that’s put on the body. So how has training stress traditionally over the years been measured?
Jeff: I’d say going back quite a ways before all of the technology…You have a little bit of technology to know how far you’re running so they use quantification metrics. Time, distance, frequency. How many minutes, how many miles, how many sessions per week. It’s volume based. There’s really not a lot of qualifications for that.
Andrew: Just tangibly knowing what you’ve done.
Jeff: That led to the mentality of accumulation. More is better. Further, farther, more often. That accumulation mentality. As technology came into play, more of the qualification—how intense is that? There’s intensity factors. It’s not just duration or accumulation of distance or minutes or miles. But it’s that intensity factor. So going back to 40 years ago, Calvert and Bannister introduced the training impulse system. That’s one of the predecessors, I guess, to modern day measures of training stress. They put together this systematic approach to quantifying training load that include both the volume and the intensity. However, it was based on heart rate, which is a lagging indicator and different based on your fitness and a number of different things rather than what we have today: pace and power.
Andrew: To their credit, there wasn’t anything like this at that time. So they were the first ones to say, “We should do a little bit more than just the accumulation metrics. We should see what that’s doing to the body and we should measure that through heart rate.”
Jeff: Exactly. Think back to what we’re doing now and what they were doing then, we’re pioneers. This is brand new territory. Props to those guys, for sure.
Andrew: It’s like the guys who created math centuries ago.
Jeff: Yeah, just putting together the words and how do you even think about this? So that was wonderful. But it had limitations due to the technology they had to capture the metric of intensity: the heart rate. So that had some serious limitations. So then fast forward several years. This is the mid-2000s. Dr. Andrew Coggan addressed some of those limitations of TRIMPS when he developed the training stress score. That was for cycling and it primarily uses…well, it uses power rather than heart rate as a criterion measure of intensity. So many of those limitations were solved and addressed by using power, but there’s still a whole lot that remained even after that approach. As we go forward I refer to both of those. I guess that was 15-16 years ago.
Andrew: It was like the founding fathers of training stress.
Jeff: Exactly. So Dr. Coggan—and there’s others that have built upon that for run and for other things—but absolutely. They did some amazing work. He was the first one as power meters came out to how you apply this and develop this to move the ball forward. That’s been very foundational in our sport. People who want to learn the whole concept—how do you think about this? Huge contributions.
Andrew: A lot of breakthroughs from those guys. It’s such a complex thing to break down, so for them to be the first people to step in that space we’re standing on their shoulders and able to move the ball that much further down the field. With the technology we have today and the research they’ve already done. Huge, huge thanks to them. If you look at them…even TSS, which is a metric that you mentioned that’s been around for 15 or 16 years, that’s a metric that most of our athletes today are familiar with.
Jeff: If not familiar, for sure they’ve heard of it.
Andrew: Yeah, they’ve heard of it. If you’re on Zwift, a lot of platforms use TSS to measure training. We’ve taken a little step beyond that with the understanding and the tools we have at our disposal today. These things have been around for a long time.
Jeff: As we look at those I’ll refer to TRIMPS, TSS, T Score. There’s other things similar. Those are public equations or formulas for how to calculate those. We’ll just kind of compare generally all of those together to traditional approaches and then compare that to what we’re doing today and how we’re giving our best effort moving the ball even further.
Andrew: With this context we’re measuring training stress through the years, what are the actual objectives for us of measuring or quantifying this training stress?
