The moving window – A practical solution to the intractable problem of training systems

In training it can be very easy to become overwhelmed very quickly.  If you remove yourself from the advice, Instagram accounts and YouTube videos and look at strength training (or training in general for that matter) from a global perspective it boils down to 

Organism experiences stress -> organism has time away from stress -> organism adapts to stress

That is pretty much the long and the short of it.  I think it can become easy to get away from the most basic principles of training and to think that it is more complicated than that or since you have read a lot and have a good amount of understanding of the science that you can move away from that concept and go on to create shiny perodisation schemes and special exercises.

The most wooly headed or deluded training I come across online or opinions are always two or three steps removed from this kind of thinking and example of which could be

Problem I want to sprint faster

Line of rationale – I don’t spend any time on two feet really on my sport, my joint angles never really get below 90 and I want to be explosive.  I should really look at doing something more specific to what I am wanting to develop or get better at.

Solution – single leg half split squats using dumbbells supersetted with single leg jump efforts like split squat hops.

Result – compromised force production, compromised speed, compromised muscle growth and adaptation.  

Alternatively we could have a program where we lift heavy shit (squat, split squat, half squat, leg press, ssb squat whatever really), run fast (sprints, weighted sprints, plyometrics, throws) and perform full ROM lifts even better unilaterally to expose joints and muscles to training demands to bring up weak link and induce growth where we want it.  Might seem way less sophisticated to someone looking at it with a surface level of understanding but is by far a better method of preparation.

The main difference for me is that the second approach looks at the attributes you want to develop then picks training interventions that best develop those attributes and then gets to work at getting better.

As soon as you take one, two or even three steps to get to your outcome the less effective your training is likely to be.  That’s where I like the concept of the moving window because as the jumps in rationale reduce your training effectiveness so do jumps in time.  

The moving window – basis in load management. 

The moving window or just looking at a snapshot of time and using that in my decision making process has been something I have habitually done as a play off between wanting to be the most effective I can with the time I have with myself or an athlete and being pragmatic.  When I started coaching people online I used to work in blocks of 4-5 weeks.  Any person who is pragmatic and works with individuals will soon see how blocks are incredibly inefficient.  You write out 4-8-12 weeks worth of training all of which is inter linked (meaning for it to be effective the work loads need to be completed sequentially) and the athlete gets sick, injured or can’t make workouts for work or family reasons and your 4-8-12 week plan is now down the toilet.  If you keep working in the same paradigm of blocks of time that are delivered then you need to redraw up a modified plan in the same detail you did before. 

When you are dealing with a lot of people at once the mean will be able to follow the block and it is easier to adapt to the few that can’t for any of the aforementioned reasons.  Trying to indvidualise for a large group is a LOT more work than producing blocks and individualising ad hoc and the opposite is true for individuals. 

When working in Rugby I was a lot more active in following sports science research and in particular field sport relevant sports science.  Tim Gabbet was just producing a lot of his work using GPS and rugby players to produce the concept of the acute chronic work ratio

It’s basically a moving average of the past three weeks of training load either measured using RPE x TIME (Arbitrary Load Units) or another seperate or more objective metric like total distance through the use of GPS.  You would be surprised how well GPS total distance and AU matched up with each other.  This is a concept that has been in my head ever since however.  I don’t think it is particularly useful for a sport like powerlifting where our load is so small it would lead to strange training decisions and training programs and from my knowledge hasn’t really been shown to have any real relationship with strength training (outside of it’s effect on a wider program of rugby team for example).   

However it has lead me to develop the mental model of the moving window of training.  It is something I use when programing for individuals and it helps frame decision making for training loads and weeks.

What is the moving window?

The moving window is a snapshot of what training the athlete has done in the past “arbitrary” amount of time I would probably use the last 3-6 weeks as my yardstick of training history that can help me to come upon a training decision.

A real world example.

