Written by: Kevin Cann
The title of this article may seem a little contradictory but hear me out. I have discussed the uncertainties with fatigue quite a bit in past articles and on podcasts. I have also discussed the importance of self-organization for each individual to find the sweet spot of when the lighter days or weeks comes into play.
They were instructed to take how they feel and make decisions based off of those feelings, combined with how weights were moving while warming up. I coach competitive powerlifters. There is not much “taking it easy” in this group.
What I observed were the lifters getting strong as fuck very quickly. They were coming in each week and just crushing it. Some were ripping off 8+ weeks of continued PRs. This led me to question everything I believed about fatigue and programming.
I decided to let it continue to run and see what happens. What I realized is that going balls to the walls can be done for a period of time. This period of time seems to be about 6 months. Keep in mind that I coach beginners to intermediates. This number may significantly drop with a greater skillset within the sport.
After that period of time, the lifters would start to develop some nagging issues and some loss of motivation. In spite of my telling them not to do this, some would continue to push and end up suffering a setback.
Oftentimes, when the lifters started to experience a nagging issue or a drop in motivation, we pulled back for a week. After this semi-deload, we would see a PR in many cases. This is a good sign that there is some fatigue building up here.
I have mentioned this issue as well, we were getting slower from the constant intensity. I assumed the warmups and first few reps of higher rep sets would be enough to maintain speed. The Russians showed that all four aspects of strength are seen in a jump, the same is true of max effort lifts. Speed matters here.
This is a case for, training harder is not the answer. We probably didn’t need to train as hard as we were on a day to day basis. By hard I am referring to the intensity of the lifts. However, we could train harder on given days.
We were staying within an RPE 9-9.5 on a daily basis. We ran 6 week cycles on average that would start at 5 reps and taper down to singles. This is mostly submaximal work. Anything over a single is submax, plus everything we were hitting was under an RPE 10. This is all submaximal.
We have switched over to utilizing more singles for maximal effort work. I have learned that volume is what really beats you up. The closer we are to 1RM, the better it is at building our 1RM. Now, we have learned that we can’t do that every single day. We also need to have some workload within a training plan.
When I was coached by Sheiko, fatigue would be an often used tool to build technique and increase perceived effort. Westside uses a similar approach with their dynamic effort days. I have begun to incorporate something similar within our programs.
I am calling these speed days to enforce what I want out of the lifters. These days use typical daily volumes and intensities that I utilized with Sheiko. I even incorporate some of his special exercises within these days.
In the past we may have done 5 sets of 4 reps at 70% squat with chains. I like Westside’s view of getting more first reps in training. We now might do 10×2 70% squats with chains and you need to finish within 20 minutes.
I have done similar things with pauses on the halfway down squats, high bar squats, paused box squats, and many others. This day is to not only develop speed, but to work on technique. Our goal on this day is to be fast and technical.
There are times that we will push the intensities of this day with straight weight. We may do a 10×2 at 80% with a bit more time to complete the training. Most people can hit 80% for at least 5 reps. This would make the RPE a 7, pretty fast and manageable for technique. Fatigue builds, raising that perceived effort. This should have greater carryover to the technique under more maximal weights, but without beating the lifters up too bad. We would often get this same number of reps at 80% on a given day with Sheiko.
Managing loads on the maximal effort days is also important. We squat for max effort on day 1, and day 3 we pull heavy. We have been pulling heavy on day 2, but we need to space this out a bit more. There is some skill involved in coordinating these efforts.
The goal of max effort is to practice straining like we will on the platform for third attempts. The weight is only secondary here (although if a lifter is scared of a given weight this needs to be addressed). We can choose a max effort squat that limits the absolute loads. This seems to save the lifter quite a bit.
For example, Dave has been doing wide stance box squats w/ bands and chains. This limits the weight on the bar to between 85% and 90% of 1RM. The accommodating resistance was adding another 150lbs. This exceeds his 1RM at the top, and the strain was as hard as anything I have seen him perform.
This allowed him to pull heavy on his day 3. We also used bands and chains here, but less of them so that we could get more bar weight on the floor. The bar weight was a little over 90% off the floor but overloaded the top slightly so that Dave could work on that lockout.
Even doing this, every 3rd week seemed to be a down deadlift day. Moving forward we will add in speed pulls in this spot. Fitting the deadlift into max effort work with squats is very tricky, but it definitely can be done.
I do not think we need to deadlift as often as we squat. Even if we deadlift heavy 1-2 times per month, I think that will work well. Seems like most can go for 2-3 weeks before they need a break from the pulls. Oftentimes, we keep squats very heavy during this week and the lifter is still able to recover for the following week.
Westside does not deadlift as often, and they only have 1 max effort lower day. Being in the equipment, they lift a lot more absolute loads than we do. I think this matters and gives us the ability to add in some more max effort lower exposures per month. This is true even if it is just 1-2 of those exposures.
We are running most exercises in 3 week waves. Week 3 is where we really send it. Perhaps we go whole hog on the squats, but deload the intensity of the deadlifts on this week. This would make it a lower intensity deadlift day every 3rd week, but lets the lifter push it the first 2, when the squats aren’t achieving a full out max. We tend to leave 5-10lbs on the bar during those weeks.
If we are capable of going all out for 6 months at a time before we start seeing some issues, adding in these lighter speed weeks, and pulling back every 3rd week on the pulls, will extend that 6 months even further. Fatigue is an accumulated process. These days are not easy, but they are different and a break from heavier weights. They also get the lifter in and out of the gym in much faster times.
We may use lighter bar weight and accommodating resistance at times on these speed days. This may allow for even more recovery and allow us to stretch out the max effort sessions even longer. I am sure lifters will need a break at some point but finding balance can allow us to do max effort lifts on a year round basis.
Training is the accumulation of days, not what we can stretch out of one day. I think we are getting closer to something that will allow us to train hard over each calendar year. This is a huge advantage to our performance.
We are going to train harder than we have on given days, but we are going to pull back harder on other days. That is how training harder is and is not the answer.