ACWR and Progressive Overload

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

We all know that progressive overload is important to getting stronger.  We know we have to do more than we did before in order to get stronger. However, this is not an exact science and there are still many questions that coaches can have when trying to write programs.

 

Overload doesn’t just mean volumes need to increase.  We can overload a few different things.  We can overload intensity for one.  I keep track of all reps performed from 50% and higher.  I can have someone perform the exact same number of lifts as before, but we get a few more repetitions at 80% of 1RM or higher.  This can raise volumes a little bit, but it is not much usually.  Oftentimes when I do this, I use fewer total lifts, because of recovery, and volumes end up being a little bit less.

 

We can also overload efficiency.  This is what I tend to do in the offseason, far away from a competition.  This is also how I would treat someone with very poor technique.  We can use variations to help correct technique issues.

 

These variations can increase in difficulty.  For example, tempo squats at 70% for sets of 4 repetitions are much harder than comp squats at the same weight and reps.  This time under tension is progressive overload to the comp squat. From there we can pause on the halfway up for 2-4 seconds.  Obviously 4 seconds is more difficult than 2 at the same weights.  I find this variation to be harder than tempo squats for most.

 

From the pause on the halfway u squats we can do 1.5 squats.  This is where the lifter hits depth and goes halfway up, back down to depth, and then all of the way up.  These are very difficult and requires the lifter to spend a lot of time in the most difficult position of the lift.

 

Each block can use one variation and then the next block can use the exact same weights with another variation.  This helps improve technical proficiency in the lifts as long as the coach is selecting the appropriate variation for the appropriate lifter.  Blocks like this oftentimes end with PRs.

 

This does not mean that volume isn’t important.  We need to be sure the lifter is hitting appropriate baseline volumes for them.  There are many ways to organize a training block. I tend to prefer to organize it by rotating high, medium, and low stress days and weeks.  I learned this from Sheiko and have had good success with progress and health of my lifters.

 

I used to decide a number of lifts and average intensity for each lifter based upon the recommendations of Sheiko.  Now I do things a little bit differently.  I use the ACWR to organize these days and weeks.

 

Quick rundown on the ACWR. It is a rolling 4-week average of total tonnage in the big 3 lifts.  This is the chronic workload.  The acute workload is the current week of training.  Basically, the chronic workload is the athlete’s preparedness and the acute workload is the current fatigue in which the athlete is being asked to accumulate.

 

Acute workload divided by chronic workload equals the ACWR.  A ratio of 1.0 is baseline.  We never want to stray too far away from baseline either up or down for progress and health.  Everyone has a baseline that I try to maintain.

 

This baseline is not an exact science and it changes from person to person and even within an individual it can change over time.  This is extremely hard to maintain and why having the eye of an experienced coach is important.

 

Adjustments need to be made on a day to day basis.  We never want training to be too easy or too hard, for the most part.  I no longer let these numbers dictate the load on the bar. Instead I watch the lifter and decide from there.

 

Watching the lifter is more than just watching how the previous set looks.  It is getting to know them and understanding their lives a little bit as well as their mindset when training.  Getting stronger includes more than just building physical strength. The psychological piece is just as important.

 

Understanding all of these factors can help the coach put the right weight on the bar for each of their lifters.  Lifters also progress over time.  You don’t want to miss these moments and slow down their progress.  Making sure we get the right weight on the bar is important here.

 

If the lifter has gotten used to training volumes and the training is getting easier, we can overload intensity.  In these periods we will just push the weights but keep the number of reps the exact same.

 

If the lifter continuously hits numbers that are much higher than what is in their program, I will look at it and give them an inflated max.  They will then run the program with the same number of lifts and average intensities as before.

 

As the meet draws near we will drop variations and primarily focus on competition lifts.  This is where we will push volumes and number of lifts. A simple way to do this is by adding sets or reps to the same intensities that were previously used.

 

When structuring weeks of training I used to follow the guidelines laid out by Sheiko.  A medium volume week is 20-30% of the total lifts completed.  A small week is less than 20%, large week 30-40%, and extra-large week is greater than 40% of the lifts completed.

 

Instead of doing this now I use the ACWR.  I will have one week that is well above 1.0.  This sometimes will exceed the 1.3 that is mentioned as an upper range.  If it exceeds 1.3, I consider it an extra-large week.  1.0 is medium, less than 1.0 is small, and 1.1-1.3 is large.

