Motivation is a Feeling, Resilience is a Skill


Written by: Kevin Cann


I am sure many of you reading this can speak to the lack of motivation they are currently feeling.  I know for me; I made a plan to do a bunch of things that I have not been able to get to.  Finding the motivation to do this is nearly impossible.


My previous article I wrote was very personal.  I explained my upbringing in an abusive, low income home, and how sports was a major outlet for me.  Sports allowed me to get out my built up aggression, find a social support system, and got me physically out of the house.


I feel like I have been tossed in a time machine and thrown back to those awful days, minus the physical abuse I endured.  I am being forced to stay home in this uncertainty with my negative thoughts about the future of my business.  My identity as a coach has been stripped from me as well as my hobby and outlet, all at once.


I was working 70+ hours per week.  Maybe this was a distraction away from dealing with all of the aggression and anger that built up inside of me over time?  Who knows?  I started working that hard when I was having a lot of problems.  It really gave me purpose and hope.


This is how I was able to grow a successful business.  I didn’t worry about anything other than getting better at my job and my previous sports.  I basically lift now to be a better coach and to get out some aggression.


Now all of that has been taken away from me.  I have been stripped of my identity and my distraction and my outlet along with my social support.  To add to my loss of identity is this crushing weight of the financial instability that this situation brings for me.  I am left in an extremely negative situation with no social support and no outlet.  This is why I find the gym to be essential.  Going for a walk doesn’t cut it for me.  It is not about losing my gains, but having my purpose, identity, and an aggressive outlet a few hours a week, even in a limited capacity, this would help.


I am finding it very hard to attempt to get any work done in this scenario.  I absolutely am not motivated to do it.  I have all of the time in the world to do it, but it takes a lot to actually get moving and get it done.  There is one line that I have always lived my life by though:


“How we handle adversity is what defines our character and who we become.”  It is not our circumstances that define us, but how we handle those circumstances and rise to the occasion.  Just because I am not motivated, it doesn’t mean that I will not get shit done.  If there is one thing that my life taught me, it is to be resilient.


I have finished a book that I was writing.  It is 190 pages.  I prepped for a seminar and put on a 2 hour talk on the disbursement of training intensities.  I have coached harder through videos than I normally do, as in these cases every repetition is a chance to get better than someone else.


PPS will not use this time as an excuse for performance to slip, or our resiliency to be shaken.  This is an opportunity to teach us to be more resilient.  To get creative and make the best of this situation.  We need to come together creatively to come up with ideas to get stronger with limited access to equipment.


We need to work on our focus and our ability to not let negative thoughts control us.  Every time we go to sit down in a chair, we can work on something in the squat, we can practice our bench setup, and we can visualize executing PRs with improved techniques.


To quote Herb Brooks: “Great moments are born from great opportunity…”. This is a great opportunity for us.  It gives us an opportunity to utilize our thinking and creativity to get stronger.  This is what it was like in the old days.


Many of those powerlifters did not have gyms available or easy access to equipment.  But they figured shit out and paved the way for us to get stronger.  If they could achieve the results in which they did, we can do the same thing.  We have more science to access now.  We can even take those techniques they used and tweak them to make them better.


You will not be motivated to go out and do these things during this time.  That is ok.  You should feel like that.  But this is an opportunity to learn to be disciplined and resilient.  Those are two traits that are needed now more than ever.  Not doing something is also a choice.  You can choose to be a victim of your circumstances.


If you are still in the game, you have a chance to win.  Stay in the game and keep moving forward.

Why Lifting is so Important to Me

Written by: Kevin Cann


I am typically not one that likes to share personal stuff, but since the internet trolls like to share my personal stuff for me I figured I would give everything some context.  It is easy to Google someone and think that you know them from one incident that took place over 16 years ago.  Before I was legally allowed to consume alcohol.


This story starts even further back than that with the earliest memory I have of my father.  I was roughly 9 years old at this time.  I got into a little spat with another kid in the neighborhood.  For some reason this pissed my father off so much that he hit me across the chest.


He hit me so hard it left a handprint.  My parents decided to keep me out of school for a couple days until it healed.  This was probably where my “lack of showing emotion” started.  I was forced to suppress this situation and try to understand what was happening on my own at 9 years old.


