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Why Conjugate is Superior to Other Programs

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

In the USAPL circle of powerlifting it seems that daily undulating periodization (DUP) is what the majority leans towards for their training with some linear and block periodization sprinkled in.  It seems as if speaking the term “conjugate” aloud will result in some punishment.

 

This is contradictory to the people that I follow outside of the USAPL.  It seems that conjugate is a popular training style.  I find this very interesting as it is all powerlifting.  I am not sure why one group doesn’t utilize it at all, and another group seems to utilize it more.

 

In my previous article I broke down the history of periodization and made arguments against the need for a periodized strength program.  If you have not read that one yet I encourage you to do that first.

 

This is not to say that the coach should not have a plan.  The coach needs to have a plan that is flexible and adaptable to the ever changing needs of the individual.  The plan should also be one that enhances the skills necessary for the sport.

 

Many programs begin with a hypertrophy block.  The reps are usually between 6 and 12 during this block and 65% to 85% of 1RM, roughly.  Interestingly enough the research shows similar muscle growth between higher load and lower load exercises as long as the effort is at or near max.

 

This means that increased workloads to increase muscle size are most likely unnecessary as heavier weights for less reps build muscle size about as well.  This also assumes that increased muscle size increases strength potential of a muscle.  There is nothing that suggests that this is true.

 

Hypertrophy may just be a byproduct of training.  Even if higher rep sets with lower loads built hypertrophy better does it matter?  The difference in muscle size would be very small and more may not be better.  This may be especially true if the other group is lifting at or near 1RM.  The specificity of that training will trump the miniscule difference in muscle size potentially leading to greater gains in strength.

 

The strength increases between periodized and non-periodized training in the literature can oftentimes be attributed to that same specificity.  The periodized groups end up training closer to 1RM than the non-periodized groups.

 

There was a study titled “Reduced Volume ‘Daily Max’ Training Compared to Higher Volume Periodized Training in Powerlifters Preparing for a Competition-A Pilot Study” that showed that hitting a daily max in the lifts around an RPE 9.5 was as effective in training beginner to intermediate powerlifters in a 10 week training program as a standard periodized program.

 

This was interesting to me because the program with singles is what it is in a study.  There are times where I adjust from singles to rep work for my lifters based off of some performance parameters.  We do this for 1 week in place of max effort and then we pick up max effort the following week.

 

The fact that these lifters did daily maxes every training day for 10 weeks is pretty impressive and interesting.  We have 2 to 3 days of max effort per week (it can be less if we have rep work in another spot).  So we have lighter days thrown into our programs.

 

These lighter days allow for recovery and a focus on technical efficiency as well as rate of force development.  Keeping the lifter fresher and improving technical efficiency can lead to even greater success on the max effort days.

 

The variation on the max effort days seems to keep training interesting and fun.  After 2 to 3 weeks of max effort of the same exercise we see a decrease in performance.  This study used the comp lift throughout the whole process.  This had to be done for the sake of research but imagine how much better the daily max group would have done if it could be applied like it would in the real world.

 

The results were comparable, and better in some areas, for the daily max group under those circumstances. This is pretty amazing to me.  It also shows that periodization is not necessary in a strength training program.  I will say, if the daily max group never had a plan to be flexible and adaptable, I think in the long term the periodized group would win out.  However, having a plan on how and when to use those maxes mitigates that piece.

 

When I first started getting into powerlifting, I was definitely against a conjugate style of training.  My main concern was the technique.  Heavy singles will lead to a breakdown in technique.  I wanted every repetition to look the same.

 

However, over time I learned that we can learn more from error than from success.  I also learned about a constraints-led approach.  With this approach I can place lifters in positions that punish that technical inefficiency.  I learned by doing this that the heavy weight is needed to punish these inefficiencies.  Anyone can get away with poor technique with the empty bar, but not 500, 600, or 700lbs.

 

Putting the lifters in those positions that disallow completion of the task under heavier weights, removes that negative of lifting heavy singles.  Also, those singles make up a small percentage (7-10%) of our total volume.  The other 90+% of our training is performed with submaximal weights.

