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It’s all about the numbers

Strength and performance / 15 May, 2018 /

By Stephane Cazeault

For advanced lifters, precision in training is very important. You need a solid plan of action for progress. To reach the highest level of strength development, you need to track and analyze your results in order to improve upon your programming. If you plan without assessing your data, your true training potential won’t be met.

Ever since I started training back in 1988 I would always keep a detailed journal of all my workouts and I would track my weights and reps for every set of every session I did. When I first started as a personal trainer in what is now called Midtown Le Sporting Club Sanctuaire in Montréal, we were about 30 trainers competing to get new clients.

Some were popular because of their looks and others attracted clients with their outgoing personalities, since I didn’t possess either, I had to attract clients with another set of skills. Back then (1999), the vast majority of trainers didn’t write programs or keep track of their clients weights.

When I trained a client I would always walk around with the program on a clip board and a stop watch around my neck. I would count tempo and reps, track the rest periods on my stop watch and would enter all the weights and reps performed. After a while, I was known amongst clients as the serious trainer and started attracting the more serious clients. I really developed a passion for the analytics of strength training.

I started counting everything I could from volume to tonnage to average rep to peak load, etc. At the end of each training cycle I would give a numbers report to my clients. The type A clients would get so excited about seeing their numbers increase over time it helped me create long-lasting professional relationships.

In this article, I want to present some of the data I record and analyze to perfect the programming and periodization of my clients. We will examine how these numbers can help understand training outcomes and see where some pitfalls could be avoided. For the purpose of this exercise, the information will reflect an entire 12-week cycle and will be presented via an actual case study using the data from one of my online clients.

This is very technical information, but if your goal is to perfect your skill at assessing your training, keep reading!

Gender: Male
Age: 41
Weight: 191 lbs
Height: 5’6’’
Body Fat: 8%
Training Age: 28

The training cycle we will asses is macrocycle 8, which is the last cycle of his second year of training under my guidance.

This was the most intense training cycle performed within the last 2 years.

Here is an overview of macrocycle 8:

Accumulation 15
5 x 4-6

Intensification 15 
5,3,3,2,2,1

Accumulation 16
6 x 3-5

Intensification 16
3,2,1,3,2,1

Prior to building that macrocycle, I used strength ratios to determine that the incline press was the weakest link as far as upper body primary exercises. Before the start of this cycle, the previous best score recorded on the incline press was during the intensification phase 12 of macrocycle 6.

The highest number for the incline press was 295 for 2 reps during the the third week of the phase. 295 lbs for 2 reps is a projected 1RM of 310 lbs. At that time, his incline press score was a strength of his and the focus of macrocycle 7 went to improving the overhead press.

An important factor to consider is that specific strength doesn’t always increase in a linear fashion, especially for advanced trainees. While a training block might focus on a specific lift, it is normal to sometimes expect a slight regression in strength on other primary exercises.

Prior to planning macrocycle 8, the incline press, which was a strong lift at the end of cycle 6, had now become the weakest link. To be clear, this client is very well balanced and the incline press only needed a 3 lb improvement to match the appropriate strength ratio.

The lift goal of macrocycle 8 for the incline press was now 313 lbs, so going from a projected 1RM of 310 lbs to 313 lbs in 12 weeks is not a very difficult task. Knowing he would definitely reach his lift goal, I was more interested in seeing where he could bring his new score during that time period.

For this case study, we will only asses the numbers from the primary pressing exercise of the upper body 1 session of each phase, let’s take a deeper look into the training data:

Each microcycle assumes this exact split:

Monday: Upper Body 1
Tuesday: Lower Body 1
Wednesday: Conditioning 1
Thursday: Upper Body 2
Friday: Lower Body 2
Saturday: Conditioning 2
Sunday: Off

Whenever I want to improve the strength of an exercise, for improved motor pattern rehearsal and performance, I always make sure to plan that specific exercise during the intensification phases as the nature of these periods are more dependant on nervous system potentiation and less on metabolic adaptations.