Lucky for me I had sports.  I was playing soccer at this time as well as baseball and basketball.  Basically staying active as 9 year old boys did back then.  I definitely took to soccer more than the other two.


I think the reason for this was that those soccer lines were a barrier between myself and my father.  He would coach my baseball and basketball teams at times.  There was one incident in the 6th grade where he decided to whip a basketball into my face in front of the entire team.  Again, no one did anything except talk behind my back about it.  He had thrown baseballs at me in practice before as well, but nothing that was quite as bad as the basketball incident because I was new to the town and school system at the time.


My father was very verbally abusive and physically at times when I was growing up.  This would only get worse when my mother couldn’t take it anymore and divorced him.  My father began drinking way more and just got more and more bitter as time went on.


There was an incident where he threw me into the kitchen counter hard enough to put a bad bruise along my lower back.  When I was on the floor writhing in pain, he stood over me and called me a “pussy.”  There were other times when he got pissed that he would grab my genitals really hard and scream in my face enough that he would be spitting all over me.  I tried to stand there like a statue to show that I was in no pain.  That he couldn’t hurt me or break me.  For no other reason than fuck him.


He convinced us kids that my mother was the devil, straining my relationship with her for a period of time.   I slept on the floor of a one bedroom apartment with my brother, and on weekends, my sister.  Eventually we moved to a 2 bedroom, but beds would come later on.


I continued to play sports through this time.  I realized the better I was at soccer, the more teams that I would get asked to play on.  I felt powerful and in control of my life playing soccer.  Eventually I joined a club team that traveled all over on weekends.  The schedule of games and practices really limited the time I would have to spend at home.


If it was not for sports at this time, I would imagine that I could have fallen victim to drugs, or other poor behavior.  I was still an angry kid.  I would get into my share of fights at this time, but it was nothing like it would have been if I did not have that outlet playing sports.  Sports probably preserved my mental health as well.


I was being recruited by colleges all over the country to play soccer.  Some were Division 1 schools, but they were far away from home.  My father wanted me to stay closer to “help out.”  I wanted to actually get playing time anyways, so I chose a smaller school in Maine.


This seemed like a compromise, far enough away from the bullshit, but close enough to keep him happy so he would make the payments.  He would get a DUI and made me come back every weekend to drive him around.  Usually while he was drinking Coors Light in the passenger seat.


I would go to my high school field every day and just kick a ball around by myself.  I ended up getting really good at free kicks and I attribute it to this.  I would work on my ball skills as well at this time.  I went from being an outside defender in high school to an underclassman starting at center mid at the college level.  I had learned how to take something negative and turn it into something positive.


One day I went to register for my classes for the next semester and I was unable to.  I went to the registrar’s office as I thought it was a mistake.  Apparently, my father stopped paying the bills.  This was the second time that this has happened.


The school was very helpful and told me they would allow me to register and just roll the past due payments into the monthly bills.  My father was adamant he was paying them, but clearly that was a lie.  I knew my next semester would be my last because there was no way those payments were doable.


I was able to squeeze one last soccer season out of it.  It was pretty surreal when it was over.  Now what?  I am kicked out of school to go back to where I was before, but this time without the benefit of having sport as an outlet.


What was I going to do for my future?  I had no college degree, no job, and I come from a poor family.  Half the time we didn’t even have a car because it was being repossessed.  This would lead to a string of violent behavior by me.


It started at a cookout over one of my father’s friends’ houses.  He was getting belligerent and started calling me a “cunt” in front of everyone.  I literally couldn’t take it anymore.  This time I fought back and felt more powerful than I ever had in my life.


This led to me solving a lot of problems with violence.  I would get arrested for assault, felony assault, assault with a dangerous weapon, malicious destruction of property.  I would binge drink heavy on weekends at this time too.  Not a good path to be on as alcoholism is rampant in my family.


My outlet became violence.  I would spend 6 of the next 10 years on probation and even under house arrest for a period of time.  My drug of choice was my anger and my aggression.  I got a girl pregnant and realized I needed to change this path I was on.


I found a way to put myself back into school.  That “online” degree that I get made fun of by internet trolls is something I am most proud of.  I found a way to overcome everything I had been through and rounded up the money myself to do it.  I then did the same thing for grad school.


