Optimal Training is a path. It is just like 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 oscillating path: no comfort is allowed, constant adjustments and adaptions are required, no step is equal to the previous one, protection from falling into two deep chasms : overtraining and undertraining. Sooner or later our body adapts and there you go, we got 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 use 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, two main feedbacks 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 strategies to obtain these feedbacks and 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 it should be effective, most of all, 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 and 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 this :
There are many different strategies to assume 1RM for the day… let’s make a change for this one, in name of VBT’s Gods : always warm up with the same weight in the same micro-cycle until 1RM gets updated.
For a 150 kg Squat (300 pounds) this could be :
5 reps @ 60 kg || 120 lbs
5 reps @ 70 kg || 140 lbs
3 reps @ 100 kg || 210 lbs
1-2 reps @ 120 kg || 240 lbs
The key is to push the last warm up set as fast as you can (maximum intent) and then understand that Strength levels can be monitored from your speed data!
By taking a constant load as your reference, higher than normal speeds will indicate a very good day, lower than usual speeds 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?
An important factor to consider is the “resolution" of this value or the minimum threshold for variation. How much of a variation is due to actual changes in my Strength levels and how much of the change is only due to small variations in for example, technique ?
I suggest using a 5 % rule for advanced lifters who masters technique and a 10 % rule for novice lifters or ceiling and flooring the number if you’re in a middle range (say 0.35 m/s for example).
In this case I’m moving 80 kg @ 0.36 m/s so my threshold is anything more than 0.4 m/s or less than 0.3 m/s
In most cases it is however not necessary to do any math at all. In Powerlifting for example, bar speed is relatively slow and we can simply approximate our speed threshold by ceiling or roofing the value ( 0.45 m/s --> values between .4 m/s and .5 m/s).
In my session I can assess a good recovery from the previous training since I experienced +10% in average bar speed (Mean Speed): I was feeling pretty good and the value confirms that.
The next question from reading is quite obvious: what to do when bar speed doesn't improve? How to manage a fatigued state?
Take it easier than expected, there is no other way. The most intense the training prescription is, the higher the risk, so stick with your prescribed speed, but definetly use lighter loads and most of the times, deload volume: in other words, work less.
If the plan said Maximum Strength and you can't re-schedule your Training Session, you should definetly deload some plates (target speed will allow you to autoregulate): now try to mantain the same training volume (total number of repetitions for each set) but remember to resepect the demand of your body for recovery. A minimum of 20% up to 50% of volume deload is suggested in this situation, depending on how tired you feel. Common strength programs prescribe 4.5 heavy doubles, you will be happy with only 2-3 sets. I'm just warning you and myself, in case of dramatic reductions of bar speed, wise and successfull coaches would reschedule the training session and investigate on the habits or the events leading to the missed recovery. Nevermind, you're a tough guy and you want to complete the session anyhow, then you can use bar speed to Autoregulate the intensity of the exercise: in case of Absolute Strength, keep .35 ms/s as target and stop anywhere below .3 m/s. I mean really stop the set as soon as your bar speed hits close or below that. A lot of coaches use this approach to autoregulate training when their training schedule is forced by events.
Follow up to the Second Part of this Article series dedicated to Strength Profiling, we'll go in depth for Strength profiling and finally in Part 3 we'll see how to create your individual Load Velocity Profile using Beast Tools.