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The Importance of Being Fast and Learning from the Past

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

The force-velocity curve is a major piece of the curriculum in both undergrad and grad school in this field.  I have been coaching for about 15 years now.  The majority of that time was spent coaching high school athletes.

 

I was also fortunate enough to intern at Harvard University and got an opportunity to learn how they do things with their division 1 athletes.  Interestingly enough I moved away from this as I got more and more experience coaching powerlifting.

 

I moved away from this while calling my lifters athletes, and strength a skill.  Even though I looked at them as athletes and the development of strength as a skill, I got away from training them like they were athletes.

 

In my defense, I didn’t totally neglect these aspects of training.  I assumed that the warmups leading up to the top sets would be enough to develop these other athletic qualities.  Also, the first few reps of a set of 5 are in the lower intensity zones where velocity should be higher.  The problem with that is that the athlete is not focused well on those warmups.  They are using them to tune-up to hit something big and the first few reps are no more than a means to an end.

 

We got very strong doing this.  Totals were going through the roof by doing near max sets on a daily basis.  However, I was noticing that we were getting slower. This has not had a negative effect on us yet, but I think it might in the long run.

 

We were very focused on absolute strength.  Load up the weight and fight for a very hard top set.  Absolute strength is what we are striving for at the end of the day. So why not train it more often?

 

The intensity of the training and the atmosphere must be discussed here as well.  A group straining together and pushing each other with their actions and words definitely contributes to the increases in strength that we have seen.

 

When I worked with Sheiko, the majority of the work was done between 75% to 85% of 1RM with sets between 2 to 6 reps.  This is what is known as speed-strength.  Basically, speed-strength is the ability to produce force in the shortest time possible.

 

Absolute strength can go up from training in these zones.  The word “strength” is a part of speed-strength.  I have mentioned this in podcasts and posts in the past about Eastern Europeans and their belief on sticking points.

 

Some will argue that the sticking point is the inability of the lifter to coordinate the muscles and produce force fast enough.  They try to train in the absence of a sticking point.  I did this for 3 years and my total went up at each competition that I did.  It definitely can work.

 

Maximal power occurs at intermediate velocities when lifting moderate weights.  This is the 75% to 85% of 1RM for 2-6 repetitions.  These seems to be a pretty decent sweet spot for training.

 

However, it relies on very small increases in total incrementally over time.  Who is to say that we could not have lifted that 5-10lbs at our last test if we had a better ability to strain?  What I saw with my lifters is that this style of training did not teach the lifters how to strain, and they would get very nervous with heavier weights.

 

To learn how to strain, the lifters need to train at close to maximal weights/maximal weights.  This is not done for sets of 3 or 5, but singles. A maximal single elicits the greatest neurological response to move the most weight.

 

It is very difficult to have a system like the Russians within the American culture.  American lifters want it all now and lack the patience to be successful with it.  They also get into this sport later in life.  They have a smaller window to attempt to do the best they can within the sport.

 

A 20 year old Russian has most likely been training for 10 years.  A 20 year old American has most likely never picked up a barbell before. This changes how the coach needs to organize and structure training.

 

I went from doing a program emphasizing speed-strength to one emphasizing absolute strength.  Technique was a bit better, and speed of lifts were better with the speed-strength, but our ability to strain and to lift maximally was better with a greater emphasis on absolute strength.

 

There is a 3rdcomponent of training that is emphasized in sports programs and that is ballistic action.  To achieve the fastest speeds possible the lifter needs to use very light weights. Weights between 30% and 40% of 1RM.

 

I did some of this style of training with Sheiko on a 4thbench day.  I did not feel that I got anything out of it.  It was just too light.  Also, the barbell has to decelerate because the velocity at lockout is zero.

 

I am not too sure a lifter can train this with straight weight.  In a strength and conditioning program, this is where plyometrics are used. An athlete can just jump as high as they can without having to stop at a given position. Medball stuff enters the picture here as well.

