Power Up, pt 3: TrainingPeaks

 Jan 29, 2012 article by Nick Salazar, images by TrainingPeaks


The funny thing about training with power is that there's a lot of hardware and not a lot of software. That is, despite the proliferation of more and more products to help you collect data, there are still relatively few options to actually use the data. Even pros like Andy Potts, who you'll hear from later in this Power Up series, often use a very low tech approach. Andy will write reports to his coach in terms like "20min at 250 watts, 3x5min at 350 watts," etc. It's positively barbaric! As you may expect, I'm going to show you a slightly higher-tech way of doing things.

SRM, PowerTap, and Polar all have proprietary software that works with their specific equipment. The SRM software is typically flagged as the best of that bunch, though I haven't used it myself. I'm riding a Quarq Cinqo, which doesn't have its own software. Instead, it's up to the user to acquire software to analyze the data coming off of the device. It's a slightly more do-it-yourself approach, but as an ANT+ device, it's very easy to offload the data to any kind of head unit, and up to just about any major software.

Of the relatively few options available, the most popular is probably TrainingPeaks, the subject of this review. In fact, TrainingPeaks is a package that's really useful to track all of your tri training, not just the bike. But although we'll just be looking at the bike side here, I'll mention that it's been really nice to have the run data available. As I mentioned in part 2 of this series, I'm using the iPhone as a head unit to upload data into the software wirelessly. I keep it with me on the run too, since it grabs GPS data and generates speed and pace information (and keeps me entertained with music and podcasts). If you train with a Finis Swimsense, you can integrate the data from that device as well.

Getting into TrainingPeaks can be a bit confusing, because it offers both a desktop software package called WKO+, and also an online subscription package. The two can be used in tandem, so it's not necessarily a question of using one versus the other. Each has specific strengths, and some athletes may want to use both. At the risk of oversimplifying, I'd say it like this: if you're a NON-tech-savvy individual, your best bet is to subscribe to TrainingPeaks.com (it's $10/month), then hire a coach familiar with power, to help you analyze your data. One of the nice things about the online interface is that your coach can access your data, do the analysis for you, and adjust your training plan accordingly. On the other hand, if you like the nitty gritty, and are a staunch do-it-yourselfer, then it's likely that both the WKO+ desktop software AND a TrainingPeaks.com subscription would be of benefit to you.

I've been using both, and they do complement one another. I'll start by going over WKO+ in depth, and then describe where TrainingPeaks differs from it.

  • The slick online interface at TrainingPeaks.com has a more polished look, and has more features for swim training, meal tracking, and more. But the desktop WKO+ software has more power-specific analysis.
  • The Athlete Home screen of WKO+ has a lot of great data to tell how you've been doing over the last few weeks.
  • Data becomes even more useful in the long term. The TSS/ATL/CTL chart shows you overall improvements in fitness, current fatigue or freshness, and help you time your season around your primary races.
  • Zoomed in, the graph stretches out, but also gets shorter. This is one of just two zoom levels available in WKO+.  There aren't any other options here, although custom on-the-fly rescaling IS a feature of the online TrainingPeaks.com software.
  • Zooming out Compressing your whole ride into one short graph can help you see more specifically what your power was like over the ride. Here, you can see that power is fairly steady over the main interval, but increases slightly over the ride.

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