Solutions Driven: Individualizing Your Programs Using technology
By Vince Lucente
May 29, 2019
"Creativity is intelligence having fun."
- Albert Einstein
In the realm of sport performance, creativity is certainly in no short supply, especially in the influence that social media has on the strength and conditioning community of today. This leaves some to crave novelty of the many as a substitute for mastery of the few. I would like to share how one may keep the program simple and efficient, yet remarkably effective and creative in its ability to influence the present and future process.
The aim of this piece to is to demonstrate the influence of the PUSH 2.0 and Portal in its ability to spark a coach’s creative process dependent on the feedback that is presented, and explore strategies to navigate program design in order to better serve.
Time is limited, and using your environment to strategically improve your athletes’ confidence and keep their experience fresh, is paramount. Rather than letting tech work against us, it can be an invaluable asset to learn to let it work with us.
Personally, I would like to discover how I can get the most out of the athlete with less. To seek to understand how the athlete responds, and ensure that the quality of training is met, so that the athlete can do what makes them best - perform on the field of play. The more novelty and complexity that you add to training, you play a fine line with cognitive fatigue experienced. This may hamper the athlete’s ability in skill practice, not to mention the implications of the volume and intensity prescribed in the session, and over the duration of phase length at which that athlete is in.
This leads to the concept of keeping training simple, but seek to learn how it may be surgically precise (within your environment) to help that athlete play their sport better. Our role is a small piece of the puzzle, and has a means to an end. Strive for high quality outputs daily, and let it be as efficient as possible.
It’s easy to get caught up in the numbers and lose sight of the most important component of successful coaching: the person in front of your face. It can seem daunting to have a number of metrics presented to you, and not necessarily know what to take from it and what may be valuable, although it is important to discover what metric(s) work best for you, and how it fits within your specific environment, first and foremost.
My aim is to share efficient and practical solutions to the potential paralysis by over-analysis that many may feel succumbed to, presenting a number of case studies that I have performed within my environment that I hope may help. There is much more for us to learn within the PUSH 2.0 and Portal that go far beyond traditional velocity ranges, and I intend to share just a few creative strategies to navigate your process in order to extract more from what you are receiving and guide you into a potentially clearer path that lies ahead.
Looking beyond what the unit is displayed on a screen, we have infinite stimuli to consider that may influence our decision making process: deciphering the human element (body language, perception to fatigue, etc.), our personal perception (ie. ‘coaches eye’) and other subjective and objective metrics that we may be collecting to ‘paint a clearer picture’ of who is in front of us and what makes them ‘tick’. This information provided to us from multiple angles allows us to provide a clearer path into where we may decide to go next, for each individual athlete.
As a quick aside, there is something to be said about pragmatism here. Pragmatism is defined as, “an approach that assesses the truth of meaning of theories or beliefs in terms of the success of their practical application.” In my mind, it means to work within the evidence-based realm, practically applying learned concepts to first assess effectiveness within contextual environment, and secondly to discover new and exciting results that may fall outside the box of what may be presented in literature.
Here are a few questions as an example of what I mean by this:
Does every athlete require a 4th week deload in training due to theorized accumulation of fatigue models?
Do all athletes maintain velocity equally?
Does everyone respond to training the same way, in both short and long term adaptation?
The questions can really be endless, but nonetheless, valuable to understand here. We don’t have all of the answers, and the only guarantee that we can make for our athletes is confidence. So ask more questions and dig deeper, so that you may be grounded by evidence-based practice, but understand the overwhelming value of practical application and daily assessment.
Let us begin with one particular question: How can PUSH 2.0 be incorporated to creatively assess a program, better serve athletes, and individualize prescription without having to rip hair out sitting at a computer getting swamped by data? Well, it begins by understanding that there are individual differences in all facets of life, and especially within our interventions.
There is much that we have no idea of, but we can start with looking for subtle means to individualize so that we may improve confidence and intent in the training environment. Let’s get started on one, of infinite ways, to build an efficient and individualized program based on power capacity.
You cannot manage what you do not monitor.