You can see the trajectory of a lifter following a 12 week peak into a comptition where they performed three weeks of higher volume strength endurance work followed by a planned 4 week functional over reach and 5 week taper/peak into competition.  The first blip was on week 5/12 when they reported far higher than expected RPEs during their workout.  

The decision made here was using the past 4 weeks of training into context where all the preparatory work was completed, the first over reach week completed as expected meaning that this was an unexpected training result.  The decision was to stay the course and see how it developed.

The next week the lifter performed better than expected with a 5×5 workout with an expected RPE of 8-9 for all sets and they completed the workout with an RPE of 7-8.  Then the following week they failed to make the required volume load.

The coaching decision was to take a deload and pivot using the accrued work from the previous 6 weeks to taper from using more of an athlete lead or RPE influenced set up to try and make sure fatigue was best managed.

The athlete decided to try the top over reach workout again and failed to meet the required volume load by an even larger margin.  The next 1.5 weeks became recovery focused with only 2 weeks of training to try and taper off and still be near competition level intensity. 

The pivot in the end was successful netting a 4% increase but that would have been on the low end of what we would have expected given the training set up into the competition.

The above is an example of having a longer term plan (12 weeks into comp) put out in more granular detail and using the training window to inform decisions made.  We didn’t blindly follow the trajectory set out in the program we check how our performance is matching up to what is expected and make decisions on the trajectory we take from there. 

We use % of a relevant estimated maximum to set training loads in the ball park desired and use sets, reps and rest times to help push the training adaptation in the direction that we want it to take.  

Plan in broad strokes and colour in the detail as we go. 

This is where the moving window comes into practice.  When I now lay out an annual plan I don’t worry too much about putting in too much minute detail.  I take note of important dates (competitions, holidays and other engagements) and I then use that information to map out what I think would be the best use of that time in terms of developing the athlete’s capacity over the training year.

I then plan 1-3 weeks in advance.  Initially I will plan 4 weeks, then once the athlete starts catching up I will then plan 1-3 weeks in advance asjusting before the start of each training week based on weights log information, training video and athlete feedback. We can also alter on the fly through athlete/coach real time communication but the time commitment required for this is not conducive to the coach having a life out of watts app so it’s an ad-hoc if and when sort of input and not a corner stone to the delivery. 

Current week -6Review???
Current week -5Review??
Current week -4Review?
Current week -3Review
Current week -2Review
Current week -1Review
CURRENT WEEKReview and adapt before and during week
Current week +1Fill in detail end of previous week
Current week +2have planned detail in place
Current week +3have planned detail in place

This allows the direction of the training to emerge for example if the lifter is progressing faster than you had planned (RPEs are below what you expected) you can decide to hold them where they are if you want to consolidate or you can increase the rate of progress.

If the block isn’t developing as well as you would expect (RPEs above what you where expecting) then you can decide to hold them at the same level for a week or two to see if they can adapt, slow the expected rate of progress, repeat a training week or just pivot completely if the planned trajectory isn’t viable.

Many trainers and gyms go under the moniker of X.X.T.S. where the TS stands for training systems yet almost none of them use a systems lead approach.  A simple setup like this gives a chance to plan inflows and then to see how it develops over time and to adjust them based on the results they are producing.  Regular review is essential and decisions that are based upon that review and informed from the data/evidence from the previous week’s training results.  

You can also build up observations and test training hypothesis for each individual by creating the training set up necessary and then see how it plays out or making notes on how they have responded to the previous training set up. 

A very easy one is to see how certain training weeks affect the lifters sessional performance and well being/muscle stiffness.  Allowing you to come up with a training set up that allows the lifter to perform maximally in each session.

This is also how I self coach I use a loose plan to lay out training goals and focuses for months and weeks and then I plan training 1-2 weeks in advance and use the performance from the previous 1-3 weeks to make decisions on training load and maybe adding or removing exercises from the training week.

There it is, it’s not a big or complicated idea but none of the useful ones are.

I hope you find this quick mental model or frame useful in the planning of your own or the training of others.


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