For upper body 1, the accumulation phases will focus on the overhead press as this movement angle has good carryover to improved incline pressing performance.

 *p1RM (projected 1 repetition maximum)
** Lift Goal (percentage of achievement from your lift goal)
*** Tonnage (sets x reps x load)

When you are reviewing the numbers below, try to analyze and think about what you would change to optimize the loading. After, I will provide my analysis of the loading and how I would improve the outcome of the training by manipulating the loads differently.

Accumulation 15
Upper Body 1

A1Overhead Press 5 x 4-6 40X0 90
Session 1
Set 1: 6 reps @ 185 lbs for a 223 lbs p1RM 
Set 2: 5 reps @ 185 lbs for a 216 lbs p1RM 
Set 3: 5 reps @ 185 lbs for a 216 lbs p1RM 
Set 4: 4 reps @ 185 lbs for a 209 lbs p1RM
Set 5: 4 reps @ 185 lbs for a 209 lbs p1RM

Average Weight: 185 
Average Reps: 4.8
Average p1RM: 214 
Total Reps: 24
Total Sets: 5
Tonnage: 4,440 lbs

Session 2
Set 1: 5 reps @ 185 lbs for a 216 lbs p1RM 
Set 2: 5 reps @ 185 lbs for a 216 lbs p1RM 
Set 3: 5 reps @ 185 lbs for a 216 lbs p1RM 
Set 4: 5 reps @ 185 lbs for a 216 lbs p1RM
Set 5: 4 reps @ 185 lbs for a 209 lbs p1RM

Average Weight: 185 
Average Reps: 4.8
Average p1RM: 214 
Total Reps: 24
Total Sets: 5
Tonnage: 4,440 lbs

Session 3
Set 1: 5 reps @ 185 lbs for a 216 lbs p1RM 
Set 2: 5 reps @ 185 lbs for a 216 lbs p1RM 
Set 3: 5 reps @ 185 lbs for a 216 lbs p1RM 
Set 4: 5 reps @ 185 lbs for a 216 lbs p1RM
Set 5: 5 reps @ 185 lbs for a 216 lbs p1RM

Average Weight: 185 
Average Reps: 5
Average p1RM: 216 
Total Reps: 25
Total Sets: 5
Tonnage: 4,625 lbs

Intensification 15
Upper Body 1

A1Supra-Maximal Eccentric Incline Press 6 x 2-4 4000 120
Session 1
Set 1: 4 reps @ 315 lbs for a 355 lbs p1RM 
Set 2: 4 reps @ 315 lbs for a 355 lbs p1RM 
Set 3: 4 reps @ 315 lbs for a 355 lbs p1RM 
Set 4: 4 reps @ 315 lbs for a 355 lbs p1RM
Set 5: 4 reps @ 315 lbs for a 355 lbs p1RM
Set 6: 4 reps @ 315 lbs for a 355 lbs p1RM

Average Weight: 315 
Average Reps: 4
Average p1RM: 355
Lift Goal: 114 %
Total Reps: 24
Total Sets: 6
Tonnage: 7,560 lbs

Session 2
Set 1: 4 reps @ 330 lbs for a 372 lbs p1RM 
Set 2: 4 reps @ 330 lbs for a 372 lbs p1RM 
Set 3: 4 reps @ 330 lbs for a 372 lbs p1RM 
Set 4: 4 reps @ 330 lbs for a 372 lbs p1RM
Set 5: 4 reps @ 330 lbs for a 372 lbs p1RM
Set 6: 4 reps @ 330 lbs for a 372 lbs p1RM

Average Weight: 330 
Average Reps: 4
Average p1RM: 372
Lift Goal: 119 %
Total Reps: 24
Total Sets: 6
Tonnage: 7,920 lbs

Session 3
Set 1: 4 reps @ 345 lbs for a 389 lbs p1RM 
Set 2: 4 reps @ 345 lbs for a 389 lbs p1RM 
Set 3: 4 reps @ 345 lbs for a 389 lbs p1RM 
Set 4: 4 reps @ 345 lbs for a 389 lbs p1RM
Set 5: 4 reps @ 345 lbs for a 389 lbs p1RM
Set 6: 4 reps @ 345 lbs for a 389 lbs p1RM