This statement could not be more true. How do we know if our athletes are improving, and at what rate do we expect them to improve based on the goals we have set for a specific phase of training? Is it simply through looking at the weight of the bar? Well, that does not always work for every athlete that walks into the gym. There needs to be something more that we can do to begin to assess specific adaptations. We very briefly discussed objective and subjective means of daily assessment above, revealing that the opportunities are endless.
How about sets and reps? Do we really know that the set and rep scheme that we have provided will guarantee to improve the adaptation that we seek, both for the entire group and the individual themselves? What else are we looking at, here? There are no guarantees.
Although we cannot guarantee that an athlete will invariably improve performance through training, we are simply providing solutions to the problems that each athlete faces.
One of the ways that we can do that is to use a velocity-based philosophy to our advantage to assess each individual athlete’s capacity for efforts. Moreso, the capacity at which an athlete can produce explosive efforts (dependent on strength quality to be improved).
What if….what if the sets and reps that you prescribed, at a given intensity and velocity were on point theoretically with surgical precision on paper, but not so much on the athlete in front of you? Can we absolutely guarantee that is all that athlete can handle that session? Maybe they are capable of more, or even less. Just because you may have a stepwise progression of volume and intensity for each week to ramp up prior to a deload, has zero guarantee that it fits the athlete. Why?
Some are capable of more from the start.
Some are capable of less from the start.
Life outside of training has its rigours and implications on stress, therefore, stress management is critical, especially in the realm of “higher CNS” derived activities in this example.
Some athletes will continue to progress prior to the ‘4th week deload’, indicating that they may require more stress prior to (increase duration of phase length).
We can continue to go on, but the point is that we cannot guarantee that our program is fitting everyone if we are not monitoring the athlete from the start and with enough data points (efficient daily assessment) throughout each phase (subjective and objective) to really dig into their individual adaptation. Even so, we are simply widening a small keyhole lens through which we see adaptation, but nonetheless, it’s better than not having a lens to see through.
Let’s get to the bread and butter now. Below I will share a simple and effective means of individualizing prescription for ballistic or ‘dynamic effort’ training exercises within the session.
1. ASSESS CAPACITY
Are you under training your athlete(s)? It’s possible. You never know if you don’t assess. Even if you do assess, you still don’t really know. Nonetheless, let’s give a quick example below with a few athletes that I have been coaching,incorporating a pre-phase assessment of capacity dependent on the strength quality that I would like to, theoretically, improve:
For example, in the trap bar jump exercise (Figure 1), this athlete demonstrated 8 repetitions >2.0m/s (peak velocity) prior to reaching a >10% drop off in velocity. Keep in mind, although this figure does present mean velocity in reflection, I incorporate “real-time peak velocity” during ballistic activities and assess velocity drop-off during set.
In contrast, another athlete (Figure 2) was able to perform 4 repetitions prior to a 10% drop off in peak velocity. Funny enough, the qualities observed in this exercise presented themselves in all other KPI lifts with regard to the capacity at which the athlete is able to hold onto quality velocity. There are literally infinite reasons why this may be the case, including: training age, skill acquisition and retention, fatigue, perception of exercise itself, you name it. Interestingly, this data was able to still present consistencies of the athlete’s performance across a number of exercises in a similar manner.
Now, for this specific step, we will go over the prescription of assessment:
Determine a velocity range you would like to assess given a specific strength quality that you are interested in developing.
Warm up to a load that the athlete can confidently perform within that band of velocity.
Place a velocity loss cut-off in the PUSH 2.0 app to determine the quality of repetitions. In my case, I allowed for no more than 10%.
Begin test, allowing the athlete to continue to perform the exercise until drop-off is observed.
You can repeat the test after considerable time to rest, although I have found that over the weeks, the athletes are producing similar repetitions to fatigue each time.
2. Creative Programming
Now that you have been able to determine the capacity at which the athlete can perform explosive efforts (dependent on the specific strength quality), you can begin to look into creative, auto-regulatory means of daily training to mitigate fatigue to the individual.