I realized I needed an outlet.  Soccer was always there for me, but it was not an option anymore.  A 6 week men’s league just wasn’t going to cut it.  I walked into a local mma gym instead and I would spend a few days a week in there for the next, almost 10 years.


I stopped getting into trouble.  Part of this was just growing up, but another part was me learning how to self-manage my anger and my aggression.  I needed distractions as well for my mind.  I started reading textbooks.  Textbooks require me to fully pay attention to the details on the page.  I can’t let my mind wander, or I will not be able to understand what I am reading.



My friends that I would train with were moving away and having families.  I really didn’t want to do typical mma classes at this point, but knew I needed to continue an outlet for myself.  I was working at a powerlifting gym at the time and decided to give that sport a try.  I even signed up for a meet.


I hadn’t touched a straight bar for more than a very rare front squat in a very long time, but I didn’t care.  It was fun lifting with everyone at the gym.  I was 32 years old at the time.  I am 5’11” and I weighed 170lbs.  Not the greatest build for the sport.  I had also torn muscles from bone, broken bones, and even had my ear almost ripped off.  My body had been through a lot over the years.


That “1200lbs” total that the trolls make fun of me for.  It is about 300lbs more than when I started.  More importantly, it gave me the outlet I needed.  I don’t give a fuck about my total.  This is my 3rd sport.  One I am not built for and started from the worst possible position at 32 years old after a string of injuries.  I am still here though and still getting better.


Now, with the threat of a pandemic, the gym has been taken away from me.  My job, my hobby, my social life, and also this important outlet.  I am being forced to sit in isolation being surrounded by negativity and the uncertainty of my future.  This will most likely be a significant hit to my business.


It is not like I am going to go out and start beating people up again so don’t worry internet trolls, you are safe in your mom’s basement.  However, my irritability increases quite a bit and that can strain relationships.  I also tend to drink more as alcohol will calm me down.


I can do my best to battle these demons, but it is much easier said than done.  Going for a run or meditating do not do the same thing for me as something that allows me to get my aggression out.  Being caged in uncertainty is by no means a good place for that aggression.


I am not alone.  Many people use the gym to help manage their emotions.  It is not “just lifting” to us.  I do not give a fuck about maintaining strength over a couple of weeks.  Fuck, we used to taper this long and do fine at meets.


I don’t even care as much about the physical benefits of lifting.  For me it is a way to help handle my demons and I get to do that with my friends.  Staying 6 feet away, washing my hands, wiping things down, and staying in if I feel sick seems like a good compromise to those of us battling other demons besides a virus.

How PPS is Going to Get Stronger in Quarantine

Written by: Kevin Cann


We sure as shit are in the middle of a global incident that will be remembered forever.  The only historical events that I can compare this to are 9/11 and the marathon bombings.  These are all moments in time that remind us that we are mere specs in a large universe and the universe is unforgiving.


In Massachusetts, where PPS resides, there have been mandates put into place that are closing all gyms as well as theaters, and places of worship.  Because I have this forum, I am going to give a little bit of my opinion on this.  Mainly because it is frustrating, and I want to say it out loud.


The disease does not seem to be very transmissible beyond coughing or sneezing while within 6 feet of someone.  There may be some evidence that we can get it from touching objects that were coughed or sneezed on and then touching our faces.  However, this is not the primary way that the virus is spread.  You cannot get it from sweat.


In 3 months there have been approximately 110,000 cases worldwide with around 4,000 deaths.  This is far lower than auto-mobile accidents over that period of time.  Also, far more cases are out there than what was reported because many people experience mild symptoms to no symptoms at all.


Working backwards from the death rate of .5% it seems as if as many as 2 million people may have been infected worldwide.  Again, most not even knowing it.  This would increase the rate of new cases a day to 10,000 or more.


The death toll seems to be dropping as it spreads globally.  The disease does not seem very transmissible without opportunity.  That opportunity comes in the form of a cruise ship, a 40,000 person potluck dinner, a church in Italy, and a meeting at Biogen.  Avoiding these large gatherings was an absolute must by our government.


The government banned large gatherings (started at over 250, then 25, now 10), disallowed food and beverage to be consumed in restaurants, cancelled all sporting events, sent college students home, and the majority of the American workforce that still has jobs is working from home.


