Written By Kevin Cann
We all know this scene. We are training hard, but just not seeing the increase in our numbers like we expected. In fact, our numbers might be dipping a little bit. Perhaps we have a competition approaching, or came and went, and our performance was not what we wanted.
The first thing that the athlete wants to do is to change the program. Their first thought is that this program has stopped working for them and they need something else. Maybe they are working with a coach that listens and decides to completely change things up.
This is a sign of immaturity and inexperience on both the coach and the athlete. I know, because I have been that coach and I have been that athlete. For one, both the coach and athlete needs to understand that dips in performance are part of the process.
100% of every person that takes up the sport of powerlifting will see dips in performance along the way. The overall trend over the bigger picture will be up, but there will be some valleys along the way.
One of the PPS lifters sent me this analogy of a woman walking a dog in the park. The woman is walking in a straight line, this is the long-term trends of strength training. The dog was all over the place. The dog was going side to side, sitting down at times, turning around, you get the picture.
The dog in this scenario is the day to day, week to week, and month to month fluctuations. Both the woman and the dog get to the same place at the end of the walk. The woman in this scenario is a good metaphor for the coach.
The coach leads the lifter along this path but allows for those fluctuations that are inevitably going to happen. I have written and spoke about complex theory and the ebbs and flows of all complex systems.
The human is an open complex system. These ebbs and flows are completely unavoidable. A dip in performance is not a reason to change anything, or to panic. This is just how things go. Again, it is 100% inevitable. It happens to 100% of everyone that competes in this sport.
I used to be so amazed at Sheiko’s lack of reaction to me having some down times in training. He would always say “Just not today.” He didn’t change what he was doing with me and didn’t react any more than that.
This really did not click with me until more recently. When I was seeing a dip in performance for a couple of weeks I would intervene and change some things up. This would get progress moving up again. Going into the meets in April we had some huge total PRs across the board.
A lot of these total PRs were over 30kg, and some were 50kg and more. There were very few under 15kg. For example, one lifter put 35kg on his total in 4 months, and 3 months later he is looking at a smaller 5kg total PR.
I had another lifter put 37.5kg on his total from Regionals last year to April of this year, and now he is also looking at a small 5kg total PR. 42.5kg over the course of the year on the total is very good, it just so happened the majority of those numbers were front loaded in the last 12 months.
These situations do not require the coach or the athlete to change anything up. In fact, changing them up yielded bigger success earlier on, but everything balances out in the end. Intervening will mean that there will be unforeseen consequences later on. We can’t just continue to put 35kg on our totals every few months. It just does not work that way.
Things have been going well in the bigger picture. Of course we will make some adjustments with exercise selection to work on a few things, perhaps frequencies to get some extra work, but nothing major needs to be adjusted.
When lifters and coaches drastically change things under these circumstances it is a missed opportunity. It is a missed opportunity to learn to embrace the downs the same way as you embrace the ups.
It is easy to get after it and hit PRs when confidence is high, it is much more difficult to keep the effort high when motivation is low, and performance is down. This teaches the lifter discipline. It also forces them to learn to love other aspects of the sport besides the weight on the bar.
If a lifter only cares about weight on the bar they will not last very long in this sport. This is due to the inevitable decreases in performance. This will peak frustration and eventually the frustration will win.
All too often these lifters jump from coach to coach and program to program. This is going to lead to inevitable failure as well. It is not the coach’s fault or the program’s fault. The answer to the “problem” lies within the lifter.
The lifter needs to acknowledge and accept that there will be decreases in performance along the way. The lifter needs to look inside themselves and understand that they need to keep working hard, and this is an opportunity to work on their mental game for the sport.
The lifter needs to learn to love the downs as much as the ups. This will allow the effort to stay high, and for long-term success to occur. Learning to enjoy training beyond the weight on the bar allows the lifter to have fun, and having fun keeps them training and brings PRs.
Those periods of training hard when things do not seem to be going well train a work ethic that will lead to greater long-term success as well. Drastically changing things up does not allow for this learning and maturation process of the lifter to occur. Long term trends of the lifter will probably be the same no matter what program they run or what coach they hire if they learn to enjoy training, work hard, and make good decisions.