HRV Case Study of a Powerlifter with Cerebral Palsy Preparing for Competition

Shortly after my relocation to Alabama, I was given the opportunity  to oversee the competition preparation of a young powerlifter who had been training here at the AUM Human Performance Lab under the care of Dr. Mike Esco and his staff. He was about 5 weeks out from competition at the time of my arrival. Below is a detailed account of the training program with HRV data, training load and sleep score.

The athlete is a 22 year old male with Cerebral Palsy and can therefore only compete in the Bench Press. He competes in the 123lb weight class (actual weight is 121). His best competition lift was 200lbs recorded this past February at his first competition.

After observing a couple of workouts, I could see that Zarius was missing out on some poundage due to technical flaws. The focus of the program was therefore to improve his bench press technique and get him more accustomed to the competition commands. We trained 3x/week and used a full body, undulating approach that enabled us to Bench Press each session to further develop technique.

The original program is below and was followed with only minor adjustments here and there. The chosen sets/reps and percentages were inspired by those outlined Tri-Phasic Training. This allowed for the completion of only quality reps; avoiding failure and saving the grinding for competition. You’ll notice the corresponding rep ranges for each percentage are well below typical capabilities. (i.e. 85%x2 rather than 85%x5-6). Assistance work progressed in weight or reps each week based on performance.


Beginning on day one of week one, the athlete recorded HRV each morning with ithlete on his iPod Touch in a seated position. Sleep was rated on a scale of 1-5 on the app. Training load was manually entered based on training intensity to make interpretation easier from the trend in relation to his HRV. Perceived values are not included.

Below is all of the raw data as it appears when exported from the app into Excel followed by a recreation of his 4 week trend. I’ve highlighted high and low HRV days in the respective colors used by ithlete. You’ll note that measurements are missing on two occasions; 4/18 and 5/12.



Below are images of his weekly averages of HRV and training load. Training load in this context is simply intended to represent a progressive increase in intensity followed by a deload and then competition.



There’s a clear progressive increase in his HRV trend right up until the start of week 3. Week 3 was the highest intensity training week with a slight reduction in volume. It appears that intensity rather than volume created more fatigue. His HRV peaks during the deload week. The deload week included 2 workouts. On Monday we worked up to his opener of 240lb for a single and on Wednesday we worked up to 70% for a few singles with emphasis on the competition commands and pausing.

You can see that the morning of the competition (5/11) there is a small drop in HRV. I attribute this to pre-competition anxiety based on feedback of mood, perception, etc. He appears to have slept well leading up to the meet. HRV remains suppressed until the 3rd day after the competition where it starts to trend back up, however still remains below average. This clearly shows the additional psychological/emotional stress that competing places on the body.


1st Attempt – 240 Good
2nd Attempt – 250 Good
3rd Attempt – 255 Miss at lockout (very debatable)

He added 50lbs to his competition best since February. His next meet will be in October where he’ll be looking to shorten the gap he has to close to fulfill his dreams of qualifying for the Paralympics.


Reviewing HRV data after a 9 week training cycle

It’s been a quite a while since I can honestly say that I completed a successful training cycle with little interruption. After Christmas break I had a 9 week cycle tentatively planned out. As you’ll see, the plan changes due to unforeseen events, but training manipulations were made and the cycle was successful; resulting in some gym PR’s  which haven’t been made in a long time!

Set up was as follows;

Monday – Squat

Tuesday – Bench

Wednesday – Active Recovery (20-30 mins of light aerobic work, mobility, stretching, etc.)

Thursday – Deadlift

Friday – Incline Bench

Saturday – Off or Active Recovery

Sunday – Off

Weeks 1-4 were of moderate intensity (75-85%) and higher volume. An example of a typical workout from this phase would be 5×5, 6×4, etc. However on deadlift day’s I’d rarely perform sets with more than 3 reps. Weights were selected based on RPE and guided by previous session’s working sets. If you look at my trend closely however, you’ll see that week 4 was a lousy week and my workouts were adjusted accordingly (more below).

Weeks 5-7 were of higher intensity (85-90%) and moderate volume such as 3×4, 4×3, etc.

