CTL/TrainingPeaks and TFNA | Uphill Athlete

CTL/TrainingPeaks and TFNA

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  • #4995

    In another post Scott Johnston said that a CTL of over 100 for 2 months is something that you often see in 8000m-ready athletes. Obviously this is just a guideline. However, after playing around with TrainingPeaks to see what different CTL looks like I am still confused as to what 100 or 130 CTL might be. For instance, a runner who is training for a marathon and running in excess of 100mpw is only at a CTL of 75-80 as far as I can tell. If I change the HR during these workouts that doesn’t seem to make much of a change either. It also seems like strength training workouts don’t factor in much on CTL. I get that these issues are probably more something I should talk to TP about, but I am still curious what this 100 CTL level would look like for someone following TFNA?

    Let’s say you’re doing two hill climbing ME workouts a week and an ARCing session in boots and pack, plus some other Z1 volume. What does a week in the middle of 100 CTL look like? What does 130 CTL look like?

    Again, I get that there is modulation in any training plan, and that CTL takes several weeks into account to calculate CTL. I’m just looking for a general benchmark to assess my work capacity.



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    Anonymous on #5004

    OK Sam, prepare to get down in the weeds with me here on this one.

    The TSS numbers I gave are UA derived. Here is how I came to figure out this system.

    A while back I was at a coaching conference and some very experienced Triathlon coaches were talking about Ironman prep. The TSS numbers that TP can calculate were solid enough for them to be able to say pretty with some high probability of being correct that to compete the Kona race under 9 hours one needed a CTL of 150. They also had enough data to do similar correlations for other races and marathon times. This got me thinking about how helpful it would be for UA and the clients we coach if we could have a similar yard stick.

    Soooooo…. Here is how we came up with the our methodology.

    Chronic Training Load (CTL), when calculated using hrTSS (heart rate Training Stress Score) only considers heart rate when calculating TSS for any given workout. TP is very clear that TSS is most accurate when using power to determine TSS (as in cycling with a power meter) or pace to determine TSS for road and track runners as in your marathoner example. Both Power and Pace are very good reflections of the actual local muscle work being done by the athlete so TSS in those cases paints a really good picture of CTL. Unfortunately for us, as mountain athletes, going up and down hill, we can’t use Power because no good power meter for trail running, hiking, skiing exists yet and pace is meaningless on such variable terrain. So, we are left with using HR as our metric for gaging the training load.

    The problem is that HR is an imperfect measure of training load. On flat ground and in the aerobic realm (AnT/LT) the relation of HR to load is linear so there it can do a decent job on TSS. However, as soon as you add in a significant muscular strength/endurance component such as a 3 hour trail run that include 2500 vertical feet of elevation change, then HR no longer gives a very accurate assessment of TSS because TSS is the combined stress of the workout (metabolical stress, cardiovascular stress and local muscle fatigue).

    As for Strength workouts hrTSS is meaningless because HR is no indication at all of how hard a strength workout is.

    So what is an Uphill Athlete to do: Here is what all the coaches at UA do. We introduce some fudge factors to the hrTSS scores for daily workouts. The importing thing to keep in mind for the rest of this article is that you remain consistent in how you apply the fudge factors. That way you will always be pretty much comparing apples to apples.

    Here is the system I have developed for us and it seems to work pretty well:

    1) For any purely aerobic run/hike/ski we calculate the TP hrTSS and add 10 TSS for each 1000 vertical feet of gain for an athlete carrying no to minimal weight.
    2) For the same workout but with a significant weight, say more than 10% of BW add 20TSS/ 1000 feet.
    3) For hard muscular workout that has a very high local muscular endurance factor with a (disappointingly) low HR such as an uphill ME workout then I pick a number that reflects the recovery time before the athlete feels ready for another such workout. An ME workout for a high level athlete like David Goettler or Luke Nelson will take them days to recovery from and based on the actual workout I have assigned I will give these a TSS of 150-200.
    4) For the TftNA general strength and core workout I give them a TSS of 50-70/hour.
    5) For the TftNA Max Strength with core warm up I give these a TSS of 80-90/hour.