 

When I was less experienced, I would argue that accommodating resistance used like it is used in Westside does not match the strength curve of the raw squat.  We always used accommodating resistance on bench and deadlifts.  However, we used just a small amount of accommodating resistance.  There was nothing wrong with this, but I now feel like heavy bands and chains have a place in training.  I have seen firsthand how squats have blown up with them, mine included.

 

I think one big reason is for the overloaded eccentric.  Controlling the tension on the way down and beating it on the way up has a lot of carryover to straight weight.  It teaches constant acceleration of the weight, something you can’t learn with straight weight.

 

Hatfield preached about compensatory acceleration, moving lighter weights as fast as possible having the same effect as moving heavy weights.  Straight weight needs to have deceleration to reach the top because the end speed is 0.  The bands and chains force the lifter to keep accelerating due to the increase in load as the bar approaches lockout.

 

Light bands and chains do not have this same effect as the initial drive out of the hole still carries the lifter through to the top.  I have found that the accommodating resistance needs to be close to 100% of 1RM or higher at the top on max effort days.  On the dynamic days, it needs to make up 20% to 35% of the total weight being lifted.  It needs to be heavy enough to punish the lifter if they explode and coast in the squat, but not so heavy that the bar weight is too light.

 

Another major argument against conjugate is the lack of specificity.  First, we need to identify what is specific.  This is a sport where the lifter takes max singles of a squat, bench press, and deadlift.  What is more specific?  A squat at 75% for a set of 6, or a squat where we move the feet out 2 inches and hit a heavy single?  It is the heavy single.

 

Max effort attempts require a different motor unit response than submax reps.  You need to train that ability in the gym to have it on the platform.  Submax work increases technical efficiency, which is also important.  Also, max weights train the mind to handle heavy weights and to not be scared.

 

Our volumes tend to remain about the same week to week with little fluctuations.  There is very small incremental increases in the workload as the lifter increases their strength.  That is all that is needed.  We have this belief that every week something needs to increase.  Why every week?  It is made up to fit a calendar.  Same with 4 week blocks, it is just 1 month.  They are random time frames.

 

In Russia a lifter may go from 800 lifts to 1300 lifts in a 5 year period of time.  This would be an increase of 100 lifts per year (these numbers are made up and it probably takes even longer to make those increases).  That means the lifter will perform 8 more repetitions per month each year.  That is 2 more reps per week each year.  That is a really small increase.

 

Often in a linear program or a DUP program you will see way more than that increased each week.  That increase in workload can lead to increases in nagging issues.  Keep increasing and those nagging issues can turn into something bigger.

 

Inexperience is a big issue in powerlifting.  You can throw a ton of volume on a lifter at one time to be sure you get enough of a stimulus to see results.  In some cases you will see remarkable results right away.  However, we need to look at the long term.

 

A conjugate training program is more of a long term strategy.  Volumes rise very incrementally over time as the lifter gets stronger.  This is exactly what Sheiko did with me for 3 years.  My number of lifts remained the same, but as I got stronger each percentage was a heavier weight and my workload increased.  I drove the increases in workload, not the program.

 

A conjugate program requires the coach to actually coach.  The coach needs to be able to identify the weaknesses of the lifter and put that lifter in positions to strengthen those weaknesses.  The coach also needs to guide the program to fit the needs of each individual.

 

Each individual comes with different genetics, motivational factors, and outside stressors.  Helping them make the right choices on each training day is the job of the coach.  Anyone can make a fancy Excel spreadsheet to do all of the work.

 

I encourage everyone to read Dr. Loenneke’s new paper titled “The Basics of Training for Muscle Size and Strength: A Brief Review on the Theory.”  Him and his colleagues breakdown the literature.  Seems more is based on dogma than science in the world of powerlifting.

Is Periodization Necessary for Strength Sports?

 

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

Periodization is defined as the systematic planning of physical training.  The goal is to be able to “peak” for the most important competitions of the year.  The training usually consists of specific periods where certain physiological components are stressed more than others.

 

The idea of periodization came about due to Selye’s General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS).  GAS has 3 phases, the alarm phase, resistance stage, and exhaustive stage.  Basically, the organism will respond to stress by adapting to it.  However, too much stress can lead to overtraining, and too little can lead to limited or no adaptation.

