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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.

I Did My First Equipped Meet

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

I had kicked around the idea of trying out some equipment back in the late spring, early summer of last year.  I felt like I needed a change in training.  It is hard to coach and also try to get better as an athlete.

 

I am always working.  From the time I wake up to the time that I go to bed I am reviewing lifts, writing programs, coaching in-person, writing articles, interviewing people for the podcast, and any free moment I have I spend it reading and trying to expand my knowledge and coaching abilities even more.

 

I spend 40+ hours at the gym each week coaching.  Learning is not just learning about the technique of the lifts.  I need to learn those aspects, the aspects of skill acquisition, and sports psychology.  This is not just about the psychology of a lifter hitting a heavy single, but the ecological dynamics of the group as a whole.  Culture matters.  It may even matter more than anything else.

 

I am not a good lifter, but me being in those trenches training my ass off with my group is huge for that culture.  To steal a quote from Conor McGregor, “Excellence is not a skill.  Excellence is an attitude.”  That attitude starts with the coach.

 

I felt it was important for my group to see me try something different.  I began to realize that I could not make the necessary adjustments that I would need to make to truly become the best lifter that I can.  However, I can use my training to set the pace in the gym for the group to get stronger and also to use my training to become an even better coach.

 

I knew absolutely nothing about equipped lifting.  I was around a bunch of multiply stuff for a few years, but never experienced it for myself.  I am fortunate enough to have a large network of coaches and lifters to help me out.  I got some loose gear and just did it.

 

I did not have a clue what I was doing and neither did anyone on the team.  I never knew when or if I would have enough help to train.  My knees were never wrapped by the same person twice.  PPS stepped up when they could to help out and would help in any way that they could.  Again, proof that culture matters.

 

I had signed up for a meet in January before I even got my equipment.  After talking to Jeremy Hartman, I decided to compete equipped at this meet.  This left me about 3 months to figure out how to execute in the gear well enough to put up a total in a competition.

 

This was quite the learning process.  I ended up being in the gear almost every training session.  The majority of my sessions were singles as well.  I did the occasional doubles or triples on squats and bench as backdowns.

 

This goes against almost everything you hear or see in equipped lifting.  I can get away with a bit here because I am a beginner and not good enough in the equipment yet to truly overload it.  This allowed me to recover a bit better from each training day.

 

I still ran into some problems.  I had the hardest time hitting depth in the suit.  It gets easy to get caught up in the “I just need more weight” thought process.  I got to a certain point where I realized that more weight was not the solution to this problem.

 

This was no coincidence that my least technical and least strong raw lift had the most issues in the equipment.  I have this bad habit of moving slow in the squat with heavier weights.  Well, in the equipment this will increase the stopping power of the suit and makes hitting depth more difficult.

 

I had to learn to trust the suit and to be a bit more aggressive on the way down.  This is good for me to learn, but tough to change after a few years of moving too slow.  This is especially true with overloaded weights and a suit on.

 

The balance was tough under those conditions to move faster.  All of a sudden, I was less than 3 weeks out and did not have a fucking choice.  I just had to do it, or I would bomb out at the meet.  I was able to hit depth in my next 2 training sessions and head into the meet with some really good momentum on squats.

 

The shirt I took too pretty quickly.  My second session I got a solid touch at a weight about 40lbs over my raw best.  The next few weeks saw me add 20lbs more to this number.  Then I hit a little bit of a wall.

 

This was partly due to doing the same thing every day in the gym.  I definitely needed more variety in training, but I also just needed to keep getting experience.  The numbers were not as important as the exposures in my opinion.

 

Since I had some good success in the shirt and hit a little wall, I decided to pull back from the heavy touches about 3 weeks out.  I would take a lighter weight for a touch and then the heavier weights to a 1 or 2 board.  I figured this was a nice balance between keeping technique sharp as well as practice handling the heavier weights.

