“Don’t train minimally, don’t train maximally, train OPTIMALLY!”
Optimal Training is a path on a thin slack line connecting two states: where we are, our status right now and where we wish to be, or the status we want to reach. Just like funambulism, it is a very unstable and constantly vibrating path : no comfort is allowed, we have to keep adjusting and adapting, no step is equal to the previous one. We need to protect ourselves from falling into two deep chasms : overtraining and undertraining, until our body adapts and we get to the other side.
We are chasing the right amount of stimulus to consistently hit PRs, break records, feed our training soul with good vibes. Athletes are eager to conquer new grounds and reach new heights, constantly looking for the “Kaizen” (** Japanese business culture uses this word to describe constant improvement **). But..
The slack line is shaking hard. How do we keep in balance? How do we absorb its vibe and take the next step forward ?
Basically, there are two main feedbacks that can help us : our status right now and what is going to happen if we step forward now.
Velocity Based Training and Autoregulation are great feedback strategies to avoid mis-stepping off the line but .. how can we make sure we are always stepping forward?
The following steps illustrate some ideas on how to measure an athlete’s readiness to strength training. It should be quick and most of all, it should be effective, saving precious time for the lifting session.
Use your warm up set to understand readiness (or your work up to heavy)
A good warm up for your main exercise should be light enough to avoid fatigue accumulation but still be a decent stimulus to further oil your joints and wake your Central Nervous System up for the main lifts of the day. It may look like that described in Table 1.
There are many different strategies to assume 1RM for the day, just for this purpose I want to avoid 1RM Estimations and tweak : always warm up with the same weight in the same micro-cycle until 1RM gets updated. Practically, we’ll ignore training percentages in the columns, and only look at the load shown in Table 1.
The key is to push the last warm up set as fast as you can and then assess your Strength levels through your speed data!
By taking a constant load as your reference, higher than normal speed will indicate a very good day, lower than usual speed will tell you.. well.. hold tight and grind it out my friend.. after all, we are all here because we want to stay out of the comfort zone, right?
This will also reflect Power levels with the added advantage of being a two digit number, easier to remember than a 3-4 digit number.
See below an example application of this rule in the Incline Bench Press from my last month of training :
An important factor to consider is the “resolution” of this metric. In other words, how much of a variation is due to actual changes in my Strength level and how much of the change is only due to small variations, for example, technique ?
Many trainers found success using a 5 % rule for advanced lifters who master technique and a 10 % rule for novice lifters. In some lucky cases, we don’t even have to do the math as in the case for powerlifting exercise, where speeds are relatively low and we can just ceiling and floor the speed value.
In this case, I can say my training progression was correct and I recovered well as my +10% increase in mean speed tells I was feeling pretty good that day.
Now the next questions comes naturally; what if my values are not showing improvements, how do I manage accumulated fatigue?
It really depends on what your schedule is for the day..your body definitely needs to take it easier than expected.
The heavier the session the higher the risk.
If you’re in for Absolute Strength and you just can not miss the workout, you might just want to try to use less weight for the same reps per set. Then, keep in mind you’re body is asking for more recovery, so you need to decrease the total number of reps. Cut your sets by 20% to 50% depending on how tired you are. If the plan says 4-5 heavy doubles, you should just be satisfied with 2-3 sets for the day cutting 5-10% load off the bar. I have to warn you, in case of dramatic decreases (-10%) in performances, wise athletes and coaches should just skip and go straight to accessory work. If you’re a Hardcore Meathead eager to prove your Mental Toughness, just use Speed to regulate your exercise : In the squat you can target 0.35 m/s (it works well for many other Strength exercises also), give yourself at least 180″ rest and use 0.25 m/s as a minimum threshold to reach to keep lifting. This should guarantee you an optimal grind for the day. Remember to give yourself and your body extra care or time to recover after this. Many coaches use this same approach of Autoregulation in different kind of Strength Training.
In part 2 of this series we are going to walk through the whole Strength Profile and we are going to explain to you how to create it quickly and easily with our tools.