Average Weight: 345 
Average Reps: 4
Average p1RM: 389
Lift Goal: 124 %
Total Reps: 24
Total Sets: 6
Tonnage: 8,280 lbs

Accumulation 16
Upper Body 1

A1Overhead Press with Bands 6 x 3-5 20X0 90
Session 1
Set 1: 5 reps @ 115 lbs for a 134 lbs p1RM 
Set 2: 5 reps @ 120 lbs for a 140 lbs p1RM 
Set 3: 5 reps @ 125 lbs for a 146 lbs p1RM 
Set 4: 4 reps @ 130 lbs for a 147 lbs p1RM
Set 5: 4 reps @ 130 lbs for a 147 lbs p1RM
Set 6: 3 reps @ 130 lbs for a 142 lbs p1RM

Average Weight: 125 
Average Reps: 4.3
Average p1RM: 142 
Total Reps: 26
Total Sets: 6
Tonnage: 3,230 lbs

Session 2
Set 1: 5 reps @ 115 lbs for a 134 lbs p1RM 
Set 2: 5 reps @ 120 lbs for a 140 lbs p1RM 
Set 3: 5 reps @ 125 lbs for a 146 lbs p1RM 
Set 4: 5 reps @ 130 lbs for a 152 lbs p1RM
Set 5: 5 reps @ 135 lbs for a 157 lbs p1RM
Set 6: 3 reps @ 140 lbs for a 153 lbs p1RM

Average Weight: 128 
Average Reps: 4.7
Average p1RM: 147 
Total Reps: 28
Total Sets: 6
Tonnage: 3,545 lbs

Session 3
Set 1: 5 reps @ 120 lbs for a 140 lbs p1RM 
Set 2: 5 reps @ 125 lbs for a 146 lbs p1RM Set 3: 5 reps @ 130 lbs for a 152 lbs p1RM 
Set 4: 5 reps @ 135 lbs for a 157 lbs p1RM
Set 5: 5 reps @ 140 lbs for a 163 lbs p1RM
Set 6: 4 reps @ 145 lbs for a 164 lbs p1RM

Average Weight: 133 
Average Reps: 4.8
Average p1RM: 154 
Total Reps: 29
Total Sets: 6
Tonnage: 3,830 lbs

Intensification 16
Upper Body 1

A1Incline Press 3,2,1,3,2,1 40X0 120
Session 1
Set 1: 3 reps @ 275 lbs for a 300 lbs p1RM 
Set 2: 2 reps @ 285 lbs for a 300 lbs p1RM 
Set 3: 1 rep @ 295 lbs for a 295 lbs p1RM 
Set 4: 3 reps @ 280 lbs for a 305 lbs p1RM
Set 5: 2 reps @ 290 lbs for a 305 lbs p1RM
Set 6: 1 rep @ 300 lbs for a 300 lbs p1RM
Set 7: 1 rep @ 315 lbs for a 315 lbs p1RM

Average Weight: 291 
Average Reps: 1.9
Average p1RM: 305
Lift Goal: 97 %
Total Reps: 13
Total Sets: 7
Tonnage: 3,725 lbs

Session 2
Set 1: 3 reps @ 290 lbs for a 316 lbs p1RM 
Set 2: 2 reps @ 305 lbs for a 321 lbs p1RM 
Set 3: 1 rep @ 320 lbs for a 324 lbs p1RM 
Set 4: 3 reps @ 295 lbs for a 322 lbs p1RM
Set 5: 1 rep @ 310 lbs for a 310 lbs p1RM
Set 6: 0 rep @ 325 lbs for a 0 lbs p1RM

Average Weight: 308 
Average Reps: 1.7
Average p1RM: 319
Lift Goal: 102 %
Total Reps: 10
Total Sets: 6
Tonnage: 2,995 lbs

