Technique + Strength + Skill, Oh My

 

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

I have officially been involved in the sport of powerlifting for 5 years now.  I literally had to do the math a few times because I did not believe it.  The older I get the faster that time seems to move.  My daughter is somehow 11 years old too!

 

Over this period of time I have been fortunate enough to learn from so many other coaches and athletes. I also have been fortunate enough to learn from so many of the PPS lifters as well.  We have changed what we do quite a bit over time.

 

Being coached by Sheiko for the first 3 years, our programs looked very similar to what Sheiko’s looked like.  However, I found out that that style of training will not work as well with lifters here.  A big reason for this is due to our culture and the time we spend in this sport.

 

In Russia they go to schools where powerlifting is basically a subject.  From the time they are a youth athlete, they are part of the Soviet System.  To save time I will not go into details on how this works, but they follow this system for over 10 years before they are even a junior in competitions.

 

Not every athlete there climbs up the classification chart to be a Master of Sport in International Competition.  Many lifters “wash out” of these schools long before that happens.  Once they are identified to not have what it takes to get further, they are given a certificate for their current classification and they move on.  Some might even move on to coaching.

 

The ones that end up becoming a Master of Sport or higher are the ones that continue to see progress with this style of training.  My guess is this is the same as the Greek and Bulgarian systems as well.  Not every Russian reaches this classification, we just hear about the ones that do.

 

Sheiko was big on technique first.  This often gets misunderstood in translation.  He would control loads but make them more difficult with variations to work on technique within the lifts.  You would get a lot of practice with these variations and these same loads. Training was very hard, but very hard in a different way.  It was a lot of work, often taking over 3 hours to complete a session.

 

We had great success using these methods, but I learned that technique was still breaking down with heavier weights.  I remember Sheiko talking about meeting Louie Simmons and the difference in their programming.  Sheiko said that Louie emphasized strength first, while he emphasized technique first.

 

This wasn’t a criticism of his methods.  Instead it was a very enlightening conversation about how coaching works. Sheiko also said that powerlifting is big enough for many different methods.  This also resonated with me quite a bit.

 

I started adding in more heavier weights into our training.  Over about a 2 year period, we added many heavier weights into our training. We work up to 1-2 hard sets of an RPE 8.5-9.5 each training session.

 

I also added in more drastic variations to bring a skill component to our training.  I started placing lifters in positions that would punish technical inefficiencies, and we will push weights in these positions. This is how we acquire those skills. Lifting heavy also allows the lifter to practice their skill of competing.

 

When we go to a competition, most lifters for PPS are not nervous.  We do this every day in the gym.  We compete.  Not against each other, but against ourselves and our emotions.  We learn to harness them and be more confident lifters.

 

Perhaps we swung the pendulum too far towards the strength side.  When I initially changed things up, I assumed the warmups would be enough to get those sets in to work on technique.  However, I realized many lifters were taking huge jumps and all of the focus was on the top set.  The warmups were just pushed aside as nothing more than that, a warmup.

 

Also, lifters were taking huge jumps to not be “tired” for their top set.  Basically, lifters were doing like 9 seconds of good solid work for each lift.  That is it. That is a far cry from the 3+ hours we would train in the beginning.  This made me realize that I need to interject here again.

 

I started giving more days with more “top sets”. For example, a lifter might hit a hard set of 3 reps at 300lbs on the squat, at an RPE 9.  I might have them hit this for 2-3 sets the following week, and then even maybe 3-4 sets the week after that.  Sometimes I drop the weight a little to do this.  The following week we may work up to a heavy triple again. This has been working well.

 

They get more practice with submaximal weights that are still heavy, and we see that triple go up pretty significantly.  When we push a single now, we see a bigger number on that bar.  I base these decisions off of their best competition lifts.

 

This is a nice parallel between how we ran a Sheiko style program before to what we do now.  It takes care of the weights being too light, and since they work up to a heavy set the week before, I have a good idea for what weight we put on the bar.  These sessions are VERY difficult.

 

One other aspect of a Sheiko program is the alternating of stress levels on each training day.  Some days are high stress, others medium, and some low.  When I go back and look at everyone’s programs now, we see this trend play out for everyone.

 

We have been doing a lot more comp singles in training as well.  This is not something we work up to each training day.  This is a weight I prescribe, that they are not allowed to go up from.  If they feel like shit they can go down, but I encourage them to just hit this weight no matter what.

 

This weight is a hard, but doable weight.  It is not something they should miss.  Often it lies between their best double and triple.  On a good day it might be an RPE 8, and on a tough day it will be a solid RPE 9. It is basically practice with a weight between an opener or second attempt.

 

This helps me to gauge their progress a bit.  It also gives each lifter some feedback as to where they are at on a given training day and it can help them make better decisions on their other work.  It highlights some weaknesses within their comp lifts too and they work on tightening it up under that given load.

 

I have gone through periods of time where I put more emphasis on accessories and less emphasis on them.  This has been one of those things I have really struggled with.  I use far more variation now than I used to.

 

We are constantly changing foot position, bar position, grip, and stance.  This is to ensure that we are training all angles and creating well rounded lifters.  I think this decreases the need for accessory work.  Accessory work comes in more as a filler when the volume drops for the competition lifts and their variations.

 

My programs have gotten far simpler over time.  I write a lot about theoretical concepts, but our programs are extremely simple.  I give the lifter way more responsibility now. I went from being a dictator to being a facilitator.  I guide the process with exercises to improve technical efficiency, suggested weight, and many conversations to help each lifter make the best training decisions possible each training day.

 

Over my 5 years of coaching in this sport we focused on technique over everything, swung the pendulum far to the strength side, and began to focus on strength as a skill.  Now it is time to bring it all together.  To take these last 5 years of learning and put our best product on the platform.

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