 

I ended up missing a warmup at the meet and needing to really focus and grind out 3 benches on the platform.  My opener moved extremely slow, hit 5kg more with a hair more speed but still hard, and finished grinding out 2.5kg over the second.  My 3rd attempt ended up being less than my planned second attempt.

 

In the future I will reshuffle those heavier touches a bit.  Do far less further away and more as the meet draws closer.  My 3rd ended up being 25lbs less than my gym best.  I also have never squatted in gear before benching.  I am sure that plays a little bit of a role as well.

 

Deadlifts have been hit or miss in training.  I think the heavy singles frequently really hit me hardest here.  My deadlift in the gym was anywhere between 575 and 615lbs on any given day.  I made some adjustments to my deadlift training later in the block as well.

 

I took to the deadlift suit pretty quick.  I felt that I didn’t need a ton more work in it for this meet.  I could get to the bar and get in a decent enough position.  I took some conservative singles in the suit and even threw in some raw work here.  8 days before the meet I pulled a hard 595lbs, but it looked solid and felt pretty good.  This was the most weight I hit in a little over a month.

 

At the meet, I smoked my opener of 550lbs.  My second was 590lbs and it was hard, but easier than the 595lbs in training.  Took a conservative jump of 5kg and the bar fell out of my hands.  I have never dropped a deadlift before.

 

I did lose my wedge and got in a crappy position, but nothing I have not fought through before.  My grip may have just been shot from bench and even a little bit from squats.  I have never done all 3 lifts in one day in the equipment.  Never pulled after overloaded bench like that either.  Something to think about moving forward.

 

I ended up going 8/9 for the day.  This exceeded expectations quite a bit.  I learned quite a bit over the last 3 months.  I have a good idea of what I need to do in the gear.  I just need to get better at doing it.

 

I got to get faster on the way down in the squat, be better at getting the bar moving back over the chest plate on my bench, and I need stronger hips for my deadlifts and my squats.  My upper back is also a weakness that needs to be addressed in these next training cycles.

 

I was pleasantly surprised that I had enough stamina to get through my first equipped competition when all I did in training was singles.  I was not too sure how that was going to play out.  Squats and deadlifts felt great.  Bench not so much, but I actually had more volume and frequency with bench in training.  I think this was more due to too much board work closer to the meet.

 

These last few months have given me a new perspective on training and coaching.  I definitely had a lot of fun and will continue to compete equipped.  I got quite a few ideas on training moving forward.  Stay tuned.

Why Singles for a Constraints-Led Approach

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

Seems that there is some hate for singles still floating around the interwebs.  This tends to be the words of inexperience, but still, these inexperienced coaches are getting this information from somewhere.

 

I have seen an increase in singles being utilized in many different training strategies.  Research shows that the closer one is to 1RM, the greater the increase in 1RM.  Many coaches have taken this information and added weekly singles into their DUP programs.

 

This can negate the decreases in strength from running higher rep schemes for a period of time.  This is good coaching, taking the information available to them and applying it to their training models.  I love seeing stuff like this.

 

Most of these singles seem to be performed at an RPE 8.  I am by no means shitting on other programs, but instead giving my opinions on the subject matter.  Hitting a single of something that I can triple may maintain strength, but it certainly will not improve it.

 

I believe there is a fear that heavy singles are tough to recover from.  Perhaps in the beginning if the lifter is not used to higher intensities.  The same can be said about a higher volume program.  All I have done for 3 months is singles, a set of 10 may actually kill me.

 

A heavy single close to max, or at max will be tougher to recover from than one performed at an RPE 8.  There are not many physiological resources that go into singles.  Research can only induce overtraining symptoms if there is an endurance component.  It is nearly impossible to induce overtraining with higher intensity sets.

 

Higher volumes utilize a lot more physiological resources and there is an endurance component to multiple sets of higher reps.  This does not mean that higher intensities do not create fatigue.  They most certainly do.  However, I do believe that it is more psychological than physical.

 

With a higher volume program you may get really sore afterwards.  This is typically not the case for singles.  However, over time it can be tougher to get psychologically aroused for the singles, and research has shown some burnout in studies from constant singles.

