Managing Fatigue in Powerlifting

 

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

 

As a coach one of our biggest jobs is managing fatigue with lifters.  Fatigue seems to have this very negative perception with lifters and coaches.  Fatigue is not necessarily a bad thing.  We actually probably need it to get stronger.

 

Powerlifting is a very unique sport in terms of lifter attitude in my experiences.  For a sport that you may hit one to two PRs per year on comp lifts, many lifters complain about the day to day inconsistencies in training numbers very frequently.

 

I think this has affected how many coaches actually plan their programs.  Trying to be a powerlifting coach is pretty cutthroat.  I do feel lucky to be able to do this as my full-time job.  As one of my lifters put it yesterday, “Your job is pretty cool.”

 

This competitiveness in the field to be a coach drives decisions a lot of times.  I think many coaches are afraid of losing lifters if they feel they are not performing well consistently.  I know I have had these feelings in the past.

 

I do feel the coach’s responsibility is to educate the lifter and to help address their expectations.  If a lifter has this attitude, they will not last long in the sport.  Also, a lifter with that type of attitude will suck the life out of a coach.

 

Let us get back to the topic of this article, fatigue.  Sheiko was amazing at utilizing fatigue to drive progress.  His infamous, squat/bench/squat days would definitely tire you out.  By the time you get to the second round of your squats you are mentally and physically tired.

 

These training sessions force the lifter to really dig down mentally and physically to complete the session.  There is a ton of positive training pieces here.  Fatigue can be quite an uncertain piece of training.

 

Sometimes a lifter will be tired and crush a PR, sometimes they will be fresh and have a poor performance, sometimes the taper before a meet works, sometimes it does not.  Fatigue is a very complex topic and it gets even more complex when we look at how it effects performance.

 

This does not mean it does not exist.  It certainly does and we need to do our best as coaches to know our lifters and to know when to push them and when to pull back.  I went through a period where I pushed everyone and tried to let the weight on the bar dictate lighter days.

 

This was a great learning experience.  For one, external load is not the only piece that affects recovery.  Internal load also matters.  Westside alternates upper and lower days to ensure enough recovery between training sessions.

 

The idea is that the lower body muscles get a break while we train the upper body muscles.  This is true for part of the picture.  There is still a larger fatigue piece that effects the system as a whole.  I have seen this referred to as systemic fatigue.

 

If we come into the gym and just push it hard every day, we will experience some fatigue.  This is true even if we alternate upper and lower.  Westside also breaks it up by max effort and dynamic effort.  The max effort is heavy weights and the dynamic effort is very light weights moved quickly.

 

Sheiko used a combination of high, medium, and low stress training days throughout his programs.  Sheiko did not structure it the same way as Westside.  He planned it based off of each individual lifter.  Sheiko also wasn’t using very heavy weights, or very light weights.  The program utilized mostly moderate weights for higher frequencies and volumes.

 

I decided for a period of time that I knew more than these two coaches.  I did lay out rules for each lifter to follow to help them self-organize into these higher, medium, and lower stress training days.  However, this did not work out as planned.

 

We definitely got stronger.  There are no questions asked about that.  We got really strong, really quick too.  I learned a lot about fatigue during this time.  Fatigue did not really begin to effect performance right away.

 

There would be days when lifters would not hit the numbers they expected to, but in general progress was moving forward at an incredible rate.  I thought I figured it out.  Lifters just needed to train harder!  As if no lifter ever thought of this before.

 

Fast forward a few months and we started experiencing a lot more nagging issues than we ever did before. We were just running a simple linear program during this time.  I was witnessing lifters that would go from 5s to 1s hitting PRs almost every week, to hitting some PRs early on and fizzling out as the block continued on. Almost as if they lost endurance to get through a training block.  Much of this fizzling out was probably due to the nagging issues starting to pop up more frequently.

 

This brought me back to my time with Sheiko.  Training needs to be a balance of high stress days to drive adaptation, medium stress days to maintain strength, and low stress days to aid in recovery.

 

I am a huge fan of singles.  This is the sport and I truly believe we need to train the sport.  Westside alternates the singles between squats and pulls.  I want to do both with my lifters.  How can I manage to do this?  That was the big question.