 

The idea of planned training is to keep the organism within the resistance stage without ever reaching exhaustion.  This is where preplanned deloads come in, usually following a period of higher workloads.  During this period of lighter resistance, the organism adapts and recovers to a new and higher level of performance.  This is known as supercompensation.

 

Russian physiologist, Leo Matveyev analyzed the results of Soviet Olympic athletes from 1952 to 1956.  He compared the training plans of the most successful athletes and came up with a plan for the Soviet athletes for the 1960 Olympics.

 

The Soviet athletes had enormous success and the world wanted a piece of these Russian training principles.  This is where the idea of periodization spread and was further developed by Tudor Bompa.  Bompa’s texts were part of my undergrad and grad school readings still today.

 

As periodization became more popular and was used more widely, many adjustments were made to the original ideas of Matveyev.  The Russians began instituting a longer term athlete development system.  This was known as PASM (the process of achieving sports mastery).

 

Children were selected at young ages to attend schools that focused on the sports that they were selected to.  These sports were run like a school subject.  Multi-year training plans were laid out to bring these athletes to the level of Master of Sport and beyond.

 

These schools focused on training many athletic qualities at a young age.  This is contrary to the West where early specialization dominates.  The idea is that by developing a greater set of motor skills at a younger age, athletes will have a greater foundation to build more specific skills off of.

 

This is where Yuri Verkoshansky comes onto the scene.  His earlier research looked at the Principle of Dynamic Organization.  He viewed sport as a problem solving activity in which movements supply the solutions.  Since movement is controlled by the CNS, training should be utilized to enhance and create more efficiency within the CNS.  These movement solutions are constantly changing as the body is always looking for more efficient solutions.  Sound familiar?  Dynamic Systems Theory and a Constraints-Led Approach build off of this principle.

 

Verkoshansky saw problems with the concurrent style of training, training multiple aspects at once.  The athletes required too much volume in order to address all of the qualities of athletic performance.  This is where Block Periodization came in.

 

Each block would focus on a specific athletic trait, while the others were being attempted to be maintained.  This was known as the Conjugate Sequential System (CSS).  This often gets confused with the conjugate method made famous by Westside Barbell.

 

Westside does not use conjugate periodization.  They use a concurrent training style, also known as complex-parallel training.  They train multiple aspects at once, max effort, dynamic effort, and repetition effort.  Verkoshansky describes this type of training as being only appropriate for low level athletes.

 

Keep in mind these training programs are being written for Olympic athletes.  These were not being written for powerlifters or weightlifters.  A lot of the ideas spread into that training, but it was not the primary focus.

 

Field athletes need to be fast, agile, strong, flexible, quick, conditioned, technical, tactical, and so on.  They require so many different physical qualities to be successful at the highest level.  This is why block periodization makes sense.  In order to focus on all of those qualities in the gym and also their sport specific training would require too much volume and the athletes would risk injury.

 

A barbell sport is not that complex.  The gym training is the sport as well.  The list of traits to train are much smaller.  A powerlifter needs absolute strength, rate of force development, and some technical skills for the 3 lifts.  The need for breaking up training into blocks does not make sense to me for powerlifters.  For field athletes, maybe.

 

This is most likely where daily undulating periodization (DUP) comes in.  Instead of breaking training into blocks, each aspect is given its own day.  Hypertrophy is one day, strength another, and power is another.  Sounds a lot like Westside’s conjugate method, but we can continue to argue about that on the internet.

 

The main difference is how each of those days is setup.  Many of the DUP programs are much higher volume and maybe higher frequency as well.  There is usually very limited maxing out on singles.  Another major difference is with the use of variation.  The conjugate method uses a lot of variation, while many DUP programs only use the comp lifts.

 

The argument is for sports specificity.  I have a hard time understanding this argument as a set of 6 reps is not specific to the sport of heavy singles.  It is not more specific then moving your feet out an inch or two, or the bar an inch higher on your back and hitting a max single.  Max singles are the sport, so wouldn’t that be specific?

 

I think the argument would be that max singles are too difficult to recover from.  People will look at the Bulgarians and discuss the burnout and the negatives of that training system.  They do this while missing the positives, they were the best in the world.