Week 8 consisted of 1-2 sets of 2 reps with a weight that was near but not quite maximal

Week 9 was test week where I worked up to as close to a 1RM as I could get safely (I train alone).

Essentially I was blocking my training up into an “accumulation” period, a “transmutation” period and a “realization” period. I use those terms loosely however.

Below is a screen shot of my HRV/sRPE trend from the last 3 months. The training cycle began on Jan. 7. This is following a period of detraining over the holidays that you can clearly see early in the trend.


Week 1 – Post-Christmas holidays and I’m detrained. I began lifting 3 day’s/week to let my body get back into the swing of training with plans of moving to 4/days week in week 3. Though the workouts aren’t very intense, I experience large drops in HRV in response to workouts. My body is clearly adapting to the re-initiation of training.

Week 2 – My body appears to have adapted well as I experience very few low HRV days. HRV peaks on the weekend after some rest.

Week 3 –Switch to 4/day week lifting schedule. I was surprised that I didn’t see some lower drops this week. HRV peaks again on the weekend after rest.

Week 4 – I miss a workout due to snow day. My HRV is low practically all week and the weights were feeling heavy. I decided not to push it and essentially deloaded with sRPE’s of 7. Below is a screen shot of my data as it appears when I export it to excel from ithlete from weeks 2-4.

*Regarding the comments section, I document some random stuff sometimes. This is simply because I plan to review that data at a later date to see if I notice any trends. For example I note when I have ZMA before bed to see how it effects sleep score and next morning HRV. I’ll try and make note of any changes in nutrition, etc. Since I keep a training log I only document brief details about workouts on ithlete. Keep in mind that the comments , Sleep score and sRPE are all referring to the PREVIOUS day/night. So for example, when you see an sRPE of 8, it was from the workout on the day before. Lastly, I work days/evenings working with athletes so I typically stay up a bit late and therefore wake up later in the morning.


Weeks 5-7 run smooth. Training goes well and HRV responds well as my trend actually increases a bit. HRV reaches its lowest point on a Saturday morning at the end of week 7. This was after a long day of work, a workout and a football skills practice I helped coach. This practice beat the hell out of me as I was shouting the whole time so that my kids could hear me over all of the other groups. I was exhausted at the end of the day so I expected a low score the next day.

Weeks 8-9 both go well. HRV drops much lower than I had expected in response to the higher intensities. In the past, heavy workouts with low volume typically don’t create such marked drops. In week 9, my final week with 1RM attempts, HRV doesn’t even come above baseline. I’m also feeling beat up at this point with a sore left pec, tight lateral hamstring on my right side and overall wear and tear. HRV peaks again every weekend after rest.

Week 10 is a deload week and you can see at the very end of the trend that HRV starts to climb back up.


In my comments above from ithlete you can see when and where certain body parts start nagging, etc. It’s worth mentioning again (as I’ve mentioned this in previous posts), any time I spend time with my family (particularly my nieces and nephews) that I don’t see too often, my HRV is always high the next day.

The results of the training cycle – (all raw, vid’s of some of these in last post and on youtube page)

Squat – 540

–          11lbs shy of my Competition PR of 551 from back in 2010. I’m pretty confident I could’ve hit this if I had a spotter. I made this lift in a relatively relaxed state. Not a true 1RM.

Narrow Grip Floor Press with Pause – 385

–          Due to left pec soreness I decided to test with a narrow grip floor press instead of bench press. This was probably a stupid idea. I’m glad I didn’t hurt it even more. This was a floor press PR. Pec’s already feeling better now.

Deadlift – 565

–          This went up pretty easy. I opted to not go heavier because I’ve had back issues in the past as I’ve discussed several times in previous posts. I did not want to push it just in case. Again, not a true PR (which is 600), but it’s been a while since I’ve deadlifted this heavy due to injury.

Incline Bench – 350

–          I was pretty happy with this since I don’t always include this lift in my training.

My bodyweight throughout this cycle was around 235lb.

I’m moving to Alabama real soon to get started on some HRV research at Auburn. I expect that this will affect my training. I’m hopeful however that the move will be a smooth transition and that I can continue on without too much issue. Unlikely though.