Calculating accumulated fatigue is a huge goal with my new Precision Powerlifting system.
You see, I do not care that much about too much accumulated stress on one day. We need fatigue in our training. This is what forces the body to adapt and become stronger. If we avoided getting too fatigued than we would never make progress.
However, fatigue builds up gradually.
A lifter doesn’t just crush it one day in the gym and then fatigue levels are so high that they become crippling. Fatigue builds up from crushing it every day in the gym and not having enough recovery or lighter days in training.
The most frequently used means of recovery is a deload week. Every so often a coach can program a lighter week that allows the athlete to recover. Low level activity actually helps the lifter recover faster, so some light lifting is better than not doing anything. Volume should drop by at least 50%. Intensity can be utilized here to maintain adaptations during a deload week as intensity is not as fatiguing as volume. As volume decreases intensity can increase.
Volume is more fatiguing than intensity because it makes the lifter work more. There is more damage done to muscles and the lifter’s energy stores are depleted to a greater amount. The damage done to muscles can actually accumulate over time. Without proper recovery the muscle continues to buildup micro tears until the lifter finally suffers an injury.
I do not use deload weeks with my lifters. I will program weeks that have lower training volumes, but they would not be low enough to be considered a deload. However, I utilize variations in training as well as programmed lighter days each week.
Fatigue builds up within our nervous system.
In fact, some fatigue buildup is motor unit specific to the task. Applying variation within our training can allow one group of motor units to rest while another group gets worked. Some motor units will be less involved while utilizing chains for squats. These motor units can recover for next week’s squats. This is exactly what I did for Nick and Kerry after USAPL Regionals.
Nick hit a 5×5 70% squats plus chains 10 days after his meet where he hit an all-time PR of 606lbs at 203lbs bodyweight. The chains allowed these motor units to recover a bit. Chains deload at the tougher parts of the lift which make it easier for the lifter. The squat was 465lbs at lockout, around 77%. This also tricks the mind into thinking the weight is lighter. This is important for psychological recovery from lifting heavy.
We want to keep variation in check though. We also need to practice our competition lifts. I tend to program 1 day where the athlete does the competition lift. This is usually done at 80% or higher. The other day, the athlete will utilize a variation that will help them improve their technique. As the athlete gets closer to competition, the variations decrease a bit in terms of exercise selection. However, intensities and volumes will still vary.
Nick came back for day 1 on the next Monday and hit an all-time PR for 3 doubles at 535lbs. The most we had ever taken for doubles was 505lbs. These were absolutely smoked as well. His day 4 of that week has only 19 lifts. The top sets are a 5×2 at 80% for deadlifts. This will leave 2-3 reps in the tank for each set and the overall volume is very low to allow for recovery. He has used this deadlift weight for a while now in training as well, so this will not yield the same fatigue as if it were a newer training stimulus. We had also built up his work capacity to handle this portion of his yearly plan in previous blocks.
Every week, day 4 tends to be very light for my lifters in terms of training volume. This doesn’t mean intensity has to be low. Below is Dave hitting 95% for a 2×1 off blocks on his day 4, where total lifts are 16. There will be 1-2 days that are above the lifter’s baseline, 1-2 days that are at baseline, and a recovery day each week. This allows the lifter to continue to train and make steady progress.
This is a lesson I have learned from Boris Sheiko.
World champions are those that persevere in training. They train hard, but also smart.
Missed training days add up over time. You miss a week here and there for injuries and it can be costly in the long run. If the lifter misses 4 weeks in a training year that is a whole month that that lifter missed training. 8% of their year was spent not training in this case.
That is a lot.
With that said, we want to stress fatigue levels as much as we can to force adaptations. However, cumulative fatigue that gets out of hand can really cause some issues for the lifter in terms of decreased performance and even injury.
Auto-regulation is a means to measure fatigue levels. Most lifters will utilize RPEs on a day to day basis. Volume stays the same, but the weight can be adjusted to match the given intensity which is represented by an RPE. The goal is to get the load to match the desired stress.
Research shows that percentages as well as RPEs will get people stronger.
However, it looks like RPEs have a very slight advantage over percentages over time.
Key words there being “over time.” Some issues with RPEs in the short term in my opinion are that lifters can be dishonest with themselves and either go too heavy or too light. This can be especially true on light days when the lifter ends up doing the same volume as a heavy day.
Also, the accumulated fatigue between the squat and the deadlift. Each exercise works the same muscles for the most part. This can lead to the intensity of one of these lifts to always be below where it needs to be to get stronger. Athletes tend to push the lifts that they are best at, it is human nature.
Again, I am not too concerned about too much daily stress, but too much stress over time. I also do not want to be so conservative with my athletes that we do not accumulate enough fatigue to get stronger. This is where fatigue points come into play.
By the lifter rating each of their top sets with an RPE I get them to set a baseline for the day and can see how much harder each set got.
I also get to see the trends that form over time. If 80% for 5×2 begins at an RPE 8 for the first 3 sets and an RPE 9 for the last 2, accumulating 2 points, I can see a baseline for that exercise, at that intensity, for that volume, and in that position of the training week.
Later, when the athlete performs this same exercise again, at the same intensity, for the same volume, I get to see how they are progressing. If performance has increased we are on the right track. If performance has decreased, I then need to analyze where the exercise falls in training. If it went from movement 1 on day 1 to the second squat session of day 3 it should be more difficult for the lifter.
If the lifter easily handled that 80% of 5×2, I can move it to squat session 2 of day 3 to make it more difficult without increasing bar weight, keeping technique sharp. Over time these trends begin to form with my lifters. I can see the improvements in their performance based upon their fatigue points. Again, a good sign we are doing everything right.
As this performance increases I can use their fatigue points to progress training. I will also have a baseline of fatigue points for which the lifter can easily recover. This will allow me to push training volume to the limit for each individual lifter. This will maximize results. This also gives me something concrete to follow to know when I am pushing a lifter too far and to reel in training a bit.
I am gathering quite a bit of data now and have discovered some interesting things. The first thing I need to change is the RPE chart. Each lift tends to fall within different ranges for each lifter. I am in the process of creating 3 charts, one for each lift.
As I uncover more, I will share it with everyone.
If you would like to try out this new program email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or stop by the front desk.
Written by: Kevin Cann