 

If we are far out from a meet, I will structure the 4 weeks in a way that averages out to 1.0.  If I want to raise chronic workloads there may be 3 weeks over 1.0 and 1 week at .8-.9 for recovery.  This just depends on the lifter and the lifter’s schedule.

 

This is not just about mechanical stress.  This is why getting to know your lifters is important.  If they have a lot going on in their lives that lead to higher than normal stress levels, their tolerance for training stress will be less.

 

However, if things are going well, their tolerance for stress can be higher.  There is not much we can control here.  During the good times lets push it and during the stressful times lets maintain and work on some other aspects of training.  Take what is there when it is there, within reason.

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It Is Not All About Volume

Written By: Kevin Cann

 

There are so many things that go into getting stronger and writing a good program.  However, I feel all too often there is a major focus on only one of them, volume.

 

Now, we can’t deny the importance of volume to getting stronger.  There needs to be an adequate amount of volume in order for the lifter to improve.  However, we can’t just keep adding volume every week.

 

Your body doesn’t work on a 7-day cycle.  It doesn’t even know what 7 days is.  A week being 7 days is a manmade calendar event.  It isn’t like on Sunday your body goes “I am adapted and ready for more volume.”

 

I would argue that load management is the most important aspect of training.  Volume is definitely a part of this.  We want to vary low, medium, and high load days to keep the athlete as healthy as possible and to continually push progress.

 

One thing about a Sheiko program is it never gets too far away from volume baseline.  This is either up or down.  There are none of these sharp spikes in volumes.  I think too often coaches are looking for “overreaching” Overreaching is basically the step before overtraining.  Many believe that if you do this effectively and follow it with a deload something magical happens to the athlete and they get stronger.

 

To be honest, I am not sure overreaching is a thing.  Even if it was, how would we know for sure we are achieving it?  If we are using a large spike in volume, we need to be careful as we can actually increase injury risk.  If our 7-day volume average exceeds our average per week for a month we increase the risk.  This doesn’t mean they will get hurt, but the risk increases and is the risk worth the reward?

 

One thing we need to keep in mind with volume is that it needs to be specific to the sport.  When I am talking about volume, I am talking about volume in the competition lifts and their variations.  The majority of the volume in a program should come from these exercises.

 

Technique should not be put aside to add more volume.  I take that back.  There are times that we need to accept technique for what it is and start driving volumes.  This is for a lifter that is competitive at the national level with a chance of placing.

 

This should not be done with beginners or those that are just part of the middle of the pack.  Beginners will get stronger no matter what.  We need to make sure they exit the period of beginner gains with solid technique.  This sets them up for continued success.

 

Same rules apply to the middle of the pack.  If you want to continue to improve to eventually place, technique needs to be an important aspect of training.  This ensures that you can continue to increase your total.

 

Getting stronger in shitty positions will limit your ceiling with the amount of weight you can lift. Think about it logically, if you deadlift with the chest too far in front of the bar, wouldn’t you lift more if you used your legs more?  I would argue yes.  It may not happen at first, but over time you will.

 

Every lifter, regardless of skill level, should be assessing weaknesses and attacking them in training. They should spend as much time as possible doing this.  If you aren’t competing for 6 months, take a few months to do this.

 

This doesn’t mean that you have to lift light.  Find a variation that targets a weakness and basically treat that lift as your comp lift. Need to improve leg strength in the squat?  Use some wide stance variations.

 

I know people reading this will be like wide stance squats?  Aren’t close stance squats better for quad development?  I use a lot of close stance squats as well, but find the wide stance help the lifter remain more upright in the squat, which is often blamed on weak quads.

 

Trying to make sense of this, I think this is what it is.  We know wide stance squats target the glutes more.  However, it doesn’t show it hits the quads anymore or any less than other stance widths.

 

Some research suggests that the hamstrings stiffen up and this allows the glutes to assist the quads in knee extension and vice versa.  Perhaps the glutes getting stronger allows them to better assist the quads?    Perhaps the glutes play a bigger role to keeping the athlete more upright in the squat? Perhaps the wide stance teaches the lifter to keep the hips under the bar more because if pitching happens with a high bar wide stance you will fall over.