Jeff: At a high level, we’ll be able to drill down more as we talk about taking the measurement to a more granular level, but the first thing is measuring improvement of fitness and progress. How much training can you handle? If you can’t work out every 2 to 3 days because you’re just so sore versus now you can work out a little bit every day or every other day, there’s some sense of improvement or progress and increasing your ability or work load capacity in order to take on more training we can measure that. You can say I’m quantifying the stress in a way that you can say I do more now than I could a month ago or two months ago and that helps you plan. That’s a number. A big reason is the injury prevention. Knowing I’m not—whatever that metric may be, traditional or ours—I’m not increasing it too much or too quickly in too short of a time frame. So I’m preventing injury. Or there may be a threshold level where I know that when I get above this measure I know I’m ripe for injury. So there might be some thresholds, some measures there, so that’s important for that function. We’ll look at some of the differences those and what those prior traditional approaches were. They were more at a weekly level. Like your weekly running volume. Like if I’m doing a 60 mile week or a 40 mile week. So there’s that weekly measure. The more traditional ones—the TRIMPS the TSS—are at a session level, but they don’t address subsession stresses. So how much of Zone 5 can you have at a particular level. Because it measures it as a whole session level, not at an actual zone. Some adaptations of different intensity levels require different time for you to absorb them. They have different half lives before you start the training and how long it takes you to recover from them. That changes with age and we can get into all that. The point is, the third objective in measuring is so that you can optimize your improvement. Optimize your training to get the most improvement. In technical terms what the TriDot software does is multiobjective optimization. So you have all of these objectives to increase the amount of increase or improvement or fitness per unit of time that you put in. You want to minimize the time, maximize the improvement, minimize the risk giving a whole lot of constraints: time available to train, doing 3 disciplines, how long is your race going to be? A whole lot of factors going in, so you have competing constraints as you’re trying to maximize and minimize at the same time. So the more granular you can be with that measurement helps you optimize better. So we can drill into those as we continue forward. As we think about, again, building on the work that is done before and getting more granular and introducing…just like they had to introduce concepts and words and things that no one had ever thought of before. So now that you have the words for it you can think about things differently. I ran across a quote a couple weeks ago. It says you can’t fix a problem if you don’t have the words to describe it. Because you can’t even think about it clearly. So how can you think about concepts that there aren’t words for? You can’t even have a clarity of thought to fix a problem, much less measure it, monitor it, and optimize it. So some of the things that we’ll be introducing and that are embedded in the Normalized Training Stress, or NTS, are things where we’re now thinking about things differently. So now we can measure differently. Now we can optimize differently. So we can get improved results. That’s what John said initially—that awareness of what we’re talking through. Here’s some words and concepts and things at play that I can now understand because I know there’s a word for that and I understand what that means and how it impacts the training I’m doing.
Andrew: I’m constantly reminded in our conversations of just how complex multisport training design can be. As an athlete and now as a level 1 USAT Certified Coach, I’m so thankful that TriDot does this for us. Again, these things are fascinating for us to know. It’s fascinating to know the optimization is happening. It’s fascinating to know that TriDot training is doing that for the athletes I coach and for myself as an athlete. But then to do the training and let TriDot take care of it is great because when I think about to our episode about triathlon coaching in the era of artificial intelligence, a coach…all the things you were just talking about. All the things that our algorithms are taking into account when it’s designing training for an athlete and measuring how much stress they can incur upon themselves and how that evolves over time and you’re accounting for zone 4 and zone 5 and it affects the body differently and people of different ages, you start getting into so many factors that a best a coach can do at doing that for one of their athletes…the best I can do as a coach in doing that for one of my athletes is educated guess work, at best. As opposed to letting the artificial intelligence do that for you. Anyway, I’m getting off topic. I’m getting on a coaching soap box. I’m reminding myself of John Mayfield right now because I’ve heard him rant on this several times.
Jeff: In saying that, think about the importance of what all it’s doing or getting overwhelmed or just appreciating behind the scenes of what’s going on…think about that analogy that John gave earlier with the telephone. You have athletes that are connect and train. Just connect your device and do the training. And to the cell phone—connect and talk. I want to dial and just talk. But think about all of the other things that that mobile device, the phone does. Imagine limiting yourself only to the functionality that you understand. So there’s this…go back to a rotary phone. If that’s all you…I get how that works. But all of the other things that happen and that phone can do, you don’t have to understand. You just have to know enough to make use of it.
Andrew: So we’ve established that measuring training stress is not new. The endurance sport industry has been doing this for a long time. It’s been evolving. TriDot training in itself has accounted for training stress accumulation for a long time. But the way we do it with the data and the technology that we have today, just takes a big step forward from how stress measurement has traditionally been done. So TriDot uses NTS or Normalized Training Stress to measure accumulated stress. Talk to us about what NTS is and how does it work.
Jeff: NTS is a method of quantifying your physiological stress from a training session. The six key areas of distinction from historical or traditional approaches to stress management considers...Here’s the six: discipline type, environment, intensity distribution, intensity levels, intensity duration, and your training stress profile, or your ability to absorb different types of training stress.
Andrew: I kind of had for this episode a bunch of questions written about NTS and I planned on asking, but with you saying that and introducing the six things that NTS considers, it might even be…probably it is a better approach to walk through those six things today, right?
Jeff: That’ll work.
Andrew: Cool, so let’s do that. We’re going to ad lib a little today. So the first thing NTS takes into consideration in measuring our training stress is a discipline type of our particular session. John, talk to us a little about that.
