Understanding Difficulty Rating, Training Status and Workout Difficulty

Before the latest update I thought I had an understanding of these metrics, but now I am not so sure.

My training status has recently been creeping up & is a whisker short of 2 full stars.

My Difficulty Rating in XATA is showing as 1 purple diamond and the sentence about recommended training nearly always says I should consider a “GC Specialist Workout generating ??? XSS of overall strain, with less than 1 diamond difficulty”.
My athlete type is set to GC Specialist, so I understand that bit, but I do not think it is possible to complete that type of workout at <1 diamond difficulty. I have not seen one in the recommended training options.

Virtually all of my recommended workouts have a difficulty of 3 diamonds or more. I thought the diamond rating for a workout was supposed to broadly match your diamond status in XATA?

Looking at my workouts or activities through November, I have managed 3 or 4 workouts per week. The difficulty has varied between 2.5 & 5 diamonds. There have been 2 activities at only 1 diamond, but they were sociable ride with friends, so we really weren’t pushing.
All of the workouts have been manageable, although some have been pretty tough. Last night’s Zwift race at 4.5 stars was certainly a hard effort.
Even with these hard efforts so far from my ‘difficulty rating’, I have only gone into the yellow, tired region on a few occasions and recovered relatively quickly. This matches how I feel, broadly.

I don’t really understand why my XATA difficulty rating is only 1 diamond, given the training I have been doing and managing to complete.
It is quite confusing how it all links together. I have been largely ignoring the difficulty rating in XATA for this reason. I think if i stuck to only 1 diamond workouts, my fitness would plunge.

The number of stars you have for training status is driven by your training load score (TL). Here’s how stars are designated based on that TL. Difficulty Rating – Xert

The star rating and scoring for Difficulty is meant to mirror the your training status, so if you’re on 3 star training status, you should be able to do 3 star Difficulty stuff. The fact that you’re getting 1 star workouts recommended would indicate to me that you’re at a TL, or training status, of 45 or less.

XATA will keep recommending 1 star until your TL goes up. The Difficulty rating won’t really matter that much if your overall training load doesn’t go up. If you can do 4 star workouts, that’s great, but it’s accumulated training stress, and an increase in training load (and stars) that will see you really improve, or at least that’s how the theory goes.

@jjamesv - thanks for the reply.
I think part of the confusion comes from terms with subtly different names & an inconsistency across the site.
Looking at the link you provided to difficulty rating - that is a measure of how difficult a workout is. So, for example, if I hover over the diamonds on the Zwift race I did last night, it says 144 - tough, which matches with the chart in your link.

But, why are they stars in the rating chart in that link, when everywhere else they are diamonds? This is confusing, as the Training Status is the only other place I can see stars used.

I’m not getting 1 diamond workouts recommended - I’m getting 3 diamond and upwards workouts recommended, even though my XATA difficulty rating is showing 1 diamond.

Here is my current XATA status. You can see the 1 diamond difficulty rating.

But the 4 recommended training options to the right of this, are all 3 diamond workouts, which for me would be perfectly achievable.
While I am comfortable selecting these, I don’t really understand why Xert is recommending them, if it thinks I should be aiming for something nearer 1 diamond.

You are correct about my 1 diamond status - my progression chart shows my current training load as 44 and it is slowly ramping up. That correlates to the difficulty rating of 45 & below.

I guess once my training status gets above 45, my difficulty rating will jump to 2 diamonds.

I think the main confusion point for me, is the disparity between the 1 diamond rating in my training advisor summary and the 3 diamond and higher workouts being recommended.
I think I will just keep choosing workouts that I think are tough, but achievable and ignore the 1 diamond rating.

Gotcha. Yeah, I’m not sure why you’re see 3 star/diamond workouts recommended. Do you have filters selected for that difficulty?

In any case, I’d worry more about hitting that XSS than the Difficulty, if I were you. I’d email support on the discrepancy as well.

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I think the reason is that the recommended workout does not exist. Focus Type GC Specialist, 152 XSS (with 12.2 in high XSS!) and no more than one diamond. So you get the best it can find, which is harder.


@hpbieker - ah, yeah. That’s probably it. It can’t fill all criteria, so is displaying the best it can find.

I think the workouts are sorted by a score which is based of how close they are to the recommendation. The filter will remove the workouts who are not matching.

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As @jjamesv mentioned, the original intention was that workouts would be recommended by difficulty (in diamonds) similar to an athletes training status (in stars) with the thought being that athletes with higher training status should (in theory) be able to handle more difficult workouts than relatively less-trained athletes.

