Acute to Chronic Training Load Tracking  

Recently with sports training an interesting component to follow with performance is the total volume of training the athletes are experiencing. One way to quantify this is to examine the acute to chronic training volume. Volume is the amount of work done, think how many reps you did with a weight (10 reps at 100lbs. is 1,000lbs of total volume for that set) now add up all the work you did in the session to get the session volume. The acute training volume is the total amount of work performed by the athlete over the week. Chronic volume is the average training load per week over the past 4 weeks. You can also think of this as the amount of training the athlete does over the microcycle compared to the mesocycle.

Research comparing injury rates with increases ratios of the acute to chronic training volume

In rugby players any time the acute training volume was greater than 1.5x the chronic training volume per week there was a significant increase in the rates of injuries for the athletes. Overall these athletes still were getting hurt even when the training volume didn’t massively increase. Also, these are rugby athletes which means there is collisions in the sport which those risks of injury are going to be higher than sports like golf. However, it is an important point to track increases in volume above what an athlete typically has to recover from since this increases their risk of injury.

Ways to track this on a budget

Having methods to track total athlete training volume especially in ball sports often requires accelerometers that can cost thousands of dollars (per year) along with doing the analysis of that data. Another method is to video tape every single practice and game to find out how far the athletes move and at what velocity they move and change direction. This will take a crazy amount of time. The best bet is to simply track the total amount of time practice lasts and have the athlete’s rate how hard they thought the practice was on average. Then multiply those sums together and track the total perceived volume load the athletes did over time. Research shows that this tends to be a close estimate in trained athletes of total training load. As you do this, track and see how increases in volume over what the athletes normally do has any relationship to the amount of non-contact injuries on your team. If you are just working with weight lifting based sports then you can literally track the sets and reps of the loads the athletes are lifting to get an idea of the training volume.

Implications for coaches and athletes

Every person adapts to the total amount of work their body typically has to perform if given enough time. Any time you rapidly increase this amount of work you massively increase your risk of injury. On the opposite side of the equation, any time you decrease the total amount of work an athlete is doing they are going to decrease performance and fitness. When this can become an issue is when athletes don’t train all summer and then show up for fall sports their risks of getting injured goes through the roof. Starting up your practices with lower intensities and ramping up with time will decrease your risk of getting folks hurt. Also making sure that you have your athletes in some type of summer training and conditioning program so they are adapted to training volumes before the practices start. If an athlete gets hurt, getting them to do all the training they can without slowing injury recovery is important to keep them adapted to handling significant volumes of work. This is why I like sled work if I am dealing with an injury to help keep up work capacity.

Implications for personal trainers and people getting back in shape

If you or someone you work with has been completely sedentary one set of any exercise equals a massive increase in training volume over what they were adapted to. So it is always important to start them off with less work than you would think they need to be doing. Having them build up with 3-5 total sets of an exercise and only one heavy set initially will be more than enough for them to adapt to over what their body was prepared for before then. Apply this same logic anytime you add is something new like different exercises or intensities (walking is a lot easier on the body than running).

Summary

Tracking the amount of work your athletes do is very important to get an idea of what they can tolerate without getting injured. An athlete that is injured can’t play for you, so you want to make sure that you keep them healthy. The goal is always to have productive training and if you have an idea of what someone is used to you can then write them better recommendations of what to do to make progress while minimizing the risk of injury.

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Body Comp Tracking, Special Situations

In October I was lucky enough to be invited to present at the great lakes regional meeting of the national strength and conditioning association. This was fun and I got to talk about doing body comp tracking with athletes and how you can use this data to help you program with your athletes more effectively and to help them be more successful. There were a few special situations with changes in lean body mass that I wanted to bring up that honestly I ran out of time to get in to. First I will give some basics on body composition.

Two compartment model

This is where the body is divided in to lean mass and fat mass. This is a simple divide and inside of the fat mass you have not only the fat that makes you feel self-conscious on occasion, but you have your bone marrow and nervous system which are both mostly made up of fat. On the lean mass side you have not only your muscle mass, but most of your internal organs, skin, bone (sometimes separated in the three compartment model), connective tissue, and even things like your hair. Since there are so many things that go in to each bucket it is important to know a few special situations with changes in lean mass and fat mass

Massive weight loss

Folks that lose a considerable amount of fat mass tend to have extra skin that with time tends to shrink down. This on a body comp scan could freak out your client or athlete since they think they are losing their lean mass when in reality muscle mass can go unaffected while their skin component decreases.

Atrophy and hypertrophy of your GI

Literally when you calorie restrict for longer periods or eat much heavier for a periods of time you change the size of your intestines (GI for short). This shows up as lean mass during any body comp scans. Part of that lean mass lost when you aren’t eating as much is due to your GI actually shrinking a bit and the antithesis is true when gaining weight. This is why having limb lean mass is important because you can truly tell if your muscles are getting bigger or smaller since those don’t have other organs inside them that will change in size.

Body Hair changes

For the other incredibly hairy guys out there, your hair is part of lean mass. So if you cut your super long hair or remove your large amount of body hair that will count as lean mass loss. Yes you don’t think about this too much, but if you lost half a pound of lean mass through hair loss and you think this is muscle mass change this will throw you off.