John: NTS will be determined individually for each discipline. Swimming is not cycling is not running. These are 3 different sports. They use 3 different muscle groups, largely. They use different energy systems. The physicality of the movements are different. So we need to treat them as such. We need to determine how much stress each individual discipline creates and then we can optimize training around that. So the traditional methods would score, say, an hour threshold on the bike as an hour threshold of running. Even though these are two different amounts of training stress, different demands, and different adaptations. However, they would be scored the same. So NTS breaks these down to an individual basis and addresses those individualities of swimming, cycling, and running.
Andrew: So it’s a little bit more nuanced in how it looks at each of the sports.
Jeff: Exactly right. Think about what he said. It’s kind of a matrix here. You have the difference of swim, bike, and run. But also there’s differences in each zone within each of those. The faster you go on the run you’re talking about a lot of lower limb trauma, stress, ground impact. Whereas neither of the other two have ground impact. So your body mass weight. That’s going to impact how a zone 5 or zone 6 are there. Also just the muscle size. Think about how small your muscle groups are overall for swimming versus cycling or running. One you support your body weight, impact, muscle group size. All of those have huge impacts on your body, how often you can do it, how long it takes to recover.
Andrew: The second distinction between NTS and traditional methods of measuring stress is the environment. At TriDot episode 47 of the podcast--I always have to give my episode shout outs--we talked about how TriDot leverages that environmental information into training sessions. It does it here for measuring stress, as well. So, John, talk to us about that.
John: So environment is a critical distinction. It’s something that...once we talk about it, once we throw it out there...it makes complete sense. It’s one of those things that no one argues with. It’s like, “Yeah, that makes perfect sense.” The issue is that those traditional approaches don’t take the environment into consideration. We all use functional threshold as a base to determine these scores, but those traditional methods have a static, functional threshold. So, for example, your FTP on the bike is your FTP regardless of what the environment is that you’re doing those sessions in. However, as I mentioned, we understand that’s not necessarily the case. So, say an hour session where we’re doing a whole bunch of threshold work--if you’re doing that in a 60 degree environment, that’s a very different session than if you’re doing that in 90 degrees. Even the training stress that that session creates is going to be different. However, if we don’t take that environment into consideration it’s going to score the same. Those differences in environment are not going ot be accounted for. We can make the same distinction for elevation. A session done at sea level is different than a session done at 7,000, feet of elevation. The training stress created by that session is going to be different. As you mentioned, what we’re able to do is normalize for the environment and take the environment into consideration so that...I’ve said this many, many times. Every training session within TriDot is prescribed to achieve a very specific purpose. If we don’t take into consideration the environment that the session is going to be completed in, we’re not going to necessarily achieve that desired training adaptation. So, again, we need to consider what is the environment the athlete is training in. If we’re trying to achieve a certain amount of training stress in a given session, the intensity level is going to be different. Again, whether they’re at 60 degrees or 90 degrees. Whether they’re at sea level or at elevation. The environment that the session is being completed in has to be considered for the training stress quantification to be accurate.
Andrew: Yeah, and folks, because of that...as John’s talking, make sure TriDot knows what time of day you’re doing that training session. Whether that training session is being done indoors or outdoors. Make sure it knows your location. Make sure it knows if you’re on vacation in Salt Lake City, Utah, or are you at home on the California coast? Make sure it knows where you’re at so that the purpose and the intention of that session is being done right. And so that TriDot is measuring your stress correctly and how much stress it’s incurring on your body.
Jeff: Absolutely. I think that’s key, Andrew. So you’re getting this number, but think about what that number means and how significant the changes are. If you run at 60 degrees and then again later at 90 degrees, you’ll be going 20-30 seconds different. Think of the consequences if your training isn’t prescribed or measured, you could be overtraining dramatically.
Andrew: And not know it!
Jeff: And not knowing it. Or being understimulated dramatically and not getting the gains. So measuring those--and it’s not just day to day, but it’s season to season as the temperature warms and cools. Or just measuring your results from a training session where you may live to a race scenario somewhere else. So when you’re going to make those equivocal, corresponding decisions, this is just so, so critical.
Andrew: Yeah. My Zwift TSS score does not know the conditions I’m doing that session in. My TriDot NTS score does know the environment conditions that I’m doing that session in. The third distinction between NTS and traditional methods of measuring stress is the intensity level of a particular session. Jeff, talk to us about that.
