Measuring Training Progress

How do we measure  progress.

Speed ?

Power ?

Cadence ?

Heart Rate ?



There are so many variables that can be measured that it can be overwhelming.  For beginners like me, most of us look at HeartRate.  HeartRate is good but it is a lagging indicator of performance.  It shows how hard the heart is working but not the output of the effort.  I like to think of heartRate like the tachometer of a car.  The tach will show you how fast the engine is spinning, but not the speed or power associated to it.  For me, i do measure heart rate religiously. I kinda feel like Tony Stark, because my heart rate monitor is always on.  But what I’m looking for is that over time my average heart rate is decreasing over a given duration of training.  Training Peaks makes it easy to see your progress. Below  the graph shows average HR for the past year, overlaid with this weeks training heart rates.  Easily you can see that for this illustration my heart rate is lower for the week in question.



Example Heart Rate Comparison

Example Heart Rate Comparison









When I decided to start training for tri’s, I decided to take it pretty seriously, not all novices or beginners will have a power meter.  But if you can afford it, you should get one.  The best part of training with power, is that for any given moment of cycling you know exactly what your body is putting out.  There is no more guess work.  Coupling Power with HR becomes an incredible tool for finding one’s upper limits, and setting your training zones.  It also is a very concrete way to show progress on the bike.  Unlike speed where you measure the time it takes to perform a certain course, you now know how much effort your putting out. How many times have you felt great on a bike figuring to crush your best time, only to be hampered by a fierce head wind?  In that case you probably had a great ride, just not with great speed.

Again using TrainingPeaks you can get a great idea of your progress by comparing giving date ranges.  The other notable fact about training with power is that you can easily see where you need to improve, so if you have great short duration power, but lagging 20 min power, you can then tailor your training to address your weaknesses.

Example Power

Example Power








With most training we all have a favorite course for our runs or rides.  So another simple measure is the speed you can complete that given course.  Simple.



Are you spinning fast enough,  in the old days it was always seen to be a better thing to turn big slow gears.. But science has proven faster cadence gives you more power, and more endurance.   This is a great metric to track as it shows how one can gain an overall adaptation to cycling.  Even with my cycling background (casual riding for the past 15 years)  That the more comfortable I am on the bike, is a general result in a cadence of 80+ . If i’m tired, struggling, and dejected, my cadence is probably around 50-70.

Example Cadence

Example Cadence







There are hundreds of metrics you can track when training,  For now i like to keep it simple, see results, and build on the work i’m putting in.  With today’s devices you collect a lot more data, as the beginner, i’m focusing on my building my base, I can and will go back later an look at more advance features like VO2 max, and lactate thresholds.  but for now simple is better.  Progress is being made, and i don’t feel i am at a point where i can benefit from more advanced measurements.  At least not yet.

Here are the tools i’m using to gather my data

Power –  Powertap G3 Hub

Heart Rate – Garmin 910xt

Speed – Garmin  910xt

Cadence – Garmin 910xt / Powertap G3 Hub

Recording –



The first 50 Days

When I committed myself to doing this, I knew a few things.

  • Dig Deep
  • Trust your coach
  • Measure for Improvement


Getting in shape is not easy, there are no quick fixes, no quick pills,  no magical elixirs.  There is constant work, there is the constant wanting to be better than you were yesterday.

For me one of the hardest things  its the consistency of the workouts.  I’m not a morning person so getting up every day at 5am to get to the pool has been hard, especially as a night person I have no issue hammering on the trainer till 11pm, makes getting up a tad hard.

TIP,  When starting out Adjust your training schedule to accommodate your natural rhythms.

I’m fortunate to have a pool with a few open swim times, and a master class that starts at both 6am and Noon.  So when I’m doing a late work out, I have the luxury to forgo the early work out and hit the noon swim.

I’m finding that now that I’m starting to see some improvements that getting into the training rhythm is becoming a natural part of my day.

Digging Deep

There are a lot of books out there that says train until your tired.  Or if your not feeling it take a day off. My two cents is, if you not willing to push yourself, you probably shouldn’t be attempting this.  Sure there are days were I woke up to sore to move.  It was obvious that i couldn’t train, so i took a day off, or did a lighter workout than planned.

If you do take a day off, you need to stay focused.  I usually look forward to the weeks training schedule.  I get my mind thinking how i’m going to crush the next workout, or focus on nutrition, or read about training, or watch youtube videos on races, techniques etc.  It is to easy to just take a day off an loose your motivation.

Trust your coach:

Maybe it is part of human nature not to ask for help, or worse when we do we ignore it.  Often for fads or out of our own ignorance.  I’ve got a few coaches helping me.  For me the focus is on the swim,  I’ve got an endurance coach for what / how to train, and I’ve joined a Masters Swim program at the local Y to help me focus on swimming. This is something I desperately needed.  The fact is though, i don’t know enough about coaching to argue with these guys.  I’ve read a lot and have opinions, I ask questions, but when they say do this, I do it.   I’m not paying to argue or debate with these guys. I’m paying them for the expertise.

Measuring your improvement:

Measure Measure Measure.  I find this does a few things for you.  First it keeps you motivated, finding small gains is how its done.  Second over time it will allow you to ascertain what is working and what isn’t.  I’m a huge fan of Garmin for capturing metrics, and TrainingPeaks to log and analyze the data.