 

Russians were dominating the strength sports for a period of time as well.  This may just be a byproduct of time in the sport.  They started at a young age lifting weights and building very solid technique.  A 20 year old in Russia has over 10 years of learning the lifts, while here in America they may be picking it up for the first time.  Culture matters in many ways.

 

I wonder if the heavy singles were shied away from with field athletes and that fear of “overtraining” due to the belief that GAS is true, just filtered into strength sports?  Sheiko did not use heavy singles because the technique would breakdown.

 

His goal in training was to get every single rep to look the same.  This trains one stable movement pattern.  As technical efficiency increases, the athlete will lift more weight.  This gets back to what Verkoshansky said about training the CNS to be more efficient and the Principle of Dynamic Organization.

 

Sheiko visited Westside and spent a whole day with Louie Simmons discussing training.  He said the difference between his style and Simmons was that he focused on technique first and Simmons focused on strength first.

 

This does not mean that Westside doesn’t focus on technique.  They do, their dynamic days are to work on technique with lighter weights.  They also focus on attacking weaknesses, just like Sheiko, but just do it differently.  Sheiko would alter the ROM on bench and deadlifts to lift higher absolute loads and use chains on the squat.  Multiple ways to skin a cat.

 

The problem we ran into running a more submax type program was with the psychological component of training.  Psychological arousal can alter movement patterns.  The only way to get that psychological arousal is to put heavier weights on the bar and lift at or near maximal.

 

No one denies that maximal singles elicit the greatest motor unit recruitment.  Many of those Russian texts state that after a couple of weeks of maxing out, the athlete will see a decrease in performance.  This is absolutely true.  However, this is where variation becomes important.  Change the lift, and this issue goes away.

 

Let us get back to the original question, is periodization necessary for strength sports?  First off, GAS does not really apply to training.  Selye electrocuted mice and weighed their brains afterwards.  This doesn’t mean that it is entirely wrong, but it is definitely not a principle to base training around.

 

Recovery is important and that will be individualized based off of genetics, motivational factors, life stress, nutrition, sleep, and so on.  You can only train as much as you can recover from.  Powerlifting is the one sport that people seem afraid to actually practice the sport.

 

Nothing will build better 1RM strength than taking 1RMs.  As I mentioned earlier, this requires some paying attention by the coach as after a few weeks, we can see a drop in performance.  This is where variation comes into play.

 

Load management is also important here.  Some variations will require more absolute loads and others the lifter will lift less.  The lifts with high absolute loads are testers, and the lower loads are builders.  The coach can structure training in a way to limit or to push absolute loads in any way they see fit to meet the individual’s needs.

 

Like any coach, a powerlifting coach needs to address the skills of the sport.  This means building absolute strength, rate of force development, and technical skills.  There are physical and psychological pieces to all of this as well.

 

All of this needs to be structured in a way that allows the lifter to recover.  So, there needs to be structure, and it needs to be flexible and adaptable, but it does not need to be periodized.  The goal is to get as many max effort lifts in as possible over the long term.  This is the sports specific training.  Think of it as practicing for the sport.  The more you practice, the better you get.

 

The other days need to work on technical skills as well as rate of force development (the ability to generate force more quickly).  Think of this as more GPP for powerlifting.  These days will not directly influence the 1RM, but they help the lifter learn more efficient movements, and improve their ability to generate force more quickly.  They then can take these new acquired skills and apply it to the max effort lifts.

 

This does not require training to be broken up into blocks.  I have found that the longer a lifter is removed from max effort work, the harder it is to get back the psychological components of lifting heavy.  Too much time away from lighter weights being moved quickly and the lifters get slower.  Training works best if we focus on all of these aspects in a more concurrent training program.

 

Block training may work better for high level field athletes, as they still practice their sport which includes all aspects of their sport.  This will at least allow them to hold onto sport specific skills while training in the gym is more specific to one of those physiological components.  Every sport does have an off-season where they take a break.  This helps for mental and physical recovery.

 

Most lifters will get breaks throughout the year due to vacations and life circumstances.  The competition schedule for powerlifting is not as grueling as field sports.  Most lifters compete 2-3 times per year.  In field sports, 2-3 competitions in a week is very common.

