Fitness planning with Crickles – UPDATED

UPDATES

What is written below correctly describes the Planner functionality but there are a couple of new updates since this was written, namely:

  1. Forecast method. For athletes for whom Crickles has uploaded at least a year of data there are two new Forecast methods for projecting your exercise load. The method described in the post below is now called Average based on Date range. The first new method is called Trend. This takes your average CSS per day from exactly one year before the forecast period (which is from now to your chosen Target date) and scales this up or down according to your current v. last year prior exercise load. The advantage of this over the Average method is that it accounts for both seasonality and year-to-year trend, which are typically very significant factors. Like the Average method, this generates ‘per day of week’ exercise load that you can adjust to suit your training programme. The second new method is called Repeat block from the past. When you choose this you’re prompted to enter a Start date to repeat from. Given this, the actual exercise loads that you incurred from that start date are projected forward from now to your Target date. For this method the adjustable per day of week levels do not appear. This enables you to see exactly how your Fitness, Fatigue and Form will evolve between now and race day if you repeat a training block from the past.
  2. Taper periods. The default taper periods described below were taken from analysis of the tapers of successful marathon runners prior to a marathon. These allow for a substantial amount of recovery and lead to very high Form levels on race day at a cost to Fitness (which is the point of tapering). These defaults have been changed to levels that are recommended for (and typical of cyclists) – a two week instead of a three week taper and of more modest extent. Of course, you can freely set the Taper levels as you see fit and this only affects the defaults.

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The Crickles Fit-Fat tab shows you how your Fitness, Fatigue and Form have evolved based upon the Crickles model for Cardiac Stress. Now, you can also use the new Crickles Fitness Planner to anticipate how Fitness, Fatigue and Form will respond to a training programme geared towards an event. This is accessed on the Planner tab.

Entering the data

When you first visit the Planner you’ll see that the sidebar changes to the following:

planner_sidebar

Target date defaults to today + 3 months. You should change it according to your fitness planning horizon – say the date of your next significant athletic event. (It won’t accept a date less than one month into the future.)

The Sundays to Saturdays fields in the CSS Regime section are populated with your average CSS (actually your ‘extended CSS’ or XSS) for each day of the week sampled over the Date range. In this screenshot, I’ve extended my Date range back to 01/01/2015 to get a longer-term sampling period. You should adjust these numbers to reflect your planned training programme over the period up to your event. It’s best to do this using typical observed CSS values from the Activities tab. For example, in my case my usual park loops on a Wednesday or a Saturday park run will each score me about 40 CSS points; an hour on the turbo will typically get me 80; and a weekend club ride or equivalent might score about 320. Of course, if I want to increase my Fitness I’ll have to do more than I’ve done in the past!

The three Taper period fields enable you to specify how you plan to step down your exercise in the three weeks leading up to the target date. The fields are pre-populated with typical percentages – e.g. a reduction to 70% of a normal training week in the third week before the target date – and you can change these if you wish.

As you change all of these values the charts will change accordingly.

What you should aim for

The general aim of a Fit-Fat-Form training programme can be summarised in three principles:

  1. Add training volume to increase Fitness
  2. Taper before your event to flush out Fatigue and hence increase Form
  3. Don’t take on so much exercise load that your Fatigue gets to unhealthy levels.

Of course, there are many other important factors too such as working on strength and flexibility, managing any medications you may be taking, and balancing non-exercise factors such as diet, workload, travel and sleep; these lie outside the scope of this tool.

There is no established science on correct or optimum levels for Fitness or Fatigue. However, you can see if your own Fitness is increasing, staying flat or falling. Regarding Fatigue, the charts show you two useful levels as horizontal dashed red lines:

  • What is a high Fatigue level for you. This is calculated from your 90th percentile of Fatigue over all of your data on Crickles.
  • What constitutes a high Fatigue level for all of the athletes on Crickles. This is calculated from the 90th percentile of the 90th percentiles of each Crickles athlete.

Each of these two levels is marked on the Planner chart. As a fact of statistics, most of us will find our own high Fatigue level lies at a smaller absolute value than the high Crickles Fatigue level. When you train hard and do tough sessions you will occasionally push yourself beyond your own high Fatigue level. However, when planning a training programme if you see that your Fatigue levels are sustained for several days at a greater negative level than your high level, and especially if they are also sustained beyond the Crickles high level, it would be prudent to build in more recovery days.