 

Once you plan the variations to target weaknesses literally treat them like your competition lift. Knees cave in with wide stance squats, use wide stance pause halfway up squats.  Drive these weaknesses until the lifter is able to handle typical training weights in this altered position.

 

As the competition draws near, make it more specific.  I actually drop the frequency during the times that we are using variations and add volume in accessories.  Typically the lifter is not a skilled at these variations, so I am treating them as if they were a beginner.  This also helps keep volume down a bit in the offseason.

 

One thing to keep in mind with us is we always train heavy.  Effort is always high in the comp lifts and their variations.  I used to use higher volumes with the lifters, but this led to lower weights being used and typically lower RPEs on the top sets.

 

What I found with this that the lifters struggled when it was time to lift heavier.  This struggle was either psychological, technical, or both. Technique under heavy weights is a bit different than with lighter weights.

 

We do much more lifting at 90% or higher than most.  Often, my lifters are taking these weights for heavy sets of 1 to 3 reps.  I do not let them grind out reps.  It should be an RPE 9/9.5 at most and technique breakdown has to be very minimum.  I find that doing this over time their technique with heavier weights gets better as well as their confidence.  If I can, we will take those numbers on variations.

 

In order to do this, we see a drop in overall volume.  However, like I said earlier, volume is very important.  As a competition draws near and we increase the frequency of the comp lifts, our volumes increase quite a bit.

 

The squat volume I keep around the same, but the majority of reps are comp squats.  The added frequency of bench and deadlifts adds quite a bit to total tonnage and the deadlifts work the same muscles as the squat.  I use the squat volume to drive deadlift volume in the offseason, but deadlift volume to drive more squat volume in a meet prep.

 

After pushing squat variations for a bit, once the lifter gets back into their comp stance the weights start flying up.  This is where the added squat volume tends to come from.  This is where we use volume to drive progress at competitions.

 

I think too often lifters and coaches attempt to drive volumes year-round.  This can only last for so long.  Dropping frequency allows for some deconditioning to higher volumes to occur.  This way when we bring it back in there is more of a benefit.

 

I think volumes matter most by what the athlete is used to doing.  Following the ACWR we can lower average baseline volumes for a period of time, then we can blast volumes appropriately beyond that baseline and peak or a meet.  After we peak volumes, we have a lighter load week, test 17-20 days out and taper from there.

 

Then we assess and do it all over again.

Do You Have Discipline?

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

I have had quite a few rants about this lately and felt like it be a good article topic.  This coupled with a few more people joining Team Precision, it makes it even that much more important for me to get this information out there.

 

Everyone wants fast results in the sport of powerlifting.  They want to pick up a barbell, create a lifting IG account, and show the world their progress.  In the beginning, you can definitely see some really big progress.

 

Beginner gains is a real thing.  In some cases, you may even qualify for Raw Nationals in your first meet and find yourself in a respectable placing within the rankings.  However, these lifters are few and far between, and even then they may serve themselves better in the long run if they slow down the process a bit.

 

I view this sport as a long-term process.  I don’t necessarily ask myself what the fastest way is to get this athlete strong and competitive within their weight class, but instead what is the BEST way. At face value these may seem like the same things, but they are not.

 

We can just load this athlete from day 1 and progress it quickly over time.  As a beginner, or even an intermediate lifter, in a new program we can see some very fast results.  We can throw some RPEs on the program and continue to increase bar weight and volume, only taking the occasional break to deload.

 

This will be effective for most athletes.  This can be a very fast way to seeing big results.  However, is this necessarily what we want to do?  There is a major drop-off in totals within the IPF after the age of 27 years old.  Could it be because of this type of training style and mentality?  I believe it is.

 

I have written quite frequently about my use of the Acute Chronic Work Ratio (ACWR).  This is a ratio between the fitness levels (chronic workload) of the athlete and the fatigue (acute workload) levels of the athlete.

 

The chronic workload is a 28-day weekly average of volume and the acute workload is the 7-day period the athlete is in for their training program.  A ratio outside of .80-1.30 has an increased risk of injury.  This does not mean that you will get injured, but risk seems to be increased when we do too little or too much.

 

That acute workload can increase pretty quick if we are constantly driving volume and training intensity.  You do a few extra sets because you feel good and are attempting to work up to a certain RPE, or you took a certain weight last week, so you want to take more this week. This increases that acute workload pretty quick.