 

I find deloads to be completely unnecessary as life usually takes care of that.  We do not need to pre-plan a deload.  This does not mean that the program should not be flexible and adaptable to individual needs.  It needs to be, and each person comes with their own set of individual circumstances.

 

Instead of planning a month of training, or more, we plan 1 week at a time.  Based off of how that week goes, and life circumstances upcoming in the next week, we plan the following week.  If a lifter hits a true max in one week, the following week we will use a percentage of that lift and just hit some sets and reps.  This serves as a nice psychological deload so to speak.

 

If a lifter’s week gets dragged out into Sunday for a day 4 where they squat, we will change day 1 from squats to bench, allowing them to get more recovery to maximize the max effort squat session.  We do all of this while rotating exercises every 3 weeks to help psychological burnout by keeping training fun and interesting, and to also follow the law of accommodation, which states that over time the organism’s response to a stimulus will decrease the more they are exposed to it.  This is why Sheiko was very adamant on load variability being very important.

 

Having a plan is very important for the athlete seeing continued success and staying as healthy as possible.  This does not mean that we need a periodized program.  The plan just needs to be flexible and adaptable to accommodate the individual.

How Important/Individualized Should Technique Be?

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

Everyone is their own little unique snowflake.  American culture, especially embraces the individual much more than the group.  We see this play out in powerlifting quite frequently in the way that technique is taught, or better yet, ignored.

 

I have honestly struggled with this.  In the past I was hardcore about technique, then I laid off a little, and now I am kind of swinging back to where we started.  This time around I have a better idea of what I want out of the lifts from everyone, and what is more individualized.

 

I think I needed to give a little more technical freedom to learn these things for myself.  The first example that comes to my mind is head position in the squat.  There are 2 camps, head up, or head down.

 

I teach the squat with a head straight or chin slightly elevated position.  This increases the tone of the back muscles and gives them greater leverage to hold and push back against the weight on the lifter’s back.

 

The back muscles are extremely important in the squat because the bar rests on them.  If the back muscles are not strong enough to support and push back against that weight the lifter’s hips will rise faster than the torso out of the hole, decreasing and changing the muscles used in the lift.

 

Also, if the lifter’s back muscles are not strong enough to support the weight, the lifter will start the squat with a greater torso lean.  This can lead to the lifter not getting the start command, and it also decreases the use of the legs within the squat.  The barbell-athlete system may also be unbalanced in this position.

 

Many will argue that there are very strong lifters that squat with their head looking in the down position.  This is not a false statement and perhaps that does allow them to lift more weight right now.

 

In the past, I would be the one arguing this as well.  I would chalk it up to individual differences and allow them to do it.  Now, I am not so sure that was the right move.  I have changed my stance on this a bit.

 

If you are more comfortable with your head down, this tells me that there is an upper back weakness that we should not embrace and avoid, but that we should work on even harder.  When the chin and eyes are down the back is round.

 

The lifter creates a shelf for the bar from leaning forward, instead of creating tightness.  This often pushes the head further away from the bar as well.  The body will follow the eyes, and the barbell-athlete system is pushed forward of the middle of the foot.  This will be especially true under ever increasing loads.

 

A Russian study showed a 9% increase in power on the deadlift with the chin slightly elevated when compared to the chin in a down position.  A deadlift is nothing more than a high squat with the bar in the lifter’s hands instead of on the lifter’s back.  This shows the importance of the back muscles at those angles.  This is also why we use that same head position on the deadlift.

 

Shin angle is another example that comes to mind here.  Lots of lifters are stronger with a more pronounced shin angle.  This is most likely due to most lifters having stronger quads than hips and hamstrings.  Again, this may lead them to lifting more weight now, but is it the most efficient for long-term continuous progress?

 

I believe that the hips and hamstrings are very underrated in the squat.  I know what the EMG studies show for the hamstrings in the squat.  Not sure I really care what muscles untrained lifters use.

 

My theory is that the two joint muscles of the leg, the rectus femoris of the quads, and the hamstrings, allow force to transfer between the other quad muscles to the hips.  We do this while supporting the barbell on the back.  Any shifting horizontally of the barbell will result in a change of the muscles being used.

