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How to Manage Max Effort Work with Fatigue and Technique Work

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

A lot of people will shit on max effort work in the powerlifting world.  They will say that it is too hard to recover from, dangerous in terms of injuries, and that technique will suffer.  These situations, although I disagree, I do find that there is some merit to them.

 

However, with that said, heavy singles are the sport.  At some point you need to actually train the sport.  This is not just from a physical perspective, but also mental.  Lifters need to train with consequences so that they can learn to deal with adversity.

 

That is what training is for in any sport.  You practice being prepared for game day.  All too often you will see a lifter face adversity on the platform and crumble.  The reason many times is that they did not train with consequences and learn how to deal with adversity in training.  The first time that they are encountering adversity is on the platform.  This is not being prepared for game day.

 

I had a discussion with a friend the other day about missing reps in training.  I know there are many great coaches and lifters that say you should never miss reps in training.  I definitely see and understand their point, but I disagree.

 

Many of the lifters that I have coached that did not miss reps in training, did not know how to handle a missed rep on the platform.  They would get emotional and hang their head.  This fear of missing would always lead them to want to be ultra conservative in attempt selection as well.

 

This 9 for 9 mentality is for beginners.  If you are pushing your limits, you will miss.  This goes for training and the platform.  Now, I am not saying to miss all of the time.  There is definitely a point where missing too often can derail momentum and hurt certain lifters emotionally.  You should miss occasionally as this shows you are pushing yourself.  Learn from the miss and get better.  If you miss too often you are just making too many bad decisions.

 

I tell my lifters to leave 5-10lbs on the bar each week.  This way week 2 and week 3 we can go get that extra weight.  If the lifter truly hits a max, then we use rep work around 80% of 1RM here.  We run 3 week waves with the same exercise.  On week 3 I tell them that if everything feels good, to send it.  This gives them an opportunity 1 time per month to really challenge themselves and see what they are capable of.

 

These scenarios are extremely important to lifter success.  This does not mean that we just go ham all of the time.  In actuality, over 90% of our work in the gym is technique work.  Technique is still the most important aspect of training to me, but straining is also important.  Sometimes there needs to be adjustments made to the program to allow each lifter to work on their biggest weaknesses.

 

If a lifter has a technical issue in the squat, I will often place deadlifts on day 1 in place of the max effort squat.  We will get the strain by pulling heavy here.  This is similar to what Westside does by rotating squats and deadlifts as lower body exercises.  From there we can really just focus on the technique of the squat.  In this case, the lifter will get 2 less max effort exposures in a month.

 

However, we will push the intensity of the squat work up a bit.  If we hit a max effort squat day 1, I look for an RPE of 6 to 7 on the next squat day to help improve some technique, rate of force development, and allow the lifter to recover.  If we are decreasing max effort exposures, I like to work this RPE up to an 8 to 9.

 

If technique is our goal that means we cannot just overload the comp lift.  We need to find a variation that targets the motor control we are looking for, at a load they can control and improve at, and at a rep scheme that raises the relative intensity.

 

I have one lifter that loses the control in her hips at the bottom of the squat.  This meant doing 65% of 1RM, box squats, for a 5×5.  Her last set RPE was recorded at an 8.5 here.  This gives me a good baseline to start. Once improvements are made, we challenge it with heavier loads.  We can repeat this each week and just try to make it better.  When the intensity falls below an RPE 8 and it looks good, add weight.  No need to rush this.

 

If we added weight too soon, the lifter would not be able to control the positions and it is very likely that the exercise would not have the intended outcome.  If the exercise was performed with too little weight, it would not transfer over well to the heavier weights.

 

We can also use fatigue here to increase relative intensity of lighter loads.  If I take that same 5×5 at 65% and put it on a day after heavy pulls I can make that same weight more difficult.  Fatigue challenges the lifter’s ability to maintain technique.  We can also just bench before squats to induce some fatigue too.  Sometimes it is better to challenge the lifter’s ability at the same load for a while until it improves instead of just adding more weight because we think we should.

 

We cannot lose sight in all of this of maintaining other skills required in the sport.  Max effort lifts are still important.  They just may have less emphasis at given times while the athlete works on another weakness.  Maybe in some cases we only do a max effort lift every other week to give us more time to work on other weaknesses.

 

As usual it always depends on the lifter and the weaknesses analyzed by the coach.

The PPS Way

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

I do not think many people understand what it is like to be a member of PPS.  This group is not for everyone, and I am sure as shit not for everyone.  We have had many people come and go over the years that could not handle the dynamic of the group, or myself as a coach.