Jeff: So there’s a couple of components to this: how intensity is treated. Like I mentioned before, the traditional methods use a session level that average the intensity across the entire session. Of course that’s problematic because there’s all kinds of different workload shaping you can have in the session. So subsession factors how constructive it’s designed to do. The biggest thing with the levels themselves--and this takes just a little bit of understanding of how those traditional approaches are calculated, how those values are calculated. Basically they use a number of minutes for the duration of the session multiplied times measurement of the intensity, where 1 or 1.0 or 100% would represent threshold. 80% of threshold would be 0.8. 110% of threshold is 1.1. So there’s this linear measurement of a percent of threshold. However, as your stress level or stress impact of increasing intensities is not linear. So 10% above threshold is not 10% harder and more stressful.
Andrew: It’s more than that.
Jeff: It’s geometric. And the higher you get more and more and more it’s geometrically, exponentially more stressful. And same thing going easier. When you go 50% of threshold, that’s not half as hard. It’s very easy. That’s below your zone 2. It’s not stressful. So they have the wrong relationship between intensity as it relates to threshold. So we make that corresponding. So we have basically...it uses a dynamic intensity weighing factors for each zone that match the exponential increases in training stress associated with the increasing training intensity itself.
John: So the major limitation here with those traditional methods is they treat all training stress the same. But we know there are different types of training stress. We have aerobic stress. There’s threshold stress. Muscular, neural stress. These are all very different adaptations and achieved in different ways with different results. So this is critical in designing your training to know what is the system that you’re trying to train? What is the desired adaptation? And without making these distinctions then you can’t achieve those. So you could achieve a score and only do aerobic stress. Only do aerobic activity. You could only do threshold. But in order for an athlete to realize their true potential, they need to be trained in each one of these. So what we’re able to do here is break it down by that training stress and treat it accordingly, so, therefore, we can design training that provides the full spectrum of training and adaptation to that athlete.
Jeff: Purposeful and direct. To break down...back to John’s original telephone...you connect and train. If somebody says, “You need to do this.” You, personally, don’t. At TriDot, that’s happening behind the scenes. So that is happening. He’s describing what’s happening behind the scenes, but you’re just getting one NTS value. But know that behind the scenes, everything that John just said is happening when your training is optimized. Zone by zone. Person by person. Duration by duration.
Andrew: John, that phone analogy is getting a lot of play on this episode. You’re really earning your seat on the podcast for this one.
Jeff: You dialed in on something good there.
Andrew: What I’m hearing here is that not all stress is created equal. There are levels that we’re taking into account with NTS. But then the fourth distinction between NTS and traditional methods for measuring stress is the intensity distribution. How is that different from intensity levels?
Jeff: Intensity distribution is very important. That’s another big distinction. When you’re quantifying physical training stress, the makeup at that subsession level is critical. You can’t just use an average at the session level and average it out. It’s best to elaborate on this by using an example...say you have one session that’s 60 minutes at 68% of your FTP. Relatively easy. Zone 2. So that would score about a 46 on traditional methods. So, okay, you’ve got a number. So that would be an hour at an average of 68% of your FTP. However, you could have the same session where you’re having several minutes of really easy zone 2 and maybe 12 minutes of zone 5. 115% of your FTP. That session...there’s one built out on our site at www.tridot.com/normalized-training-stress. You see it breaks down a set. A zone 5 set where you’re having some easy, some at 115% of your FTP zone 5, back to a little bit of easy, back to zone 5. That also in 42 minutes, the average FTP is 68%. If you look at both of those, they actually score the same 46, traditionally. But where we score with NTS, one would be 29 (very easy) and the other would be 70. So it’s more than twice the NTS, the training stress.
Andrew: I know in my head--and the athletes listening know in their head--sure, you take a few minutes off the total duration of the session, but you add in 12 minutes at zone 5...that’s...I could do zone 2 for 2 hours and not incur the same amount of pain.
Jeff: There’s an infinite number of ways that you can construct training sessions. Of course they need to be designed well physiologically to where they’re going to get the adaptation. Not too much rest and not too much at one time. But you could make them up many, many different ways where they’re all going to have the same stress. You could have some that are only in zone 2 and 3 or some that are only in 5 and 6. Those are completely different energy systems, different zones, different stresses, inflammation, fatigue, all of that. It’s completely different. So that’s just a really, really important to take into account.
John: The athletes that do those zone 4, zone 5, zone 6 sessions, they know how hard those are. Those are the ones that you see on the training plan and you cringe a little bit. “How much zone 5? This is going to hurt. This is going to hurt so good.”
Andrew: You see comments on Facebook like, “Why is TriDot trying to kill me today?” It’s never the zone 2 sessions that get those comments.