 

This would explain why loading the hamstrings on the way down in the squat is important for technique and preventing the chest collapsing forward out of the hole.  Many will argue this is a quad weakness, but my eyes tell me something different.

 

I actually think that the quads are strong enough (they could leg press that weight no problem), but the hamstrings are not strong enough to stay stiff and transfer the force to the hips.  This is if the back muscles stay taught and maintain the barbell over the middle of the foot.  Hips and upper back tend to be common weaknesses, which may be why the chest collapsing forward in the squat is a common technical mishap.

 

I think so many lifters prefer heeled shoes and a closer stance because they can use their quads more and try to work around the weaker hips and hamstrings.  They sacrifice stability from a flatter shoe for more use of the legs (I am actually kicking around the idea of all my lifters spending more time in flats).

 

In a conversation with Anthony Oliveira, he said something that I couldn’t agree more with.  He said if you can’t squat in flats, you should be working on the things that allow you to, not just changing shoes and ignoring it. He is absolutely not wrong there.  Your success in this sport is how hard you are willing to attack your weaknesses.

 

This does not mean that the heels are gone forever.  At some point, technique is what it is, and it is time to go get on that platform and just worry about putting up the biggest total.  However, those time periods are far smaller than the rest of the time we spend training.

 

Also, should lifters that have been lifting for less than 5 years be doing what “they feel is best?”  I am not so sure that is the way it should be.  They should be working on the technique that is going to allow them to have continued progress in the sport.

 

This is why I love a conjugate training style.  I choose max effort exercises that punish those technical inefficiencies while allowing them to strain under heavy weights.  Then we get rep and speed work thrown in.  This is where attention to detail is used.  We use variations here, but it is lighter with a lot of sets to practice what we need to work on.

 

I do not want the lifter focused too much on technique with the max effort.  I want them to dial it in early on with warmups and then get after it.  After the top set, we will talk and work on something with backdowns and on the other lighter squat day.

 

Rome was not built in a day.  We do this and try to get a little better each rep, day, week, month, and year.  Perfect technique does not exist, but we strive towards it forever to keep progress moving in the right direction.

“Evidence Based” is the New “Functional Fitness”: IDGAF About Your Science

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

I will admit that that title is quite a bit of clickbait.  I just did not know what to title it and wanted to get started.  To be honest, I read a lot of the research.  However, I am selective on what I read.

 

I really do not give a shit about EMG studies.  I had a discussion on IG, with someone that was referencing studies showing that the quads and adductors are the main movers out of the hole in the squat.

 

My post was in regard to pitching forward in the squat when the lifter comes out of the hole.  It is easy to look at that EMG study and chalk it up to weak quads and/or adductors.  However, this is not the case in the real world.

 

When I started lifting, I was coached by Boris Sheiko.  I had this technical error.  Sheiko told me this was due to weak hamstrings and glutes.  I got lots of good mornings and hyperextensions to build up the hamstrings and hips.  My squat went up 200lbs over the next 3 years.  I was a beginner so maybe this is just beginner gains, right?

 

I definitely did not have weak quads.  I played soccer through college, a very quad dominant sport, followed by over 10 years of mma, again very quad heavy sport.  In spite of all of this, I was too smart for my own good.

 

I read those studies and began to really hammer the quads for those pitching forward in the squat. Improvements occurred, but it wasn’t as great as I expected.  I started shifting my focus to more skill acquisition research.  This is research I actually care about.

 

I decided to treat the pitching forward as a skill issue and utilize positions that disallow it.  I also decided to utilize a position that would target the hamstrings and hips more.  This would help give me some answers in the real world to what muscles are being used.  I was confused with the contradictory information out there.

 

We utilized wide stance squats here, which are less quads and more hips, and it punishes a pitching technical fault as the lifter will not stand up if they pitch.  We would do this only for a period of time and then bring the feet back in.  Big surprise, the pitching improved immensely, and the squats went through the roof.

 

This goes against those EMG studies but supports what Sheiko and what Louie Simmons say about the role of the hamstrings and glutes in the squats.  In fact, those studies showed almost no hamstring activity in the squats at all, leading to the conclusion that the hamstrings do not play a major role.

