What's Cool In Road Cycling

Athlete Forward: Cutting Edge Training Management

With the rise of the internet the ability to create, track, and analyze your training has never been easier. There are more than two dozen cycling specific training logs on a simple search result, but only a few reach my threshold for being truly excellent. Athlete Forward aims to set and stay on the cutting edge of managing the athlete experience, and is worth a closer look.

By Matt McNamara

Ever since I first started riding “seriously” in 1986 I’ve always looked forward to starting a new training log. It was the living embodiment of a fresh new season with all those blank pages and possibilities. I still have most of my old ones and they make for a fun trip down memory lane from time to time, but then I got out of the habit and lazy after a few seasons. I have only a vague remembrance of training and development during those intermediate years, and I wish I’d been a bit more pro in my focus and preparation (*sigh*). Alas, I was a few years ahead of the curve in needing an online application I guess…

What Makes A Great Log?
Fast forward to the 2006 USA Cycling Coaches Symposium and a series of conversations with my roommate, a bright young coach named Andres Angulo, who aspired to create a web based training log that set a new standard. We talked about the myriad of possibilities that might give both coaches and athletes access to relevant information in an easy to use format. Among the key criteria were a simple design, options to customize both workout creation and tracking to the coach or athlete’s needs, immediate online analysis of files, and the ability to easily make and manage a group of athletes.

A short handful of years later Andres secured a round of angel funding and began the long process of bringing his vision, Athlete Forward, to reality. Sweet! Good job Andres. I love that kind of stuff, but how does it perform?

The Dashboard
The heart and soul of any worthwhile training log is the dashboard – that first look has to cover a lot of bases. As a coach my needs are slightly different than my athletes, but the essence is the same: we need to see what’s coming up, what’s been done, have a quick reference to the athlete’s important data points (MAP, Threshold Power, Threshold Heart Rate, etc.) and then be able to easily program and modify workouts, or view and analyze training files, all within a few clicks. The Athlete Forward dashboard achieves all of this in an appealing format that is easy to understand and use.

The Athlete Forward dashboard presents key data right before your eyes.

One of the first things that jumped out at me when talking to Andres and looking over the site was their use of a TrIMP score. Classicists will instantly recognize the term TrIMP as part of the pioneering work of Eric Bannister in the 70’s and 80s. His efforts to track and measure Training Impulse (TrIMP) scores are the foundation of nearly all modern iterations of intensity-based training plans.

Andres was quick to point out two things. The first is that they are actually using a modified TrIMP score, known as a Foster’s Index, that scores a workout on perceived exertion times time (RPE x Time). Session-based RPE scales have been well correlated with other measures like lactate concentration and heart rate in a large volume of research, and provide the additional benefit of helping the athlete to become proficient at self-reporting the relationship between effort and intensity.

The second item of note was that, in keeping with their desire to offer a comprehensive experience, they hope to incorporate Dr. Andy Coggan’s power based system of metrics in the near future, and look forward to the conversation.

Data Analysis
The second critical component to a great training log is an efficient and innovative way to see the data. It is here that I think the Athlete Forward system can really shine.

When a file is downloaded, it is readily available for analysis and review. Simple drag and highlight options allow the user to select the relevant items to view and dial down on their data in just a few clicks. In addition, there is a summary section that hits most of the important highlights including duration, average power at different durations, kilojoules, speed, and a nice little notes section.

Let’s look at my 2009 ‘Cross Vegas file to get a better idea of how this works:

You can immediately see where the race starts and quickly reference my peak power by duration on the left hand table. The graph above has power (blue) and speed (purple) selected, but you can easily add any element that your power meter tracks to get a different view. Quick analysis of the file is possible by simply dragging a segment to highlight it. You can then expand the highlighted section to get a deeper level of detail.

In addition to this view AF has a truly unique offering via their Event Demand Graph. This view breaks the workout into 10 equal time segments and THEN parses that into kilojoules of expenditure by training zone:

Again, you can easily see where the race starts and just how much energy each zone required. This particular Event Demand Graph is broken into segments of roughly twelve minutes, twenty seconds. Once the race starts you can see that in that first 12 minutes or so Anaerobic and Neuromuscular zones were deeply tapped, and that total energy demand was roughly 225 KJ, or a pace of almost 1125 KJ’s per hour. Ouch! You can also see the gradual drop in absolute KJ’s per time segment and the shift towards more threshold, tempo, and ultimately endurance level efforts as the race continued. Guess I lost my mojo towards the end!

Teams and Groups
In addition to tackling some innovative event analysis, AF also offers a group element that starts to raise the bar for coaches and teams wanting to track and share information.

What The Future Holds
In looking at the Athlete Forward platform it’s important to realize that it is only a few months old and still evolving. While an impressive debut, my real excitement is in what it might do in the next 3 – 6 months and beyond. As they continue to refine and nuance the code we can expect to see options like a more powerful and versatile file management engine (currently only Powertap and Garmin files can be directly imported), integrated maps and social networking options, and more group analysis and resource options. Once up and running these features, and a slew of others, will keep Athlete Forward at the forefront of training and data management.

In keeping with their cutting edge approach, Athlete Forward thought outside the box in their product launch planning. Rather than targeting Google search optimization and a blitzkrieg of marketing they decided to go to camp, Super Camp that is.

Super Camp is not quite the typical weekend foray in the hills. Instead it is a full court press of gorgeous rides, a pre-event training plan, nightly presentations from top experts and coaches in physiology, nutrition, training and racing, and a level of support and experience designed to raise the bar on destination cycling.

And the best part is you might just get to do it for FREE!
Yep, they are giving away a free trip to Super Camp, including up to $500 in airfare!

Super Camp is slated for May 17 – 22nd and coincides with the 2011 Amgen Tour of California. The trip includes a 110 mile ride down the legendary Highway 1 from Monterey to Morrow Bay that covers 90% of the TOC stage, group training rides from their four star team house in Solvang, including advanced skills sessions behind the scooter, a course pre-ride and live viewing of the Solvang Time Trial, and first class support from their staff mechanic, chef, coaches, and surprise guests. There are only 10 spots available, another unique approach that keeps the athlete to staff ratio at 2:1!

To enter simply sign up for your FREE Athlete Forward account.

Full details and registration is available at Athlete Forward’s Super Camp Page or via Active.com

Banister, E.W. and Calvert, T.W. Planning for future performance: implications for long term training. Can J Appl Sports Sci, 1980, 5(3): 170-176.

Foster, C., Florhaug, J.A., Franklin, J., Gottschall, L., Hrovatin, L.A., Parker, S., Doleshal, P., and Dodge, C. A new approach to monitoring exercise training. J Strength Cond Res, 2001,1 5(1),1-15

Irving, B.A, Rutkowksi, J, Brock, D.W, Davis, C.K, et al. Comparison of Borg and OMNI-RPE as markers of the blood lactate response to exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 2006, 38(7): 1348-52

Steed, J, Gaesser, G.A, Weltman, A. Ratign of perceived exertion and blood lactate concentration during submaximal running. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 1994, 26(6): 797-803

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