Some of this logic will be addressed in additional coming features, where the difficulty you can handle (and indirectly the amount of High/Peak XSS you can handle) is more related to your High/Peak training loads, not just total training load. It’s fairly common for athletes to reach >4 stars with very minimal high-intensity training… it’s just means lots of endurance riding.


And I think the other way around as well. You could be pretty capable of doing 3 diamonds short high intensity trainings without much base training, if you’re the short and hard kinda person. Not every day though, I think recovery needs are higher when the base is missing.

My outdoor rides that are not commutes on an e-bike but fun rides on a road bike naturally mostly come out as 3-5 minute focus, I coast a lot and use mostly relatively high gears with relatively low cadence and only ride for up to an hour at a time. Always have since childhood, just riding for fun or to get from A to B.

In Xert I additionally try to keep my signature on the low side (that’s much much lower than anyone else here) to be sure to be able to do the fun 3 - 3.5 diamond trainings I like (my absolute favorite is Raining Blood) without even half a star of training load. I usually just ride occasionally and almost never base in any quantity, just don’t like it. And of course just for fun and some fitness not to win any races or anything like that. That would need real training.

Now with all these nice new updates I’m thinking about maybe doing some proper base training this winter but I usually get too bored or lazy and don’t stick with the idea :wink: …no real cyclist

But Raining Blood is a fun workout to get the heart rate up and feel good. Some others as well and I do like to modify them a bit. Often to make them less difficult toward the end since I have no endurance or to make workouts that are >45 minutes shorter, also only a short warmup since I don’t seem to need warming up, after the normal warmup I’m already getting tired and bored.
The workout designer is a really nice tool and XSSR is pure genius for on and off intervals, it just feels so right, with exactly the amount of power asked for at each moment to make it feel hard but doable.

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It’s not easy to get the correct xss and the correct Stars if you are time constrained…

I think I rode myself to 5 stars last season with almost entirely low XSS. I averaged 20+ hours a week over a 10 week period. I don’t plan to do that again.


Interestingly, that would be a greater time investment versus adding in some high-intensity. This is because doing work under strain (e.g. when MPA is pulled down) accelerates the rate at which you can accrue XSS.

Consider a standard “sweet spot” workout versus one of Xert’s “Sweet Spot under fatigue” workouts:

Standard 2x20 @ 90%: 86 XSS in ~ 70 min

SMART - Bangarang (4x8 @ ~90 XSSR): 90 XSS in 60 min

Obviously high-intensity can only be used to increase total training load to some extent - it takes time to recover from high-intensity efforts… HIIT can’t be done every single day. But adding it in a few times a week can help provide a nice boost to training load.

Yes, that is what I’m doing this year. last year I was coming off a surgery and also trying to figure out Xert so I just put in some miles. I don’t regret it but I certainly don’t want to do it again this year. Trying to do a hard day ever 3-5 days now with easy endurance in between for recovery.

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What kind of workout or xss do you consider HIIT? Since the last update I’m being recommended workouts like bangarang nearly every day. I moved the recovery slider halfway up and now I get something lighter in between days

  1. The difficulty rating chart with stars should be diamonds. It is an original glossary entry that wasn’t updated when diamonds were introduced to distinguish TL status from difficulty. I’ll report it to support. :wink:

  2. There isn’t a wide range of workouts at the 1-2 diamond level. Try using Autogen to create one specific to the day. Or add the Basic Workouts Library to your pool of available workouts and make sure Community folder is enabled in the workout Filter.
    Since hours/week are low the recourse is to increase difficulty of workouts to feed your progression. This is especially true if riding 3x week for an hour (time crunched) which will put you in blue/fresh most days, ready for HIIT.

  3. Zwift races of that nature will result in a high difficulty rating. However, a BT of that type can be misleading unless that final red spike was truly ridden to failure and not an abrupt end of a sprint to the line. Your signature may be understated if you had more left in the tank. When was your last BT prior to that race?

Suggestions –

  1. Add the Basic Workouts Library (simple interval repetitions) as a source by clicking this link. If you decide to remove these workouts in the future, visit Community, My Coaches, and select Leave. Or you can uncheck Community under Filter to exclude them from recommended lists.