John: I think an important distinction is in those traditional methods evaluate the session on the session level. So this is where that high intensity, that really hard work, those minutes and seconds that are truly creating the training stress are diluted by all of those easier efforts. So the majority of a session is going to be that easy effort, but when we look at a session level, that easy effort is going to dilute the average of that very high intensity. So this is one of the advantages of TriDot and the software that we use. We don’t look at sessions on a session level, per se. The analytics actually review every single data point that is recorded within that training file. So we’re not looking at the whole session to see how much this session training stress had. We’re looking at each individual data point within every training file and evaluating how much training stress is related to each second. So when we’re adding up these training sessions to determine these NTS values, it’s actually the sum of every single second data point created per second.
Andrew: So the fifth distinction between NTS and these more traditional methods for measuring stress is the intensity duration. Jeff, talk to us about that.
Jeff: The intensity duration is very similar. That relationship to stress adds to the intensity level itself. So as your training stress...it increases as your time at different intensities increase or continues. So that duration gets longer and is more and more stressful. Think, if you will, of a 40 minute effort at your threshold. 40 minutes. The first 10 minutes of that is not as stressful as the last 10 minutes of that. So if you’re doing 20 minutes at threshold, doing 40 minutes is not twice as stressful, it’s much more than that. If you only did 10, it’s not a fourth, it’s much less than that. You can easily do 10 minutes at your threshold. Your threshold is what you can do for an hour. 40 minutes if it’s a run.
Andrew: I’m reminded of my most recent bumping the dot on my bike assessment. I got those new zones and my first 2 by 16 minute threshold repeats, I was 3 or 4 minutes in to those new zones and thought, “This wattage isn’t bad! I’m doing real good!” And by the end of that first 16 minute block I was hurting real bad.
Jeff: So that duration...think about in an hour...even an hour at zone 2, the second hour is more stressful than the first hour. The third hour is way more stressful than the first hour. And if you do a fourth, a fifth, it gets progressively more stressful the more you do any of them. It depends on the stress level of what that curve is.
Andrew: So NTS accounts for that.
Jeff: Yep, yep, yep. There’s a number of things there because the benefit of those latter minutes matter, as well. So they get more and more meaningful, but there’s a point where there’s sharp diminishing returns to where your stress goes way up, your injury goes up.
Andrew: You’re doing too much.
Jeff: Too much. So it’s knowing right where that is and dialing it back. So that algorithm considers that progressive increase in the training stress as you continue to train at specific intensities for longer and longer durations.
Andrew: So working our way through the list, the sixth and final distinction between NTS and the more traditional methods of measuring stress is an athlete’s training stress profile. Training stress profile, John, is another one of those things that is on TriDot. An athlete can go look at it on TriDot and see the amount of stress that they’re able to handle. They can know it’s there and not completely know how it works. But for the purpose of today’s conversation, how does your training stress profile work, and, more importantly, how does it affect NTS?
John: The more important distinction here to recognize is that each athlete has a different capacity for every different type of training stress. So that’s what the training stress profile does is determine exactly how much of each type of these training stresses an athlete is able to do to safely make those adaptations from. So we’re looking at it on a discipline independent basis. So in the swim, on the bike, on the run. We’re looking at training stress in each session, each week, and across each mesocycle. Again, determining what type of training stress--whether it’s aerobic, threshold, muscular, or neural. So, again, taking into consideration all of these things and how can we create training that is going to maximize each individual’s potential while keeping them healthy. We want to give them the most training stress that we can that they can safely make adaptations from. That’s key to maximizing an athlete’s potential. All this is taken into consideration in the NTS as well.
Jeff: The way to think about this, too, is as it relates to your NTS, all of the things that we went through--the training level and how that relationship as training goes up it’s geometric, more stressful. As your training distribution, as your training duration, intensity, time duration at a specific intensity geometrically increases. The degree to which it increases is determined by your TSP. So it’s not a one size fits all as you get more and more duration. Everybody’s intensity isn’t adjusted and calculated the same. It depends on the person. Someone with a low capacity to do threshold work or neural work, their stress is going to spike sooner than someone else. So your Training Stress Profile considers things like your age, body composition, sport age, performance ability, even your genetics with our PhysiogenomiX algorithms.
Andrew: Jeff, I’m so glad that you mentioned PhysiogenomiX, because one…
Jeff: You like to say it.