Session 3
Set 1: 3 reps @ 290 lbs for a 316 lbs p1RM 
Set 2: 2 reps @ 305 lbs for a 321 lbs p1RM 
Set 3: 1 rep @ 320 lbs for a 324 lbs p1RM 
Set 4: 3 reps @ 295 lbs for a 322 lbs p1RM
Set 5: 2 reps @ 310 lbs for a 326 lbs p1RM
Set 6: 1 rep @ 325 lbs for a 325 lbs p1RM

Average Weight: 308 
Average Reps: 2
Average p1RM: 323
Lift Goal: 103 %
Total Reps: 12
Total Sets: 6
Tonnage: 3,630 lbs

The final incline press result from this 12-week phase is a progression from a 310 p1RM to a 325 lbs 1RM.

Now, let’s take a closer look at these numbers:

Where a lot of potential gains were missed was in Intensification 15. It’s fine to start easier with a 315 lbs load, especially since it was this trainee’s first time doing supra-maximal eccentrics, but the workout progressions should have been more aggressive considering 315 is basically the starting p1RM and that the sets were eccentric only using a 4-second eccentric tempo. In this case, starting at 335 or 340 would have been acceptable unless the lifter has poor eccentric abilities.

For Accumulation 16, with session 1, instead of starting lower at 115 lbs and using a step loading pattern, a better option would have been to start at 125 lbs and use constant loading by keeping this weight for all 6 sets. The average weight would have been the same, but the average p1RM and tonnage would have been greater since the reps would have been most likely maintained throughout. The session 2 and 3 loads would have started higher resulting in a greater average weight, p1RM, and tonnage for both sessions.

With Intensification 16, thebiggest mistake with session 1 was not the starting weight (which was spot on), but the weight increases from set to set. Going up by 10 lb increments was short of the 5% jump that would be associated with going from 3 reps to 2 to 1. This led to the lifter ending the exercise with a load that was too light, prompting the decision to go for one more set, which was the mistake that probably lead to the crash of session 2.

Wave loading is a very advanced rep scheme, which is why in 35 phases with me, it was only the 4th time this client was doing a wave scheme. I always talk about the importance of knowing your numbers for the best training outcome, here is how (in theory of course) the weight selection could have been optimized: 

The peak loading point for session 1 should have been his previous p1RM score of 310 lbs. Working backwards with the appropriate 5% increments, the workout would have looked like this:

Optimal Loading

Original Loading

Set 1: 3 reps @ 275 for a 300 lbs p1RM

Set 1: 3 reps @ 275 lbs for a 300 lbs p1RM 

Set 2: 2 reps @ 290 for a 305 lbs p1RM

Set 2: 2 reps @ 285 lbs for a 300 lbs p1RM 

Set 3: 1 rep @ 305 for a 309 lbs p1RM

Set 3: 1 rep @ 295 lbs for a 295 lbs p1RM 

Set 4: 3 reps @ 280 for a 305 lbs p1RM

Set 4: 3 reps @ 280 lbs for a 305 lbs p1RM

Set 5: 2 reps @ 295 for a 310 lbs p1RM

Set 5: 2 reps @ 290 lbs for a 305 lbs p1RM

Set 6: 1 rep @ 310 for a 310 lbs p1RM

Set 6: 1 rep @ 300 lbs for a 300 lbs p1RM

NO EXTRA SET

Set 7: 1 rep @ 315 lbs for a 315 lbs p1RM

Average Weight: 293 

Average Weight: 291 

Average Reps: 2

Average Reps: 1.9

Average p1RM: 307

Average p1RM: 305

Lift Goal: 98 %

Lift Goal: 97 %

Total Reps: 12

Total Reps: 13

Total Sets: 6

Total Sets: 7

Tonnage: 3,450 lbs

Tonnage: 3,725 lbs

Depending on how session 1 felt, the load could have increased by up to 5% for the next workout. Assuming a conservative progress of a 3% increase, session 2 would have looked like this:

