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.
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.
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.