Planning the Strength Training. Part 1

Planning the strength training
From novice to elite




CHARACTERISTICS OF THE LIFTER

According to Mark Rippetoe, the author of Practical Programming book, the lifters can be generally classified to four groups according to their level: novice, intermediate, advanced and elite. When planning strength training, one should take into account the level of the lifter, because there are distinct characteristic within each group. The planning of strength training for each group will be considered at the end of this article.
Taken from Rippetoe, Mark (2007). Practical Programming. Aasgaard Company


STRENGTH TRAINING GOALS

Depending on the author, there can be numerous goals pursued with strength training. I tried to review them in my last article entitled Concurrent strategies in strength training.

It can be said that reaching of the different strength training goals (and thus motor qualities) is based on utilization of different loading protocols (weight, reps, sets, tempo, rest, etc.) or methods. So, each of the methods aimed at reaching different strength training goal utilize different loading protocols. This is based on the repetition continuum, or the ’idea’ that different goals can be achieved utilizing different reps per set. There is a dynamic interaction between the variables of reps, sets and loads. The load used (% of 1RM) ultimately determines how many reps per set are done. Reps per set (or set time) ultimately determines how many total sets must be done. The interaction between the three will affect what adaptation is seen. Although not all authorities agree, there is thought to be a continuum of adaptations which may occur with different repetition sets. This continuum is called repetition continuum.     

Without going into unnecessary theoretical discussion, I will use the following classification of strength training goals:

  1. Maximal and Relative Strength

  1. Explosive Strength

  1. Muscular Hypertrophy

  1. Muscular Endurance


WHAT THE HECK IS THE PERIODIZATION ANYWAY?

            Well, I guess there is no concise answer to this question. A lot of people define periodization differently, taking into account different parts of planning process. So, I am not so brave to give my own definition of what periodization really is. Anyway, when discussing periodization we must differ between, as I love to call them that way, Three Zoom Levels.

            First Zoom Level
§  The planning of LTAD (long term athlete development), Olympic-year and annual training plan. This includes determination of preparatory phases, competition phases, transition phases and their structures depending on the competition schedule, age and level, along with the sport/position of the athlete. This also includes factors like whether/climatic, training facilities available, competition schedule, number of peaks and the duration of those peaks athletes must achieve, etc, etc. One may add the determination of training components (goals) or motor abilities that needs to be addressed to achieve increase in performance

Second Zoom Level
§  Planning of the development of multiple training goals (motor abilities & skills) within each period defined by First Zoom Level. Here we can differ between traditional approach (concurrent or complex-parallel), block and emphasis/pendulum approach IMHO. The choice is dependent on the First Zoom Level (which defines how much time do we have, conditions, etc), number of training goals that must be developed and when, and their compatibility, the level of the athlete, etc.

Third Zoom Level
§  Progression and programming of development of each training goal (motor-ability). Basically this determines how loading protocols should be organized and how much: means (general/specific/competition), methods, loads (intensity, frequency, volume, recovery, etc). This includes the approach that uses delayed training effect via acute over-reaching too. This should be based on the previous Zoom Levels, athletes level, his work capacity (ability to sustain training loading and recover from it), supplementation, injury toleration and the optimal loading for each training goal.

It may sound funny that I have picked the term Zoom Level, but if you have ever used microscope or more possibly Google Earth, you know what I mean. The word Zoom can be easily substituted with the word Planning, and voila, the meaning is instantly evident.

Basically, the numerous factors determine Periodization (whatever that may actually be anyway) used. There is no good or bad, just optimally picked based on those factors involved (context), goals and athletes.

When dissecting and analysing training systems and discussing periodization and planning we must use differ between Zoom Levels. Different authors stick to one Zoom Level without considering other levels of the zoom. When the the periodization is mentioned, most of the authors talk about preparatory, competition and transition periods (First Zoom Level). Some of them talk about load progression, like 3+1 (3 weeks loading, 1 week unloading), waves and undulations and stuff (Third Zoom Level). You have to go from whole to parts (Zoom Level) and from back to start (goal oriented, time oriented, what you want to achieve and when,  and then plan it backward) to discuss periodization and to actually plan your training system.

Recently there was a great deal of discussion and confusion when it comes to Second Zoom Level. With most of the sports there are numerous training goals (motor abilities) that need to be achieved/developed in order to improve performance. Some of those goals are compatible and some are not, some lean on each other (related and dependent on each other) and some of them don’t. The question that arises is how to approach the development of those multiple goals in predefined time and context defined by First Zoom Level? IMHO there are two distinct approaches: parallel and serial development.