Andrew: It’s one of my favorite words to say that we have in TriDot lingo. But, two, as the podcast guy, part of us being over 50 episodes into our show now is that we love saying, “There’s a podcast for that.” An athlete asks a question and I know it’s one of John’s favorite things to say is, “Hey, I could give you an answer, but you can hear about it on the podcast.” Episode 7 dives into the PhysiogenomiX. That episode is called “Harnessing Your DNA to Unleash Your Performance Potential.” Super dope title for a super dope episode. It dives into how your genetics, how your DNA, how your PhysiogenomiX influences your training stress profile, like you’re talking about. How it influences our TriDot training. I would encourage folks to go back and listen to that as we’re talking about TSP.
Jeff: Absolutely. All of that data, including your genetics, the more data you provide basically the better your NTS scoring will be. NTS uses all the factors in your training stress profile to further refine your NTS values relative to your ability to absorb each specific training session.
Andrew: I joked at the beginning of the episode about how today we would get a little bit more science-y. This episode is for the tri nerds amongst us. Topically, today has been a little deeper, but, really, when I look at those six distinctions you guys just made, the impact of NTS on our training really becomes more clear and simple than, honestly, I thought it would be. When it comes to analyzing training stress, it just makes sense that the type of discipline matters. It just makes sense that environment matters. It makes sense that intensity levels and distribution and duration matter. It just makes sense that an athlete’s individual training stress profile matters. It’s easy for a coach or an athlete like myself to take a training topic this deep an obfuscate it into being too difficult to really worry about when we think about our training, but...it’s really kind of clear that these things matter when you take them one by one like this.
Jeff: Yeah, I think cumulatively it’s pretty impactful when you think about each one of those being so fundamental and substantial when you think about how it impacts your training. Each one of those clearly works. It’s common sense. And when you factor it in with a cumulative effect with all 6 of those distinctions…
Andrew: They all have an impact on the stress that we’re incurring each session.
Jeff: Right, a huge, huge difference. So when we walk through them, that awareness...like the quote I mentioned earlier, you can’t fix a problem if you don’t have the words to describe it. You can’t even think clearly about it. So think about what we went through--you can’t effectively manage training stress that’s necessary to optimize your training if you don’t have the words or metrics to describe and quantify it. So you can’t even...in the same way, you can’t even think clearly about it if you don’t have the metrics and the terminology to measure something, how can you even think clearly about it, much less do anything about it? So while I don’t expect our listeners to be able to calculate NTS or to optimize their training, I do hope they can think more clearly about the training stress and what those factors that impact your training stress are. And how you can do your training sessions better and implement better. NTS is essential for us and our athletes as we optimize their training.
Andrew: So NTS over time...when we’re looking from day to week to month of our training...how does TriDot use NTS to manage an athlete’s training stress over time?
Jeff: I address that question this way--NTS itself doesn’t directly do that. The Normalized Training Stress is for one session. There’s a whole different algorithm and approach to managing your overall training load. Your normalized training load--NTS. So while NTS isn’t directly used, there are subcomponents that roll up into...Think of NTS as a roll-up value. A simple, single number that you can look at that’s insightful for athletes and coaches to get relative stressfulness of sessions. But the actual training optimization is based on much more granular measures of the training stress that are relative to that athlete’s training stress profile. So you have an NTS for a session, but there are subsession measures that training stress that are specific to the training stress type within that session that are much more meaningful and used in optimization itself. We can probably dig in in a future podcast for the normalized training load.
Andrew: So for the athlete, what they’re going to be wondering--and what I’ve wondered and what some athletes have asked--is what does the actual NTS number mean? What numbers maybe indicate a session was a little bit harder and what should we expect to see after an easy session?
John: So we’ve done all this talking and now what is this that we’re talking about? NTS quantifies the relative training stress for a single session. So, basically, in a number form it tells you how hard the session is. How much training stress you’re going to achieve in that session. The higher the number, the higher the amount of training stress that is going to be achieved in that session. So, for reference, 100 is equivalent to 60 minutes at FTP on the bike. So, from there, they’re relative one to another so you can draw that comparison. An easy session is probably somewhere in the 20 to 30 range. Those are going to be things like 60-minute zone 2 recovery bike rides. Things like that. Very hard, 60 minute sessions are going to be 75 to 100. So there’s going to be those longer zone 4 sessions. The zone 5. The zone 6 work. A half Iron bike may be somewhere in the low 200’s, where as full Ironman bike you’re looking at 300 plus. But it’s hard to give exact examples because there’s so many different variables that go into it. But it’s there so the athlete can see it before to know exactly how much training stress is the objective to complete. Afterward, seeing the quantification of how much training stress is realized.