 

Now, I am not trying to say RPEs don’t work.  They absolutely do when they are used properly.  I also think they work best when variations are thrown into the program. Typically, variations will be selected based upon the weaknesses of the lifter.

 

This means that the lifter will not be as good at the variation and will not be able to load it in the same manner as they may be able to load their comp lift.  Often variations include things such as pauses which make it more difficult to load.  Variations are a good way to actually control athlete loads and help to keep them healthy.

 

I know some coaches that actually drop the frequency of the main lifts after a competition.  This may mean only 1 squat, 1 bench press, and 1 deadlift day and those days may actually be some variation.  From there, as the next competition draws near the frequency gradually increases.

 

I do things a bit differently.  When I get a new lifter, I analyze their current program and their technique.  Boris Sheiko has been my coach for nearly 3 years now and I am sold that technique is the most important aspect of training.

 

If we build a strong movement pattern by focusing on making every repetition look the same, we can stress it more because it is strong.  If the lifter has poor technique, and every repetition looks different this is an unstable movement pattern and cannot be stressed as high.

 

If technique is poor, we will use lots of submaximal weights and variations that closely mimic the competition lift to work on those technical errors.  We will always use comp bar placement, foot placement, grip, and deadlift stance in this scenario until technique clears up.

 

For example, in April I started working with Maytal.  Her best squat was 305lbs, but there were some issues that needed to be cleared up. Here volumes were also below the recommendations laid out by Sheiko.

 

We worked with light weights building volume and technique.  This week she hit a very easy 335lbs on the squat.  She did not touch anything over 260lbs in training leading up to this block.  Last week was the first week, when she hit 315lbs for doubles.  We worked on building a consistent and stable movement pattern.  After her next competition we will start utilizing variations that are different from the competition lifts to build up weak areas.

 

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This is extremely important as this sets the athlete up for long term success.  Maytal experienced results that are not typical.  I would have been happy with a 5-10lb PR with better technique for her.  Now that we have a solid technical foundation, we can load this exercise and hopefully see nice steady progress.

 

Alyssa, had also experienced some progress with her squat.  At her test for her April meet she hit 305lbs.  However, there was still some technique issues popping up.  We focused on variations that help with these issues and we loaded the squat as heavy as we could without seeing these errors. Last week Alyssa hit 315lbs with much improved technique.  This puts us in a good spot leading into Nationals. After this meet we can load this movement with more volume and intensity.

 

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With both Alyssa and Maytal we could have just added weight and volume to the poor technique.  It wasn’t like their squats were going to get them hurt or they weren’t lifting within the rules.  Chances are they may have even increased their lifts more if we did that.

 

However, you can only beat physics for so long.  Ignoring technical issues to load more weight can only get you so far.  Things don’t work, and people typically load more, or they just keep increasing intensity and volume within the competition lifts. This is most likely where we see the drop-off in totals after 27.  People get frustrated or injured.

 

I have a saying, “You earn the right to lift more weight.”  If you do things appropriately from the beginning you will set yourself up for better long-term success.  Sometimes this means doing things that do not feel as good and being patient.

 

It is always more comfortable to lift how you are used to.  However, it does not mean that it is the best way, especially if you are a beginner. Training may feel easy.  However, it may be easy because we are working on safely building volume and technique.

 

When things get tough you may question your stance, or your grip, or your shoes.  Too often lifters are too concerned with the small things that most likely don’t matter.  What you need is the discipline to put time under the bar.

 

Have the discipline to listen to your coach and follow the program.  If you hired a quality coach there is a reason for everything in that program.  If you have questions or feel things are too easy, just ask the coach.  Maybe you get to go up in weight, but maybe you don’t.

 

There will be times you don’t agree with the coach.  However, have the discipline to understand you are the athlete.  You do not know better than the coach.  I couldn’t imagine every telling Sheiko I do not agree with him.

Applying ACWR and Exertion Load to Programming and Its Significance on Long Term Athlete Progress

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

We all know volume is important to getting stronger.  For the most part, we all know that we need to progress training in a way where volume increases over time to get stronger.  However, it is not as simple as it seems.

 

Even though increasing volume is the answer to getting stronger, it can also be a poison to the athlete.  You see, too much volume too quickly and the athlete can quickly become overtrained and injury risk increases.