 

I want to make well-rounded lifters.  We train in many different positions.  We alter foot positions, bar positions, and grip.  This is a start, but we can be much more well-rounded athletes.  We can be strong and fast.  At some point I think you have to do both, or a plateau is inevitable.  We may have avoided the plateaus by making the change from one to the other.

 

Absolute strength develops the ability to produce maximal force.  Speed-strength develops the ability to produce maximal force more quickly. Being fast and strong is required to push the bar through the sticking points of the lifts.  It is not an either or.

 

I have some lifters that I need to speed up, and I have some lifters that I need to slow down.  When I analyze the lifts, I always look at technique. I have never really looked at their strength qualities before.  Are they fast, slow, etc?

 

All the tempo work and pause work that we did worked well, because we were coming off of a long period of focusing on speed-strength.  We were fast but needed to slow down.  We slowed down and got stronger.  Now, we need to speed up again.

 

We will focus on all of these aspects, being strong at all angles, and developing all strength qualities within our programs moving forward. Finding balance and continuing to learn along the way.

 

I am still new at coaching this sport.  I don’t pretend to have all of the answers.  Many out there will speak in absolutes about what works and what does not. I feel this is very true within the raw lifting circles.

 

Raw lifting has been around for a very short time, and we seem to have forgotten about all of the things that older lifters figured out before us.  I got sucked into this trap.  A community of lifters and coaches with less than 5 years of experience leading the way.

 

Putting down the lessons from the past due to equipment or drugs.  Those things need to be taken into consideration for sure but shouldn’t lead to a discarding of those lessons the pioneers have taught us.  Let us be real for a minute, drug tested does not mean drug free.

 

The days of Westside conjugate style training are not dead.  They are forgotten and pushed aside for inexperienced lifters and coaches, that are too smart for their own good.  I can say that because I was one of them.

 

That style of training has been around for over 40 years.  There is a list of lifters that have done that style of training for over 2 decades.  This comp lift only DUP craze has been around for less than 10 years.

 

It is the same pre-packaged periodization stuff we have been spoon-fed since the 70s.  The science is not conclusive that it is better than linear periodization.  Lots of studies show no difference in performance, and others show DUP is a bit better.

 

In the end these are all short-term studies.  The long term studies have been done through trial and error from those that have come before us.  Don’t let their messages fall on deaf ears.  Louie talked a lot about the issues he had with typical periodization.  People will hate on him, but jump on sharing Kiely’s articles referencing the same issues.

 

Progress occurs from building off of those lessons from those before us.   There are some improvements to be made to that style of training.  Changes need to be made because most lifters we coach have jobs and have different backgrounds.  I made the mistake of ignoring those messages instead of using them to improve upon.

 

Since I have expanded my circle beyond that typical crowd, I have learned a lot more and it has been a serious gut check to my thinking.  But each gut check moment is an opportunity for our team to get stronger. Looking forward to many more.

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A Letter to My Younger Self

Written By: Kevin Cann

 

The NFL Hall of Famers write letters to their younger selves once they get inducted into the Hall of Fame. I really like this idea.  I have been coaching a long time, but I have been in powerlifting now for 5 years.

 

This is not a lot of time, but I think it is a milestone in this sport.  I feel the majority of the people in this sport have been in it for less time than that.  I still have a lot to learn.  In fact, learning never stops.

 

I wouldn’t be where I am today without making all of the mistakes that I made.  I will make many more mistakes that will lead me to get even better than I am now.  With PPS, we will always try new things in the pursuit of strength.  Sometimes we miss, but sometimes we hit big.

 

Dear younger Kevin,

 

I know you have been out of coaching for about 9 months.  You took a job teaching at a school because the daily grind of being a strength coach got to you.  You enjoyed coaching the high school athletes and the adult classes that you had, but the money was poor and there was definitely something missing.  You weren’t challenged.

 

After this break, you are about to enter a completely different world within the fitness community.  The world of competitive strength.  You are about to find out that you don’t know shit about getting people strong.