Andrew: Even that is helpful in knowing that 100 is equivalent to a threshold effort for an hour. So knowing that a majority or a lot of our training sessions--unless we’re in the race prep phase--are an hour or under, we’re not going at threshold for that entire hour, so we should expect a normal under an hour session, we should expect to be under 100. So even that offers some perspective for folks. The more we look at these numbers we’re going to pick up patterns. Our easy runs are normally in the 20s. Our runs are that. I think that 100 reference point, for me at least, is super helpful. The other thing with the numbers is that each session is assigned a projected NTS before we go into that session. Then after we complete the workout, then it shows the actual NTS once that session is completed. With both of those values in front of us, is there anything an athlete needs to know or do based on how hard or easy the session was?
John: Again, it’s that number beforehand is telling you how much training stress is planned for that session. Then the number that’s there for afterwards shows how much training stress was realized. So it’s planned and actual. An important distinction here is to acknowledge this is not an accumulation metric. We want to not just accumulate a certain amount of NTS, we still want to follow that training as closely to prescribed as possible. So that still is the objective every session is to follow the training as prescribed. In doing so, you will realize that prescribed NTS number. So it’s not just going out and accumulating NTS, it’s following that training as prescribed. Another important distinction is more is not better. This is where the right amount is best. So it’s not just about going out and getting the number or getting more of the number, it’s following the training to maximize your training potential.
Andrew: Yeah. I’ll use myself as an example. I recently--now paying attention to the NTS number--on my own TriDot UX I had a threshold run. I just didn’t quite have the legs that evening to really nail all of my threshold at the pace I was supposed to. So my NTS actual on the backend of that session was just a little bit lower than what I was supposed to have taken on because I wasn’t able to get up to the paces to incur the right amount of stress. But it was close.
Jeff: Yeah, and that’s helping you...back to that same quote, you don’t need to do anything, but it gives you that insight and you start developing that perspective and that relative association of those different values and thinking more clearly about what adds the stress and what doesn’t add the stress. So you’re able to assess afterward--this is the part where I struggled on the workout or I didn’t or I skipped or I cut it short--and you see that correlation between that predicted and actual NTS.
John: It provides real-time feedback so as soon as you finish a session you can look at that NTS and see what was I supposed to do today and what did I do. Again, it’s just another one of those motivating tools to follow the training. We know that in doing that we’re going to maximize our results.
Andrew: John, when I finish a session and maybe those numbers just don’t quite match up perfectly...it means I didn’t do it as prescribed perfectly.
Jeff: What? You didn’t?
Andrew: Andrew, the average triathlete, all the time. Is there maybe a certain amount we should be concerned that I really missed the mark on this one? How far off is far and how far off is you got it pretty close?
John: It really depends on how different they are. A well executed session is going to be within a couple points within the planned NTS value, but a couple things to consider if you’re getting a larger delta between the plan and the actual: 1) Are you following the right metric in executing that session? Right along with that NTS number is an icon that’s going to tell you what is the primary metric that we want to use for executing that session? It could be a clock for run pace, a lightning bolt for power. That’s going to tell you what metric you need to use to execute that session. So, for example, a zone 2 easy run we follow heart rate for those, so you’ll see the heart icon. Make sure you’re following heart rate for that. Likewise on a threshold bike interval, that’s going to be power based. If you’re following heart rate on that session instead of power, your NTS value could be off. Another consideration is the environment. Keep in mind that your intensities will adjust as your environment changes. So if you are looking at your intensities in the morning based on temperatures when they’re cooler, they need to be updated before doing that session later in the afternoon. So if you don’t make that distinction between doing a session in the morning or the afternoon…
Jeff: You’ve got to adjust your time of day.
John: You can adjust those and make sure those are accurate. So, again, we’re doing the right training right in that session. Then maybe there’s just a disconnect. Maybe you’re not following the session as prescribed. I would encourage you to reach out if you’re working with a coach. You can reach out to our support and make sure you have the resources and the understanding to follow those sessions properly.
Andrew: So looking at the individual session on TriDot, you see the NTS number, you see the NTS score and right next to that there’s a colored line that has different shades of blue, pink, purple. We had an athlete reach out. One of our athletes from Italy. His name is Paolo. He’s become a member of the TriDot family this past year. He’s a big fan of us. We’re a big fan of him. He’s really active in our online social media community. He reached out with a really good question about that colored line. So while we are talking NTS and that little line is right next to it, I figure we could close out today’s main set with this question from our good friend Paolo.
