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Edition 56 - Monitoring: What To Do With Test Data Once You’ve Got it
In the last two editions we looked at a battery of tests to establish where you stand in the 9 different aspects of what we refer to as ‘fitness’:
1. Skill - technical proficiency in a given movement
2. Speed - maximum speed for performing an action
3. Power - expressing a combination of maximal force and speed
4. Strength - maximum load you can move / force you can express
5. Hypertrophy - muscle mass / size
6. Muscular Endurance - ability of a muscle to repeatedly contract
7. Anaerobic Capacity - ability to repeat explosive short bursts of an activity
8. Vo2 max/Aerobic Capacity - maximum available uptake of oxygen during aerobic exercise
9. Steady state - ability to continue at moderate intensity endurance for extended duration
Hopefully, you were able to have a go at some of the tests provided and work out where you stand compared to the established ‘standards’ for a fit and healthy body. But now you know your results, what do you do with them? Sit there and look at them? I’m hoping once you’ve told all your friends how you’re built for power, or endurance is your domain, or that your Fat Free Mass Index says you’ve got the physique of an elite athlete, you’ll then turn your attention to your other results - your weaknesses.
It is often said that data which doesn’t inform your training or provide it with direction is essentially useless. After all, if we aren’t using these numbers to drive us towards some specific adjustments in the way we train or provide us with a better route towards some tangible benefits, then what use do we have for these results?
How can your results inform your training?
When taking in your results, it is important to be as objective as possible and observe what your weaknesses may be based on the established standards. Above you can see I have noted down some of my historical efforts and tried to establish where I’m at - with my most obvious weaknesses being my lower body max strength (particularly quads and hamstrings). Although my deadlift 3RM is 1.5x bodyweight, this is a lift from 2021 and is not where I currently am at the moment (more like 110 for 3 reps, which based on my strengths elsewhere, should be more like 2x BW).
Strength/Endurance ratio between bench press : bent over row: if for example, your bench press is stronger than your row, you need to get stronger on your pulling movements, and are probably at risk of lower back pain. If your row is stronger than your bench, this is not necessarily the worst thing (as most people aren’t strong enough in their pull), but ideally you want to work on your pushing strength to level out this ratio. So if you can hit the standard for press ups, but not for pull ups, you know where to start!
What should your training programme look like based on your results? Probably the hardest thing for most people once getting past the difficulty of analysing the results and working out what on earth they mean, is then deciding how to plan training sessions that effectively address these issues. Beyond just practising the test itself and getting better at it, here are some ideas for how you can approach your training sessions to attack a particular weakness:
Poor power and strength scores: Start lifting weights for lower reps, more sets, and higher load. Use a 1RM calculator to work out the absolute maximum you can lift, and start working to around 80% of that number during your working sets. Whether you only manage 3 reps, or 4, or 5, get comfortable with uncomfortable loads. This will address your strength deficiencies. To address your power deficiencies, the first thing you need to do is (drumroll…) practise powerful movements. During your warm ups, start introducing vertical and horizontal jumping (vertical - box jumps as high as possible, 2 sets of 5, horizontal - count how many jumps it takes you to go 10m, then go again and try to beat your score). Secondly, when you move into your main session you are *still* going low reps, 4+ working sets (just like strength training) the only difference is that you make the weight lighter (about 50-60% 1RM) and start focusing exclusively on the speed you can move the weight at. Intention is everything.
‘Get uncomfortable with uncomfortable loads’
Poor muscle mass / FFMI score: Start focusing on mechanical tension when lifting. As a trainer this is probably the biggest ‘easy win’ I see that 90% of people just aren’t getting. If you don’t lift sufficient weight to stress the muscle, and you aren’t doing it with a degree of eccentric (and concentric) control, the muscles are not being tested and provided with a stimulus to respond to. So what we end up with is weights flying up and down through a movement without really engaging the muscle, then saying ‘well at least I got the reps done right?’. Building muscle is about concentration of effort and mind-muscle connection. Hit your training volume required for the week (ideally 15 sets per muscle group per week), and make sure the quality is there.
‘Building muscle is about concentration of effort and mind-muscle connection’
Poor Vo2 Max scores: Start introducing regular sprint interval training and 15-25 minute bouts of higher intensity cardio where you go beyond your lactate threshold (eg. basically after c.10 mins you find it difficult to keep up and keep pushing until you need to stop). Add some sprints to the start or end of a workout, a good target is 8 repetitions of 10-30 secs, with a warm up beforehand. Examples of some things I do to keep my Vo2 max high:
5 x 100m rower/ski erg sprints post-strength workout
7-10km run keeping a ‘difficult’ pace (4:30-5:00 min/km)
5km run as fast as possible (4:00-4:30 min/km)
4 x 1km intervals around the block (3:30-4:00 min/km)
Play a sport (football training and matches)
Cycle to work
Circuit style workouts at home or at the gym (every now and then)
Walk up escalators / embrace taking the stairs
How do you monitor it over time? Something as simple as keeping track of what you lifted on a given day, to give you an idea about your current strength levels, how they compare to your previous strength levels, how close you are to your current goal, how frequently you are ‘touching’ a certain intensity (if I am only going big and heavy once every 2-3 weeks, why should my strength progress at a rapid rate?)
Here is an example of tracking a specific exercise, just making a brief note at the end of the final set to highlight:
What was the maximum weight lifted on the final set (or final 2-3 sets)?
How many repetitions?
Here you can see my tracking for a particular client in a number of different disciplines, which is probably a more concise version of my previous example. Some of these are strength activities (low reps), some are more muscular endurance-based, and the rowing intervals are all about explosive power and top speed over 100m. For each exercise, all I am putting is a number - that number represents their maximum effort for the given exercise (usually the amount they lifted in kilograms, or in the case of the 100m row, the duration in seconds). Along with this number, I also leave a note (as shown), noting how many repetitions were achieved at the given weight, for example on 29/11/21, the client benched 50kg for the final 3 working sets (we gradually built up to this load) - on the first set they achieved 3 reps, 2nd set 3 reps, final set 4 reps.
What should you expect to see Providing you are consistent you will almost always see some sign of progression in whichever aspect of your fitness you are looking to improve. What do I mean by consistent? That depends, but you should be working on your goal a bare minimum of once per week, probably twice (depending on what it is), possibly three times (if it is something like strength/hypertrophy or Vo2 max). You may also see some crossover benefits from your training which aids your progression in more than one domain. For example, if you look at the tracking of my client, he is consistently working on his pulling strength (rack pulls, trap bar deadlift, barbell deadlift, pull ups, barbell bent over row and lat pull down), and this has positive effects on his sprints on the rowing machine going from 19.5 to 19 to 18.8 seconds. You may also notice a pattern of how a long break like Christmas can affect your training and possibly delay your progress. But it’s all good, as long as you get back on the horse and keep training, the overall direction of progress will be UP!
“Consistency beats intensity. Always.”
Movement of the Week: Lock 3 (Shoulder Warm Up)
3 rounds of each 3 sec hold
Thank you, Gabriel