Let’s say this cuts the infection rate down to 5% of Americans (I am making up this number).  Does forcing gym and church closings really drop this number anymore if they are abiding by social distancing and hygiene mandates?  Probably not at all.  Instead it removes places where people find hope, and comfort, and throws a lot of people in unemployment lines.


You can’t just say we expect x% of people to get infected and y% will need beds in hospitals.  You can’t base this off of data from other countries either.  This is the complexity of biology and human life; it can’t be simplified into a linear regression.  These predictions are always incorrect.


You can’t compare us to Italy because the initial conditions are different.  This changes the outcome of the predicted models.  I am no expert on the spread of disease, but this is just math.  I feel the government needs more advanced physicists in office.


This does not mean that you do not take in information from other countries.  This also does not mean that you just throw caution to the wind and do whatever you want.  I agree with the cancelling of large events, closing of schools, and working from home.  However, there is a point where more is not better, and the cost associated with forcing quarantines like 1918 is unnecessary.


I will stop there and get back to the original point of this article, how we are going to get stronger during this time.  We have some lifters that have home gym setups that have been nice enough to offer for some lifters to come over and at least do something.


Everyone will basically get the same 2 day program for now until things seem to be a bit more settled.  We are going to go fucking ham on these 2 days though.  Day 1 we will max out a squat and hit some lighter speed bench and day 2 we will max out a bench and pull.  This is not ideal, but we have to do what we have to do right now.


If we have limited access to actual weight to put on the bar we will add boxes, bands, chains, pauses, and even reps to get the intensity that we are looking for.  Some people have zero access to a gym.  This is obviously not ideal, but we can still get better.


Most powerlifters are unathletic as fuck.  We can learn to be more athletic for a few weeks.  Squat jumps are a good option.  Full depth explode out of the bottom as hard and fast as possible for sets of 3-5.  Short sprint acceleration work might transfer over well to a squat and deadlift.  They teach you how to get going all at once and to keep accelerating.


The motor unit recruitment for this work will be similar to that have heavy lifting a well.  We can at least increase our power, rate of force development, and rate coding in this situation.  The quarantine is for 3 weeks, fits nicely in a wave.  Coincidence?  Maybe.


I am going to take this time to really read up on a few things and try to get answers to some questions I have.  If I can’t be in the gym, I will be home learning.  I will share this knowledge with the group as well.  Knowledge is power (that pun worked great).

It is Not the Volume: It is Your Focus and Intent


Written by: Kevin Cann


I think powerlifting is in this fad of low RPEs and high volumes.  Many lifters are doing well with programs like this, but I would imagine just as many are not.  I think some of this is driven by the inexperience of lifters and coaches.


There is not a single lifter or coach that I have talked to, that has been around for a long time, that thinks this is the best way to train for longevity in the sport.  However, if a coach programs a massive stimulus in volume, it almost guarantees success.


In these cases the coaches are using way more of a stimulus then is necessary.  In this case, more seems like it is better.  Over time the gap between what is necessary to get stronger gets driven upwards.  I would argue that over time, the risk of injuries is higher with these higher volume programs.


Even if the lifter does not get hurt, at some point the volume is impossible to increase.  My lifters have jobs and limited time to get shit done in the gym.  We need to be as effective with our time as possible.


In my opinion there is nothing more practical than taking heavy singles.  You get to practice the actual sport by doing this.  With that said, there is something to be said about total volume.  Practice helps improve technical efficiency for one.


One thing I noticed at the Arnold was that a lot of lifters really hit the brakes before they hit the hole in the squat.  This tells me that the lifters are using weights that are too heavy too often.  Many of these lifters ended up getting red lights for depth.  I have run into this same issue with PPS.


Some of these lifters I know do higher volume programs.  However, they are not increasing the technical efficiency with those higher volumes as the loads seem to be too large for that.  Each training day has a purpose and there is a purpose for each intensity zone being utilized in a training program.


With that said, volume is important to a certain extent.  We need to execute enough reps in each intensity zone to develop the necessary skills to improve upon in the sport.  This fact is not lost on me.


However, the lifter needs to bring a specific attitude to the gym to develop all of these qualities.  Going through the motions with lighter weights is not going to make anyone better.  Every repetition in training is an opportunity to get better.