 

PPS is much more than just following a training program, or a certain system.  I have the same expectations of every member of this group.  It doesn’t matter who you are, or what your total is.  You will be held accountable, and there are certain things that will not be allowed or tolerated.

 

I am by no means a “famous” powerlifting coach.  I do not have lifters with huge totals knocking down my door asking me to train them.  I am not that coach, like others out there, that will beg a good lifter to let me coach them.  If you want to be here, great here are the rules.  If you don’t, get the fuck out of here and we will see you on the platform.  I have always had this, you are with us, or against us attitude in sports.

 

I have gotten a lot of lifters that began their powerlifting journey with PPS, and many others that may have had a meet or 2 under their belts.  We have built a team with a large showing at nationals every year with a large number competing and we have had a top 5 finish, 2 top 10 finishes, and many finishing in the top 25.  We are represented at the Arnold every single year.  This year Kerry won the squat challenge and Jess Ward competed in the SBD Pro-American.

 

This does not come from our programs being the best out there, or from “cutting edge” science.  We have changed how we train many times along the way.  However, how we approach training has been a staple from PPS from the beginning.

 

We have always focused on the fundamentals.  For powerlifting this is technique.  Sheiko was big on technique being the most important aspect of training, and that was instilled in me right from the start.  Technique has, and always will be, a major focus point of our training.  In any sport if you do the fundamentals and the basics well you will do pretty good.

 

I also hold all of my lifters accountable.  If they do not fill out their sheets, they do not get a program.  They are not allowed to post negative posts on IG.  We don’t miss training days.  Consistency and effort yields results, I don’t care what you do.  Also, if you want to be competitive you need the discipline to show up and put in work every single day.  There is always something that we can do to get better.  If you want to complain about progress when you are not holding up your end of the bargain, get the fuck out of here.  You are not PPS and there is no room for that on this team.

 

You move at the speed of your slowest training partner.  This isn’t about weight on the bar, but attitude and effort.  We are all humans made of the same shit.  What separates the elite from the rest of the pack is their discipline, attitude, and effort.  Every member of PPS displays this attitude.

 

Too often lifters surround themselves with training partners that sit around and kiss their ass for high squats and shitty looking lifts.  I don’t care if you are a world champion, you should want training partners that push you to get better.  Compliments don’t make you better, they make you complacent.

 

Ask anyone from PPS how often I give them a compliment.  I am not a cheerleader; I am going to tell you what you need to do to get better.  I will yell those words too.  There have been very many tears shed in training from my yelling, and there will be more.

 

I yell because I care, and I believe in every one of my lifters.  Again, my job is not to make them feel good about themselves, but to get the most out of them.  My job is to believe in them when they do not believe in themselves and to give them the opportunity to show what they are really capable of.  Sometimes yelling really gets that point across to them.

 

If you can’t handle someone yelling at you in a competitive environment, PPS is not for you.  Many have started out that way but have become much tougher over time.  The intensity and the attitude brings about a psychological arousal that will make you battle tested by the time you get to a competition.  I am not just yelling to yell.  It also brings up the intensity of a training session a lot more than someone just kissing your ass.

 

That heavy singles in training match my intensity in the gym.  The singles would not be as effective if our training environment was more relaxed.  Lifters just would not push themselves the same way.

 

If you are part of PPS you will be challenged physically, mentally, and emotionally.  You will be held accountable to have the discipline to show up and put in effort with the right attitude.  To fill out your sheet and make good decisions, and when you make decisions to own the consequences of those decisions, good and bad.

 

There is a reason that PPS is still making great progress in these trying times with limited accessibility.  It is because we are battle tested from training through adversity constantly in the gym and we have been armed with the tools to be mentally and physically tough.  We know that effort and consistency yields results, and it does not matter what we have access to because we will do what it takes to improve upon something.  That is the PPS way.

Accessory Work

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

One of the PPS lifters asked a fantastic question last night and I think this is a good topic to discuss today.  He asked about adding in more accessory work.  This being bodybuilding type exercises at the end of a training session.

 

First, we take a lot of singles.  However, we are not Westside and we differ from them very much.  Our day 1 will be max effort squats, followed by some light backdowns, and ending with some goodmornings.

 

Day 2 will be max effort bench, followed by some lighter backdowns, and finishing with some ohp, floor press, or occasionally JM press and barbell rows.  Day 3 will be rep bench work between 70% and 85% of 1RM, followed by max effort pulls.  These max effort lifts are rotated weekly with rep work.  We do some lighter backdowns and some straight knee variation along with reverse hypers.

