ACWR and Athlete Readiness: How We Push Training to Higher Limits

Written by: Kevin Cann

We all know that volume is important to get stronger.  Too little volume and progress can stall and even slide backwards.  Too much volume and we run the risk of overtraining and injury. So how do we know how much volume is appropriate for each lifter?

This is where the acute chronic work ratio (ACWR) comes into play.  The ACWR analyzes the athlete’s current training and allows the coach to know what the athlete is prepared to handle.  This is a pretty popular monitoring tool in field sports, however, I am trying to apply the principles to the sport of powerlifting.

The chronic workload is a 4 week rolling average of the lifter’s total weight lifted.  This is the athlete’s baseline volume.  This can also be referred to as the athlete’s fitness. We want to stress baseline to push adaptations, hit baseline to maintain, and have some weeks below baseline to allow the athlete to recover.

We do not want to get too far away from baseline at any time due to potential undertraining and also overtraining.  However, there may be another reason.  Having enough volume in training is actually protective against injury.

Th acute workload is the athlete’s current 7 day training volume.  This is the athlete’s fatigue levels.  If we divide the chronic workload by the acute workload we get a ratio. A ratio of 1.0 would be baseline. Anything higher is above baseline and anything lower is below baseline.

Most research in team sports shows a sweet spot of .80-1.30 for the ACWR.  Some other studies have even narrowed down that range to 1.00-1.20, I believe this was for soccer.  My data is closely matched with what the literature has.

With roughly 10 lifters that I applied this too, we saw a range of .90-1.10 for ACWR that led to some really good totals at the last meet.  These lifters did have some experience and were qualified for nationals or had qualifying totals in the gym.

The difference between my range and the literature may be due to the internal load measurements. ACWR in the literature weighs external and internal loads.  External load is typically gathered by GPS data and may account for distance traveled, accelerations, etc.

Internal load is more subjective.  Something like RPE could be utilized here as well as mood questionnaires.  I chose to separate external and internal load as the subjective nature of internal load monitoring can throw off my data.

However, RPE has an intention of quantifying a lifter’s effort on a particular set.  This information is valuable.  What I have decided to do is to use a monitoring system of internal load within the blocks themselves.  Basically, using exertion load here.

There will be a constant intensity and rep scheme throughout the block.  For example, 80% for 5 sets of 3 reps on the squat.  This has to be a competition lift because variations can have beginner gains with the athlete and it makes it difficult to track.

I will compare the athlete’s effort from week to week.  We should see technique improve and the sets to begin to look easier.  Once they look easier, we will have them take a heavy triple at an RPE 8-9 and use that weight as the new 80%.

During this time I am collecting data on volumes, average intensities, and variations.  The ACWR lets me know how much I can push training and still keep the athlete safe.  We use this new 80% for a period of time.  It should look like there is good effort with some technique breakdown on the 2ndand/or 3rdrepetition.

Again, we monitor this over time.  Anything under 80% they use their true 1RM numbers and anything over they just add that change in percentage to the bar.  For example, 85% would require them to just add 5% to the bar.

As we were approaching the competition and 90% singles began to come into the program, many of the lifters were hitting all time PRs for fast singles.  Programming this way allowed me to do a number of things.

It allowed me to keep progressing training.  The ACWR allows me to progress the volume the lifter is training with at a safe rate. It allowed me to identify which variations were working and which ones were not.

I kept variations pretty constant throughout the block as I was monitoring the competition lifts.  I choose variations to fix certain technique issues.  If the competition lift sets were looking better, it is working, if not it isn’t.

I was also able to identify which volumes and average intensities worked best for each lifter. Some people do better with higher volumes and others do better with more heavy singles.  I was even surprised with how much this worked.

ACWR (paired with exertion load monitoring) allows me to monitor the lifter’s readiness for lifting a specific weight for a specific number of repetitions.  We have been able to push training far beyond what I would have thought.  For example, Kina took a 3×3 with 90% on the deadlift yesterday.

Before, I started utilizing these monitoring tools that would have been 3 sets of 1 at 90% or triples around 80%.  We were able to put an extra 10% bar weight over that time period without missing any training days due to injury.  Kina was the first one I began using this with back in December.  She has put 120lbs on her total since then at a lower bodyweight.

Dave Rocklage has put 110lbs on his total since Raw Nationals, Nick put over 60lbs and climbed into the top 25 of the 93kg class, and Mike Agius put 135lbs on his already national qualifying total at 83kg in 4 months.   This was accomplished by missing zero training days due to injury.

They are all currently in a recovery block to allow them to fully recover and to reset all the volume and intensity markers to get ready to hit it again as we approach October.  I am excited for the possibilities that this brings to our team and the future of our success.

About Kevin Cann 33 Articles
Precision Powerlifting Systems is based out of Boston, Mass. Head Coach Kevin Cann leads the raw and single ply powerlifting team through individualized programming leading up to local, regional, national, and international level USA Powerlifting meets. Coach Kevin has worked as a nutritionist and strength coach for several facilities in the greater Boston area including Harvard University and Total Performance Sports. He holds a master’s degree in kinesiology from A.T. Still University and a bachelor’s degree in health and wellness from Kaplan University. Currently, Coach Kevin competes in the 105kg class in USA Powerlifting as both a raw and equipped open lifter and was under the tutelage of former team Russia powerlifting coach and coaching legend, Boris Sheiko, from 2015-2018. Kevin utilizes many of Sheiko’s legendary methods in his programs. This includes the belief that technique is the most important aspect of training. Not only has Kevin been a long term student of Sheiko’s, he also possesses his Master’s Degree in Kinesiology, the science of human movement. The combination of his Master’s degree and time spent working with the legendary coach has awarded him with the skills to thoroughly analyze your lifts and utilize the right variations, weights, and repetitions to improve your technique and continue to steadily progress over time. Through Kevin’s experiences coaching, he has made many adjustments to the program to allow for the success of his lifters. PPS has had an Arnold qualifier every year in its existence, a top 5 national total, 2 top 10 totals, and many top 20 totals nationally. Kevin combined what he learned from Sheiko with a conjugate trining style. He learned that nothing builds 1RM strength like practicing singles. He uses a constraints-led approach with the singles. The variation allows for the athlete to continually take max singles without seeing a decrease in performance. Kevin will use variations that punish technical inefficiency and only leaves room to complete the task with a more technically efficient strategy. Heavy singles also works the psychological components of the sport. Oftentimes this goes untrained and is the largest weakness in a lifter. Along with the max effort work, PPS lifters perform sub maximal work to continue to increase technical proficiency within the lifts. Some of this technique work utilizes special exercises that Kevin learned from Boris Sheiko himself. PPS supports raw, drug free powerlifting. Kevin has coached numerous athletes that have qualified for USAPL Nationals as well as the USAPL competitions at the Arnold Sports Festival. Cost for coaching is tiered and ranges from $125 to $200 per month depending on the services required. This includes an individualized program based around your needs as an athlete as well as feedback on your lifts from videos. Text support as you are training, weekly voice memos explaining details about the upcoming week, and bi-weekly training meetings with the team to discuss training concepts is part of the tier 1 service. For more information email Kevin directly at