 

We can increase volume by doing more sets and reps, or by increasing the weight we are using for given sets and reps.  Oftentimes you will see programs progress in a linear fashion in one of these ways.  However, I am going to tell you that it is not as simple as increasing volume on a weekly basis.

 

How long can you actually do that?  At some point the athlete will hit a ceiling and anything more can increase injury risk. This can probably yield good results for a couple of years even before it becomes a problem.  But it will become a problem in time.

 

The goal is to increase the athlete’s workload over their lifetime in the sport.  I think we often overlook the bigger picture here.  This is a sport that you can compete in throughout your lifetime if you are smart about it.

 

I use every meet as an opportunity to reset training volumes with my athletes.  I use the test and taper that was taught to me by my coach, Boris Sheiko.  This test and taper has been successful for all athletes regardless of skill level, gender, and bodyweight.  I do make small adjustments for women and men under 200lbs compared to men over 200lbs, but it is minimal in the differences.

 

We test 17-22 days out from competition.  Day 1 we test squat and bench and day 2 we test deadlifts after some bench press. That week we perform a normal training load, usually 4 days for my athletes.

 

The next week there are 3 days of training with significant decreases in volume.  We may take 3 singles of squats at 80% or 85% (depending on the circumstances above) on day 1 and then 3 singles on day 3 at 75%.  The following week there are only 2 training days. Squats might be a 3×2 at 70% on day 2.

 

I do not see the need to keep volume high leading up to a competition.  Strength is easily maintained for a prolonged period of time and we want the athlete to dissipate as much fatigue as possible so that they feel fresh for the competition.  This is the idea behind supercompensation.

 

This 2-week period sees a massive reduction in training volume.  The week after the competition is also lighter.  This decreases the athlete’s work capacity.  We basically, just had a whole block of lighter workloads.

 

We cannot just jump right back into training at this point.  We need to gradually increase the athlete’s preparedness for training. Many programs here will use higher rep sets of 10 and more to build work capacity.  This is fine for their systems.  However, it is not what I am looking to do.

 

I am heavily influenced by my coach, Boris Sheiko, and the recommendations that he has laid out.  I heard early in my career somewhere to mimic those that have done it well, understand it, and then make the adjustments to make it your own.  This has been my path the last 2.5 years under him as a coach.

 

I am looking to hit certain volumes at certain average intensities.  We also very rarely go over 6 reps in training.  This is due to exertion load; how hard each rep actually is. In a set of 10, the first few reps are very easy and there is not adequate effort to get the lifter stronger in those reps.  Perhaps the last 3 reps yield a positive training effect for strength.

 

According to the research 3-6 reps with 1-2 reps in reserve is ideal for strength gains.  I need to prepare my athletes to hit those volumes with that much effort or exertion load.  This type of training is very difficult and must be done in a way that keeps the athlete as safe as possible.

 

The inability to understand these concepts is where I feel a lot of people get hurt trying to mimic what Sheiko does.  It is more complex than people know.  It is also why hiring a full time powerlifting coach is important.  They should understand these concepts.

 

I want training to have significant effort, but after a meet volume needs to be increased for us to even get there.  This is where variations come into play.  Day 3 after a meet I will have an athlete perform squats at 75% for 4 sets of 3.  This is to just move around and recover a bit from the competition.

 

The following week I may have them perform squats with chains at 70% for 4 sets of 4 reps.  The chains deload weight at the more difficult positions of the squat which makes it easier for the athlete to recover.  They also get to feel heavier weight at the top. The effort to move this weight is more than would be required without the chains.  This is how we are starting to build the exertion load backup for the athlete.

 

For Nick Santangelo, who squats 615lbs at 205lbs bodyweight, would get 5,535lbs of volume on week 1 day 3 after the meet.  The following week he gets 6,888lbs of squat volume plus the chains.  I do not count the chain weight on volume lifted here.

 

The following week, Nick has high bar squats at 75% for 4 sets of 2 reps.  High bar increases his effort for these repetitions while keeping training volume where it needs to be.  After bench, he came back to 80% squats for 4 sets of 2 reps.  These were done low bar.  However, the fatigue from earlier squats and bench make the effort greater for these repetitions.  The total volume of this day is 7,626lbs.

 

This will continue to increase until total squat volume is around 30,000lbs for a given week.  We squat twice per week, and the examples given were only 1 day to make it easier to understand.  It takes Nick about 4 weeks to work back into that range, maybe more.