 

Westside spaces out their training days so that they are well recovered to crush a max effort lift.  I do like this idea, but I am also not against having a little fatigue going into those sessions.  However, if we are going to be training this hard in a fatigued state, we need to pay a lot of attention and pull back when it is necessary.  So somehow, we need to be able to monitor fatigue as best we can.

 

I decided to space out the max effort lifts by 72 hours.  In the research it seems like this is the upper end of the recovery time period from a hard training session.  48 to 72 hours seems like the sweet spot.  We squat on Monday, bench on Tuesday, and pull on Thursday.  This gives the lifter an extra day between the deadlift max effort and the beginning of the next week to ensure we are getting enough rest to perform adequately.

 

The deadlifts do rotate weekly between max effort and more rep work.  Before deadlifts, my lifters will do some rep work for bench press.  This is usually 48 hours after max effort bench press.  I am usually still a little sore at this point.

 

This is right at the very beginning of the recovery timetable from the max effort bench press we did on Tuesday.  That means they are most likely executing these bench press reps with some fatigue.

 

This fatigue makes light weights a little heavier and will really force the lifter to focus on technique.  Usually a variation to work on technique is used here as well.  After this session, they get 4 days of rest before they bench again.  This ensures they are fresh to hit that max effort bench press again.

 

On Friday or Saturday my lifters will do rep work with the squats and deadlifts.  These are usually very light, maybe around 70% to 75% of 1RM.  However, there will be a lot of sets and reps here.  This is to get the volume in and to work on technique.

 

This would be a more medium stress training day.  A medium stress training day should be something the lifter can recover from in 24 hours.  This should not take 48 to 72 hours to recover from.  This means if they do this day on Friday, they have 72 hours to recover from this session, and if it is completed on Saturday, they have 48 hours to recover.  This should be enough.

 

These days at the end of the week are very tough even if they are light.  After maxing out all week, usually with backdowns after, the lifters are pretty tired.  This makes the lighter weights feel heavier and challenges technique even more.

 

The coach needs to pay attention here.  My lifters write RPEs in next to all completed sets.  I want these day 4 lifts to be around an RPE 7.  The backdowns after the max effort, I want to be between an RPE 7-9.

 

I keep volumes and intensities very consistent here to help me monitor fatigue.  If the 70% of the max effort lift for a 4×4 is constantly an RPE 8, but all of a sudden with a variation it is an RPE 9, it will catch my attention.  If the day 4 squats and deadlifts are usually around an RPE 7, but they are creeping up to an RPE 8-8.5, it shows we are building some fatigue.  When this happens, I will tend to pull back a little and continue to monitor the RPEs.  Here instead of a 4×4 at 70% for backdowns we may do a 4×3 at the same weight.  On day 4, I can leave it the exact same to see if it improves, or I can scale it back a little.  I do both very frequently.

 

Our max effort work rotates into rep work at times too.  If I think a lifter needs a break, or we hit a true RPE 10 in an exercise, the following week they will get some sets and reps at around 80% of 1RM.  This is very similar to what Sheiko does.  There will be 4-5 sets of 2-3 reps at 80%.  The percentage is drawn off of the max effort from the previous week, so it is pretty accurate.

 

The more you get to know a lifter, the more you know when to do these things.  Every other week the deadlifts become sets and reps.  These are usually between 70% to 80% of 1RM and done for 4-5 sets of 3 reps.  Usually no more than doubles at 80% of the previous week’s max effort lift.

 

On these weeks, the last 2 training days of the week are lighter to moderate.  They should only require 24 hours to recover from.  This gives the lifter a 6 day break from max effort lifts.  This is a nice physical and mental reset.

 

There are also some weeks where there will be zero max effort lifts.  If a lifter hit all RPE 10s the week before, this is pretty common.  This is a week of all low to medium stress training days.  This is an easy week to recover from.

 

This turned out to be a lot longer than I had anticipated, but managing fatigue is a major component of a coach’s job.  Fatigue is not something to fear.  Training with fatigue is probably unavoidable because of work and other life stressors.  Mental fatigue can affect performance and for most of us our jobs are mentally fatiguing.  We have some lifters with physical jobs too.  Learning to navigate all of these situations takes experience.

Is the Body 650 Muscles or 1 Muscle?