  2. Use Autogen to create today’s workout which at those specs would result in the high intensity intervals separated by long RIBs to reduce difficulty. Duration may be too long to fit your schedule though but it will be a lighter strain workout at your fitness level.
    You’ve proven an elevated hardness level by your current activities. Your performance is beyond what’s expected with a low TL. If you’d would like to challenge yourself even more, search the Workout Library for “hardness test”, pick one, say Level 03 to start, and see how well you do. Then move up the ladder in subsequent weeks and determine how high you can go.

  3. Try a Ronnestad-style workout such as this one which should result in multiple BT points (MPA flat lining) and/or failure points on at least one of the sets. If you get through all three sets intact consider your signature dialed in. :slight_smile:

  4. Switch your Athlete Type periodically to generate a wider variety of workouts or use Filter to change Focus for the day.

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I consider HIIT any workout with orange to red intervals (>TP) of sufficient duration to pull down MPA that results in a focus duration other than the Endurance quadrant.
I’m sure a physiological definition applies, but I’ll leave that to @ManofSteele.
Also, Specificity matters. :wink:

If ATP is set to Continuous then HIIT recommendations when fresh/blue are going to be around whatever you set your Athlete Type to.
To mix things up change Athlete Type under Goals to something else or change Focus on-the-fly using Filter.

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@ridgerider2 - thanks for the comprehensive reply.
I’m away for the weekend, so a bit of a pain on a mobile screen to respond, but will reply properly when back.

I appreciate everyone’s suggestions and help!! :+1:

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“consistent training” and a “base phase” don’t need to go together at all.
That whole notion of periodisation and therefore base and other phases derives from the idea to achieve a form peak on a specific day in the calender.
As a non-racer you might have zero reason to bother about such. Put xert into contineous or challenge mode and be good. Or even just do whatever workout whenever you like. If you manage to get either your low, high and/or peak training load graph to raise you will be fitter & faster.

Even most scientific studies where people get made faster quickly include no base training (alone because noone has time in such scenarios to await its effects).


So - I have found some time to reply @ridgerider2 - thanks for the detailed information.

Answering each point in term

1 - it would be great to get the stars updated in the glossary entry to diamonds. It can definitely cause confusion when you see similar terms/nomenclature used in different areas of the site.

2 - I am yet to try the autogen function. I really should try to give it a go.
I have added the basic workouts library though, so I’ll see how that goes.
I am definitely time crunched when it comes to squeezing in cycling time, so making the best use of the time is important.

3 - I have been doing OK with breakthroughs lately.
Oct 10th
Nov 2nd
Nov 17th
Nov 20th - this was at the end of a workout - I finished Let The Sparks Fly & was 80% of the way up one of the col rides in Zwift. I figured I might as well stick it into slope mode & go for it to get to the finish.
This was also with a mind to creating a breakthrough, so I tried to work progressively harder, as I neared the end.
This was the before & after charts (difficulty 147).

and Nov 29th was the last one I got at the end of the race. I did sprint for the line, but had been working hard up to then & was concious of getting a breakthrough, so tried to go all out. I might have even given up a few metres before the line because I was done.
Before & after charts again (difficulty 144)

Your Suggestions

1 - as above, I’ve added the basics workout library. I did not know this was a thing you could do, so very useful!
2 - yes, I will endeavour to try an autogen workout & see how that goes.
This morning I tried the Hardness Test 03. It was actually much harder than I expected it would be. The three min intervals were pretty tough. This was only a difficulty of 68 - moderate, and XSS of 72 in total. I think this maybe points to the fact that I need to work on longer intervals near TP.
3 - I’ve seen the Ronnestad workouts, but not tried them. I’ll try to give one a whirl, although am not sure I will complete it! What is the best course of action to take if you reach failure during a workout? Knock the level down, until it is achievable (say 95%?) ? Or just call it a day?
4 - switch athlete type periodically. Good idea. I will have a go at that.

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With Ronnestad-style workouts (micro interval sets) you are best off failing when it occurs and keep trying your best on subsequent sets.
First time I tried that workout I faltered during the second set and wasn’t up for the third. Months later (at 4+ stars) I got through all three sets. You won’t always get a BT but it will challenge you.
I also learned I like this type of workout for attempting BTs.

Turns out I misread that article as well. The column is labeled Minimum Training Status.

I suppose they could add diamonds :small_blue_diamond: on the right side to match for clarity, but now I get it. :smiley:
As @ManofSteele mentions above, the concept has evolved. In a future update the pairing will be less centered on status stars count to diamond count and more related to high/peak strain accumulated while training.