Optimal Loading

Original Loading

Set 1: 3 reps @ 285 for a 311 lbs p1RM

Set 1: 3 reps @ 290 lbs for a 316 lbs p1RM 

Set 2: 2 reps @ 300 for a 315 lbs p1RM

Set 2: 2 reps @ 305 lbs for a 321 lbs p1RM 

Set 3: 1 rep @ 315 for a 319 lbs p1RM

Set 3: 1 rep @ 320 lbs for a 324 lbs p1RM 

Set 4: 3 reps @ 290 for a 316 lbs p1RM

Set 4: 3 reps @ 295 lbs for a 322 lbs p1RM

Set 5: 2 reps @ 305 for a 321 lbs p1RM

Set 5: 1 rep @ 310 lbs for a 310 lbs p1RM

Set 6: 1 rep @ 320 for a 320 lbs p1RM

Set 6: 0 rep @ 325 lbs for a 0 lbs p1RM

Average Weight: 303 

Average Weight: 308 

Average Reps: 2

Average Reps: 1.7

Average p1RM: 318

Average p1RM: 319

Lift Goal: 102 %

Lift Goal: 102 %

Total Reps: 12

Total Reps: 10

Total Sets: 6

Total Sets: 6

Tonnage: 3,570 lbs

Tonnage: 2,995 lbs

Depending on how session 2 felt, the trainee could have increased the load up to 5% for the next workout. Assuming a conservative progress of a 3% increase, session 3 would look like this:

Optimal Loading

Original Loading

Set 1: 3 reps @ 295 for a 322 lbs p1RM

Set 1: 3 reps @ 290 lbs for a 316 lbs p1RM

Set 2: 2 reps @ 310 for a 326 lbs p1RM

Set 2: 2 reps @ 305 lbs for a 321 lbs p1RM 

Set 3: 1 rep @ 325 for a 329 lbs p1RM

Set 3: 1 rep @ 320 lbs for a 324 lbs p1RM 

Set 4: 3 reps @ 300 for a 327 lbs p1RM

Set 4: 3 reps @ 295 lbs for a 322 lbs p1RM

Set 5: 2 reps @ 315 for a 331 lbs p1RM

Set 5: 2 reps @ 310 lbs for a 326 lbs p1RM

Set 6: 1 rep @ 330 for a 330 lbs p1RM

Set 6: 1 rep @ 325 lbs for a 325 lbs p1RM

Average Weight: 313 

Average Weight: 308 

Average Reps: 2

Average Reps: 2

Average p1RM: 328

Average p1RM: 323

Lift Goal: 105 %

Lift Goal: 103 %

Total Reps: 12

Total Reps: 12

Total Sets: 6

Total Sets: 6

Tonnage: 3,690 lbs

Tonnage: 3,630 lbs

With this approach, instead of a 325 lbs 1RM, the new score could have been anywhere between 330 and 340 lbs 1RM.

Obviously, these are assumptions based on average training outcome. A lot of factors have to be considered when focusing on improving a lift (recovery factors, stress, nutritional status, etc.). Whenever dealing with advanced trainees or elite athletes, when outside parameters are more constant, using numbers can really help fine tune the long term progress of your lifters.

Understanding the data allows you to better predict the outcome by understanding how to manipulate the load and volume via different rep schemes and load manipulations. This will enable you to better tailor your future programming for continuous success. I hope this was an interesting look into program analytics and that it will spark a deeper interest in tracking your training data.

-SC

www.kilostrengthsociety.com

Stéphane has spent the last 24 years perfecting his work. He has a strong formal academic foundation, earning a bachelor’s degree in exercise science from the University of Montreal. Stéphane recently published his first book, 66 Strategies to Program Design. In his career Stéphane has personally trained professional athletes in football (NFL), baseball (MLB), and hockey (NHL). Stéphane’s passion is program design. His program design is carefully structured with every possible component taken into consideration to ensure the trainee reaches and exceeds their goals, making his work a combination of both science and art.

 

 

Written by Stephane Cazeault