 

Once we get the volumes back to where they need to be, we will maintain that volume for a period of time. This might be 2-3 weeks.  Only then will we increase volume.  When we increase volume, we will usually only increase the weekly workload in 1-2 weeks out of a 4-week block.  The other weeks will be at baseline or even slightly below.

 

This allows the athlete to recover.  This also increases my 4-week rolling average of volume.  This is the chronic workload. Every block after will look like this one with 1-2 weeks above baseline and the others at or below.  We go slightly above and slightly below so that we do not lose strength by undertraining and do not risk injury by overtraining.  This is how we get steady progress over time.

 

I like to lift heavy with my athletes.  That is the name of the game.  However, we need to prepare them for this as well.  Variations can increase the effort of the lifts without increasing workloads to unsafe numbers.

 

Variations however, need to be selected based upon the athlete’s weaknesses.  Once the variation is chosen I like to keep it in the program for a period of time and progress it up to heavy singles.  I also like to progress training up to heavy triples in the comp lifts.  We cannot do both at the same time.

 

Away from a meet I will push the variations first.  Usually, the athlete struggles off the bat, but has beginner gains in the variation. During this time, they may be taking 80% for triples on one of the days for the comp lift itself.  Once we push that variation enough, I will have the athlete push triples on the comp lift.

 

They will take a heavy triple with 1-2 reps in reserve in the comp lift.  This becomes their new 80% moving forward.  This is very heavy training.  The other squat day must be a lighter day for the athlete to recover. Here we will use lighter variations to just work on technique stuff.  As the new 80% becomes easier, we will push the next variation.

 

As a meet draws near the variations begin to take a back seat while the heavy triples turn into heavy doubles and singles up to the test and taper.  Doing it this way we have managed to take 90% for 3 sets of 3 reps and even hit PRs for very fast singles before a test.  We have done this all while missing zero training days due to injury.

 

It has only been about 5 months that we have been doing this, but that is a good sign for me.  I will continue to monitor each athlete’s ACWR and exertion loads in training.  As each progresses we can safely increase training.

 

 

 

 

Monitoring Internal Load and Intra-block Progress

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

This article is going to piggy back off of the one that I posted yesterday about my use of Acute Chronic Work Ratio (ACWR)in the strength sports.  My wheels have been burning rubber and it just helps to get this stuff down on paper sometimes.

 

I use the ACWR as a means of monitoring a lifter’s fitness vs fatigue.  The chronic workload is a 4-week rolling average of total weight lifted while the acute workload is the weight lifted within the given week.

 

Acute workload/Chronic workload pumps out a ratio.  I use Sheiko’s recommended volumes and average intensities with my lifters. However, everyone is their own unique snowflake and there will need to be some adjusting.

 

This allows me to gather data on where everyone’s current training baseline is, and where it should be for the best results.  It also helps me monitor workloads to keep the lifters as injury free as possible. Over time I will have a ratio of this too for each lifter.

 

In this article I want to discuss how I monitor the internal load component of ACWR.  I also need a monitoring system to know how things are working or not working.  In Russia they compete 4-6 times per year.  It is easy to track progress in this setting.

 

However, my lifters compete on average, 3 times per year.  I need to be able to identify if training is or is not working.  Also, if something in training is off, I need to identify it so that my lifters do not encounter any injuries.  Injuries are inevitable, but I feel we can do better than the average by paying attention.

 

I do this by keeping similar intensities, reps, and sets in a block of training.  This must be a competition lift.  For example, 80% for 5 sets of 3 reps in the squat.  Looking at Kerry Sachs’ last 4 weeks of the program, this exercise falls on the following days:

 

*week 1/day 1/exercise

*week 2/day1/exercise 3 (heavy squat doubles, bench, 80% 4×3)

*week 3/day 3/exercise 2 (bench first)

*week 4/day 1/exercise 1 (planned 2.5% increase if the last few weeks looked good)

 

You can see this intensity, set, and rep scheme is in her program weekly.  It is moved around a bit.  This is something that I learned from Sheiko.  Fatigue levels change a bit throughout each week when the lifter encounters this same exercise.

 

This allows me to see how the lifter is handling training.  I am paying attention to both technique and effort.  I should see technique improve and effort decrease. Both are signs that the lifter is adjusting and progressing with the program.