So with reference to the three aims of the Fit-Fat-Form programme given above, you want to see that:

  1. Your Fitness at the target date is higher than it is today
  2. Your Form at the target date is comfortably positive – ideally at levels of 25 or more for the days leading  up to your event
  3. At no point during the course of the programme is your Fatigue hanging for days on end below the high lines, and especially not below both lines.

Example

The longer you give yourself to train, the easier it will be to meet all three of these training goals. Over three months it is certainly possible, and over a longer period it is easier. To take my numbers given on the input panel above as an example, if I project forwards based on no change except for a taper period I’ll find that my Fitness at the target date is lower than my Fitness now, while my Form will be much higher/better: both effects are simple consequences of the taper period. However, if I increase my average exercise load on Sundays from 131 to 250 while leaving all other values the same I’ll get this:

planner_chart

My Fitness increases by about 10%, my Form is nicely high leading up to the target date and although my Fatigue sometimes dips below my own “high level”, it never stays there for long; moreover, my Fatigue never falls below the “Crickles high fatigue” level set by our hardiest athletes.

A final thought

There are limitations to any model and, as I’ve noted, there are important health and fitness factors that are not addressed at all by this kind of model. However, the Crickles methodology for assessing cardiac stress is robust and can be applied consistently to any form of exercise (although the estimate quality is reduced when heart rate is not captured). Furthermore, if you set a CSS-based exercise programme using this approach and stick to it then – as a mathematical fact and not just with the vagueness of an estimate – your Fitness, Form and Fatigue on the target date will be exactly as they were projected to be at the start of the programme!

 

Strava have lost Friends

Recently Strava’s API for getting Friends has stopped working. This hasn’t only affected Crickles: numerous other app developers are reporting the same problem. There is no information about this on the Strava developers site, which still reports the same protocol for accessing Friends data, so there is no way of knowing if it’s an unintended bug or a planned removal of functionality. Strava are not replying to Support queries on the topic.

This means that any changes to your Strava Friends made after January 17th will not be reflected in Crickles when you select Strava Friends under Group. If you signed up to Crickles after January 17th your Strava Friends will only include you!

It remains to be seen whether or not Strava will fix this. Irrespective, this is a good prompt for Crickles to start to collect athletes’ Date of Birth so that,  in lieu of Friends if this is not available, we can do Age as well as Gender grouping. Age is in fact more relevant than Friends from the perspective of health and training load.

Those of you who asked for beta logins have already provided your DoB; everyone else can expect to be prompted to supply it soon. Your identity will not be shown with your age on Crickles, even though it is on Strava. It would be useful to hear from anyone who prefers not to provide their DoB – please email me at ian@crickles.org if you feel this way.

Whether/how Friends-style comparisons will be supported if Strava don’t fix their API remains to be seen. Please let me know if you have views on its desirability.

Thanks, Ian

Logging on to Crickles

Prominent amongst the latest batch of enhancements to Crickles is the introduction of user credentials: you now need a password to access the Navigator. The log-in screen looks something like this

save_password

On your first visit, you’ll only see the Username (Strava ID): field at first. The Strava ID that is needed is not the email address or Facebook ID that you use to log onto Strava but the number that Strava uses to key your data. In my case, for example, it’s 301194, as in the figure. To find your Strava ID, go to the Strava website and find “My Profile”. On the Strava website, it’s currently found in the pull-down menu next to your photo on the top right of the screen.

Once you have selected this, the top of the browser window will look like this:

strava address

You can see from the figure that the Strava ID (301194 in my case) is at the end of the URL in the address bar.

Once you enter your Strava ID, if you haven’t yet authorised Crickles to access your Strava data a link will appear where you can do this. Alternatively, you can do so at:

signup.crickles.org

Then, if you haven’t got a password yet, hit the Request password button. A password will be emailed to you and it should arrive more or less instantly.

If you wish, once you’ve logged on you can create your own password. As well as being potentially more memorable, this is also more secure. Although the password generated by Crickles is encrypted, it has necessarily passed through email servers en route to you, unlike a password that you choose for yourself.

You change password using this screen:

change_password

You get to it by checking the Change password? checkbox in the side panel. If you’re on the screen and decide that you don’t want to create a new password, simply uncheck the box. Once you’ve changed the password you’ll need to re-enter it to log in.