 

The 2 coaches I mentioned above have over 80 years of coaching world record holders and world champions.  Do we just disregard what they say because of some EMG study?  I did that once and will not do that again.

 

In my post I was explaining a typical cause of pitching forward.  Many lifters will drive the knees forward hard to initiate the squat.  This loads the weight onto the quads.  In fact, on my post, my lifter was doing box squats for a max effort exercise.  She sat back well to initiate the squat, but halfway down she drove the knees forward hard.

 

This is a sign of weak hips, not weak quads.  On this set, she had a little bit of pitching off of the box.  If she had driven the knees forward hard from the start the pitching would be worse.  Just like a deadlift, we need to load the hips, hamstrings, and back before the concentric.

 

If we do not do that for a deadlift, the lifter will pitch forward.  Why would the squat be different?  When my lifter pitched forward off of the box, the quads actually get it moving, and I believe the hips can’t handle the transfer of force.  It is no surprise that these technical faults are shared between the squat and the deadlift.

 

I have read somewhere that perhaps on the way up, the glutes and hamstrings actually pull the hips down to counter the quads and give the erectors more leverage.  This makes sense logically.  Whether it is true or not I am not sure.  What I witness in the gym seems to support that theory.

 

When we watch untrained lifters squat, they tend to drive the knees forward hard to initiate the lift.  This is exactly what I am talking about.  This EMG reading would make sense to be lots of quads and adductors in the bottom, and little to no hamstrings.  Does this mean this study is the way to lift massive weights?

 

No, this study is showing what muscles are used by untrained lifters.  Even the studies on trained lifters seem to be a little off.  In a study I read the other day, the trained lifters average 1RM on the squat was 165kg.  A weight that is below the squat of a 150lb female on PPS.

 

In Russia, they actually perform studies on their high level lifters.  This is why I am so quick to take the word of Sheiko with these things.  He actually performs a lot of these studies.  They take a biomechanical analysis at Russian Nationals every year as well.

 

I think many lifters here forget about the role of the lats in the bench press.  Most will argue they do not play a major role.  This is why the bar path is always said to come back towards the face, to give the pecs and delts more leverage.

 

There are 17 different bar paths that Sheiko saw at Russian Nationals.  Only 4 have ever produced world champions.  In 2015, a study on Russian lifters looked at the lats role.  All 4 had strong lat activation on the press.  Lats shut off for the last.5 seconds to allow the delts to finish the lift.

 

There are certain things that lifters can get away with under lighter weights.  The heavier the weights get, the less they will get away with.  Instead of looking at what untrained or weaker lifters are lifting I would rather listen to the lifters that lift the largest absolute loads as well as the coaches that have coached lifters at the highest levels.

 

This does not mean that science is useless.  I am big on the skill acquisition research.  One study I mentioned above was about movement variability within the lifts.  I love that stuff.  I am also not advocating for everyone’s lifts to look the same.

 

Forward knee travel is going to be dependent on strengths of the lifter, their build, and stance width, and even choice of footwear.  However, I choose to have the moment arm of the hips be greater than that of the knees during the squat.  This puts more emphasis on the hips.  This seems to be the best way to lift massive weights, and to keep progress moving up.

 

I know raw lifters are quick to shit on multiply lifters.  I used to do the same thing.  However, these guys and girls lift the highest absolute loads possible.  I understand that technique is dictated by the gear, but there are some things to pay attention to.  Also, the squat suit you need to sit back into to get the most out of it.  This is basically like having super glutes.  Maybe getting your hips strong as fuck is what the answer is here.  This is an assumption based off of my confirmation bias though so take it for what it is worth.

 

As a coach, my job is to teach the technique that I feel the older lifters and coaches have figured out.  This is why I appreciate the skill acquisition literature.  It guides me on the best way to teach each lifter.

 

This is where I blend science with experiences of those that came before us.  I have also had quite a bit of experience at this point as well.  Enough time to mess with things and see what works.  I will keep reading the literature on dynamic skill acquisition, and I will continue to disregard EMG studies done on untrained to intermediate lifters without seeing their technique.

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.