Paolo: Hello, TriDot friends. This is Paolo from Italy. Could you please explain the meaning of the colored line underneath each session and how can we use it to make the best of our training? Thank you in advance. You are great for all you do.
John: That’s the intensity bar. It is a graphical representation of this same information. It shows you in relation how much of that session is going to be lower intensity, how much is higher intensity. The cooler colors are the low intensity, the brighter colors are the higher intensity. So if you see purples and pinks, get ready--that’s going to be a fun one.
Andrew: Buckle up!
John: That’s going to be indicative of the NTS related to that session. Then also right there is the TrainX score. So these really pair together nicely. What we would expect is when a session is executed as prescribed, we’re going to have a very high TrainX score. Hopefully our expectation would be 90+. That NTS value is going to be very close. That’s going to be a great indication that you’re doing the right training right.
Cool down theme: Great set everyone! Let’s cool down.
Andrew: One of the things we love doing on these podcast episodes is highlighting the various tri clubs around the world that make our sport great. The multisport community...there’s just nothing else like it. You see it on race day. You see it in local training club runs. Today we have one of our athletes named Brandon who is going to tell us a little bit about the Cincinnati Tri Club.
Brandon: Hi, my name is Brandon Johnson. I’m from Cincinnati, Ohio. I want to give a quick shoutout to my local tri club. But, first, a quick background on myself. This is my second year in triathlon and first year with TriDot. I got into triathlon last year as a way to challenge myself in something new and something I felt like I could do for a long time. I set a goal to complete a half Ironman. This started with a rather miserable half marathon, which I definitely didn’t train enough or properly for. Which brings me to my club shout out--I joined Cincinnati Triathlon Club, or Cinci Tri Club, after that half marathon because I knew I needed something to help motivate me. The tri club helped give me that extra push and really got me out of my comfort zone. The members and leaders put on group rides, open water swims, happy hours, cookouts, and many other group events. There are always other members and supporters at local races. They’re always quick to give you a shout out on the course. Some of the biggest advantages of joining last year were the friends I met and got to train with who really pushed me further and faster than I thought I could go. This year with races cancelled due to COVID, Cinci Tri Club has really helped keep motivation to train up by putting on self-supported races, including a virtual relay and organizing a badge challenge. The badge challenge, which was especially fun, as I was able to complete my TriDot training sessions and count those toward the different challenges that were set up. Seeing everyone share the work they put in motivated me to keep at it. I’m glad to have found such fun and inclusive group, and also now a structured training plan tailored to my own abilities. I’m glad I jumped into the sport and found Cinci Tri Club first, but I also can’t wait to see what pairing with TriDot does. Here’s to hoping next year’s racing goes back to normal. With the support of the Cinci Tri Club and TriDot I can complete my first full Ironman.
Andrew: Guys, I love what Brandon had to say about TriDot training being the perfect partner to the community of your local tri club. Is that a partnership that you guys frequently see with our athletes and their tri clubs?
Jeff: We’ve been seeing that for quite a long time. There’s so many customers, coaches, athletes, but it’s also clubs. The people that are passionate about bringing people together and building community and organizing those rides and runs and social events and really doing that. We can partner with them and provide that individual technical support for program design and support them and let them focus on that other element. I think that’s wonderful when individuals find those communities and are able to thrive and get that personal human inspiration, encouragement, accountability, and all the things that come with it.
Andrew: What stood out to me with the Cinci Tri Club, out of all the tri clubs we’ve highlighted, no one has mentioned cookouts and happy hours except Brandon. So that was like, “Oh, you guys have those? Really?”
John: That definitely caught my attention as well. I’m down for all those things.
Andrew: Well that’s it for today, folks. I want to thank TriDot founder Jeff Booher and Coach John Mayfield for introducing us to Normalized Training Stress. Shout out to Garmin for partnering with us on today’s episode. Head to garmin.com to check out all the tri tech Garmin has to offer. Enjoying the podcast? Have any triathlon questions or topics you want to hear us talk about? Or if you want to give a shout out to your tri club, head to tridot.com/podcast and click on “Leave Us a Voicemail” to record your voice asking a question or sharing a story like Brandon did for the podcast. We’ll do it all again soon. Until then, happy training.
Outro: Thanks for joining us. Make sure to subscribe and share the TriDot podcast with your triathlon crew. For more great tri content and community, connect with us on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. Ready to optimize your training? Head to tridot.com and start your free trial today! TriDot – the obvious and automatic choice for triathlon training.