Take a look inside Adam Ramzy’s training, Canada’s number 1 powerlifter. Adam recently competed at the North American Powerlifting Championships, setting the 2nd highest equipped Wilks of the competition (608 Wilks), only behind Blaine Sumner. Adam tracked and analyzed his 21-week training cycle on MyStrengthBook leading up to this competition and shares insights on how to structure training using a metrics-based approach.
Edited by Avi Silverberg
Tracking metrics and training data is a logical concept. It’s the idea that we can analyze our past training to guide future practice. The end goal is to get as strong as possible, which relies on staying healthy and achieving longevity in the sport. By doing so, we hope to reach our biological potential; being as strong as possible within our own opportunities and limitations. This article will provide several reasons why I track metrics and how I use metrics to guide my training.
As we explore metrics-based training, we will be analyzing my training from the 2016 Canadian Nationals (March) to the North American Powerlifting Championships (August) – a span of 21 weeks. A summary of my training phases are displayed below:
Volume: The total amount of work completed within a particular time-frame. Calculated by multiplying number of sets, by reps, by load (i.e. 5 sets of 5 reps @ 100lbs = 2500lbs of volume)
Baseline Volume: The average volume accumulated on a weekly basis over all three lifts. Determining whether a week was high or low volume depends on its relative position to baseline.
Average Intensity: The average load lifted over the course of the week.
Peak Intensity: The heaviest load lifted over the course of the week.
This graph shows the relationship between volume and intensity over the course of my 21-week training cycle. As I will detail further, there are periods of high and low volume, which fluctuates based on how heavy my training loads are each week.
This graph shows the relationship between the weekly volume I accumulated compared with my baseline (the average amount of volume I typically handle). As I will detail further, volume needs to be considered within the context of your baseline to determine the type of training outcomes that are achieved.
The overarching advantage of using metrics is understanding training on a long-term basis, from weeks to months to years, and even decades. Early in our powerlifting career it’s easy to look at a single training session and achieve PRs. For example, completing a set and rep scheme with a weight never used previously. While it’s certainly important to track these milestone workouts, those singular PRs become less frequent the stronger you get, and the closer you train to your biological potential.
It’s simply unrealistic to think each week we can squat 3 X 3 with increasing weights. At some point, we will not be able to add more weight to this set and rep scheme. At my stage in powerlifting I can train an entire year and only have a few opportunities to increase weight on a workout such as a 3 X 3 protocol. Similarly, looking at my competition lifts over the year I might only yield 5kg on each lift, which would be considered the ‘best case scenario’ if training went extremely well. With that in mind, tracking metrics can shift one’s perspective by looking at how training progresses on a larger scale. Rather than looking at PRs within a singular workout, progress is gauged by looking at whether my training weeks and months are yielding greater results. For example, strategically planning higher overall volumes and workloads, and intensities each week over the course of my training cycle. So, rather than comparing one workout to the next, I’m comparing weeks and months, and evaluating how these weeks and months relate to my average or all-time training capacities.
Let’s look at an example from my training.
In my normal off season training the average amount of volume handled is around 80,000-100,000lbs/week over all three lifts. I view this as the minimum (approximate) amount of volume I need to perform each week to have a productive training effect, especially when keeping my average intensities within the same intensity range (80-85%), and adhering to a high level of technical proficiency within my lifts. I know this to be true because I’ve tracked my training over the long term and have established baseline volumes during each preparatory phase of training and adjusted for each new competition. Baseline volume would be considered your average training capacities that you typically complete on a weekly or monthly basis. What becomes key from a planning perspective is knowing your training capacities (the average amount of volume completed), and then structuring workouts to meet or exceed those thresholds.
When using weeks and months as your standard for progression, then as I said previously, individual workouts become less important. Whether scheduling workouts such as 5 X 3 @ 80%, 4 X 4 @ 77%, or 7 X 2 @ 83%, those singular training sessions will likely not make a huge difference in terms of managing fatigue and adaptation. Why? Because creating a sufficient stimulus to yield an adaptation happens on a much bigger scale; over training weeks and months, not days. It’s the growth of volume and intensity long term that’s going to allow you to get stronger, not one workout in isolation. This is not to say we shouldn’t know the different training effects of various rep ranges and intensities, such as singles, doubles, and triples versus 4s, 5s, and 6s (or even 10s, 15s, and 20s). However, we must adopt a long-term vision when planning our training to truly understand the weekly and monthly numbers that allow us to adapt optimally. Remember, It’s the culmination of repeated work that matters. Thus, as we track and analyze metrics we realize the variables that have made up past success, which we can then use to structure our current training to fit our goals and requirements.