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

This is a question every coach should think about for a minute.  It is kind of fun, and perhaps not so black and white.  Science tends to reduce complex systems into its parts and make some giant assumptions that the sum of those parts equals the whole.

 

This reductionist approach may have served the medical community well at times, but when we look at behavior and skill it tends to take an open complex system and close it.  We are dealing with one human not a bag of 650 muscles plus 1 brain.

 

Even our research tends to reduce the human body into a bag of muscles.  When researchers look at the squat, they tend to use EMG to look at individual muscle groups at various locations of the squat.  I am not saying that this research is completely useless, but I am also not sure what it really tells us.

 

These studies are usually performed on untrained participants.  Their skill levels within the lift tend to be very low.  This may just be an example of Bernstein’s degrees of freedom problem.  The human body has a very large number of movement options to choose from to complete a task.

 

When presented with a new problem, the body will limit the amount of movement options available.  Through practice where movement is explored, the body will free up more degrees of freedom.  This is where the movements being asked of the athlete tend to look more “fluid.”

 

Degrees of freedom is something that is impossible for a coach to measure on an Excel spreadsheet.  Match this with a big cultural piece.  In the 60s and 70s there was a fascination with bodybuilding in America.  This is the time period where Arnold was at his peak.

 

These bodybuilders then found their way into movies as iconic action stars.  America began to view being jacked as being strong.  The logic of a larger muscle having greater potential to contract makes sense, but it just does not hold up to the scrutiny of science.

 

I am not saying muscle mass is not important, but instead the human body will adapt as it needs to, based off of the demands placed upon it.  If we train with more specific weights to 1RM, we will still put on muscle mass, in many cases just as much as a hypertrophy focused program.  I would argue that the body puts on the muscle mass it needs to complete that task and that more is not necessary.

 

You put all of this together and you have coaches obsessed with Excel spreadsheet numbers because they are measurable and allow us to feel safe in an uncertain world, analyzing lifts based off of EMG results of beginners, and adding in bodybuilding exercises to make them better at powerlifting.

 

The focus on one muscle group is a bodybuilding ideology.  A program that looks like this is part powerlifting and part bodybuilding.  I feel the majority of people that do this will be less than mediocre bodybuilders and powerlifters.

 

Now do not get me wrong.  This style of training works for many.  However, watch those lifters when they train.  They are focused and bring intent to every repetition in training.  For example, Westside uses a lot of accessories to get their volume in.  However, watch those guys train.  They absolutely fucking get after it from the second their hands touch the bar to the end of the training session.  No matter what they do, they will get stronger with that attitude.

 

At the end of the day every program can work, especially if the lifters bring that attitude to it.  You do not get weaker from training.  However, we need to look at what is best to push the field forward.

 

When we were doing more Sheiko type stuff in the gym we would be spending 10-12 hours per week training.  Now we spend no more than 6 hours per week training, and we are getting even stronger.  For lifters with jobs and lives this is important.

 

I also think that this is important for longevity.  Training half the time per week will save miles on each lifter.  It just will not beat you up as much because you are not being required to do more than you have to.

 

Since this thinking dominates the strength sports what should we do instead?  Bernstein’s degrees of freedom was published in 1967, it got lost amongst the culture of bodybuilding.  I think we start there.  A dynamic systems theory approach looks at the whole human as well as the environment in which they live instead of reducing the human into its parts.  This is why I utilize this approach; it treats a non-linear open system as a non-linear open system.

 

We want to guide this system towards the technical efficiency and the strength necessary to be the best powerlifter that they can possibly be.  In the literature, the closer we train to 1RM, the greater we increase 1RM.  This is the law of specificity.

 

From there, the coach needs to have a good understanding of technique and how to teach and guide each lifter there.  As Keith Davids says, “Training should have consequences.”  The coach can place the lifter in positions that will punish the technical inefficiency.  The punishment will be an inability to complete the task.

 

The heavy singles also force the lifter to be completely mentally involved in the training session.  If they are worried about outside stress they will not perform up to their capabilities.  This error teaches the lifter.  It allows the coach and the lifter to constantly be analyzing strengths and weaknesses.  This is something that lighter weights cannot do.

 

There may be some technical breakdown under lighter weights, but sometimes those breakdowns do not show up until the weight is heavier.  The coach will never identify a mental weakness because there are no consequences to training with lighter weights.

 

There has to be technical and physical practice under heavier weights to truly get better at handling heavier weights as well.  This is not to say that lighter weights do not have a place.  They absolutely do.  A good program should be utilizing all intensity ranges.  I am a big fan of doing as many singles as possible that allows the individual lifter to recover.  From there, we fill in the blanks with rep work.

 

I used to push the heavy stuff as long as I could and only pull back when the lifter feels they need to.  The problem with this is eventually coaching becomes nothing more than being reactive to the day to day.  I now take a bit more of a proactive approach.  More is not always better.

 

Day 1 we have max effort squats, day 2 max effort bench, day 3 is rep bench work followed by max effort deadlifts, and day 4 is rep work for squats and pulls.  The deadlift rotates weekly on day 3 between max effort work and lighter rep work.

 

If a lifter hits a true 10 on any of these lifts, we replace max effort work with rep work on the following week.  This will usually be around 80% of that max effort lift so that the weights are pretty accurate and done for 4-5 sets of 2-3 reps.  This was our “strength” day so to speak when we ran Sheiko stuff.  This gives the lifter a built in psychological break too.  80% tends to be a weight most lifters can hit for at least 5 reps, this drops the intensity as well.  This day is to maintain the strength qualities that are being developed.

 

A lot of studies do show burn out from higher intensity programs.  Granted these are not studies on motivated powerlifters, and usually with a ridiculous amount of intensity and frequency, but still something we need to take into consideration.  The lifters write RPEs for all sets in their sheets and this allows me to see how they are recovering.

 

I actually try to keep these intensities and volumes pretty stable so that I get a good gauge of their recovery abilities.  After the heavy singles on bench and squat we do backdowns.  I usually put 70% of the max effort lift for a 4×4.  I tend to keep this the same on max effort days so that I can compare RPEs.  If they are creeping up more than normal, I know I need to pull back a bit.

 

Some variations tend to be more difficult to recover from than others.  This is completely dependent upon the individual lifter too.  We run a variation for a 3 week wave.  I learned that most variations run their course in 4-6 weeks so I decided to change it before then so I can use it again in the near future to gauge progress.

 

These variations are ones that will punish technical inefficiencies.  If a lifter is pitching forward, we may use a wider stance with a high bar position.  I require all my lifters to train in flats and 4-6 weeks out from a meet they are allowed to put the heels back on if they want.

 

That position will punish pitching forward, but also the flats and the wide stance targets the hips more.  I will use that latter argument at times, but it is more to get buy in than me actually believing it.  I just have a hard time believing that if a lifter’s knees cave in that their glute medius is weak.  The glute medius is small and has a ton of leverage with its position on the hip.  I just don’t think individual muscles like that can be weak.  I think this is more of a skill problem.

 

This does not mean that these muscles cannot be targeted to become stronger.  Certain angles are more technically efficient and put more emphasis on certain muscle groups.  I know this sounds contradictory but being strong at certain angles is a skill.  More often than not, a few months of targeting these angles and the lifter is hitting PRs from them.

 

Is this really due to individual muscles getting stronger, or is the lifter’s skill just improving?  Again, is the body 650 muscles or 1 muscle?

My Rant on Athlete Attitude in Powerlifting

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

I have been around elite athletes my whole life.  Whether I was playing on teams, or coaching them, I have been surrounded by high level athletes.  When I was shoved into the world of powerlifting this changed a bit.

 

I was fortunate enough to be coached by an elite, world level coach, in Boris Sheiko.  Not only was I able to learn from the best in how to coach this sport, but I also learned a lot about attitude and how important it is for a coach.  Attitude was something that I took for granted throughout my life.

 

When I was on a high level team, we all had the same attitude.  We pushed each other in practice and fed off of each other’s energy.  We were all completely bought in to the goals of the team and worked our asses off to achieve them.

 

To be a member of these teams as an adult meant that you had been playing your whole life.  The fact that you were still playing meant that you were better than everyone else.  Sports is like a funnel; it is big at the bottom where everyone can join but gets much more narrowed down at the top.

 

This is not true of powerlifting.  Powerlifting is a sport that anyone can partake in.  I actually love this part of it.  A beginner can share the platform with a multiple time world champion.  That is pretty cool.

 

Throw the internet into the mix and every beginner thinks that they can become a world champion if they get the right program.  They will see certain lifters running certain programs and just think the secret to success lies in some Microsoft Excel algorithm.

 

Powerlifting is like any other sport.  Some of you reading this are good, some suck, and everything else in between will be represented.  This is an important message for many lifters to hear.  Some of you are not very good at this sport.  I tried hockey as a kid, I couldn’t fucking skate.  Due to that, I am not in the NHL.

 

I am not a good lifter either.  I am aware of this.  I got into this sport later in life after participating in sports for 30 years.  I didn’t give a fuck about how good I was at lifting weights.  Now I give a fuck about how good I am at lifting weights and I am not very good.

 

If I started at 12 years old, I bet I would be.  I didn’t.  However, I did learn what it takes to be elite at something, twice.  I learned how to create a culture that will foster lifters being the best that they can be with their God given abilities and a little direction.

 

There are some top lifters that were very good from the first time they picked up a barbell.  They were good at lifting weights.  This is not a sport that draws from the best athletes around.  They tend to be the best of the athletic leftovers.  Be wary of choosing this as a coach.

 

Being elite amongst leftovers is very different from being elite amongst the elite.  With that said, there are some lifters that absolutely get it and you can see this in their coaching.  These are very few and far between though.

 

They end up speaking in absolutes and trashing other methodologies that do not match their thinking. Ironically, most world champs would be world champs no matter what program they do.  Even these shitheads display what it takes in the gym to be as successful as you can be.

 

Being elite is an attitude well before it is a number on the bar.  Your intent as an athlete matters.  Every single time your hands touch that bar it is an opportunity to get better.  Too often lifters just go through the motions thinking that a magic number of sets and reps will make them stronger.  It is far more than that.

 

Every time you touch the bar there needs to be intent and purpose.  This starts from the empty bar and continues through the whole training day.  Every rep needs to be moved with the control and effort that is required to hit 5lbs more than your current best.  This is how you get better.  Microsoft Excel does not make you better.  You make you better.

 

As a coach my words cannot make you a better lifter.  All I can do is put you in the positions and guide the process for you to learn how to become the best lifter you can possibly be.  This does not mean that all of you will be world champions.  At the end of the day it still falls on you.

 

Elite athletes are accountable for their actions.  Novices blame the coach and the program.  If you are someone that blames your coach or program, chances are you suck at this sport and you do not have the attitude to become better.  Find something else to do.

 

Of course there are bad fits between coach and lifter.  However, if you have a coach with a good track record, it is not their program or coaching that is not working.  It is you.  I am sick of seeing lifters blame other things for their lack of progress, which many times they believe should be linear.

 

There will be times that you will go potentially years without increasing your total.  Better learn to love the sport for other reasons than chasing numbers.  Things feel like they aren’t going well.  Refocus your attention and do some soul searching to see where you can really improve.  This is where a strong relationship with a coach can be important.

 

It is very rarely because you are doing 4 sets instead of 5.  It is what you bring to each set and rep that typically needs to be improved.  Having a coach that you can talk to about these things is important because sometimes it is some serious life shit that is negatively affecting your training.

 

If you are training and posting on IG that your lifts are RPE “trash” and using emojis to tell the world about your too many feelings about lifting weights, that attitude is holding you back.  Saying that you do not feel like training, my lifts suck, or any other bullshit childlike statement, it is holding you back.

 

Louie says, “If you run with the lame you develop a limp.”  If you are hanging around these weak people, get a new crew because your crew is negatively affecting you.  If you follow these people on IG, unfollow them because seeing it negatively affects you.

 

Being strong is not about your total.  It is about attitude and heart.  If you want to be a powerlifter, fucking commit to it.  You chose a sport that will break your heart more than it will fill it with joy, but those joyful moments will be addicting, and you will do anything to seek them out.

 

Find yourself strong company.  Again, not by total, but by attitude and heart.  Because they will push you harder than you can push yourself.  When things seem like they are stalling, you will push harder because you want to push them to be better.  Weak people complain and let their feelings dictate their training.

 

Strong people analyze what they are doing and bring focus and intent to every single rep that they do in the gym.  They don’t make excuses because they do not have room for them as they are too worried about getting better.  They don’t blame others or give a fuck about what other people are doing because they know they have what it takes inside of them to be great.

 

These are major reasons why PPS gets stronger no matter what we do for training.  No one joined this team with an elite total.  Most don’t even have a total.  But you will see us represented at the Arnold again this year, just like every other year.

 

That is because we train in a shark tank.  I scroll through the internet and I see a lot of flounders.  Some of them are stronger than others, but they would still get eaten in our environment.  Find yourself a shark tank to train in if you want to get better.

 

 

Every Program Works: Why You Should Use Pieces of All of Them

 

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

Over my 5 years of coaching powerlifting, I have tried everything.  Extend that to the 10 years that I was coaching prior, and I have literally tried everything.  As a coach it is easy to get caught up in looking for the next best thing.

 

When this happens, a coach can miss some important information right in front of them.  I know this to be true because I have been there.  We have run Sheiko, linear periodization, undulating periodization, high intensity, high volume, lots of singles, you name it, we have probably tried it.

 

Over this period of time our totals continued to rise.  No matter what we did, we got stronger.  I think that in the beginning it is important for every coach to just try a bunch of different things.  Pay attention, observe, and over time make the necessary adjustments.

 

In the beginning, I was working with Sheiko.  He laid out a format for me to follow.  This was very important for me as an inexperienced coach.  I had rules to follow.  I followed those rules and learned quite a bit.  As I became more comfortable coaching, I was more comfortable to try other things.

 

I even abandoned the things that had worked for a period of time to try the next new shiny thing.  This was my inexperience acting out.  I don’t regret doing it though because it was all a learning experience.  It still is.

 

I understand now that everything has a time and place.  Even if you look around and watch other lifters.  Not only do a bunch of successful lifters do different things, many do something until it stops working and then they do something else.  This seems to work all of the time.

 

Perhaps the continued success we saw was due to the same scenario?  I would not quite go that far.  There are some negatives to constantly changing things up.  The right amount of variety is needed, but too much and too little can cause problems.

 

If you train hard, believe in what you are doing, and have a strong relationship with your coach, you will see progress.  Do not get me wrong, there are better coaches than others out there.  However, as long as you a hire a coach with a distinguished track record, you are probably fine in terms of an adequate program.  A good coach brings other skills to the relationship.

 

I have a much larger appreciation for various training styles now than I did before.  I believe some are better than others and I enjoy talking shit, that is just me being me.  Which brings me to another point.  The coach needs to pick a style that matches their personality.

 

I am often described as intense and aggressive.  Our programs reflect that now.  We joke around a lot and have a lot of fun.  I don’t just sit there and yell.  However, the training matches my personality, which tends to match the personalities of those that seek me out for coaching.

 

This is important for the culture.  A training style that fits the coach and the lifters’ personalities.  This is one reason why Westside is successful in my opinion.  A lot of those guys were looking for an outlet and they found it in the intensity of the training.  The training matched the personality of the coach and the lifters.

 

With that said, it doesn’t mean we can just drive singles every single day in the gym.  This is where understanding of principles and trust comes into play.  The relationship the coach has with the lifter can help the coach decide what is best to do at this given time for this specific lifter.  Everything has a place.

 

According to Occam’s Razor, the simplest solution is most likely the right one.  If we ask the question, “What will make us best at heavy singles?”  The simplest solution seems to be heavy singles.  Now, of course we can’t just do heavy singles every day in the gym, but it is a start.

 

Attempting to come up with ideal volumes and average intensities is overcomplicating what we are attempting to do.  This doesn’t mean that you can’t get stronger with higher volume programs, of course you can. Everything works.

 

I just noticed that when our training sessions were longer and our overall volumes higher, we experienced more nagging issues.  The length of the training sessions becomes an issue at times as well.  The lifters that I coach all have full time jobs and outside stressors.

 

The longer the session, the greater mental and physical energy is needed to get through it.  This can become difficult for the lifter to recover from.  Efficiency is key for a busy life.  Nothing is more efficient than heavy singles.

 

However, heavy singles can come with a psychological cost.  They require more mental energy.  We can split up the singles and the volume.  This splits up the mental energy from the physical.  This allows one to recover while the other is being stressed.  It is not that black and white, but it gets a point across.

 

If we do that, there is your daily undulating periodization.  One day is a single, another day is sets and reps for more volume.  We attempt to leave 5-10lbs on the bar each week so we can add it the following week.  There is linear periodization.  I use a linear approach starting at a top set of 5 reps as the second day of squats and bench as a meet draws near.  Timing here is everything.

 

I realized that most training variables seem to run their course every 4 to 6 weeks.  Probably why most training blocks are 4 to 6 weeks long.  I run my blocks in 3 week waves.  This allows me to bring back in that same variable sooner than I would be able to if I exhausted it.  I may keep the positions the same but add bands or chains or another slight change.

 

Some waves we will do doubles with lighter weight, but lots of doubles, like 10-15.  Other times we will use the same weight for sets of 5 or 6 reps.  It all depends.  It depends on their technical levels.  Singles are the best, but when we can’t do singles, working on technique is the next best thing.  This worked well when we ran a Sheiko style system.

 

Sometimes I feel the lifter would get more technical reps with doubles.  Technique is less likely to breakdown and they get more first reps to really work on the walkout and competition technique.  Sometimes I want to challenge their technical capabilities with a bit of fatigue within a set.  That is where the higher rep sets come in.  However, volume stays relatively similar.

 

So those that say speed work doesn’t work, it has a place.  I will often put time limits on the doubles to make the lifter get through them a bit more quickly.  This gets them in and out of the gym quickly, like I mentioned before, but also builds up some work capacity and makes the lighter weights feel a bit heavier.  The fatigue will challenge technique as well.  Little more bang for your buck in my opinion.

 

When a lifter hits a true max in one week, the following week will either be a change in the exercise, or some sets and reps.  I will typically use a higher intensity example from what we did when we ran a Sheiko style training system.  This may mean 4 or 5 sets of doubles or triples at 80%.  These were our “strength” days then, and they worked well.  Seems to be the next best thing to singles.  They also do not take a long time to get through but have adequate effort.  This percentage is based off of the previous week’s max effort number, so it is pretty accurate.

 

We use percentages for some days, RPEs for others depending on what I am looking for.  We always use RPEs as a subjective measurement of the training.  This helps me get a gauge of the lifter’s recovery.  This helps me make my decisions for the following week.

 

Everything has its place.  As a coach you should be open and use all the tools at your exposal.  The goal is to keep the liters healthy and progressing, not proving you are right.

Individual Differences, American Culture and Heavy Singles

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

American culture is very focused on the individual when we compare it to other countries.  This needs to be taken into consideration by the coach.  Our cultural beliefs are an important aspect of our physiological strength.

 

Communist countries have a greater group mentality.  Each individual is part of a greater whole.  In these cultures each individual is used to doing what they are told as well.  This is definitely not the case in America.

 

I have had beginner lifters tell me as their coach, what they need to get stronger, or what works and doesn’t work for them.  The beginner does not have the knowledge or experience to know these things.  A Russian lifter is not saying that to his or her coach.  This is a major cultural difference.

 

I am not saying that we do not need to address each individual.  In fact, I am saying the opposite.  In America, due to our culture, we need to address individual differences.  This is especially true for a sport like powerlifting.

 

Powerlifting draws from everyone.  Past athletes, non-athletes, fitness enthusiasts, Crossfitters, young, and old.  Each individual has their own journey into this sport.  This isn’t Russia where kids are getting into it at 8 years old.

 

This can be a very difficult challenge for a coach.  It requires time getting to know an individual lifter.  The coach needs to understand their strengths and weaknesses in the gym, but also know who they are outside of the gym as this will affect their performance and recovery in a number of ways.

 

Another major piece of American culture is social media.  Love it or hate it, it plays a big role.  The whole “Do it for the Gram” is a thing.  No matter how many times that coaches tell their lifters it doesn’t matter, it absolutely does.  You can’t fight it.  No one is getting excited for a 4×4 at 70% of 1RM, but big lifts get passed around.

 

I started coaching using a Russian system.  Sheiko was my coach and it was all that I knew.  It worked well until it didn’t.  I saw continued progress working directly with him so maybe my ability to coach this system was lacking.

 

Not only did I need to take into account the lifters’ backgrounds, but also mine as a coach.  Both matter when we are attempting to create our own culture.  I do not have a ton of experience with powerlifting.  I have been coaching the sport for only 5 years.  However, I got a lot of experience competing in sports at a high level.