The lifter needs to bring focus and intent to every repetition.  If we are trying to improve upon the technical inefficiency I mentioned above, the lifter should focus on attacking the hole of the squat with good technique on every repetition.


If the coach is looking to improve upon this technical efficiency the correct loads and volumes need to be utilized.  Using weights where the lifter slows down is not helping to improve upon this skill.  Start with lighter weights and then utilize progressive overload with technical efficiency.


As the lifter shows competency with the skill under lighter loads, gradually increase them over time.  For every lifter this will be different.  For example, maybe we start at 60% of 1RM because that is appropriate for a given lifter.  After a week or 2 (or longer if needed), maybe we go up to 65% of 1RM.


Over the next few blocks we can drive this number up to 80%, then 85%, and eventually take some singles at 90%.  I did this with one PPS lifter who was moving too slow.  We also utilized bands on the max effort lifts.  Everything we were doing I wanted to be focused on doing faster.


The lifter needs to move the weight as fast as possible, while maintaining control, in each lift for this to work.  Just going through the motions will not yield the results that we are looking for.  All too often lifters will see 80% and move it with just enough effort to execute the lift.  You can’t get better at moving 100% by moving at 80%.  You need to give your all on every single repetition as if it were a max effort attempt.


When a lifter does this the coach can adjust the loads appropriately.  As weights get heavier, reps will get slower, and as they get lighter, they will get faster.  However, effort by the lifter remains the same.  This makes it much easier for the coach to adjust training in a way that they would like to get the desired results.


Focus and intent are extremely important to learning a skill, no matter what the skill.  This can include playing an instrument, learning a language, or an athletic skill.  Focus and intent are a major player in this, but we very rarely focus on it.  My guess is because we can’t measure it.


The coach can’t just assume that the volumes and intensities are the best choice.  Each needs to do their job in the relationship.  The coach needs to analyze strengths and weaknesses and observe the lifters.  The lifters need to be accountable for their actions.  This includes sleep, nutrition, and stress management.  It also includes the focus and intent that they bring into training.

A Thought Process vs a Program


Written by: Kevin Cann


John Flagg actually said this to me a couple of weeks ago.  He said that certain coaches give you a thought process.  Some of these coaches would include Louie Simmons, Boris Sheiko, and Mike T.  I thought this was a very good point and really thought about it for a minute.  PPS is also a thought process.


All of these coaches’ thought processes are guided by general principles.  Louie utilizes the max effort, dynamic effort, and repetition effort methods.  Louie’s thought process is that heavy singles increase absolute strength and dynamic effort work increases explosiveness.  A lifter must generate enough power to move the bar fast enough through their sticking points.  Bands and Chains play a role here as well.


Sheiko’s thought process is guided by Verkoshansky’s Principle of Dynamic Organization.  This principle states that the body will always be looking for a more efficient way to complete a task.  Sheiko utilizes variations to guide this organization.  This is why all variations are done in the competition stances and grips.  As the lifter gets more efficient, they will lift more.


I am not as familiar with Mike T’s stuff, just what I have heard on his podcast and his articles that I have read.  I see a little of both of the above in his stuff.  He allows a program to emerge, hence emerging strategies, based off of how the individual is responding to it.  This would be the principle of self-organization.  This is very similar to Verkoshansky’s principle.  In fact, it kind of builds off it and just includes more pieces of the whole person.


Many coaches will attempt to mimic the ones above and for good reason.  Those coaches have had some of the greatest success in the sport.  They are 3 coaches that I definitely look up to and hope to achieve a similar level of success as they have in time.


They all have been doing this a very long time and I am sure they have learned a thing or 2 along the way.  As a coach that utilizes more of a thought process in training it can be tough at times.  I have only been doing this for 5 years.  I fuck up sometimes.  I fuck up more often than what even my lifters realize.  But I learn from those mistakes and I like to think I am getting better.


Here is an example.  Jess Ward is prepping for the Arnold Pro-Am.  She had a hip thing going on so we could only do close stance squats since Nationals and conventional deadlifts.  About 4 weeks out she felt 100% in her hip.


