The Retrospective Macrocycle; The Power of the Past

October 6, 2014

Study the past, if you would divine the future. -Confucius

joeMy first collegiate strength coaching job was at CAL, working with the football team. Eager to impress the football coaches, we planned an 8 week off-season program and included a 1RM test at the beginning and end of the cycle to show the great work the players had put in. Unfortunately, despite what we felt was excellent commitment from the athletes, some of them did not improve their 1RM tests. We have previously discussed the fact that 1RM and similar tests (10 yard sprint time, vertical jump height) make it difficult to show an athlete's progress because of the individual variance of internal load, particularly if the stress occurs closer to the testing event. Basically, each athlete has to perform a "personal best" to show that the last 8 weeks of training have meant something. After some disappointing test results, we went back to the drawing board to figure out how we could show the sport coaches what we could instinctively see were more efficient athletes.

One thing I could have done was test more frequently, like we do here at the Sparta with the Force Plate Scan. Some of our professional baseball athletes scan multiple times a week during their short off-season. More frequent tests have the potential to show small improvements and subtle changes in performance better than less frequent tests. But in a University setting, testing day can take away from actual training days. What I should have done is to treat each day/ training session as a test. The athletes were working off percentages of their 1RM for each lift, but I (and they) were not diligent about recording the weights they performed on a daily basis. That information can prove invaluable since it can be used as an assessment of their improving (or decreasing) performance. Like most collegiate coaches, I found the logistics and paper work were a major deterrent in recording daily weights. The athletes were working as hard as they could each day and to me that was enough. However, I should have given more credence to the daily highs and lows of the athletes as a way to assess my own good and bad coaching days.

weightsOnce I started recoding the athletes' performances more carefully, I was able to start making statistical associations between certain training plans and the subsequent results. This retrospective analysis allowed me to start taking other athlete variations into account, such as training, age, outside stress, gender, etc. For example, we recently associated hip thrust as the 2nd most powerful effect on DRIVE, yet the weight (load of exercise) had no significant statistical effect. So we shifted our movement to a single leg hip thrust to place less emphasis on weight, and likely possible erector spinae dominance in extension rather than the gluteus. As a contrast, after squat variations, the deadlift has a large effect on LOAD, which was related more to the absolute level of weight that could be used, rather than the pattern of movement.

At SPARTA, looking at a training macrocycle retrospectively has allowed the recorded numbers to; - free us up to coach, treating every day as testing/assessment (by athlete logging actual weights) - adjust ensuing training cycles or years off what was done, not just what was planned - hold our staff accountable to the definition of coaching; a transfer of knowledge to the athlete

Thankfully, these days, there are tracking software and apps that can aid in collecting and tracking this kind of data that make it a lot easier than the clipboard and copying/ re-copying that we used to have to do in excel.

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