 

Day 4 is rep squat work followed by rep deadlift work.  These percentages are relatively low, but still a bit higher than what you would see by Westside.  Westside uses a lot of accessories and the dogma that being a shitty bodybuilder will make you a better powerlifter still exists.

 

We need to look at the hierarchy of specificity.  Comp singles at or near maximal are the most specific.  This is followed by max or near max singles of the comp lift variations.  Following this may be higher rep sets (where this line is drawn who fucking knows.  Is a set of 30 deadlifts more specific than a max set of 5 barbell rows?).  I would say heavy goodmornings, floor press, and maybe even ohp are more specific than light and higher rep comp lift work.

 

All of the way at the end of this spectrum is bodybuilding work.  Bodybuilding is better than nothing, but so far removed from the specificity of powerlifting.  Now, if there are injured areas that need to be addressed, these exercises should be added in here.  That is how we take a generality and then target it for an individual.

 

Bodybuilding can also fill in the gaps in training.  Sometimes I want my lifters to do absolutely nothing and recover.  Other times I want them to move around.  I will sometimes make a day 4 “Bro shit” instead of the compound lifts.  This is one way we take a break and recover.

 

Training is about doing the most in the gym and being able to recover.  I agree with that statement, but we want to do the most of the things that will carry over to the largest totals.  The lifters at Westside lift far greater weights than we do.

 

This changes their recovery curve quite a bit.  They do not do backdown sets and their dynamic effort days are far lighter than ours.  We also max out deadlifts every other week.  They do not do this part.  They alternate squats and deadlifts for max effort work in the same spot.

They have more spots to add in the bodybuilding stuff than we do.  Again, this is better than nothing, but falls pretty far down on the spectrum of specificity.  However, that is what is best for the program that they run at Westside.  It makes a ton of sense for them to be doing that stuff.  It does not for us.

 

Coaches and lifters need to be careful of picking pieces from different programs and trying to put them together.  This is why understanding the general principles of training is so important.  This allows you to look at what other successful coaches are doing and decide which pieces will work for you and how you can manipulate them to meet your lifter’s individual needs within the structure of your own program design.

 

If you want to run Westside, run Westside.  If you want to run a Sheiko template, run a Sheiko template.  Do not try to turn that template into a hybrid Sheiko Westside program.  It will not work.

 

I am going to begin to make these blogs much shorter as I will be discussing all of these topics in greater detail on my Patreon page. If interested visit http://www.patreon.com/precisionpowerlifting.

Prilepin’s Chart and Powerlifting

 

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

I am beginning a Strength School with PPS.  This is an educational/classroom type thing where we will cover all of the basics in strength training and the theory of PPS.  Some do not have access to equipment right now and some have access to very limited pieces of equipment.

 

It is important that everyone understands the basics of strength training with these limitations.  This is how we make good training decisions and get stronger in a minimal environment.  Knowledge is power.

 

One of the basic pieces we will be covering will be the assignment of volumes and intensities within a given program.  Prilepin’s chart is probably the most discussed tool for determining volumes and intensities out there.

 

As with anything, there are some good features of this chart and also some not so good features of this chart.  A.S. Prilepin was a Soviet weightlifting coach.  He analyzed the training logs of high level Russian weightlifters.

 

Upon his analysis he concluded that the rep ranges and number of lifts suggested were optimal for getting better results on the platform.  Anything more and the speed of the lifts would decrease, and recovery would become more difficult.  Anything less, and the lifter was not getting enough of a stimulus to get stronger.

 

The Russians had tremendous success in the sport of weightlifting.  However, this does not mean that this chart can directly be utilized for powerlifters of all skill levels.  We need to keep in mind who was analyzed in this chart.

 

Elite level Russian weightlifters.  These weightlifters started at 8 years old in many cases and have had over a decade of time under the barbell when they were being analyzed.  This is not the case for the majority of powerlifters.  The longest one of my lifters has been lifting is 5 years.

 

The lifts themselves are very different.  The Olympic lifts require more speed and more technical proficiency than the powerlifts.  This does not mean that technique and speed are not important for the powerlifts, but they are called the “slow lifts” for a reason.

 

The ranges of the chart are quite broad as well.  There is a big difference between 70% of 1RM and 80% of 1RM.  This chart is just a guideline for the coach to follow.  It is not a written in stone dogma that needs to be followed exactly how it is written.  There are some good things to take from it.