 

These studies are not always performed on powerlifters, who may have increased motivational factors that decreases burnout.  However, we should still listen because they are human.  I have literally only performed singles for 3 months leading into my competition and I have never felt better.  The majority of these days were done in equipment with overloaded weights.

 

Now, do keep in mind I am a beginner in the equipment.  I cannot overload the lifts by that much yet.  I would imagine if I just kept doing this, at some point I would not be able to keep it up.

 

Another argument against singles is for the breakdown in technique.  This comes down to how the coach views error in the lifts.  Is error a bad thing or a good thing?  I believe that error teaches the lifter.  The coach needs to know how the lifts will breakdown under heavy weights.

 

Anyone can look good at 70% of 1RM, but we compete at greater than 90% of 1RM.  All errors in the sport of powerlifting are either mental, physical, or technical.  Heavy singles give the coach answers to those questions.  A single at an RPE 8 does not have a psychological piece tied to it.  A single at or near max certainly does.  It adds in the psychological component that will be present at competition.

 

Training is practice for competition.  Competition scenarios need to be included in the training scenarios so that the lifter can be best prepared for actual competition.  Heavy singles are an important element to this.

 

If you are a lifter reading this, you can attest to competition nerves.  Those nerves can negatively effect performance.  Best way to train for that is to get those nerves going in training.  This is what heavy singles do.

 

Louie Simmons uses the terms testers and builders for his exercises.  I like this a lot.  Each individual has their own testers and builders.  The coach can program a tester and get feedback on how the lifter is responding to the current training.

 

The testers also help show the coach what is breaking down and where to attack the training moving forward.  Training involves a coach analyzing a lifter’s strengths and weaknesses and laying out a plan to attack those same weaknesses, whether they are mental, physical, or technical.

 

I am a firm believer that if the coach wants to attack a physical or technical weakness within the lift, it is more than just attacking a single muscle group.  I just do not think it comes down to “X” happens in the squat, so ‘Y” must be weak, and the lifter attacks it with bodybuilding.

 

This is where an understanding of biomechanics becomes important.  The coach needs to find a way to alter the task in a manner that will target that weaker muscle group more.  A common example is a weak low back compared to the leg strength.

 

If I identify this weakness in a lifter, I will use a close stance box squat.  The lifter needs to push their hips back onto the box, and the closer stance leads to a greater forward lean of the torso.  This basically looks like a conventional deadlift with the bar on the lifter’s back.

 

In this same wave, I may have them perform conventional deadlifts off 2” mats.  This takes the legs out of the deadlift and forces the lifter to utilize more hips and low back in the lift.  The coach needs to know their lifter and the volumes may need to work up to doing both of these exercises in the same wave.

 

I believe that this works better than just hitting some lower back accessory work.  Now, I do not think it hurts to add in some reverse hypers and back extensions.  This is as long as the lifter can recover from the exercises.  I encourage each lifter to do both of those exercises one time per week.

 

However, we cannot just keep hitting competition squats, add in reverse hypers, and expect the weaknesses to get stronger.  The change in angles in the lifts themselves are required to strengthen these weaknesses. Does the combination of the 2 work better?  Maybe, maybe not.

 

The change in task also needs to take into consideration the technical breakdown seen by the coach.  A common technical breakdown in the squat is when the lifter hits the part where the hips have poor leverage, they will drive the knees forward hard to continue to get the lift.

 

Of course, the lifter should do what they need to do to lift the heaviest weights possible.  I do not necessarily think this is bad, but instead it is telling.  This tells me that the hips need to be strengthened.  In this case, I may use a wide stance squat.

 

Wide stance squats will put more emphasis on the hips.  If we get the lifter wide enough the center of gravity of the athlete-barbell system will actually shift slightly towards the heels.  This shift in COG also makes it more difficult to come forward with the knees at the tough part of the lift.  If the lifter comes forward beyond the center of the foot, they will lose balance.