Parallel approach develops all defined motor abilities at the same time. Depending on the definition of the ’same time’ this approach may have different variations. For example, all defined motor abilities may be developed in one training session, one training day, couple of training days and one training microcycle (usually a week). 

Serial approach develops motor abilities one-after-another in sequential/consecutive fascion. Depending on the order of the development numerous variations can be indentified. 



This is the first error that I see people do when discussing the Second Zoom Level. What people are forgetting is that there is a continuum between these two extremes, and, more importantly -  the parallel and serial approaches are vague terms (!!) that depends on classification of the motor abilities and training goals that must be developed in the first place. 



Traditional training approach utilize Parallel development, hence the term concurrent and complex-parallel. And now comes the confusion! There is a lot of information out there that states that traditional approach is actually sequential (serial). Sequential models originated post complex-parallel, and to address some of the shortcomings of this system with respect to elite athletes. Anyone who try to portray concurrent methodologies as something new, all the rage, the funeral of sequential models, is, in fact, wrong. Traditional training approach is/was actually a concurrent approach, where all the abilities were developed simultaneously.

With elite athletes, problems with traditional training approach started to emerge. In order to continue to improve at a given motor ability, elites would need more and more volume of training and since all abilities are developed simultaneously, excessive (total) volume was needed. This was time where doping was necessary evil to sustain tremendous training volume, along with becoming a full-time athlete, training couple of times per day. There is a trend in volume reduction after the AAS ban and prohibition.

Complex-parallel approach as any other has it pro’s and con’s that should be taken into account when chosing your approach. Depending on the level of the athlete, sport, time available and other factors, complex-parallel approach may be the best solution there is. Some important factors must be taken into account when using this approach, like optimization of training time and motor abilities, design of the microcycle depending on the compatibility of motor abilities, wave-like loading, etc. Anyway, this approach is one of the best solution when working with kids and low level athletes and with some more advanced athletes that don’t have much time to develop motor abilities (take for an example professional soccer player who have 1-2 months of preparatory period).

As a side note, complex-parallel training systems in non-strength sports is very different than complex-parallel (concurrent) strength training in powerlifting, weightlifting and strongman training. First of all, in strength sports the barbell is the sport, its the iron game and the purpose of the training is to improve the lifts by improving various motor abilities that determine successful performance, like technique, absolute and relative strength, speed, mass, sticking point, lock-out, grip, gear work, etc, while in non-strength sports, strength training have a purpose of injury-prevention, increase on-field performance, etc. In non-strength sports this is far more simpler, with much less details. This is why most, if not all, athletes from non-strength sports never reach advanced level of strength training. They usually need novice and intermediate planning with couple examples of more advanced planning of strength training. They need to juggle with more motor abilities besides strength. This is why their Second Zoom Level is more ’zoomed out’ when it comes to strength training compared with strength sport athletes which need more detailed ’zoom level’.

Block approach was designed with advanced athletes on mind, who cannot develop everything at once. They need to prioritize the training goals or they will suffer from overtraining and limited progress. So, during Block training one or more compatible motor abilities are developed, and after some time the training ’switches’ to another set of abilities.  One training block is a time period of unidirectional and concentrated loading aimed at developing one or more compatible motor abilities. With this approach, total training stress is less when compared to complex-parallel approach, but individual stress (aimed at one or more motor abilities) is greater, hence the term concentrated loading. Block training utilize the following training principles:

           
Delayed transformation
§  This principle entails the transformation of the training load into improved performance. Peak performance will not normally occur during periods of heavy training due to the accumulation of training fatigue and the time that adaptation to training loads require. Thus a period of easier load is needed to demonstrate the results of previous training. This is a basis for taper and pre-competition blocks.

Delayed transmutation
§  This principle states that in order to realize performance improvements, specific exercises and loads must be utilized to transmutate (transform) and maximize the fitness acquired during previous training stages. For example, after you increased relative strength via strength block, you need to spend some time sprinting or jumping to ’transmutate’ relative strength to speed or jump ability. This is a basis of ’conjugations’ of the blocks, so that training effects of the preceding blocks is maximally utilized during the second one, achieving more than just the mathematical summ. Also, this is where ’special’ exercises comes in, to transmutate more general training effects.