During this time she had hit close to her best squat in a close stance, but her deadlift was blowing up.  She pulled 400lbs, her best ever meet pull, from a deficit in the middle of the week.  Instead of just riding the wave, I got too cute.  I kept thinking we needed to get some wider stance stuff into training.  I took out conventional and put in some sumo for the heavier work.


Her sumo technique looked great, and the weights were moving well.  Watching it you would think that everything was going well.  However, I feel this lost her some momentum.  Close stance squats don’t build your squats, they build your pull.  I assumed this would be enough to maintain what we had developed, and the sumo would spark something more.


In hindsight I should have kept the conventional in until it got stuck, or until the meet was over.  I would have added bands to the deficit and pushed it.  I should have paid more attention to how things were playing out.  That is my bad.  I am lucky enough that Jess trains her fucking ass off and is still looking to hit around a 10kg total PR at the Arnold.


Lifters need to trust me as a coach.  I will make mistakes.  They got to trust me that I will learn from them and continue to develop a thought process that gives us an advantage over everyone.  If we have a strong relationship and we are flexible and adaptable to the ever changing training needs, we can accomplish a lot.  It is why we have lifters at the Arnold every year, but we can do better.


Louie Simmons is constantly learning and trying things out.  I can say confidently that I believe Mike T does the same thing.  I know Sheiko was coaching his in person lifters on a day to day basis.  Meaning he wrote the day’s training that day.


I heard a story of one of his lifters not hitting depth at 80%.  He made this lifter keep doing it until he did right.  He ended up doing something like 20 sets at 80%.  This was far more than was scheduled for the day.  I am sure there were adjustments made to the rest of the week.


When lifters and coaches try to mimic these coaches they can run into a lot of problems.  They think they are getting a program structure to follow.  You just follow the structure and you are on your way to coaching world level athletes.


Unfortunately, this is not true.  I learned this lesson the hard way.  I followed the structure that Sheiko painted for me.  This worked very well, but there were definite limits.  Following any 3 of the above is a great start and will yield some positive results.  However, if you want to be on their level you need to develop your own process.  I don’t want to be on their level.  I want to exceed their level.  I am willing to make mistakes for as long as it takes to develop a thought process that yields the greatest amounts of success.


The beauty of their programs lies in their heads.  I watched a video of Louie coaching up Stefi Cohen.  You can see the thought process in action.  He is literally thinking and analyzing the whole time and then he puts her in positions where she struggles to even complete reps.  She pulls 550lbs but struggled to hit 225lbs on a deadlift variation he gave her.  His ability to identify a weakness within minutes of meeting her was amazing to watch.


Many options out there for coaching are just programs.  They are an algorithm built into an Excel spreadsheet.  There is not much of a thought process here.  Now, I am not trying to shit on coaches and lifters that do this.  There are many successful lifters and coaches that utilize these methods.  Many are more successful than me, so take this for what it is worth.


These programs just manipulate the training variables that we can measure.  There is not a thought process here.  In a documentary Bill Belichek actually discussed the increase of data in sports.  He said he got on the plane after a loss and saw all of the coaches buried in their computers.  He said “Guys, we didn’t lose because of something in those computers.  We lost because we couldn’t tackle.”


I know that is about football, but it is relevant.  When something does not go as planned in powerlifting, these coaches will stare at their charts and graphs and add more volume or something.  This may work, but in many cases it doesn’t.


The coach needs to watch and know their athletes.  The coach needs to be willing to try things.  A big part of coaching is holding the lifter accountable.  They need to take care of business on their end with sleep, recovery, nutrition, and mindset.  This is not just mindset in the gym, but out of the gym as well.


Belichek sends in a series of plays to the defense.  However, the players have the ability to change the play based off of what they see.  He gives them that ability.  This leads to them studying film harder during the week and discussing plans of attack with each other constantly.


He helps guiding the process of them making good decisions on the field on Sundays.  He then holds them, as well as himself, accountable for the outcomes.  Learn from your mistakes and get better.  We have seen this play out over 20 years.  The Pats may look shitty in September, only to be there holding the trophy at the end of the season.  Belichek coaches by a thought process.


I feel like I am rambling on here so I will cut it off.  I am a big believer in finding a coach with a thought process and not a program as you will learn far more.  You will also have a lot more fun.  It is fun to try things and buy into a team and coach so much that you are willing to do anything to try to gain an edge.