    I will grant you that this seems arbitrary and some is perhaps seems too formulaic to apply across broad swaths of athletes. But these fudge factors do reflect the actual pretty well and it works well enough when we are assessing fitness and preparedness for certain undertakings. It take a lot of time for us to fudge the numbers on all of the athletes we coach but we feel it is worth it and because we have been doing this for years with many dozens of athletes I was able to say that 100 is pretty much the price of admission for an O2 assisted 8000m peak ascent.

    Obviously we are not talking accuracy to the third decimal place but this tool is the best fitness and recovery monitoring tool I have every come across in 30 some years of trying to find a better solution. And I was highly skeptical of it when I started using it but now I am convinced that with suitable modification it works well enough.

    Sorry for this long winded explanation.


    sambedell on #5022

    No apologies necessary for the length Scott; thank you for taking the time to put your thoughts out there, again. The commitment you and the other folks at UA have to thoroughly answering questions on this board is really appreciated and very helpful. That explanation makes a lot of sense, I was thinking there would be a way to use such “fudge factors” but any system I would have worked out would have taken me much longer and probably been less accurate. Although I have been tracking my training for a long time, I am thinking that it may be time to start doing it in TP so I can monitor some of these things like CTL.

    Thrusthamster on #5023

    Scott, if you have enough information to base this on, what kind of CTL would be needed for an 8000m peak without supplemental oxygen? What about Everest without supplemental oxygen?

    sambedell on #5044

    In the original thread Scott said that 130-150 CTL is what he sees in top athletes. I would assume that correlates to an 8000m sin gas ready athlete?

    Mariner_9 on #5070

    @ Scott – so CTL of 100 means when using your adjustments? I ask because my CTL showed >90 last year and I’m very confident I don’t have anywhere near the fitness to climb an 8000m peak without oxygen (or perhaps even with oxygen). To be clear, I’m not questioning your knowledge but rather how TP is coming up with the numbers.

    sambedell on #5073

    @ Mariner_9 I would assume he means with his adjustments as he is looking at his own athletes to arrive at that number. Also, the 100 CTL number, if sustained for 2 months (see bottom of thread I linked above), is for an 8000m ascent WITH O2. Hope that helps. Scott, correct me if I’m wrong there.

    madanyang on #5077

    Thanks Scott for the detailed explanation. Not having the experience in adjusting the TSS numbers for specific trainings, until now I have only changed rTSS to HrTSS when the training involved mainly uphill component, I remember you have mentioned in a previous thread though can’t exactly say when and in which.

    So if one is not adjusting the TSS numbers in trainingpeaks, what is your expectation for CTL number for a successful mountaineering event such as Mont Blanc and Ortler.


    Mariner_9 on #5082

    sambedell – thanks for the clarifications, they’re helpful.

    Anonymous on #5084

    Regarding the CTL (a proxy for fitness/work capacity) needed for any endeavor:

    Keep in mind that like any proxy (like using growth ring data as a proxy for ancient climate), CTL distills a lot of information down to one number. The accuracy of that number is going to rely on the models used to derive it.

    For a sport like Triathlon, where coaches using the TP metrics have collected millions of data points on tens of thousands of athletes the CTL proxy is fairly likely to be accurate. With a fair degree of certainty it is possible to say that your will not break 9 hours in an Ironman Triathlon without a certain level of work capacity. This also assumes that he work capacity has been developed in specific ways for Triathlon. Maybe they can say this to within a 90% accuracy. Then they can use this a a guideline for coaching their clients preparing for a similar event.

    Here at UA we have a few dozen data points and while a trend is visible the accuracy of our predictive model is probably below 60% (as a guess). As we get more data and experience we hope to improve it. However there are some big hurdles we may never overcome in terms of making a more accurate predictive tool.

    Our ‘event’ has way more variables due to natural weather and conditions, the duration leaves one susceptible to illness and motivational issues. The mental component of mountaineering is so large that very fit climbers may turn around before even before setting foot on the route if they are frightened or homesick. Undertrained but highly motivated and driven individuals have certain climbed big and hard mountains. So even if your fitness is supreme there is now sure success.