 

In order for the exercise to punish the technical inefficiency, we need enough weight.  A 600lb squatter will be able to get away with technical inefficiencies at 405lbs.  The closer the lifter gets to their max, the less they will get away with.

 

Even to strengthen a weak muscle group, we want heavy singles.  If we want to increase the 1RM capability of the lower back, what is the best way to do that?  Research states that the best way to increase 1RM strength is to train at or near 1RM.  Heavy singles.

 

These exercises give the coach even more information about the lifter.  When we train heavy singles, we can see where each angle stacks up against their best competition squat.  If that 600lb squatter can only hit 500lbs on a close stance box squat, we have identified a weakness.

 

This becomes the angle that we need to build up.  I use 3 week waves for each variation.  The reason? Because in the past I realized each variation has a 4 to 6 week shelf life.  If we end it a bit earlier, I can bring it back in earlier and still get a training effect.

 

We can keep the close stance box squat, but add chains, then add bands, we can change the bar placement, the bar itself, use pins instead of the box (still make sure the lifter sits back).  The coach can be creative here. After a few waves of altering these angles, bring the first exercise back in and see how we did.  Often there will be a PR here.  If we get a PR here, we can almost be certain there will be a PR in the competition lift.

 

Now, I would not throw in the competition lift right away after this.  The absolute loads are far less than what the lifter is capable of.  I typically would find an exercise to bridge that gap.  Something they can lift in the high 500s with.  Often, we will see a PR on this exercise, sometimes even an all-time PR.  After this wave, it may be appropriate to test a competition style squat if the coach wishes to.

 

Altering exercises like this adjusts the absolute loads.  This makes the lifts easier to recover from.  I will also replace a max effort day with rep work after the lifter reaches a true max on an exercise.  I will also do this when it seems as if the lifter is struggling to recover from training.

 

All of my lifters have jobs and outside stress.  How much gym stress the coach gives them needs to accommodate for life.  If I have a lifter with a lot of outside stress, we may alternate each week between max effort and rep work.  We can also be a bit more conservative.

 

My lifters are instructed to leave 5 to 10lbs on the bar for the following week.  This is very near max, but not max.  Think a conservative 3rd attempt or hard 2nd.  The coach can tell the lifter to be a bit more conservative than that.  Little less psychological stress induced by training and easier for the lifter to recover from.  It can also allow the lifter to build some momentum when things seem to be difficult.

 

The end of the week is also where we utilize lighter weights to build some rate of force development and technical efficiency.  This also gives the lifter a psychological break and allows them to be somewhat fresh when they come back in for max effort work the following week.

 

Chronic fatigue symptoms that can have negative effects on training do not just pop up when the lifter hits this certain barrier.  There are acute fatigue factors each day for sure, but the human body can recover pretty quickly from them.  Usually this is within a few hours even.  Muscle breakdown may require 2-3 days to fully recover, but this seems to be more of a volume issue than an intensity one.  This is why the lighter days and accessory work volume needs to be kept in check.

 

Each individual will come with a different tolerance to the higher intensities.  The coach needs to adjust the training for each individual and their capabilities.  Tracking their RPEs, maxes on each lift, and having a relationship with them can help the coach make these decisions.  Max singles are training the sport, they should be a part of every program.

How We Differ from Westside: In Fact We are Quite Different

 

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

I got this idea for an article in a conversation with a lifter that trains out of Westside.  I think people confuse what we do with Westside because we use variation and take heavy singles.  Beyond that, there are not a ton of similarities.

 

With that said, I love Westside and what they do.  There are definitely some influences from them with the way that I do things.  I think the similarities that Westside and PPS have in the programs comes from my love and appreciation for the Bulgarian and Greek weightlifting systems as well as my time lifting with Sheiko, a Russian coach.

 

Louie has these same fascinations with the Russians and the Bulgarians.  What I really appreciate about Louie is his willingness to try things and learn from mistakes.  He has truly used his gym as a living lab for over 40 years.

 

Louie did not come up with the “conjugate” system.  In fact, he actually uses the term incorrectly when we look at the Verkoshansky texts.  The Conjugate Sequential System is block periodization.  What Louie uses is concurrent or complex-parallel periodization.

 

Louie instead uses the term conjugate to be synonymous with concurrent, meaning training multiple skills at once.  Again, he did not invent this style of training, he just found a way to practically apply it at a high level.  Just because someone is doing a max effort lift, it is not Westside.

 

The max effort method is discussed in “Supertraining.”  Also, there is a lot of research showing that to increase absolute strength singles at or near maximal are superior than reps.  The SAID principle states that the body will adapt to the demands placed upon it.  If you want to get better at singles, you need to practice singles.

 

Sheiko was not a big proponent of singles and had unparalleled success as a coach.  Sheiko was a proponent for technique first.  Verkoshansky’s Principle of Dynamic Organization states that the body is always looking for a more efficient way to execute a movement.  This supplies the main focus of Sheiko’s coaching style.

 

When we take heavy singles, technique breaks down.  Sheiko does not want to see that.  He described the difference between him and Westside as his focus being on technique first and Westside on strength first.  Better way to think of it is Louie uses the max effort method as the main piece to get stronger and Sheiko uses the Principle of Dynamic Organization.

 

This then comes down to the coach and how they view error.  Is error good or bad?  I coach using a Dynamic Systems Theory approach.  I view error as being a tool to teach the lifter.  Error also allows the coach to assess strengths and weaknesses.

 

I prefer to place the lifter in a position that will punish the technical inefficiency that I see, and we perform this lift with near max or max weights.  The inability to complete the task gives the lifter and the coach feedback on what needs to be improved.

 

In my opinion this is kind of a balance between Sheiko and Louie.  My main focus is on the skill acquisition of the sport.  This includes increasing the abilities of the lifter to produce maximal force while increasing technical efficiency of the lifts.

 

The Principle of Dynamic Organization states that the coach should give the athlete problems to solve and that the solution to those problems is movement.  This is exactly what a Dynamics System Theory/Constraints-Led Approach does.

 

In powerlifting, the coach changes stance width, bar position, grip width, or uses bands, chains, pins, boxes, pauses, and tempos.  This gives the lifter a problem to solve.  They are still performing the lifts within the rules of the sport under these constraints.  The goal is to build a large skill set within the sport.  Variation is key for this.  It may also be important for reducing injury risk, jury is still out.

 

Louie uses specialty bars here.  We primarily use a straight bar.  Louie is a big proponent of the box squat.  His lifters use a wide stance and sit back on the box so that the shins are vertical or even in a position where the knees are behind the ankles.  The hip flexors are relaxed, and the lifter thinks of performing a leg curl to stand up from the box.

 

I do not have my lifters sit on the box.  The box is an external cue to get the lifter to sit back, it lets them know when they are at depth, they pause on the box, and they explode up after the pause.  This is basically a glorified pause squat.  The box does cue them to get less forward knee travel and trains a different position where the low back can be targeted with the hips.

 

The static to dynamic part of the movement builds explosive strength.  I could not adequately coach a Westside style box squat as the lifters would end up rocking off of the box every time.  I thought about what I wanted out of the exercise and made the adjustments.  We have some big squats, so it works.

 

The majority of the volume in a Westside program comes from the GPP work.  Ours comes from the variations of the main lifts.  We do not have comp lifts until we have a comp coming up.  A medium stance low bar squat is the comp squat of over 80% of lifters.  So how we break up variations and comp lifts is very different from the norm.  Do we use more comp lifts?  I don’t know because we do not know where we will be strongest at the time of the meet.

 

Perhaps the lifter has a big improvement in conventional and decides to pull with that style instead of sumo.  Perhaps wider stance squats feel better, so they move their feet out a bit and compete there.  Strengths and weaknesses are always changing.  This is a key component of a Dynamic Systems Theory approach.