When we adopt a long-term training mindset we allow ourselves to be flexible within daily workouts, and responsive to the realities of training. For instance, if we’re feeling particularly beat up one day because of stress outside the gym, lack of sleep, or less than optimal nutrition, we can scale back an individual workout to manage fatigue, but continue to keep our focus on the ‘bigger picture’. Again, one workout is not as important as the sum of all workouts together. The training goal is to meet or exceed weekly/monthly volume or intensity prescriptions, so modifying a single workout has a small impact on those broader outcomes.
Let’s look at another example from my training.
Week 6: Volume set at above baseline (119,706lbs), yet still sustainable as intensities increase
In the first 10 weeks of my training leading up to North Americans I planned an “Intensification phase”. The goal of intensification is to maintain a certain level of volume while increasing intensities. We want to perform heavier weights for similar amounts of volume. To structure this phase, my weekly volume boundaries were between 101,000lb – 121,000lb, a sustainable range that doesn’t overreach my ability to recover, but a range that I know will be challenging (above my baseline). Again, I know that this is a sustainable yet challenging range to maintain for 10 weeks because I’ve tracked my metrics and know the average amount of volume I accomplish each week, and how far above my baseline I can train without feeling too fatigued. To develop proficiency handling heavier loads, I increased my average intensities over this period from 68% to 79%.
Week 6: volumes being maintained with both average and peak intensities increasing
I had a very clear goal during this phase: I wanted to maintain volume and increase intensities. It’s important to remember that these volume metrics come as a result of ~100 workouts and thousands of sets. Being aware of the broader perspective, meant that moving Monday’s squat to Tuesday, or adding a seventh set of bench on Wednesday, or reducing load 4% on Thursday’s deadlift, or increasing rep scheme from 4x5 to 4x6 on Saturday, were all possible so long as their impact were considered in reference to the cumulative training goals over the entire training phase. Not only were these modifications ‘possible’, but likely essential to sustain my mental and physical health and commitment to training.
I approach training PRs by allowing myself the flexibility to go for PR lifts during certain training periods, and on days that I feel ‘good enough’ to achieve them. Being honest, it’s very tough to predict the exact days that I’m going to feel ‘good enough’ to go for PRs. However, during a planned training period, such as an intensification phase I outlined above, I’ll be a little more lenient to stress my body to hit PRs. These are the phases of training where I’m purposely trying to push my recovery capacities by training at volumes and intensities that meet or slightly exceed my recovery capacity.
Week 6: Training 19% above my volume baseline
These phases must be sufficiently far from competition and it is imperative that the degree of overreaching is considered because of the higher risk of injury when fatigue is paired with a high effort PR. The reality is that training is not a full time job and as I cannot control every aspect of the infinite inputs of stress and recover that contribute to strength, some days we feel good ‘for whatever reason’ and some days we don’t. I believe that there needs to be some degree of flexibility within the planned structure to PR on certain protocols when we can do so. Ultimately, this is the benefit of metrics-based training, being flexible enough to scale individual workouts, but understanding overall trends and patterns so we can still accomplish the broader outcomes of the training program. It’s about understanding that I hit my volume goals at the end of the week or month, with higher average loads, while my exertion levels being slightly lower. PRs will happen when they happen and I’m not overly concerned with hitting them on a weekly basis.
Before you stop reading here and think that you can quote Adam Ramzy telling you to ‘go hit PRs every-time you feel good enough for them!’ let me offer another thought on training PRs: Every stress we place on the body draws from our limited ability to recover. Before you opt to perform a 98%x2 PR squat, I suggest you ask yourself – will these two reps better contribute to my goal of being as strong as possible at Nationals next year (or any planned meet), or would performing 18 high quality repetitions during a 80% 6x3 workout be more productive? The answer is certainly not always the former nor the latter, and that’s the point.
Week 12: Training volumes exceeds baseline by a significant margin
When setting up a training cycle, it’s important to structure some weeks or months that build up an excess of fatigue. One way to do this is structuring training volumes above and beyond the most recoverable amount of volume you can handle on a weekly basis. For me, I can recover when training at my baseline volume up to 20% above my baseline established during this competition prep (101,000lbs – 121,000lbs of total volume/week). As I said earlier, within the first 10 weeks of training all my volumes were set within this range. However, based on evaluating my fatigue during this training block, I found that beyond that 20% above baseline mark would cause me to build up an excess amount of fatigue and begin to accumulate a recovery deficit. Thus, weeks 10 to 14 of my training cycle the weekly training volumes were set above that 20% baseline mark in order to overload the intensity accumulated within the first 10 weeks, and on top of volumes that I normally can’t recover from. The training volumes and intensities for those over-reaching weeks were as follows: