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How the New Qualifying Totals Changes Things

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

If you compete in the USAPL, I am sure you were made aware this week that the qualifying totals for nationals went up by quite a bit.  Nationals has always been this enormous event.  Each year has been larger than the year before.

 

So many parts of me hates how big it is.  However, I liked it because it got the sport in front of so many people that have not seen it before.  Every lifter shares the live stream with friends and family.  Many view this sport for the first time.

 

My lifters would see the live stream and want to compete at Nationals.  This was the goal of the majority of the team when they started.  The old totals were not very hard to achieve.  Anyone can qualify for Nationals as long as they work hard.

 

With lower qualifying totals you don’t have to pay attention to technique as much, and those that are naturally strong can qualify pretty easily.  We have a bunch that qualified with less than 2 years of lifting experience. One started with the empty bar.

 

Due to the totals being a little lower, and the goals of the team being to qualify, we were able to mess around in the gym with more things.  We could try things out, see if they worked well, and implement them or throw them away.  I could talk about those things, and the internet trolls could come out and have some fun.

 

At the end of the day, it was a great learning experience.  I learned a ton about fatigue, strength development, technique, and so many other factors like the importance of psychology.  I learned what happens when you just follow a program and also when you allow the lifter to be more in charge.  Big surprise, the sweet spot is in the middle, dependent on the level of lifter.  Training skill matters.

 

With the new totals, we can’t fuck around so much if our goals will remain the same.  We went from having 17 on our roster qualified to 4.  Some of those that are no longer qualified are very close and will get there.  Some will be sitting out in 2020.  2 out of those 4 have goals of winning a National Championship.  The other 2, 1 has a top 10 total, and the other will be competing at the Pro-Am.  This is the level of lifter that will be at Nationals now.

 

For the record, I absolutely love this increase.  I got so many texts from lifters telling me what they are going to hit now to qualify, and then they went into the gym and absolutely got after it.  We definitely have the right attitude for this.  This team absolutely competes and loves a challenge.  It shows their long term commitment to the sport too.

 

It does have to change how we do things quite a bit.  If we are going to mess around and try something it needs to be well within reason now.  It needs to follow the rules a bit more, but the rules that I learned over these last 5 years from messing around with lifters.

 

With so much contradictory information out there, I had to figure it out for myself.  Now, we have our own way of doing things based off of what we learned over that time.  There will be less flexibility compared to times before, but more than where we started.

 

The exercises will be selected based off of individual weaknesses, and the rotation of max effort days will be individualized as well.  However, if a lifter feels great and it is a lighter day, they will still do the lighter day.  We put time limits on it, so they can just move faster.  In the past, I would let them go up in weight here.

 

I have learned over time, that lifters can get after it on these days, but that light day is going to come no matter what.  In some cases it ends up being forced by pain later on because the lifter would just continue to go hard.  That whole complex theory of biological systems is true.

 

There will be peaks and valleys.  I always assumed I could guide the process to allow the lifter to self-organize into their peaks and valleys.  In theory I still think this is true.  However, the self-organizing part might include the organism experiencing pain or burnout.

 

We were reacting to how everyone was feeling instead of just being pro-active with our high, medium, and low stress days.  If you feel good today, but go lighter, you will feel even better tomorrow.  Then you can crush something big on the max effort day, the day that is there to build 1RM strength.  All of the other stuff can be adjusted over time.

 

Technique is going to matter more as well.  I have always held technique as being important.  However, there are times where I allow certain things to slide because I feel that getting after it is more important than that minor flaw for the lifter to achieve a goal.

 

With the totals going up, the minor flaws have now become major ones.  There is far less room for error.  This is going to require more coaching from me.  Accessories, which I go back and forth on, have now become more important again because every little bit matters.

 

Coming from the Sheiko background, I am still a firm believer in spending time doing the things we know work.  We actually do backdown work after our max effort.  This are very Sheiko-esque in design of intensity and volume and exercise selection.

 

Later in the week we do dynamic effort and/or repetition work.  Again, this is very Sheiko-esque, but may be organized a little more like Westside with sets and reps, but a higher intensity.  Some blocks these will be lighter, others heavier.

 

I stole the circa max idea from Louie but do it in a more Sheiko-esque way.  We may do a bunch of sets at 80-85% of 1RM, or maybe even a bit heavier.  A 3 week wave of this will be tolerable for everyone.  We learned this leading into Nationals.  However, after that point there is a decrease in the benefits.  These days are there to practice that technique by hammering technical and muscle weaknesses.

 

Accessories will fall into place after this.  I do not think they are necessary to get stronger.  We use heavy singles for that.  Where they become important is for conditioning.  This has become more important now, because we will have to push it a little harder at times.

 

The accessories are going to build tolerance to load for muscle groups trained.  If your low back is a limiting factor in a lift, we got to build up its tolerance to load, so that we can continue to push hard in the competition lifts.  If your triceps tire out on bench, and it limits your performance, we got to condition them to handle more load.

 

We got to condition our bodies to handle more work than before so that we can achieve the same goals, because it is going to require more work now than it did before to get there.  We need to be prepared for that.

 

The training environment needs to continue to grow as well.  We need each other to push one another and keep stretching what we are capable of.  Powerlifting is for everyone, but PPS will not be.  We need lifters to add to the training environment with their attention to detail and their drive.

 

This has nothing to do with total, but everything with attitude.  Lifters that are inconsistent, don’t compete, don’t fill out their sheets, will no longer be members of PPS.  This culture will be one that allows those goals to be achieved.

 

I love these totals going up.  It will push the top lifters of each weight class even more and America will continue to dominate the IPF.  It will also push PPS to be even stronger because we are now reaching for much larger totals.  The timing was perfect as well because it was time to step up the training environment to help push those National competitors towards a podium spots.

 

This will make the local meets and Regionals even more competitive than before as well.  I think this is great for the sport and I am fired up to get after it with everyone.  LFG.

Why More Volume is not the Answer

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

I know many programs are heavy volume based.  This is not to say that they do not work.  They definitely can.  I was on one for 3 years working with Boris Sheiko.  My number of lifts stayed very close to the same over that time period, but my maxes were going up which made the absolute values of given percentages heavier.

 

This makes us step back and define volume.  I define volume as number of top sets.  Think RPE 8/8.5 or higher.  If you use percentages this would be 80-85% or higher.  Based off of this definition my volumes did not change as the number of lifts and the effort of those lifts was pretty similar.

 

My workload increased over time.  This is sets x reps x weight.  The majority of my sets were performed with the 3-6 rep range, with an average intensity of 70% plus or minus 2%.  This included all warmups of 50% of 1RM and greater.

 

This definitely worked.  I saw continued progress for 3 years.  Now, I was a beginner.  I could have seen that progress doing anything, but I do believe this was an extremely well done program.  For a coach that speaks a different language, and I discussed things over email, this is exactly what I needed.  It is also what I needed as a newer lifter.  Just follow the program.

 

I gave my lifters similar programs following the rules that Sheiko laid out.  What I saw was that my lifters were hitting walls and getting stuck.  This may just be because I was not good at manipulating these training volumes, assessing the lifts and assigning the appropriate variations, who knows.

 

Dave Tate says that all sticking points are either mental, technical, or physical, I would throw an and between all of those too, as there can be a whole pile of issues sometimes.  I noticed for many the issues were mental.

 

The lifters were getting nervous when they were faced with heavier weights.  In a Sheiko program, most sets are performed at 85% of 1RM and less.  This does not disregard the mental, but it is for the mental aspects of higher level lifters in a different culture.

 

Submaximal weights build success.  You never miss.  This is a big argument for those that utilize these types of programs.  You train with success you should see success on the platform.  I was dealing with less experienced lifters in a very different culture.  This is where we made a switch to lifting heavier.

 

What we see in the literature, as well as what I have seen in the real world, is that if you want to get better at lifting heavy singles you need to lift heavy singles.  Heavy singles are the sport.  In any sport I have ever participated, practicing the sport has always been important.

 

I know some programs will do a single at like an RPE 8.  This is not to make waves, but just my thoughts on this.  To me a single at an RPE 8 is a walkthrough in a sport practice.  It does not have the psychological pieces tied to it like a more maximal effort attempt.  There is not risk of consequences, like a missed rep.

 

When I discussed training with Dr. Keith Davids, he spoke about training with consequences as this carries over greater to competition.  We underestimate the importance of sports psychology with our lifters because it is difficult to track.  Volumes and intensities are easy to track.

 

We can’t just max out all of the time.  It would be great if we could, but just like with other sports, intensities of practice alternates.  One reason is for recovery.  There is some positive recovery stuff from singles.

 

Singles for one come with lower volume.  CNS fatigue is not a thing.  I honestly feel this may just be a myth from equipped lifters.  I know I get some crazy brain fog type issues going on after being in the equipment to lift.  I do not see this with raw lifters.  Singles are easier to recover from in a physical sense.  Psychologically, probably not and that is the issue.

 

The singles get the lifters in and out of the gym.  This gives them greater recovery time.  My lifters all work full-time jobs.  The more efficient we can make training the better.  Nothing is more efficient than heavy singles.

 

Variation allows us to hit these singles almost every week.  If a previous week had a very tough single with a variation, we will use a percent of that for reps the following week to change it up.  Sometimes there just is not any place to go.  This follows all of the guidelines that Sheiko laid out.

 

The percent is accurate as it comes from a max effort attempt from a week ago.  The number of lifts and average intensity follows what he taught me.  This addresses the technical and physical components of the lifts, while giving the mental a break and not forcing a miss in training.  We usually do light backdowns after the singles to work on technique and just build some workload.

 

Building workload is important for conditioning.  Having the ability to do this increases the lifter’s ability to recover from training.  If we need to pull back to give them a break, I can remove these and just replace them with more bodybuilding style exercises.  I prefer this workload to come from some form of the lifts as there will be greater carryover from them for our totals.

 

The second half of the week is rep or dynamic work.  This looks very similar to what it did when I was following a stricter Sheiko program.  We do utilize some of Westside’s ideas on dynamic work as well.

 

This is for load management.  Sometimes the lifters need a wave of lighter weights to just move around and recover.  These days will also utilize variations to increase technical efficiency as well as attack weaknesses.

 

These rep and dynamic days are not going to build 1RM strength that great.  They instead are assisting in the growth of 1RM.  Remember all sticking points are mental, technical, or physical.  These days address those needs without crushing the lifter.

 

It is not like our programs are just singles and we disregard volume.  There is a decent amount of volume in there.  If we define volume as top sets of RPE 8/8.5 or higher, than we probably have more than most.  This is with heavy singles in training, so greater specificity and carryover to increasing 1RM.

 

Our workloads are probably far less than others.  Our total workload for deadlifts is very low.  Our frequency is much lower than most programs I see in the USAPL.  This leads to a few of my lifters telling me that they think they need more volume.

 

Again, how are we defining volume?  In most cases they just want an increased number of lifts.  First, we need to identify what the actual issue is.  Is it mental, physical, or technical?  Is increasing the number of lifts going to correct one of these issues?  Maybe, but there is a lot we can do before increasing number of lifts.

 

First off, many lifters think they are stuck when they really are not.  This shit is not linear.  There will be periods of time where you do not hit PRs.  If you put 5lbs on each lift every 3 months, that would be 60lbs on a total each year.  That is a lot.  Progress happens incrementally over a longer time scale.  Yuri Belkin went 5 years without a PR.  All of us will experience these periods.  Learn to enjoy the sport and not chase numbers or you will quit.

 

Increasing workload can make you stronger.  Lots of lifters on a higher frequency, higher volume program, get really strong really quick.  However, the long term success of a program like that is debatable.

 

Equipped lifters tend to have longer lifting careers.  They also tend to not do as much volume as raw lifters.  This is just a correlation though.  They also lift higher absolute loads.  So lower volume, higher intensity.

 

Now, it could just be that they experience greater variability in training so less psychological burnout.  These are just observations without any science to back it up, but something to think about.

 

Someone like Dave Hoff has been training for almost 20 years.  He went years with minimal increases in total.  By minimal, like a couple pounds each year.  He just competed and added about 100lbs to his total.

 

I am not there to see him train, but his absolute loads are enormous.  He is staying healthy enough to continue to break world record totals.  I understand it is multiply and not drug tested.  That does not make me want to disregard that information.

 

I am not sure there are examples of that with higher frequency, higher volume programs.  The Russians have over 10 years of lifting experience before they get into a program of those higher volumes.  They have a much larger base than the Americans doing them.

 

Perhaps those Americans with a long bodybuilding background are more prepared for that style of training. This is not the majority of the lifters performing these programs.  They have a limited athletic background and just jump right into it.  Sheiko recommended 3 days per week for beginners, and some of these beginners are training 5 days per week.

 

This makes me reluctant to add in barbell lift volume/workload. If they want to do more, hit more bodybuilding as long as you can recover from it.  I do not think this will make their totals greater, but it increases their tolerance for workload.  This may lead to a longer career.  It may not either.  Perhaps all we need is a stable training program that looks at technique first, before increasing workload.

 

This makes recovery easier for the lifter and increases in workload more gradual.  Remember, Sheiko did not increase my number of lifts over 3 years.  My workload just increased gradually as I got stronger.  If I did not get stronger, it stayed the same.

 

Exercises were selected to work on technical inefficiencies.  We keep a lot of what we did back then, or better have slowly returned.  We do this in combination with max effort singles.  We focus on mental, technical, and physical pieces of training.

Where I Went Wrong with Self-Organization

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

I have discussed self-organization a lot with the dynamical systems theory of skill acquisition.  I firmly believe that the coach should be a guide in the background, allowing the athlete to explore what works best for them.

 

I still believe this.  This was not where I went wrong.  The problem is, this is very difficult to administer.  I put rules in place for lifters to self-organize into high, medium, and low stress days.  I also moved them around quite a bit to explore various angles and positions within the lifts.

 

I wrote the programs as if we lived in the perfect world.  The perfect world is one in which we can train hard every single time we enter the gym.  There is a lot of uncertainty with fatigue and how it relates to performance.  This doesn’t mean that it does not exist, but it is so multifactorial, that measuring it is nearly impossible.

 

Everyone comes with different backgrounds.  Some people have more stressful jobs, tolerate training stress better or worse, sleep habits, nutritional habits, training age, and so on.  My plan was to write out the perfect world scenario and the lifters adjust as needed.

 

The problem is, they did not do that.  Instead they would continue to push into frustration and in some cases pain.  This did not happen right away but took some time to get to that point.  It took about 6 months for the first person to start feeling the wheels coming off.

 

I am fortunate enough that I have a really good relationship with my lifters, and we were able to adjust together and get the bus back on the right road.  This then happened pretty frequently.  I was constantly adjusting on the fly.  To put it differently I was being reactive instead of proactive.

 

Now, to back up for a second, I have a great benefit of working with mostly beginners to intermediates.  This means that I can try anything, and it will most likely work.  I just need to be observant and make some guesses about how things will work out in the long term.

 

Raw lifting, 3-4 days per week, does not come with much risk.  There is some potential burnout and maybe some nagging pain stuff.  The risk for something serious is very small, unless you are doing something stupid like randomly spiking weights or overall workloads.

 

For a while, I was very surprised.  It seemed people could just slam on the gas and keep going.  This rattled everything that I had come to know.  Now, some people will say “There is a reason the older ones did it like that.”  I get it, but there is so much inconsistency in the literature and amongst coaches that I needed to see for myself.

 

I have over 30 years of competitive sports in my background.  I did not start lifting weights as a teenager, do well in the junior division of the USAPL, and start speaking training gospel.  I have more competitive sports experience than they have years on this planet.  I know what it is like to train hard almost every single day.

 

In my head, we are just lifting weights.  This seems like a very easy sport.  The thing that I did not take into consideration was the change in training we did in other sports.  We didn’t just play a game every single day.  We did drills, some of which were more taxing than others.  We did conditioning on some days, but not all.  There was a lot of variability in the practice environment and the energy systems that were stressed.

 

I lost sight of this with the weights.  We basically did the same thing every time in the gym.  We changed exercises frequently, but at the end of the day it was pretty much the same thing over and over.  We were getting stronger, but we were also getting slower and nagging pains were piling up.

 

This wasn’t the plan as I pictured the lifters following the rules and taking easier days throughout training.  They did not have the training skill to navigate this effectively, and they have enough drive to just keep pushing.  This is a dangerous combination.

 

I have decided to pull back a bit and put a lot more structure into the programs.  I have been fortunate enough to have learned from some of the best to ever do this sport.  Time to take what I learned from them and what I learned from experimenting and put it all together.

 

This is where the “Constraints-Led Conjugate” came from.  I love the constraints-led approach.  Teaching the lifter by placing them in various positions, just makes a lot of sense to me.  Experience is a great learning tool.  This allows the lifter to develop a higher level of skill under the bar.

 

The positions need to punish inefficiencies and only leave room for more efficient options.  What I learned over time is that it is not just the position, but the combination of the position and the weight.  All my lifters are getting away with any technique, in any position, with the empty bar.  You get heavier weights on there, different story.  This is why I like singles.  Plus heavy singles come with a psychological piece that mimics competition.

 

When I worked with Sheiko he organized training in a way we could squat or pull every training day.  This was done by managing training load.  This could be by manipulating overall volumes, intensities, and ROM.  This gets more difficult with higher intensities.

 

Westside only has one lower max effort day.  I do not feel like they deadlift enough.  This may be the bias that came from working with Sheiko for so long.  However, I can use what I learned from him to apply similar concepts.  We have an upper body only day after the day 1 max effort squats.  This leaves 72 hours before we pull.

 

I learned that we can get away with pushing very hard for a period of time.  This lasted for months before it became an issue.  My initial thoughts were to rotate max effort deadlifts every other week.  Week 1 can be max effort, week 2 can be repetition/dynamic work.

 

On day 4 we tend to do rep/dynamic squat work and sometimes some lighter deadlifts.  On that week 2, the lighter deadlifts move up to day 3, and we just squat day 4.  Sheiko would do this a lot with me when I was coached by him.

 

My day 4 would just be some light deadlifts every other week.  Doing it like this gives an intensity deload at the end of the week as well as making day 4 easier.  We are cutting the volume in about half on that day 4.  This should allow for recovery for day 1 squats again.

 

I was sent an article from the Westside Barbell site, written by Burley Hawk.  He seems to only do max effort deadlifts or goodmornings, but I liked his idea for rotations.  He does a typical max effort lift week 1.  Week 2 he does between 80-85% of 1RM for 3-5 reps.

 

This is very similar to how I am rotating the deadlifts, except my week 2 is a bit lighter due to the max effort squats.  However, I like this rotation for the squats at times.  The issue with percentages is that they can be off at times.  Well, they will be pretty accurate if we use a number from a week ago.

 

I can alternate max effort squats and deadlifts.  On week 1 we can max the squat and rep the pull.  Week 2 we can alternate it.  This is another viable option to allow for recovery.  On max effort days, we tend to do some light technique work after.  On the days we do rep work in place of max effort, we will not do those backdowns.  This cuts workload.

 

The backdowns build tolerance to greater workloads.  This gives me options to be able to pull back while still getting some quality training in.  The other options I have is manipulating the exercises themselves.

 

Some exercises have greater absolute loads than others.  I can use a high bar wide stance pin squat for max effort squats and then overload the deadlifts.  I can rotate which lower body exercise gets the higher absolute loads.  Load management does matter.

 

The rep work and dynamic days can rotate as I see fit.  I got an infinite amount of options here for things to do.  I like the options to keep progress driving forward, but also for the flexibility needed to deal with lifters that have jobs and outside stress.  It can flow with their lives.

 

Some will/have made comments about our training in the past.  That what I was doing was stupid, or what not.  I do not regret anything that I have tried.  Trying those things and being open minded has gotten me to this point.  I am not copying anyone else, but instead learning for myself and doing my own thing.

 

I will do a podcast to lay this out as well.

The Birth of Constraints-Led Conjugate

 

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

 

I have been doing quite a bit of reflecting lately.  It is pretty crazy to think of where PPS started, and where we are now.  Not even just the growth of the totals of the lifters, but in the culture that we have cultivated.

 

The training environment is intense and tough, but we also have a lot of laughs and eat a lot of snacks.  It is something that I decided to take advantage of leading into our fall meets, including raw nationals.

 

I am going to try to make this as quick as possible, but everyone reading this knows that I like to use lots of words.  We have gone through some changes at PPS over the years.  I was/still am a newer coach finding my way.  This is true of most of the lifters that I have coached.  Almost all of them have started with PPS with very minimal training and competition experience.

 

I was coached by Sheiko and knew that I had very limited knowledge as a coach.  I had structured everything in training as I had learned from him through being his lifter, two seminars, and many email conversations. This could not have been a better start to learning.

 

I learned pretty quickly that I am not Boris Sheiko, and my lifters are not his lifters.  Lifters would be nervous for anything over 90% of 1RM and technique would breakdown at these weights.  High squats were an issue for some because of the nerves with the heavier weights.

 

The training sessions would also take over 3 hours in some situations.  Some days would have 3 lifts, with a substantial amount of volume.  We have limited racks and a growing group.  Time is becoming an issue.

 

This made it a no brainer to start dropping some volume and raising some intensity.  I did this but kept it within the structure of the Sheiko program.  As we raised intensity we got better.  I would raise it more, and we would get even better.

 

I decided to keep things simple and create a more linear approach.  We kept a Sheiko structure with frequency and used some of his special exercises, but just lifted them heavier.  Working up to an RPE 9, starting at 5 reps and eventually working up to singles.

 

Again, we got even stronger and started to see our ability to compete grow.  I had a conversation with Dr. Loenneke, that ended up becoming a major influence on my thinking.  He had said to me that in the ideal situation, you would go into the gym and just max out a single and leave.  That is as specific as it gets to building 1RM strength.

 

Now, throwing this into the real world is difficult because of multiple lifts in the sport, and all of my lifters have jobs and lives outside of the gym.  People tend to forget that a lot of the top-level lifters do not have jobs, or they just work in the gym.

 

This is not a knock against them.  Some made sacrifices like that to get to the top, and that is what needs to be done.  My lifters sacrifice a bit differently.  They sacrifice a bigger total to kick ass outside of the gym.  These are all choices and there are no right or wrong answers here.

 

The linear approach was leading to great success with less time in the gym, but we were seeing greater flare ups of nagging issues.  This included elbow and forearm pain, low back stiffness, and knee and hip pain.

 

These were not major issues but required us to adjust quite a bit.  Seemed we were able to push like that for about 6 months before this stuff started to pop up a bit more.  We were also getting slow and the technique was not as good as it could be.

 

This came mainly to people shortchanging pauses and the like to get more weight.  This is a fine line we walk here, and we were blending two separate components into one exercise.  I wanted strain, but I wanted the pause to help technique.  It just did not work as well as it could.

 

We had gotten too far away from what we were doing in the beginning.  I was also questioning everything we knew about fatigue.  There is some uncertainty with fatigue.  It gets easy to get caught up in that uncertainty when you see lifters train hard 4 days per week and rip off months of continued progress.

 

It seems that the acute factors for fatigue recover within a couple of hours.  The only exception to this seems to be DOMS, which may take a couple of days.  However, there are chronic factors to fatigue that need to be considered.  After about 6 months, we started to see some issues pop up.

 

Sheiko always had lighter days programmed in.  This was usually every week or every other week.  My day 4 would be a very light deadlift variation only.  This was low volume and low intensity.  Often around 70% of 1RM.

 

Sheiko was a master at manipulating training stress to keep training moving forward.  This is a skill that he developed over decades of coaching high level lifters.  I would imagine that the high level lifters would run into issues sooner than the 6 months that we saw.

 

As a coach I needed to have a view of a further future.  Those light days allow for more higher stress training days throughout the year, since the lifter will not need to make as many adjustments and take as many steps back.

 

I know a lot of the literature and texts discuss the importance of deloads.  I needed to see how this stuff actually plays out in the real world, with my lifters, to make the best decisions about training moving forward.  Every 3rd or 4th week giving a lighter week, is not necessarily productive either.  Classic deloads come with their issues as well in terms of load management.

 

I remember Sheiko also saying that the easiest way to program is to have one higher day and one lower day per week for each exercise (bench would actually be a bit more here).  This is very similar to what Westside does with a max effort day and a dynamic effort day.

 

The max effort day is very heavy, and the dynamic day is very light.  They seem to not use many moderate weights in their training at all.  The lighter weights help the lifter increase rate of force development, how quickly the lifter can apply force.

 

This will not directly increase 1RM, but in combination with maximal effort work, will help increase 1RM.  The lighter loads also allow the lifter to work on technique, conditioning, and also allows them to recover from the heavier loads.

 

The problem with Westside is that they do not deadlift enough.  Multiply totals seem to be built off of big squats and big benches.  Raw totals tend to be built off of big squats and big pulls.  This poses a problem with the standard split with Westside.

 

Those lifters at Westside are highly skilled and the absolute loads are huge.  Raw lifters may be able to get away with a squat and a deadlift max effort day each week, due to the smaller loads utilized.

 

This also can be addressed by the exercises chosen for max effort.  Lifters will lift less with certain variations and more with others.  I can manipulate the exercises to control absolute loads and potentially keep the lifter fresher.  Max effort day is about the strain, not the weight.

 

We want technique to be the best that it can be under heavier weights as well.  We can manipulate positions to punish inefficient techniques.  This is the constraints-led approach.  If a lifter is pitching forward in the squat, giving them a high bar wide stance squat will punish that inefficiency.

 

It will also limit absolute loads.  If there is a 10-15% drop in maximal loads here, the lifter can push a deadlift max effort exercise that is a bit heavier.  This may be a pull off of mats.  If the lifter really struggles with this variation, I can instead place it on the speed squat day.

 

Here we can get lots of practice with lighter weights.  In some cases I may start a high bar wide stance squat on dynamic days and after 3 weeks, rotate it up to a max effort lift.  This requires some planning and knowledge for the coach.  Not only of the general principles, but also understanding each individual lifter.

 

A lifter that is more built to pull will most likely be able to handle higher deadlift stress than someone with t-rex arms and long legs.  Manipulating variations to control loads and also manipulating ROM becomes very important.

 

It is also important that the lifters understand the dynamic days need to be light.  They often complain about how light the work is. They also seem to all really enjoy it.  It gets tough with the time constraints and being technical under fatigued conditions is a skill and this is a constraint as well.

 

We had our first fall meet this past weekend, and it was incredible to watch.  Everyone hit PRs, but there were other things that stood out to me.  Our lifters were showing an ability to strain that more experienced lifters could not match.

 

Even our misses there was strain, and fight, with zero quit.  The head judge had to say “take it” to end the lift.  You do not see this often in beginners.  This was awesome to watch.  The misses fired me up as much as the makes.

 

We went 10/11 on 3rd pulls, with many hitting all-time PRs.  The one miss was a 10 second grind that was lost right at lockout.  Our conditioning was more than ok here.  One of the all-time PRs was a 150kg deadlift by Kelly.

 

This was the first time Kelly cut weight down to the 57kg class, and she hit an all-time deadlift PR, total PR, and qualified for nationals.  It is cool to see her qualify so quickly because she started with PPS from the empty bar.  Her max was under 135lbs at that time.

 

She has obtained this success going through every phase of PPS from the start of her lifting life.  This made me realize that we were straying too far from what we did in the past, and the benefits of the training we did under Sheiko.

 

The one constant has been the culture.  We train hard and we support each other, but we also push each other.  This was seen at the meet as well.  Each lifter was feeding off the previous ones.  One badass lift right after the other.  This time with Kelly setting the pace in the first session.  The women that followed crushed some pulls including some all-time PRs.  That carried that momentum into the men.  From there it was badass lift after badass lift just like the women in the morning.

 

One of the most fun meets I have experienced as a coach.  Just seeing our culture, our grit, and our fight in a competition scenario like that was just amazing.  Made me realize that we are on the right track.  Next up raw nationals.  Already some big PRs this week and it is only Tuesday for this group.

Why Training Harder is and is not the Answer

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.