Training residuals
§  When training is designed in traditional manner and many abilities are developed simultaneously, the risk of detraining is negligible because each quality receives some proportion of training stimuli. However, if these abilities are developed consecutively, as proposed in block approach, the problem of detraining becomes very important. If you develop one ability and lose another one at the same time, you have to take into account the duration of the effect of the given training after its cessation and how fast you will lose the obtained ability level when you stop training it. In other words, you have to know residuals effects of each type of training. The rate of loss of training effects and respective training residuals vary widely for different motor abilities

Superposition of training effects
§  Development of one motor ability can have a positive or negative effect on other motor abilities. Blocks needs to be sequenced optimally to ensure that training in subsequent blocks enhances the work carried out in previous mesocycles. Along with delayed transmutation principles, superimposition of training effects is a basis of ’conjugations’ of the blocks, achieving greater training effect than just the mathematical sum

Basically, Block training is not just random sequencing of motor ability development. It needs to be well though based on delayed training effects and training residuals, so that the best performance is achieved at the most important time.

            There are couple of Block systems out there like Bondarchuk system, Verkhoshansky system (CSS – Conjugate Sequence System) and Issurin system (BPC – Block Periodization Concept), with their own implementation of mentioned ideas. 

Issurin Block Periodization concept

Issurin Block Periodization concept

Verkhoshansky Conjugate Sequence System


 
I guess the main differences between Verkhoshansky ans Issurin models are that Verkhoshansky puts strong emphasis on strength and special strength block and purposefully induce delayed training effects (via over-reaching), while Issurin does not do that (at least it doesn’t go into much detail on this very topic in his book), but I could be wrong. I would love to discuss this models in further detail, but I guess they are a topics of another article(s).
           
This leads me to one interesting topic – maintenance. Maintenance principle states that when you stop developing one ability, that ability start to decline (’Use it or lose it!’ law), along with the fact that loads (retention loads) aimed at maintaining one ability are far less than loads necessary to develop one ability. In Block training there is no maintenance training for non-targeted motor abilities. If you look at Verkhoshansky model, during strength block, maximal strength actually falls down and later it raises again and surpass initial values (delayed effect). So, doing strength maintenance work during subsequent blocks may increase the time needed for strength to ’jump up’, and screw the whole point of conjugations. This is why knowledge of residual training effects is of extreme importance in devising block training system. On another look, what are you going to maintain anyway? Decreased strength potential after strength block? In his book Issurin mentioned inclusion of mini-blocks (lasting 2-4 days) aimed at maintaining previously developed abilities. I guess the problem of maintenance loads on non-targeted abilities is highly specific to a given variation of the system, especially whether there is usage of delayed training effects, which IMHO don’t need maintenance work, at least not in negative phase (over-reaching phase) of the curve. For example, after 4 weeks of strength block that caused acute over-reaching and depression of maximum strength, you don’t need maintenance loads for about more 4 weeks, as it usually takes for the delayed training effects to take place (same as loading time). After that, you may utilize maintenance loads to maintain new reached strength levels, but that depends on the structure of block training.

Issurin Block Periodization concept – Mini Blocks concept
One of the problems with Block periodization are injury issues. Remember when you tried new routine last time? Yeah, you got sore and stiff. I also know from experience that when more advanced team athlete starts to seriously strength train, he will feel ’stiff’ for a week or even two. This happens when there are clear and sudden transitions of training components. For example, when you switch from strength block to plyometrics block it could be pretty risky, and expect long lasting ’stiffness’. Stiff muscles and stiff nodes and knots can make you strain your muscle more easily. To avoid this issue of ’adaptation stiffness’ (Charlie Francis term), one high intensity training component could be performed at very low volume, so it would not interfere with other training components. Utilizing this approach will avoid ’adaptation stiffness’ when the component is reintroduced on a larger scale. Yet, again this brings us to maintenance principle and maintenance loads.

Before I introduce Emphasis/Pendulum approach, I must remind you that these two examples (traditional & block) are extremes and there is a continuum in between them. So, every Block system must utilize concentrated/unidirectional loading, delayed and residual training effects, but not every system that utilize those principles is Block. Same for the traditional (complex-parallel) approach. Traditional approach must utilize parallel (simultaneous) development of multiple abilities at the same time, yet not every system that utilize parallel (simultaneous) development is traditional. There is a lot of space in the continuum between for various solutions, and one of the is Emphasis/Pendulum approach, which IMO utilize good stuff from both extremes.