I have recently begun experimenting with a ceiling number of repetitions for ballistic and dynamic effort prescription. Based on the profile that I have received from the athlete, they are required to hit the ceiling of repetitions prescribed in as few sets as possible, so long as they do not drop velocity >10%. This will present a number of opportunities, listed below:
Improve athlete confidence and intent: They are aware of their capacity, and will challenge themselves to be consistent and drive intent into the execution of the skill/exercise.
The ceiling gets you away from prescribing the traditional “10x2, 8x3, etc.” to spice up training and assess the number of sets that it takes the athlete to “break” the ceiling.
Allows room for improvement. If the athlete is able to break through the ‘ceiling’, and velocity prescription quality remains, you can improve the ceiling in the session. For example, if you have prescribed 18 repetitions at 1.0 m/s mean velocity for the trap bar deadlift, and the athlete has remained consistent, go up until the drop off becomes meaningful (11-14%). This may lead the athlete to up to 30 reps in the session of high quality reps. Simply adjust volume in accessories if this is the case to accommodate.
Keeps training fresh: It allows the athlete(s) to work toward wanting to break the ceiling and not be confined by a predetermined set and rep scheme. This may even allow the session to be more efficient and timely if the athlete has better power capacity.
The benefits do not stop there. With this, you are able to have a little more guidance into the capacity of the athlete relatively, and program accordingly. This will allow you to keep the session flow efficient amongst the group, while also adding that extra ounce of intent nonetheless.
Personally, I take a three-headed approach to programming in this manner:
Assess the strength quality to impose demands
Ask why three times: Why will this help, why is this important, why is that important.
Dive into Prilepin’s chart to assess a band of volume given for % of intensity that coincides with strength quality to get a baseline ceiling of minimal to maximal total repetitions.
Pair this information with the velocity band that is required to develop said strength quality. You can adjust with high- to low-end progression of the band or vice versa. It is up to you!
Once capacity is assessed, continue to track trends along your prescription to assess individualized phase lengths and requirements of deloading.
3. Can it potentiate subsequent sets?
Many say that potentiation is nothing more than a well-prescribed warm up. Although this may be the case, this example below is worth sharing regardless. Figure 3 demonstrates peak velocity for one of our athletes performing a trap bar jump exercise. Take note, that this is a separate session displayed for the same athlete in Figure 1, where their relative capacity is similar in regard to repetitions achieved prior to drop off point. What is important to assess is the following set. In acquiring the prescribed ceiling of reps within his capacity, the following set peak velocities were 11% higher (2.09 vs 2.32 m/s respectively). Much rest was provided between sets (approximately 3 minutes), but nonetheless an interesting finding, considering the number of reps completed in the prior set with the athlete’s level of intent.
In another example, Figure 4 supports similarities with a separate athlete in the trap bar deadlift exercise. Following set 1, the 6th repetition exceeded >10% of the best rep velocity (0.71 - 0.60 m/s). In the following sets, not only were there more consistent efforts, the average velocity of each set to ceiling repetition prescription was observed at 0.79 and 0.78 m/s, respectively.
There may be many a reason that may lead to these results and not chalking it up to the capacity work, but does raise interest with regard to what we know about fatigue and subsequent performance.
4. Get to training!
With the information presented in this piece, I hope that it helps to seek a little more understanding into an extremely brief glimpse of the complexity of our role, and the variability that presents itself day to day. Although we cannot guarantee performance benefit, we can certainly paint a better picture of how we progress training to cater to the individual nonetheless.
Simplicity and mastery of the basics (principles) will go a very long way in helping us to get to where our people need to be. Through continuous assessment and questioning our programs, we are simply challenging ourselves to understand clearer. Once again, we have a finite time with our athletes and ensuring strategies to efficiently and practically provide training to optimize confidence will be an asset. The tools that you have at your disposal, including the PUSH 2.0 and Portal, are invaluable assets to help you to navigate!
BIO: Vince Lucente
Vince is the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at Seneca College in Toronto, Canada. He is also the owner of Tactical Performance Initiative, an online coaching platform designed to provide solutions-driven programming for emergency service providers.