Daily Training Load & RPE

Back in July, I attended an ASCA workshop where Nick Poulos, former Head of Physical Performance at Adelaide FC (now Head of Athletic Performance AUS Men’s Rugby 7’s) presented on ‘Periodisation in AFL Pre-Season’. After working his way through various GPS metrics he went on to describe and detail what he termed his drill database. The database provided the performance and coaching staff with accurate GPS metrics about distance covered, velocities achieved and overall intensity (RPE) of the session (apologies Nick if this is not completely accurate; but this was my interpretation at the time). Therefore, they were prescribing the game-like conditioning drill(s) and training loads, then predicting (knowing from past experience) the physiological outcome (then adaptation) which would be developed by the players.

This got me thinking about how I prescribe sessions for my athletes, the periodisation model and how all the pieces fit together. It is obviously very different for track athletes, and the coach (me), where I am a one-man band, and only dealing with half a dozen athletes or less. But, from using past experience and anecdotal evidence over time, I have a quantifiable idea of what training load will lead to various outcomes and how this should fit within the overall periodisation model. Coaches need to know what training stress is needed to elicit the appropriate adaptation (see Pfaff – Minimal Effective Dose) for that athlete or the event, but also the acute and chronic response this session(s) may lead to.

We all know that many stressors will contribute to an athlete’s RPE score and therefore we need to build up some data to recognise trends which occur when they undertake particular sessions, but it interests me to see how the prescription fits within the physical performance. And getting back to Poulos’ presentation, once a ‘drill or session database’ has been effectively developed, you should be able to prescribe reasonably accurately the intensity and effort required to complete the session.

Below is the Daily Training Load (RPE x session duration), Predicted RPE (coach) and Actual RPE (athlete) over the course of a 4 week mesocycle (Weeks 19-22). Generally, I will stick within a total weekly predicted RPE of between 25-30au (arbitrary units) and a weekly training load of around 2000-2400au. From all the sessions we have done throughout the preparation (we have just started week 27), I know once we hit a session of around 700au, that there is going to be some serious training stress which follows on from this. Often this will be planned from my end, to force a state of overreaching, or it could be a red flag on the athlete’s end suggesting alterations which must take place in the following days. During the cycle below, two of my athletes were on holidays which enabled us to ‘play’ with the TL and timing of the sessions during the day. The outliers are the 2 sessions in Week 3, Sep-29 & Oct-1, where the TL respectively was 900 and 1050au, as we did a lifting session in the AM and then completed the track session in the PM; therefore combining the durations of both sessions. However, these planned yet high DTLs ended up making the next few sessions pretty ordinary (too much of an increase in acute load) due to increased daily load which they were unaccustomed with.

DTL graph


The loads above provide an example of how Bannister’s Fitness-Fatigue Model can be understood for my athletes. Across the preparation phase to date, it appears that the acute effects from a daily (Hi) training load of approximately 700au (in a scheme of Hi-Low-Rest or Low-Hi-Rest) is enough to elicit a positive adaptation to fitness without having ongoing fatigue symptoms greater than 72 hours post session. However, daily training loads of greater than 700au appear to elicit a high level of acute fatigue which wreaks havoc on the CNS and the athlete’s ability to exert a maximal sprint effort within a 72 hour timeframe. The same is true of the total weekly training loads. When the loads are in excess of 2600au there is going to be a ‘fatigue hangover’ into the next week compromising the quality of the sessions. Whereas, when the weekly loads are capped around the 2200au mark; my athletes seem to develop positive adaptations without having to adjust the content of the following week. Just an addition, below is the Annual Training Load data which also has Training Stress Balance scores (Chronic Training Load (28 days – Fitness) – Acute Training Load (7 days – Fatigue)) included. I am still playing around with this information and seeing how sensitive the ‘Training Stress Score’ is and how the numbers holistically effect performance… Stay tuned on this…  See Mladen’s work on this for a better understanding…


Tracking training loads over time, whether RPEs, volume, distance or GPS metrics, allows coaches to measure their magnitude or effect against the actual event or sport performance, but also use past events to influence the outcome of future events e.g loads which lead into a win-streak, season/personal best. Learning from the past is one of the best predictors of future success and if you don’t have any data, notes or diaries to refer to… it’s like driving on the freeway at night with no headlights… Doesn’t mean I have all the answers, but at least I am still looking.

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