After you have logged in you should not usually need to do so again on the same device. (If, though, you have disabled all cookies in your browser you’ll need to log in every time.) The way that credentials are shared between devices, and whether and how passwords are cached, will depend upon your device, your browser and your settings.

Significantly, no one can now see your data on Crickles without logging in as you. Your Strava Friends who are also on Crickles can compare various aggregate CSS measures and compare charts of activities that have not marked as Private on Strava, but the detailed information that you can see is now just your own.

Crickles Charts now in the Navigator

Crickles Activity Charts has up until now (only) been available as a standalone app at charts.crickles.org. From today, Crickles Charts are integrated in the Navigator and the separate app has been retired. Here’s an example of how it looks now:

new_charts.png

For the time being, this functionality joins HR Zones and Regularity as a beta feature and thus requires a log-in.

Functionally, the only significant change is that the set of Athletes whose activities you can choose to chart against your own is now picked from amongst your Strava friends who are on Crickles rather than the entire Crickles population. If you need a refresher, a description of the functionality as it was before is available here.

Hopefully, now that charts are integrated with the rest of the Navigator functionality, you’ll find it more convenient.

Who does what on Crickles / Strava

You may have noticed on Strava that there is quite an extensive list of Sports into which activities can be categorised. Here, for no reason other than curiosity, is a chart showing relatively how many of each activity we have on Crickles:

count_by_sport.png

Since the number of activities in each Sport ranges from Rides, which is in six figures, down to Handcycles, for which we only have one, I’ve used a log scale.

Cardiac Stress Score can be calculated for any of these Sports in which a heart rate monitor is used (and estimated imprecisely even if one isn’t).

Heart Rate zones on the Navigator

There is a new feature on the Navigator for everyone on the BETA programme: you can now see your current training zones. The tab structure has been changed slightly so that when you’re not logged in the tab bar now looks like this:

nav_more

Notice in particular the MORE option on the right. When you choose this you get the log-in screen that takes your BETA programme password screen. When you log in, the tab bar changes to this:

nav_hrzones

You can see that the HR Zones and Regularity tabs have appeared and I’ve selected the HR Zones tab. This shows my current training zones as calculated from the Crickles estimate of my current Lactate Threshold Heart Rate (LTHR). It also shows the date at which the zones were last changed – such changes are triggered from time to time in response to athlete activity data.

If you don’t yet have a BETA log in and would like one, please read this post and then, if you’re happy to proceed, send me an email requesting a password along with your date of birth.

Separately from the BETA programme, the standard Seasonal tab has also changed: Zone 5 was previously spilt into Z5a, Z5b and Z5c. These have now been consolidated for easier zone-to-zone and quarter-to-quarter comparisons:

nav_seasonal

Improved Relative profile report

The Relative CSS report – which is at the time of writing is the landing page on the Navigator – shows how the chosen athlete’s totalled Cardiac Stress accrued over the period defined by the Date range compares with others. This total CSS is a product of three factors:

  1. The number of activities
  2. The duration of each activity
  3. The cardiac intensity of each activity.

The first of these is straightforward. Information on items 2 and 3 is available on the Relative profile report. Here’s how it now looks:

rel_profile_new

In this case “Athlete” is me. The chart on the left shows how the duration of my activities over the chosen period (the last six weeks) compares with that of others, with the y-axis being scaled in hours. I’m in green. The widest part comes at about half an hour, indicating that more of my activities have been of this duration than any other. By contrast, other athletes – the blue shape – are doing a far greater proportion of their activities over a period of 1-2 hours. Unlike others, I have no activities – zero width – around the two hour mark over this period.

It’s important to note that the number of activities (item 1 on the list of three factors above) is not reflected here at all – from this chart alone it’s impossible to know whether I’m doing three times as many or half as many total hours as others. This only shows the proportion of activities at each duration.

The chart on the right shows the distribution of cardiac intensity. Again, the chosen athlete (me again) is in green and others are in blue. From this I can see that for me the widest part – the intensity at which I most frequently exercised – is at about 87% whereas for others it lies at about 82%. On the other hand, some other athletes have exercised at over 100% intensity in this period and I haven’t. (100% is not a magic value – you can think of it, approximately, as exercising at or above your established Lactate Threshold Heart Rate.)