Emphasis/Pendulum training approach is basically something in the middle between two extremes: serial and parallel approach and complex-parallel and block approach. I don’t know whether this approach is named Emphasis/Pendulum in scientific circles, but I got this idea from one great discussion at Charlie Francis forum. As Charlie use to say ’Everything is done, only the volume varies’ or in other words all training components are being performed simultaneously, at all times and only the volumes vary, from week to week, from mesocycle to mesocycle. Charlie Francis calls this Vertical Integration. More about his system can be found in recent e-book entitled ’Key Concepts – Elite Edition’.
           
Basically, the premise of Emphasis approach is the fact that advanced athletes cannot improve everything at once, so they need more unidirectional loading (emphasis) with concentrated loading aimed at improving one or more compatible motor abilities. This is same as Block approach. On a side note, Emphasis approach utilize maintenance principle and complex-parallel development of non-targeted motor abilities. This approach is thus great solution for advanced athletes to further improve their abilities with the minimal risk of injury and detraining. This is accomplished with unidirectional loading and maintenance loads. The following picture is taken from Zatsiorsky book Science and practice of strength training’, where conventional planning is actually serial approach, and ’New planning’ is Emphasis approach.

Taken from Zatsiorsky, Vladimir (1995). Science and practice of strength training. Human Kinetics
Emphasis and maintenance loads can be manipulated by training intensity, volume, frequency, etc, depending on the training system, sport, etc.

These are in short, IMHO, different approaches to deal with Second Zoom (planning) Level. I haven’t touched the First Zoom Level that much for the reason that this level is one of the most ’documented’. The next thing we are going to deal with is some stuff from Third Level of Zoom, called load.


LOAD AND LOAD CLASSIFICATION

            Load is a part of training trianglemeans, methods and loads, that represent ’input’ to any training system (training tool), or training stimuli/stress that influences athletes state, triggering adaptation processes which eventually leads to different training effects (immediate, delayed, cumulative, residual, etc).
           
            Defining load is also hard thing to do.  It describes quantity and quality of training stress/stimuli caused by training means and methods. We may also look at the load under different time frames, like exercise load, training load, daily load, weekly load etc.
           
            Depending on the author, there are different components of the load. For the sole purpose of this article I will define the following load components:

1. Intensity
2. Volume
3. Duration and quality of rest period

            Some authors also define training frequency as another load component, but this depends on the time frame under which we actually analyse training loads. We will deal with training frequency later, and for now we will stick to intensity and volume, since they are one of the most important components of the training load. Another component may be a difficulty of the exercise too.

Intensity in strength world is a weight on a barbell, or percentage of individual 1RM. It can be presented in absolute terms (weight), or in relative (percentage of 1RM or in nRM values). In another sports, intensity usually represent quality of work done, like velocity, height, pace, power, etc.

Volume represents amount or quantity of the work (load) done. In strength world volume is measured with number of sets, number of lifts, tonnage etc. Volume can be represented in absolute terms (tonnage) or relative (normalized volume), and it can be also represented per intensity brackets (like volume in 80%-90% zone, etc).

There is also a term intensiveness or effort, which usually causes confusion in strength world. Recently, Lyle McDonald has put one great article on this very subject entitled 'What is training intensity'. To cut a long story short, effort is a ’feeling’ of how hard something feels to you at the time. For example, compare lifting 100kg for 6 reps and lifting it for 8 reps. Intensity is same (100kg), but the effort is not. Effort is usually represented with RPE scale and can be also represented with proximity to failure. So lifting 3RM weight for 3 reps and lifting 10RM for 10 reps is equally hard, thus both have same effort or RPE value (although of different quality, due different system stress – CNS vs. muscular/metabolic), but very different intensity. Sense of effort, how scientists calls it, is basically a perception of load and its immediate effects on the body (its reaction), homeostasis perturbations and the work done by the body to maintain that homeostasis within normal limits. Thus, perception of effort is not only affected with intensity of the load but its volume too, and also with emotional state of the athlete, psychological stimulants, music, character etc. More interested geeks could read my Homoeostasis Performance Model to find more about it.

