Importance of Data Collection and Volume Manipulation in Powerlifting

Written by: Kevin Cann


I collect a ton of data. I collect number of lifts, total number of competition lifts without variation, percent of lifts that are squat, bench press, and deadlift, total tonnage, ACWR, and average relative intensities.  I do this daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly in a spreadsheet.


I would not go through all of that trouble if I did not think it was important.  On top of that, the lifters write down their mood entering the gym and LSRPE for all major lifts.  I use all of this information to help me write their programs along with the analysis of their lifts.


This also helps me to identify courses of action when things do not go well.  For example, with Kerry Sachs’ deadlift.  She has experienced some major inconsistencies in her deadlift from Nationals last year.


She pulled 342lbs at Nationals in October, missed 319lbs at the Arnold, hit 350lbs on July 4th, missed 330lbs on July 21stat competition.  As a coach, I have no idea why this has been the case.  It would be great if we had all of the answers, but sometimes we don’t.


What do we do when we don’t have the answers?  I think in most cases for coaches out there they just guess.  I have a good feeling that not many coaches actually collect a good amount of data on each lifter.


I don’t have answers in this case, but I got a lot to look at to identify a plan.  I analyzed Kerry’s programs dating back to Raw Nationals prep from last year.  From there I try to catch trends that led to the big deadlifts that maybe weren’t there when she struggled.  Not much really stood out.


She hit some big pulls with higher volumes, and others when volumes were low, but intensity was a bit higher.  I was a little stumped by this.  I do think there are some psychological factors as well as technique issues that play a role in these inconsistencies.  However, we need to find a middle ground with technique so that she does not take a step back.


What do we know for sure leads to strength gains?  We can 100% stand behind volume leading to increases strength.  This is undeniable, and I am sure every coach will agree with this. Because I collect so much data, I went back and looked at Kerry’s deadlift volume.


Oftentimes I will use squat volume to drive deadlifts since they work similar muscles.  This has led to steady increases in the squat for Kerry over time.  I decided to stop doing that and actually use deadlift volume to drive the deadlift.


The most deadlift volume that Kerry has gotten in a 4-week period was around 52,000lbs.  This was leading into her July meet and a block before she pulled 350lbs on July 4th.  It peaked 4 weeks out from her test, which was about 2.5 weeks out from competition.


Knowing this, I decided to stress deadlift volume by 10% in this current block and peak that volume around the same time period.  Most deadlift volume in a week was 18,000lbs and this was last week, 4 weeks out from her test.  The week before was 15,000lbs of deadlift volume, he second largest volume week since Nationals of last year.


After that peak in volume we are ramping up intensity but keeping deadlift volume about 10% higher than her average weekly volume from the previous couple of blocks and making sure we maintain an ACWR of at least .80.


I couldn’t just add more top sets to increase her volume by this much.  This would beat her up too much.  This is where we can manipulate volumes with lighter weights to help build the tonnage we are looking for.  We have enough heavier sets and reps in there to make sure our average relative intensity stays high enough.


In fact, in those higher volume deadlift weeks the average relative intensity was 2-3% lower than where she is at as we come down from that.  I added volume in the sets between 50% and 75%.


A Russian study showed that all reps at 50% of 1RM and higher yielded positive affects to strength and hypertrophy.  I added in volume in these lower intensity ranges but stretched a top set out a bit to drive intensity a bit higher.


Instead of working up to 80% for 5 sets of 3, we did more sets working up to it and ended up hitting one top set around 90% for a triple.  Once we hit that triple, we backed off to a variation to work on issues at a much lower intensity.  This added even more volume in those lower intensity ranges.


The top single had a much higher LSRPE and there were 9 reps taken at 80% or higher.  If I wanted to perform 80% for 5×3 there are 15.  I now need to get that effort for a few more reps. If we use a deficit and a pause at 70%, it is much harder than 70%.  Your body does not know weight, only effort.  We performed a 4×2 here for 8 additional reps.  This brought us up to 14 with the effort that I am looking for, with one set exceeding the effort that we typically look for.


This is why I feel tracking lighter sets is very important.  It gives us another data point to manipulate to help drive athlete success.  I can also manipulate lifter fatigue heading into work sets utilizing lighter weights.


The PPS OGs got some mega squat pyramids where there were lots of high rep sets between 50% and 75% before they got to some doubles at 85%.  They then did lots of volume going back down between 75% and 50%.  We had enough higher intensity reps to drive strength, that are now more difficult due to volume before, and technique stays pretty solid.


Whether this is going to work for Kerry is unknown right now.  At the end of the day it is a guess.  However, I feel confident in my guess because it is educated based off the massive amounts of data I collect on each lifter.



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