 

We actually perform backdown work after the max effort lift.  We will take a percentage of the max effort lift and perform a few sets working on the technique breakdown that we saw on the heavy single.

 

As most are aware, I am not a huge fan of accessory work.  I do not think it increases 1RM, and if it does somehow indirectly, it is so minimal.  Doesn’t mean that it does not have a place.  It can help build up weak areas and improve recovery by increasing work capacity.  However, I believe it is best to target the weak areas with appropriate variations and angles within the main lifts.

 

We do not rotate the max effort lifts weekly.  Bonderchuk discussed the importance of variability, and not having the variation in the program long enough to get a training effect from it.  I keep an exercise in for 3 weeks.

 

If a lifter hits a true max on one of the weeks, we just do sets and reps the following week to really hone in on technical mastery so that we can add 5lbs the following week.  I may decide to leave a variation in there, but just make subtle changes to it every 3 weeks.

 

For example, Kerry is only hitting 240lbs on an SSB low box squat.  Her best comp squat is 305lbs at 52kg bodyweight.  We will keep this variation in for a longer period.  I will just add chains to it, maybe bands, change the box to pins, and even remove the box, no box with bands or chains.  We will build up this lift because it is highlighting a weakness.

 

Alyssa performed sumo deadlifts for 40 of the 52 weeks last year because of how large of a discrepancy there was.  She saw incredible progress on her conventional deadlift in competitions from doing this.  80% of the year we focused on building up a stance she is weaker in and does not compete in.

 

We perform max effort squats and max effort deadlifts in the same week.  The deadlifts rotate weekly between max effort work and rep/dynamic effort work.  Westside uses an either or approach.  The lifters at Westside are lifting far greater absolute loads and that may be required to allow them to recover.

 

We bench before our deadlifts.  This is something I did with Sheiko.  Also, Vince Anello was a big proponent of doing something to tire you out a little before you pull.  He is one of the greatest deadlifters of all time so I will listen to him.

 

We do not do dynamic effort work like Westside does.  Sometimes we do, but it is pretty rare.  What I did steal from Westside was the set and rep schemes.  Instead of doing 5 sets of 4 at 70%, we will do 10 sets of 2 at 70%.  Total volume is the same, but we get more first reps, better looking technique for all 20 reps, and faster execution for an increase in rate of force development.

 

We need sport specific speed.  Lighter loads may be more appropriate for team and field sport athletes to increase power.  Not sure they are necessary for powerlifting.  Even Louie seems to use enough accommodating resistance to be sure the top weight is 70% to 80% of 1RM.

 

I also like to use time limits on the sessions like Westside does.  At a meet you do not take an attempt when you want.  You go when you are told.  Also, fatigue makes technique more difficult.  It raises the stakes and the necessary skill level.  A newer lifter gets more time between sets.  As they get better, we can decrease that time between sets.  This increases the skill level of the lifter.

 

Sometimes I still use 70% for 5 sets of 4.  Sheiko taught me that load variability is important.  So our later week training sessions may be rep work that looks very similar to the way our programs looked when we were doing a more Sheiko-like format.  It also may not look like that.

 

Our frequency is lower than it was when we were running a more Sheiko-like program, but higher than a Westside program.  We squat 2 times per week, bench 2 times per week, and deadlift 1 to 2 times, per week (2nd deadlift session is very light).

 

On a Sheiko program we would squat 2 to 3 times, bench 3 to 4 times, and deadlift 1 to 2 times.  We utilize similar frequency as Westside, but a little more.  We split up the max effort squats on its own day and bench on its own day, but we do rep/dynamic bench work before max effort or rep/dynamic deadlifts.  Day 4 is usually rep/dynamic squats and light deadlifts.

 

What PPS does is not Westside.  I love Westside, but I am not Louie and my lifters are not his lifters.  What we do is unique to us and our journey of figuring this shit out.  We are not a copy of someone else.  We do not follow a simple structure laid out by anyone else.  We have our own structure.

 

We are PPS, not anyone else.  We want to be PPS and no one else.