 

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If the lifter is performing these sets with better technique and less effort, we will increase the weight. In this case, week 4 we are looking for a 2.5% increase.  Kerry’s 80% of 1RM is 230lbs.  We have been using 245lbs when the program calls for 80%.

 

This is because, at one-point Kerry was using 230lbs throughout a block and effort was too little. We want there to be only 1-2 reps in reserve on the days that we take this weight.  When I recognized this, we worked up to a heavy triple in this intensity range.  Once we hit the number, we kept that weight in the program.

 

Kerry has been using this number for triples since a couple weeks after the Arnold.  At first we were not performing all of the triples at this weight.  We would do 2-3 sets and then back-off to the true 80%.  Over time we worked up to performing all 5 sets with this weight.

 

When the program calls for more weight we just add that weight to the bar.  85% is 5% more.  5% of 285lbs (her 1RM) is 15lbs.  We add that to the bar in those situations.  Anything less and we use our true RM.  This is to ensure that our acute workload is not exceeding the average by too much.

 

Kerry squats 2 times per week, but there are usually 3 squat exercises written.  We use the infamous double squats as Sheiko does for me.   The other days are a higher rep day and/or a technique day.  The technique day consists of a variation that I believe will clear up any technical issues and weak areas of the lift.

 

I used to use many exercises to clear up these issues.  Now, I choose to mainly use 1.  There may be other variations mixed in occasionally however.  This is just to change it up and help control overall workload.  A pause allows us to use lighter weights and get a positive training effect.  This keeps overall volume lower.

 

That main variation will progress throughout the weeks.  Lots of time up to heavy singles.  Keeping one main variation in allows me to see if it is actually working.  In this case Kerry had pin squats.

 

As we worked up to heavy singles on pin squats at 265lbs (I progress these as I see fit based upon the ACWR and athlete’s past performances in the past weeks), I could see Kerry improving with the triples at 245lbs.  They were faster with less technique breakdown.  This lets me know that pin squats are a variation that helps push Kerry’s squat to bigger numbers.  If I used multiple variations I would not know which were effective and which were not.

 

This also gives me some insight on how fast Kerry progresses.  Perhaps another variation yields even faster results?  Only time will tell.  In this block Kerry has worked up to 3 sets of 2 repetitions with 93% of 1RM.  She has performed this in each of the last 2 weeks.

 

That second rep, especially in sets 2 and 3, has an exertion load (how difficult it is) greater than her current 1RM.  We have 3 more weeks of building volume in this block.  After, volume will begin to taper down and we start taking heavy singles in the competition lift.

 

Due to the exertion load of her current squat reps, I plan to have her take her first singles at 280lbs. She missed 281lbs as a 3rdat the Arnold due to depth.  For these singles, I am looking for 1-2 reps in reserve as well.  This may mean we hit a PR in training before our skills test. This PR will clearly not be a max as there will still be 1-2 reps in reserve.

 

There are ways to get stronger quickly.  Constantly pushing training with RPEs is one way.  However, I believe there is a tipping point where it becomes dangerous. Progress too quickly and the average (chronic) workload gets too much lower than the weekly workload and injury risk increases.

 

This allows me to push my athletes as much as I can while still keeping them in the safer zones. This is done over a larger period of time for one.  The first time you encounter a stimulus it is more stressful.  Each time after becomes a little less.  This is one reason why I move the same exercise throughout a week. Keeps the stimulus somewhat fresh. This is also why we do not increase the weights weekly.  The athlete can only increase when I say it is ok.

 

The triples are completed with 1-2 reps in reserve.  This keeps fatigue manageable as we are not encountering failure.  This is all being done while monitoring the athlete’s ACWR. I know what their current baseline volumes are and the current workload for the week.  I know exactly what they are prepared for in the gym.

 

Lastly, I know what weight to put on by monitoring the exertion loads of each set.  I know that second rep of 265lbs on the 3rdset is harder than a fresh single at 280lbs.  This is while watching a volume block where fatigue is high.  Hopefully, once volume tapers and fatigue drops we see a big PR on the squat.  We have already seen Kerry work her bench press up to 140lbs, 14lbs more than her 3rdat the Arnold.

 

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Train harder and smarter. This was written on one of the ACWR studies I saw from Tim Gabbett.  This was originally formulated to monitor field athletes, but I think it can be an extremely powerful weapon for the strength sports.