 

I actually like the recommendations of the reps per set in Prilepin’s chart, even for powerlifting.  I believe that these numbers work best for practicing technical perfection.  At the end of the day it may be the total number of reps completed in a training session that matters.

 

For example, 10 sets of 3 at 65% of 1RM may be more beneficial than 3 sets of 10 at 65% of 1RM.  Yes, the intensity of the second example will be more per set, but when we increase the intensity, we often decrease the quality.  Both have a place, but the coach needs to understand what they want out of the training day.

 

I will use 10 sets of 3 at 65% sometimes, but I will also use 5 sets of 5 at 65% and even 5 sets of 6 at 65%.  They all have their place.  Develop the technical consistency with the 10×3 and challenge it with 5×5 and 5×6.

 

I am not a huge fan of doing higher rep sets than this as I believe there is diminishing returns with the quality of reps and the physiological demands of the higher rep sets.  That is muscular endurance, not muscular strength.  The further we get from 1RM, the less specific.

 

When you look at the chart for powerlifting, I feel we can do higher volumes of the more submaximal weights, but lower volumes of the 90+% weights.  I sure as shit could not do 10 singles at greater than 90% of 1RM.  I have programmed as much as 40 reps at 70% of 1RM successfully as well.

 

The fatigue accumulated from the submaximal weights will not breakdown the quality of repetitions in powerlifting quite as easily as it will with weightlifting.  Powerlifters will lift heavier absolute loads, making the volumes in the higher intensity zones more difficult to accomplish.

 

Then we need to take into consideration the variation we use in training.  PPS utilizes a lot of variation.  Many we know our 1RMs in because we use them in max effort lifts.  We do not perform max effort pause squats for example.

 

Too many lifters will cut the pause short to lift more weight.  I bet the Russian lifters would not do that!  I found it was best to use pauses as a variation to build technique, but not necessarily absolute strength.

 

For pauses we will use our best squat for the percentage work.  So how does this apply to the chart?  A 70% squat with a 2 second pause is much more difficult than a 70% competition squat.  However, the chart has a range between 70% and 80%.  In this case the numbers of the chart may actually be ok.

 

However, I would not be doing a 6×4 2 sec pause squat at 80% of 1RM unless the lifter has made some outstanding progress and their 1RM has gone up without us testing it.  I do not even prescribe that much volume at 80% with a competition squat.  Maybe a 4×4, but usually I will stick with 2-3 reps at that percentage.

 

In these cases the coach needs to be aware of the increase in intensity in which the variation creates and adjust accordingly.  If I am going to pause at 80% of 1RM, I am probably doing 1-2 reps per set and 3 to 5 sets as this would be a very hard training day.

 

I think too often coaches and lifters are worried about writing the perfect program.  The perfect program does not exist.  The coach just needs to start somewhere and pay attention.  Prilepin’s chart is a fine starting point for any powerlifter.

 

From there pay attention to how training is progressing.  Adjustments will always need to be made.  How does their technique look?  How is their recovery?  What is the intensity of these rep ranges at these percentages for this lifter?  If I increase the percentages, now what does their technique and recovery look like?  This goes on forever.

 

Over time from paying attention, you begin to develop your own charts for what works with each lifter.  I think generally speaking the volumes and intensities apply to almost everyone with the way that we do things.  The difference more comes about with a specific variation and longer term recovery strategies.

 

Some lifters will struggle more with a particular variation than others.  Some lifters need more breaks from the higher intensity efforts than others.  But in terms of the number of reps per set and how many sets to perform, they remain very constant from lifter to lifter.

 

There are generalities that apply to everyone.  Prilepin’s chart is based off of these generalities for the weightlifters that were analyzed.  From these generalities is where coaching needs to happen to make the necessary adjustments to get the desired training effects for each individual.

What Have We Learned?

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

I have a bit more time on my hands these days, so I figured I would write a bit more.  This is a nice distraction from the shit show that is the real world right now.  Instead of getting involved in it, except for the occasional sharing of an article with a different perspective than what the masses are sharing on my feed at a given time, I have decided to kind of just sit back and watch it unfold and try to understand the bigger picture.

 

I am not trying to come up with solutions to the pandemic.  I do have my own opinions, but that is not what this article is going to be about.  Instead I want to discuss human thinking.  This applies to coaching and lifting as well.

 

As humans we love to look backwards while we are moving forward.  We get some unexpected result.  We look back and analyze the data and find the solution to our problem.  What we tend to be unaware of is our ability to make sense of things that we do not fully understand.  This is known as hindsight bias.