 

I had been competing in sports my whole life.  These experiences would help shape the culture of PPS.  I decided to view powerlifting more like a sport and draw my own conclusions on how to prepare for that sport.  At the same time, we needed to build a culture on just competing.

 

Most lifters that I coach do not have a strong competitive background.  If we can learn to just compete, each lifter will put their best effort on that platform.  There is nothing that will teach a lifter to compete more than heavy singles.  Heavy singles create the greatest psychological response in training.  A psychological response that mimics that same psychological response that they will encounter at a competition.

 

Not only that, singles are the sport.  If I want a lifter to be best prepared for the sport, I want them doing as many singles as they can.  This is where individualization needs to come in.  Some lifters are more capable of recovery from heavy singles than others.

 

I have heard some lifters say that heavy singles do not work for them.  This makes no sense to me.  Singles are the sport; you should probably practice it.  However, it may create such a psychological response that recovery becomes difficult.  This is where coaching comes into play.

 

Perhaps in the beginning the lifter needs to be coddled a bit with the singles.  Each max effort day does not need to be a true max.  Find a weight the lifter is comfortable with, and increase it by as little as 5lbs, we just want to create a psychological response.

 

This is often a hard, but doable weight.  In the beginning, this does not even have to be programmed each week.  We can go every other week with max effort singles.  Even longer if it becomes necessary.  I have not coached someone that is not ok with every other week of max effort lifts.

 

On the other end of the spectrum are the psychos.  These lifters just want to max out all of the time.  They need to be protected from themselves.  These lifters will also only get max effort lifts every other week.  This is to make sure we are taking enough psychological and physical breaks from heavier weight to keep the lifter healthy and progress moving forward in the long term.

 

Most people will fit somewhere in the middle.  I tell my lifters to leave 5-10lbs on the bar for the following week.  If someone is a little more conservative, they are able to get more consecutive weeks of max effort lifts.  If they are more aggressive, or progress stalls on a movement, and a true max is reached, the following week we either change the exercise or just hit some sets and reps.

 

The lighter dynamic work/rep work later in the week helps me see how well they are recovering.  These days are very similar to what our days looked like when we ran a Sheiko style of training.  I have years’ worth of data on RPE of various exercise and set and rep schemes.

 

If a lifter is putting an RPE at 8 or higher on these days, then recovery is certainly maxed out.  Higher and they are not recovering well.  Lower RPEs tell me that we can keep going.  When a higher RPE is scored on these days I have options.

 

I often will leave the training the exact same to see if it improves or if it is getting worse.  If it improves, we can run the same training day again, or add a little weight or volume.  99% of the time I will leave it the same.  Let them fully recover and hit the next wave hard.

 

If I see that recovery is a continuous issue, I will cut the volume on the later days’ lifts in half.  We will gradually increase volume from here as the RPEs dictate.  It is rare that I see the max effort performance drop significantly due to fatigue.

 

One interesting thing that I have seen from doing it this way is that we have far fewer nagging issues popping up, with much more progress.  +This is the best use of RPE in my opinion.  Perceived effort tells us a lot about the lifter and their needs.

 

Over time, I want to see an increase in max effort days.  This is not always possible.  Outside life really gets in the way sometimes.  However, if I have that viewpoint to make my decisions, then it helps me to make better ones.

 

I find myself pulling back on volume more than increasing it.  With that said, I will increase it at times.  On the later days we may do a 10×2 at 70% of 1RM, or a 5×6 at the same intensity.  It all depends on where we are, and what that lifter needs at that given time.

 

Sheiko would always say that load variability was very important.  The changing of exercises on max effort days changes absolute loads, and on the other days, we move things around quite frequently.  This keeps training interesting and forces the lifter to pay attention in different ways.

 

Training is a dynamic process that is affected by literally everything.  The coach needs to understand this dynamic process.  Part of understanding it is understanding we can’t control a lot of it, and there is a lot of uncertainty.

 

Each coach needs to have their own set of rules that allows them to navigate this process in the best possible way for their lifters.  I like singles because they are the sport and they embrace that Instagram culture.

 

I also understand that individual differences exist.  I have a means of navigating the process for each individual.  We combine this all together to form the culture of PPS.