Summary

There are a few subtle ways that you can lose or gain lean mass that isn’t the muscle mass that people are really going for. Make sure that when you are tracking you need to use multiple methods and be sure the changes you are seeing are the ones you truly want to occur. I hope this helps and if you have any questions please let me know.

Leave a Dent On the World: Transitioning to Olympic lifting

I’ve been working with a student at Eastern that is trying to transition from power lifting to weight lifting. Before everyone who has actually witnessed my Olympic lifting technique start laughing, then gagging, and stop reading this give me a moment. This person is a good general athlete (meaning good body control and coachable). They have potential, but it will be interesting to see what happens since this is a hard road to go on. Let’s lay the framework where we are starting from first.

Foundation

This athlete has a good base. Yes, they are a powerlifter but in a lower weight class. This is good for two reasons; since they have a good aerobic base for a powerlifter, so they will be able to recover from exercise faster than if they were a full blown SHW (super heavy weight) powerlifter that has to waddle up to the bar and waddle back to their chair after each set. The other reason is obviously they have a good base of strength in general for total body, specifically with squatting and deadlifting. Furthermore this person is just athletic in general so teaching novel movements is not too much of a struggle and they haven’t been taught much in the Olympic lifts previously so they have few bad habits that need to be fixed from the start.

Limitations

The big limitation is mobility. Specifically in the hips and ankles to fully sit in to the bottom of the squat. This is an issue since with powerlifting you just need to hit parallel, but Olympic lifting requires you to drop lower. Also, her shoulders are a bit tight from benching so mobility to loosen up the shoulders is required. Specifically her ability to hit thoracic extension and to allow her lats to release so she can hit a better overhead position.

Programming

This is training for Olympic lifting, not Crossfit. So the first rule is that no set will have more than three reps. Why? Because our goal is movement quality not quantity. Think about if you were to do a very precise movement say for example a cart wheel if you don’t have much gymnastic experience. If you try and throw thirty of them in a row without taking a break the first few might look good, but by the end you are more likely to screw yourself up than anything else. With fatigue your movement quality is always going to decrease.

So after warming up with general stretching and barbell complexes (I use a variation of the Bergner warm up and the JTLC from Justin Thacker), the first set with actual weight will be for a set of three and possibly so will the second. After that the goal is doubles (two reps) ascending to where technique starts to decline and then either drop back down for more high quality reps or switch to singles and do a bit more work there. This is the slow cooker approach where we will slowly increase her training weights, but do so without sacrificing technique. I like to slowly add load to the point where we start to have some technical issues. If you only work with an empty bar for your Olympic lifting when the weight gets heavy you will find you are having huge problems with technique. As the bar weight gets closer to your body weight and start to exceed it, not only does your margin for error decrease, but the technique you have to employ moving around the bar also changes.

Altogether I only let her do 25 total training reps each day. This is based on a bit of Prilipen programming, but also the fact that once again the goal is perfect technique. So by having a cap of how many reps she can perform limits rushing the attempts and increases focus on each repetition.

This Friday her programming for snatch went as follows: 3×3 warm up weights followed by 3×2 and then 10×1 taking about a minute to two minutes between each set. Altogether this gives her a total of 25 completed reps in which she increased her PR in the movement. In the future we will likely decrease the total number of reps. This will not go lower than only 15 reps per session, and I’m wary of going over 25 just due to that volume will likely see a decrease in technique. Keep in mind that she is in shape, if she wasn’t in as good of shape I would have her do less reps per session.

Movements

The goal with Olympic lifting is mastery of the snatch and clean & jerk. For now we have a number of mobility flaws and lack of mastery of technique that I’m working around trying to build good habits. So she is doing the classical movements, but they are slightly modified. For example on the snatch we are doing one good pull from the ground and then she hang snatches the weight followed by overhead squatting it. This is for a number of reasons. She simple pulls the weight with good technique so we don’t rush her pull from the floor and get her out of a good position. This allows her to be aggressive on her hang snatch which she then catches aggressively. Her overhead squat is still shaky and needs work so hence no matter where she catches the snatch I have her pause there and then squat down and stand up. This helps build that technique in the portions of the movement that are lacking. Eventually she will snatch from the floor, but only after her pull from the ground becomes clean enough to move forward with (if you can’t do it right slow, is going faster with a movement going to solve your problems?).

For the clean and jerk she is cleaning from the ground since her movement is good here. She then hits a hang clean and does one front squat. Her front squat and catch position is good, it is her bar turnover and catch that needs help so hence we do two catches (sometimes three). From there her jerk catch is good, but her leg drive needs work (knees buckle), so she does two jerks and really focuses on jumping the weight up.

Summary

So this is a basic approach of taking a powerlifter and then working them in to being an Olympic weightlifter. We will slowly progress this basic frame work not really aiming to max out each time, but allowing her to move up as high as she can before technical failure. I hope that this makes some sense and is useful for anyone reading this. Another aside is that fact that for the sake of both of our schedules we do all of this work on one day. In a perfect world I would like her to be training this three or four times per week as a way to get more exposure to the movements and hence learn them faster. That would require decreasing the volume of the movements though so we don’t over stress the athlete. If you have any questions or anything you want me to elaborate on please just let me know. Thanks again for reading.