Hi Keith, Great question!
“Ideal” metrics will rely on a lot of previous training history with notes to compare to the metrics. You can refer to your notes from your previous training plan to understand how you felt at each point (during your last couple of build cycles, during the consolidation week, during your taper, and during your climb or event), and compare it to the Performance Management Chart (PMC). Armed with that info, you’ll know how to fine tune the length and intensity of your build cycles and consolidations and have a better understanding of your ideal.
TrainingPeaks has some great articles showing examples of PMC’s during this period, although there are some notable differences with mountaineering athletes.
The appearance of tapering and peaking using TrainingPeaks metrics and the PMC will depend on: 1) the load during your final training weeks, and 2) the composition of the taper.
The simplest way to view these periods is to concentrate on your CTL and TSB.
CTL is a rolling 42-day average of your daily TSS (emphasizing the more recent training). Given the example of 90 CTL: If you are training at capacity but are staying healthy, it will be somewhat range-bound around 90 – probably showing a rounding and topping pattern near the end of the specific period.
CTL should initiate a slight decline as you move towards your taper week(s). It will continue to decline during the taper. That’s expected and desired if you are trying for peak performance.
Carefully establishing your peak CTL is a prerequisite during the majority of your training program. But tapering for peak performance and monitoring your recovery is critical in the final weeks. This focus on reduction in your training volume in your final weeks will have a pronounced effect on your TSB. TSB is yesterday’s fitness (CTL) minus yesterday’s fatigue (ATL). ATL is based on the previous 7 days. So you can think of TSB as how adapted you are to the training load (this is more related to CTL) and how ready you are for a subsequent build or a performance (this is more related to ATL).
During a prolonged training program, TSB should generally be a negative number during build weeks. This is often -15 to -40 (or sometimes greater) during our mountaineering programs, but is VERY individualized. During consolidation weeks, TSB will climb back towards a positive number. For expedition climbers, it’s worthwhile to consider that your immune system might be subpar if you have a very low TSB.
The final build weeks for our mountaineering training will have some big back to back long days, so you’ll see large spikes upward with ATL and corresponding large spikes downward with TSB. For many of our athletes, these spikes will usually be greater than a typical cyclist or multisport athlete using TrainingPeaks, so don’t be alarmed. However, if you’re following the plans, you will see CTL stay somewhat range-bound over the specific period.
Changes during the Taper:
As you begin your taper where workout durations get progressively shorter, you’ll see a decrease in the spikes in TSB (and ATL). TSB will start to climb higher and higher. For athletes with shorter climbs (1-7 days), it may be beneficial to coax that TSB into the +15-25 or even +30 range. On longer expeditions, you have to consider travel and acclimatization (higher or lower, but positive TSB depending on length of travel and travel to high altitudes). It’s ok for TSB to be quite high -potentially indicating that your body might better handle the stress of travel and acclimatization, and that you have a healthier immune system. Many athletes could have optimal performance with a TSB of 0-25, and others (the slightly injured or overtrained) could see a TSB closer to 50. This is one of the most individualized metrics, so please don’t assume there is a one size fits all recommendation. For someone doing an expedition (instead of a half day climb, for example), erring on the side of a higher TSB might be ok.
With your first few experiences monitoring TSB, it’s probably best to follow the taper concepts (discussed in the books, website, and phone calls), monitor your health and recovery, and simply *observe* the TSB metric. If large-scale tapering is still new to you, remember that it’s very hard to lose much fitness in a short window with limited activity, but it’s easy to overdo your training and show up for your climb sick or too tired to perform. This assumes that you’ve been very compliant with your training and it was an appropriately challenging training load.
I think of a positive TSB as extra “gas in the tank” – extra reserve for hard days and extended performance. With a deeply negative TSB, I might be able to do a very hard workout, but I certainly won’t be able to perform much beyond that – certainly not for an extended period of high performance.