High Stress Training Weeks

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High Stress Training Weeks
By Mike Tuchscherer, 3 October 2017

From the inbox:
"Why vary weekly fatigue percents at all? Why not move from high reps to low reps at [medium stress] each week? The high reps provide the stimulus and the low reps allowing fatigue to dissipate? A week of 3’s at [high stress] vs week of 8’s at [medium stress]. The latter has a lower fatigue percent but higher volume- so what’s the difference in effect between the two?"

The core of this question is really about the uses of low, medium, and high stress levels.  So first let's define those...
Medium stress is where the stress inflow matches the recovery outflow (for those familiar with the kitchen sink analogy).  You can recover week-to-week, but you're near that limit.  For those of you familiar with the concept of Max Recoverable Volume (MRV), that is also about medium stress.  This is more or less the limit of sustainable training given your current work capacity.
LAM_4621High stress is anything beyond what you can recover from week to week.  It causes an accumulation of fatigue.  Stress inflow is greater than recovery outflow.
Low stress is where stress inflow is less than recovery outflow.  If you have accumulated fatigue, it will dissipate if you are in a low-stress condition.
So the essence of the question is pretty much why shouldn't you just set the training level at medium stress and forget about it?  Well, in large part you should.  Medium stress should be your default decision.  But over the long term, you're going to want to do things like improve your work capacity or dissipate fatigue.  So you'll need to modulate stress.
High stress training weeks present an adaptive stimulus to your body systems responsible for recovery from training.  This helps you adapt to higher training loads, which is useful for allowing you to handle more training over time.  Of course you’ll want to include some lower stress weeks as well to allow the excess fatigue to dissipate.
Most people don't have any issue understanding that you may want to deload to allow fatigue to dissipate, but the periodic high stress week (or series of weeks) is also important.  It can help push your work capacity forward, which will increase your recovery ability and, over time, allow you to tolerate higher workloads.  This will be necessary as your training career progresses and it takes greater workloads to make progress.
So to reiterate – the default position for your training is medium stress.  That is a training stress that is set to a level that is a challenge, but it’s possible for you to recover week to week.  Occasionally you’ll want to push beyond that into higher stress periods.  This will help you develop work capacity, but will also result in accumulated fatigue, so you’ll need to balance that with low stress training weeks.
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About the Author
Mike Tuchscherer is the owner and head coach at RTS. He has been powerlifting since 2001 and since has traveled all over the world for competitions. In 2009, he was the first man from USA powerlifting to win a gold medal at the World Games – the highest possible achievement in powerlifting. He has coached over a dozen competitors at the world championships, a score of national champions, and multiple world record holders.