    Because we must rely on hrTSS we are already dealing with the least accurate way of calculating the over all stress of training. When you add in the fudge factors I spoke about our TSS numbers need to be taken with a big grain of salt. They are rough estimates and only work when comparing apples to apples.

    : From what I have seen I would say thatI would want to see a CTL of over 100 for a month at least before I felt confident that the athlete was as well prepared as he should be.

    An example of an athlete I coach is David Goettler who, along with Herve Barmasse climbed the Girona route on the S face of Shishapangma in alpine style in 13 hours. David has been working with me for 3 years and his CTL was right around 140 for 3 months leading into this climb. He felt super strong the whole time. Adrian Ballinger on the other hand I only had 4 months to work with. His CTL peaked at 112 and was only above 100 for a few a month. He climbed E without supplemental O2 but it was a real struggle for him. It is testament to the mental toughness I mention above that he could continue to push himself for so long. Not many of us have the will power.

    We see some very good results out of our Denali climbers when their CTL is in the 75-80 range. And less good results when it is in the 55-70 range.

    There is not formula for this. There are too many variables. But I can say with a high degree of certainty that those with a CTL of 40 are not ready for big mountains Whether you need 110 or 120…….I can’t say.

    hrTSS is the only TSS we can use for the way we train on variable terrain and sometimes skiing, sometimes running, sometimes hiking or climbing. At least it sort of allows the apples to apples comparison. As mentioned above. No exact metric exists and I am hesitant to say that you need a CTL of 60-80 to climb Mt Blanc (although that is probably a reasonable number) because someone who does no training or has a CTL of 45 will come along and show me that I wrong. I only claim that 60 will be better than 45 and that 100 will very likely allow you race up and down at very good speed.

    I hope this helps,

    ilbuiz on #5119

    Thank you so much for the information, this topic is pure gold! I was always uncertain on how to “track” strength training/skimo/hiking TSS on training peaks, and your guidelines are incredibly helpful!

    Do you maybe have some suggestions on how to adjust the hrTSS for rock climbing sessions, either at the gym or at the crag? I guess there will be an incredible variability depending on the kind of workout (endurance, power endurance, max strength bouldering or 4×4 for example), of course, but I am interested in hearing your thoughts on it – if any.

    Finally, you said that no good power meter exist for trail running – so I assume that you are not a big fan of e.g. stryd. Did you have some personal experience with it, or is it more a “gut feeling”?

    Thank you so much again, you are doing such an invaluable work with UA!

    Anonymous on #5125


    We consider climbing sessions as ‘strength’ training. Since they fit closest to this category. As mentioned above the TP metrics do not really work well for strength training sessions especially when using hrTSS because heart rate is poor proxy for effort.

    What I do is make standard TSS’s for strength and climbing. For General strength I do 50TSS/hour. For Max strength I do 75-80TSS/hour. For climbing I do 50TSS/hr for ARC training (below on sight level). 80TSS/hr for climbing at near max level. Count only time on the rock.

    As for power meter. Yes, I have extensive experience with Stryd using it with myself and several athletes. The problem seems to be that the power measuring on Stryd does not work when the pace drops below 30min/mile or 2miles/hour. On steep ascents your pace will often drop below this. You may be working very hard and producing 500W but Stryd will tell you that you are making 187W or something crazy. Stryd is really for rod runners and I suspect it works very well for that purpose.


    ilbuiz on #5126

    Dear Scott, thank you so much for your comments. Your knowledge and kindness are just fantastic!


    Colin Simon on #5130


    Did you measure Cory Richards’ CTL before he tagged Everest in 2016?

    James H on #5133

    Interesting thread. I read in TFTNA that Vince Anderson did no structured training for Nanga Parbat, Rupal Face with Steve. How did he have the level required to do such a climb? Years of guiding? Climbing as ‘training’ only?

    Mariner_9 on #5469

    “For the same workout but with a significant weight, say more than 10% of BW add 20TSS/ 1000 feet.”

    Scott, should the adjustments be done on a sliding scale based on the weight carried? I appreciate there is a risk of false precision here but it seems like carrying 20% of body weight rather than 10% would impose a significantly higher stress and so justify a much higher TSS.

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