Like most of the reports on the Navigator, it responds to your choices for Athlete, Date range and GroupGroup defines who is counted as “Others”.

This form of chart is likely to be unfamiliar to most people. However, compared to the old visualisation, it more clearly shows the relative distributions and has less risk of misleading at the extremes. Once you get used to it, it’s an intuitive plot that conveys its information nicely.

New on the Navigator

Following some early feedback from the Beta, a couple of new features have been added to the Navigator.

First, to make the Navigator quicker and easier to find, there’s a new big green button on the home page of this website:

buttons

(Depending upon your browser, you can probably see the picture of the buttons above as well as the actual buttons.) Old School access is still, of course, available using the web address navigator.crickles.org.

Second, when you’re using the Navigator there is now a small block of help text pertaining to each report. As in this example, this appears in the side panel and changes according to the tab that you’re looking at (in this case Fit-Fat):

help_text

General help on the use of the Navigator, such as how to reset the Date range quickly, is still available here.

Crickles BETA features

You may have noticed recently that there is a new report on the Navigator that requires a password, and that a few of the posts on this website are now password protected. This reflects some significant changes to Crickles that are being released initially in a BETA programme. If you’d like to participate and check out the new features please read on…

To access the BETA functionality

Send an email requesting access to ian@crickles.org.

I will need your Date of Birth – this will enable us to factor in age into the new analysis.

This aside, you are only asked to agree to:

  1. Accepting the confidentiality terms;
  2. Giving me feedback;
  3. Acknowledging the limitations of the beta.

This is all described further in the Mechanics of the beta section below.

Please do try it out!

Here’s what’s in the beta:

More analysis of heart rate data

One of the main features of the BETA is a new Regularity report. This gives a new type of analysis on your heart rate data. It also gives some analysis on the “strap crap” that is filtered out by the Crickles data cleaning routines.

For those on the programme, a full description is available here.

Just your data

To date, all of the analysis on the Navigator has been available to everyone on an “all see all” basis. The new report is potentially more confidential in character and so each athlete can see only his or her own data. This is why we now require a password to access that report. In future, we may password-protect more information, such as FTP curves – subject to what people would prefer. However, peer comparisons are super-useful and we’ll keep these as a prominent feature.

Strava Friends

To date, you can compare yourself to others using the Group dropdown. However, apart from the gender sub-selection that this offers, this isn’t useful for most of the Crickles population. On the beta, once you’re logged in you can now choose Strava Friends from the Group dropdown. This then enables you to compare yourself specifically against your Strava friends on the relevant reports (Relative CSS, Relative Profile, All-in and This week). This is much more meaningful – and you can still compare yourself to the overall Crickles cohort and your gender group.

Mechanics of the beta

  1. Please email me as above to request a password. All passwords are encrypted in use and cannot be hacked in plain from a web server. However your password is not encrypted “in flight” when I send it to you. If you are concerned about security I can text you your password instead of emailing it, and if you’re very worried I can give it you by phone.
  2. At this stage I haven’t built a mechanism for you to choose or re-set your own password. Also, the password setting process is still manual and it may take me a while to get round to sending out yours if a lot of people ask for them.
  3. As far as I’m aware, this new analysis, and indeed some of the existing analysis, is unique and unavailable anywhere else. While I’m continuing to develop it, please treat it as commercially sensitive – for example, don’t email Strava describing it and asking for them to copy it!
  4. To log in, choose the Regularity report, which will throw the log-in screen (unless you’re already logged in). The User ID you need is simply your Strava ID (e.g. mine is 301194). You can see this on the Athlete dropdown in brackets. Once you’ve logged in you’ll be returned to the main page (Relative CSS) and will need to choose Regularity again to see it.
  5. While this functionality is still in beta, you can always escape back to the current way that the Navigator works by refreshing the page. This will log you out. On Safari at least, the browser caches your ID and password so you don’t need to re-enter them. The iPhone doesn’t do this – when we move beyond beta I intend to build this into Crickles so that you will rarely need to re-enter your credentials.
  6. You will also get a general-purpose password for accessing the protected posts on crickles.org.

If you sign up to try out the beta, please could you give me feedback on the new features. It would also be super-helpful to know:

  • what you use Crickles for;
  • what you never use;
  • roughly how often you look at the Navigator;
  • whether you ever use Crickles Activity Charts;
  • what further improvements would make Crickles most helpful.