Does Mathematical Coupling Matter to the Acute to Chronic Workload Ratio? A Case Study From Elite Sport

in International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance
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Purpose: Criticisms of the acute to chronic workload ratio (ACWR) have been that the mathematical coupling inherent in the traditional calculation of the ACWR results in a spurious correlation. The purposes of this commentary are (1) to examine how mathematical coupling causes spurious correlations and (2) to use a case study from actual monitoring data to determine how mathematical coupling affects the ACWR. Methods: Training and competition workload (TL) data were obtained from international-level open-skill (basketball) and closed-skill (weightlifting) athletes before their respective qualifying tournaments for the 2016 Olympic Games. Correlations between acute TL, chronic TL, and the ACWR as coupled/uncoupled variations were examined. These variables were also compared using both rolling averages and exponentially weighted moving averages to account for any potential benefits of one calculation method over another. Results: Although there were some significant differences between coupled and uncoupled chronic TL and ACWR data, the effect sizes of these differences were almost all trivial (g = 0.04–0.21). Correlations ranged from r = .55 to .76, .17 to .53, and .88 to .99 for acute to chronic TL, acute to uncoupled chronic TL, and ACWR to uncoupled ACWR, respectively. Conclusions: There may be low risk of mathematical coupling causing spurious correlations in the TL–injury-risk relationship. Varying levels of correlation seem to exist naturally between acute and chronic TL variables regardless of coupling. The trivial to small effect sizes and large to nearly perfect correlations between coupled and uncoupled AWCRs also imply that mathematical coupling may have little effect on either calculation method, if practitioners choose to apply the ACWR for TL monitoring purposes.

The authors are with the Centre for Exercise and Sports Science, School of Medical and Health Sciences, Edith Cowan University, Joondalup, WA, Australia.

Coyne ( is corresponding author.

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