            Mike  Tuchscherer created very interesting training system that utilize RPE scale. More about this great powerlifting system can be found in his book The Reactive Training Manual. RPE stands for Rate of Perceived effort. Basically, every set has RPE value, based on the sense how hard it was, what speed the bar had and how close to failure you were. Mike uses the following RPE scale:
           
10
Maximal. No reps left in tank. Doesn’t means going to failure thought
9
Last rep is tough, but still 1 rep left in the tank
8
Weight is too heavy to maintain fast bar speed, but is not struggle. 2-4 reps left in tank
7
Weight moves quickly when maximal force is applied to the weight. „Speed work“
6
Light speed work. Moves quickly with moderate force
5
Most warm-up weights
4
Recovery. Usually 20+ rep set. Not hard but intended to flush the muscle
<4
Not that important
 Modified from Tuchscherer, Michael (2008). The Reactive training manual.

The easiest way to gauge RPE scale of a set, Mike states, is to ask yourself how many more reps you could’ve done with particular weight. Honesty is the absolute key here!

RPE system is far more accurate than any percentage system for many reasons, including the training history, ammount of fast-slow fibers, duration of the cycle, good and bad days, sleep, nutrition and supplementation. RPE system allows individualization, and after coaches and athletes understand it, it becomes very powerfull tool to individualize the training.

Anyway, there is a rough correlation between RPE scale and percentage of a given rep range. Mike have developed one chart as a starting point, to approximate RPE scale with a given percentage.

RPE
12
reps
10
reps
8
reps
7
reps
6
reps
5
reps
4
reps
3
reps
2
reps
1
rep
10
62
66
71
74
77
80
85
90
95
100
9
60
64
68
71
74
77
80
85
90
95
8
58
62
66
68
71
74
77
80
85
90
7
56
60
64
66
68
71
74
77
80
85
Modified from Tuchscherer, Michael (2008). The Reactive training manual.

Mike uses RPE scale to auto-regulate training, using stuff like fatigue stops, optimal training volume, fatigue percents etc. We will talk about auto-regulatory training in a moment.

For practical purposes, it is neccessary to define three general functions of a load/workout: development, retention and restoration.

Workout type
Load level
Approximate restoration time
Workout assesment, RPE

Development
Extreme
> 72h
10
Large
48 - 72h
9
Substantial
24 - 48h
8
Retention
Medium
12 - 24h
7
Restoration
Small
<12h
<6
Modified from Issurin, Vladimir (2008). Block Periodization. Ultimate Athlete Concepts

                        It is also interesting to depict the relation of load level and possibility of setbacks (injuries, stiffness, soreness, additional recovery time, etc), that impedes with training consistency.

Modified from Daniels, Jack (2005). Daniels' Running Formula. Human Kinetics

It can be seen clearly from the picture above, that there is a (sliding) window of optimal loading, under which there is optimal relation of training effects and possibility of setbacks. You get the biggest bang for your buck, and with minimal possibility of a setback. Using larger load level, will cause less and less training effect, but greater possibility of setback. I am not trying to say that this impact/shock loading is an absolute no-no, but rather it should be used sparingly and wisely, usually with most advanced athletes.

One of the most important problems of the training are (1) how to find this optimal loading window, (2) when to stop loading, and (3) what to do after exceeding optimal loading, both in one training session and in longer training phases. Finding this optimal loading window includes things like talking to the athlete, asking the right questions at the right time, observing his performance (qualitatively), measuring performance (quantitatively), etc. This is why training is more an art than it is a science. Anyway, my current thought regarding this problem is, that along with logging training loads and observing effects (external performance and internal state changes, like mood, HR, bLA, etc) and making cause-and-effect relations, more important aspect is hand-off training approach. Hands-off training approach is based on guided-discovery idea, where you put an athlete into a situation demanding decision-making and guide him to find his own solution. Guided-discovery idea is currently a hot topic in motor learning theory and learning of sport games, but I guess it can be used with strength athletes too. This way athletes are not only an object of training process but actually a noun and verb too. Coaches are usually afraid to give ’freedom of choice’ to their athletes, and usually utilize authoritative training style and suffer from a need to control everything. I guess they miss a lot with this approach and may get ulcer too. The goal of training is to create more intelligent athletes, that are able to train themselves using their own knowledge and sense. Utilizing auto-regulative training and using RPE scales (and learning your athletes how to use them), may be a major pain in the arse in short term, but in long term it may be very productive solution. I know there are dumb and lazy athletes that only wants to train, lift or compete, but creating (or helping athletes to create themselves) a real champ imply teaching him how to listen to his body, principles of training and recovery. They need to be more involved in training process and decision making process. They must understand that it is about them anyway.

One solution to this problems are using RPE scale and auto-regulatory training, that we are going to deal with later in this article.

Part 2

Labels: , , ,