Is It Time to Move on From My Data?

Written by: Kevin Cann


I have written about my change of focus coaching over the past 5 or 6 months.  I have mentioned how I have way more questions than answers. This was a drastic shift in my thinking as I believed that I had more answers than questions before.


How could I not think that I had all of the answers?  I have this amazing Excel spreadsheet that tracks everything that is important.  It tracks ACWR (acute: chronic work ratio), tonnage, number of lifts, percentage of those lifts that are competition lifts, average intensity, breakdown of tonnage based off of squat, bench press, and deadlift.


With all of this data I should have been able to guarantee progress for everyone.  However, this just did not happen.  The ACWR would drop below the recommended .8 for 2 weeks before a competition.  The competition would be a spike in workload, but no one was getting hurt.


This worked the other way around as well.  A few lifters tweaked some things when their ACWR was around 1.0.  This is far below the 1.5-2.0 that is recommended to avoid going over.  At other times it could be over 2 for weeks and the lifter would feel great.


I had also noticed there was a huge individual difference with this number.  I brought this up on my podcast with Gabbett and he said this was common.  He also said that this is a monitoring tool and shouldn’t be used to make decisions. The coach needs to use his gut.


I track tonnage as well. This is the data I use to calculate the ACWR.  I would also try to push tonnage to drive results.  This would work sometimes but would not work other times.  This can be said about all of the other data points. Sometimes they helped, sometimes they didn’t.


If I plotted these points on a graph, they would be chaotic.  It is easy to disregard the outliers and chalk up those to something different.  That is just not my personality.  I tend to become hyper focused on the outliers because I feel the answers to larger questions lie out there.


You can see how much I have focused on this over the years with my articles.  This led me to an understanding that strength training is nonlinear. When I first understood that I kind of just threw my hands in the air and accepted it for what it was.


I began to learn more about nonlinear systems.  I started with skill acquisition and a constraints-led approach.  This made me realize that not every lifter was going to learn the same way or react the same way to a training stimulus.


This offered me some insight into how to deal with the progressions, regressions, skips, and jumps of a nonlinear system.  I decided to treat strength as a skill since it is nonlinear and requires nonlinear theory to solve.


I decided to stop structuring my training in the high volume/low intensity, followed by a drop-in volume and increased intensity, followed by increased specificity.  This was assuming that strength is linear and falls within a definitive timeline.  It does not.


This led to me read more about chaos theory in an attempt to understand irregularities.  One part of the current book I am reading really caught my attention.  This scientist named Lorenz was working on weather forecasting.


At the time everyone was hung up on Newtonian math.  The more accurate we are with the initial conditions the better our prediction will be. Lorenz asked what would happen if he started from a data point in the middle instead of with the initial conditions. His answer really resonated with me.


Each starting point yielded a very different outcome.  I went back and reread Kiely’s article “Periodization Paradigms in the 21stCentury: Evidence-led or Tradition-Driven?”  I reread it maybe 4 times.  This time with a much better understanding of dynamic systems.


I made a connection to what Lorenz was talking about with strength training.  Each day that a lifter comes into the gym they are a different person.  Those initial conditions are very far removed.  The further removed we are from them the less value they have in our predictive capabilities.


This means that we need an extremely flexible and adaptable program.  I rely more heavily on my intuition to make these changes than the data I possess.  I believe the data is actually very flawed.


I know there are many coaches out there that use data driven plans.  Many of these coaches are high level and have experienced more success than me.  This is solely my take on this and how I do things.


The data is based off of strength being a linear process.  In order for us to accept this we would need to disregard the outliers.  All training works, but we are trying to be the best possible.  In many cases the data doesn’t offer any answers to the question about the person in front of you.


One of my newer lifters, Marilyn, is a pretty smart chick.  She made a comment that really resonated with me.  She said that intuition just may be data collection done by the coach. Perhaps this is processed consciously and subconsciously based off of what I see.


This makes a lot of sense to me.  But what do I do with my fancy Excel spreadsheets and how do I collect data more efficiently?  One thing that I say a lot to my lifters is that the body only knows effort and the brain is what knows the weight on the bar.


Now, I feel we need to train the brain in this scenario in seeing some of those heavier weights, but ultimately perceived effort may be a better indicator of how hard a training session was instead of tonnage.


I think as coaches we like using things such as tonnage because it is easy to measure and track. We like having answers.  I am at the point now where I feel there aren’t any right answers, just less wrong ones.


I am not looking for something fancy to track this perceived effort.  Just maybe a number for me to know.  Perhaps I don’t even use numbers and just have them write some notes. These notes can go into my intuition to make decisions.


I am at the point where I know every number, I put on this will be wrong at times and there are no definitive answers, so I don’t want to spend time and money on something fancy. I am also going to start just giving number of sets to complete and ranges for weights, giving the lifter more freedom on a day to day basis.


I am done tracking all sets over 50% of 1RM.  I just truly feel it does not matter anymore.  I think we need to practice enough to get stronger.  I think some of this practice needs to be heavy, at least with RPE.  I just need to know how hard a lifter is perceiving that training to be.


Exercises will be decided based off of a constraints-led approach to improve technical issues that I deem to be important.  This variations will be individualized and heavy based off of RPE.


I will track how many hard sets each lifter does as well as performance.  I will make decisions based off of this and how each lifter is currently feeling.  I think our understanding of recovery from training is extremely limited.


Your CNS doesn’t take weeks to recover from overshooting an RPE.  I think at most you see around 4 days from bigger and stronger lifters.  I also believe that these efforts can be trained to be improved.


For example, if you have a lifter that is overly hyped all of the time, take their hype away.  Maybe go no music and they do the best they can under those constraints.  Teach them to not be so emotional when they lift.  This should be addressed the other way too.


If a lifter is constantly getting stressed out over their technique or their feels in training, this needs to be addressed.  Emotions have direct effects on physiological aspects and should not be disregarded.


My personal experience, not wearing my gear for a few weeks after a coopetition is actually a nice mental break from training.  For me there is a psychological piece to getting ready to lift.  Throwing on some flats and going bypasses this.  Just some food for thought.


Risk of injury in this sport is extremely small.  You will feel pain sometimes, this does not mean injury.  I just don’t see lifting leading to structural damage in the raw and drug free powerlifter.  Pain in these cases is less structural in nature and probably more psychological.



This does not mean we ignore pain.  This means we talk about it.  We see where the lifter’s head is at and if it is too uncomfortable, we alter positions for a couple training sessions and go from there.  My best guess is that this is a sign of fatigue, whether mental or physical.



I just do not think that my data captures the complexity of the human.  I am not sure any can.  I think at this point the best data to collect is to monitor performance and have effective communication with each lifter.  We may be able to even put a score on this communication to be able to compare it to other training days.


I am leaning towards rating each training day based off of perceived effort.  Just need to narrow down a scale that works best.

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