 

This is when people believe that events that have occurred were more predictable than they really were before the events took place.  Let us look at a powerlifting example here.  We go to a meet and we failed to hit a PR.  We look back through our training and we make some narratives for ourselves.

 

Perhaps we say that the intensity was not high enough, or our volume was too low in the weeks leading up to the competition.  From there we change those few things and apply them to the next training block.  At that competition we hit those PRs and had an outstanding performance.  We then pat ourselves on the back for a job well done.

 

This situation can increase our overconfidence in predicting future outcomes.  You see, this whole scenario, the coach or the lifter was looking backwards while believing they were looking forwards.

 

We are seeing this with the current events unfolding as well.  The coronavirus outbreak started around December.  Now in mid-April we have everyone looking back pinpointing points in time that got us to this current situation.  This includes everyone looking back and second guessing the decisions of policy makers.

 

The reality of this situation is that decisions needed to be made very quickly with very poor data.  These decisions need to be made in a situation that drives up an emotional response.  This emotional response is not the greatest to human thinking.

 

The same can be said about looking at the data in our programs after a bad meet.  This too comes with an emotional response.  No matter what we would have done in either of those cases there is still a chance we would be right where we are now.  Again, looking back and creating a narrative in hindsight with the information we have after the fact gives us an overconfidence in our abilities to predict future outcomes.

 

Emotional thinking is quick thinking.  This is where heuristics and bias come into play.  Thinking requires a lot of energy and effort.  It is slow and progressive, and the thinker needs to be self-aware.  This way of thinking has fewer errors than when we think fast.  However, sometimes life requires us to think fast.  Both ways are necessary.  In fact, thinking fast is what keeps us alive.

 

Thinking is more about understanding what we don’t know than what we actually know.  Ideally, we want to setup experiments that become repeatable and predictable.  This is more easily said than done in the real world because the number of variables that are present are infinite and our understanding of the complexity of biology is poor.

 

We need to learn from the past as well.  The current pandemic will come and go, but what will we have learned?  One side will say social distancing worked and another will say it is an overreaction.  Math and science will back up both sides of the argument.  We sees these scenarios in the lifting world all of the time.  Science can backup anything.

 

I am not saying science should be ignored.  We need to do our best to understand what that science is telling us, but then find a way to practically apply it in the real world.  Knowing the limitations of science here is huge.

 

So what do we do when the situation arises again?  We use our hindsight bias and make a decision.  Maybe it works better this time and maybe it doesn’t.  This is the same scenario as looking back at our training in hopes of making better decisions.  Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t.

 

Now, this does not mean we just throw experiences out the window and leave everything to chance.  That is a terrible idea and will most likely lead to a world with no progress.  For a future pandemic it is probably most important that we have high levels of testing capabilities to then make the decision that seems most appropriate at that time.  This is one small change that can cause a giant ripple effect in our abilities to handle a crisis like this.

 

The same needs to be done with our training.  We need to analyze everything.  Perhaps the lifter’s diet and sleep were off, or there was increased stress at certain times throughout training.  Perhaps the lifter was experiencing pain and limited in training.

 

The coach might just decide to let the lifter heal up or focus on sleep to see how progress changes.  Changing up the one thing that you think will have the biggest impact is the most important.  From there, observe.  Just remember as you are observing to be aware of your blind spots.  Always leave room for uncertainty and keep an accurate journal so that we can avoid some hindsight bias later on.

 

This is the slow, methodical, and progressive way of thinking that leads to better decisions over the longer term.  Coaching is a process.  Coaching is not a 12 week thing that is identified by volumes and intensities.

 

Powerlifting is a sport that can get the athlete very emotional.  This can lead to quick thinking and many decisions being driven by bias.  This can also lead to drastic changes in training that start the whole process all over again.

 

This can lead to sustained frustration and eventually quitting the sport.  Do not drastically change things.  Understand it is a process and change one thing at a time.  Understand that this is all a learning process and be aware of your bias and blind spots.

 

This includes taking in all other perspectives.  Oftentimes pieces of every perspective are important to making the best decisions.  Also, do not try to be perfect.  A more optimal program gets laid out over time as we learn more and more about ourselves.

 

Keep this in mind at this current time as well.  There are many blind spots with a novel virus and how it can impact a complex society.  Be wary of looking backwards and finding answers.  Also be wary of looking back at other pandemics and comparing this one to it.  Times are vastly different.

 

Also keep in mind that, at the end of the day we do not really know shit about anything.  What we think we know now will be laughed at in the future.  We know what we know at this time and we need to use that to drive decisions, but we also need to be aware of what we do not know.