 

It is time to dump your FMS screens and “perfect movement” narratives.  You won’t do this right away; it will take time.  However, those things make coaching easy.  Anyone can coach someone to get a better score on an FMS screen, or to achieve more optimal movement.  Worrying about these things will only hinder their strength.

 

You will learn that those things don’t matter.  This will shatter the foundation of everything you believed you built your coaching philosophy off of.  This will be really tough to swallow, but it is necessary for you to grow into a better coach of competitive strength athletes.

 

This is a lesson you will learn the hard way.  You will hire Sheiko as a coach because you really like what he says about technique. This will be the biggest and most important time period of your coaching career.  You know you are lucky to have him as a coach, but his importance was understated at the time.

 

You loved that under Sheiko, technique was the most important aspect of training because it fit your old narrative of optimal movement.  Eventually you will see lifters struggle to get better with this narrative.  It will not be because technique does not matter, but because you don’t really know it is not as easy as “better movement equals better results.”  This will force you to seek out your own answers to so many questions.

 

This will be tough to do, because so many of these answers will contradict your beliefs and what you believe to be true.  You will latch on to popular beliefs within the community in which you are lifting.  This wasn’t the facility in which you were working in, but a community filled with a lack of experience within the sport itself.

 

A community filled with regurgitations of other people’s words (that you will add to) with little knowledge on what it actually takes to produce long-term strength.  In doing this you will miss the message of some coaches that have been coaching longer than you have been alive.

 

You will discard what they say in the name of science.  Cherry-picking articles and poking holes in those coach’s narratives.  You will be completely unaware of the blind spots within the research.  Not sure you would have even cared, as you only cared about proving what you know. And of course you know better than those that have been getting people to top levels of strength for decades.

 

You will be one of the crowd shouting that “Westside sucks” and equipped lifting is cheating and a completely different sport.  It is different, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore aspects of it.  At the end of the day it is still about getting stronger.

 

You will make a smart move and surround yourself with more experienced coaches.  You will realize that a couple of them love quite a few aspects of Westside’s training methods, and even the one that isn’t a huge fan of them, doesn’t disregard everything that Westside does.

 

You will reluctantly be convinced to start a podcast.  This podcast will have a few world level lifters, other coaches, and researchers as guests.  You will get to have very lengthy conversations with all of these people. This will be huge for your learning.

 

You will discuss many theoretical concepts on the podcast and in your blog.  You will have trolls because of this.  Remember that they don’t know what training with PPS really looks like. At the end of the day it is not that different from what everyone else is doing.  They just think you are nuts.

 

The more you talk to other coaches, lifters, and researchers, the more open minded you will become.  You will see many parallels between the pain science world and performance.  You will have a smart group of physical therapists that will help you make sense of that world and make it easier to connect those dots.

 

You will be able to put innovation on top of the foundation of general principles that Sheiko taught you for 3 years.  Eventually, you will come back around full circle and realize that those coaches that you discarded in the beginning were actually onto something.

 

You will begin to see your own methods put onto paper.  These methods will be a combination of the things you learned with Sheiko, and what you have learned works for the culture of PPS.  You will see Sheiko’s influence in the program, you will see the influence from the researchers you have spoken with, and you will even see the influence of Westside in your program.

 

Continue to keep an open mind as you coach.  Continue to learn as much as you can.  Continue to use science to guide the process but understand that science has blind spots that can be filled in by continuing to talk to those that have been successful in this sport for long periods of time.

 

Continue to try out new things.  Never stop experimenting.  The goal of the team is to continue to grow and learn in the name of strength.  This is a big reason why lifters in PPS see results. We have this desire to try whatever we can to get stronger than everyone else.  That attitude goes a long way.

 

And no matter what just keep outworking every other coach by reading, learning, talking to others, experimenting in the gym, and coaching your ass off.

My Implementation of “Speed Work”

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

Over the course of the last 4-5 years we have gone from running a very “Sheiko-esque” program, to switching gears a bit and making it more intensity focused.  Don’t get me wrong, there are still lots of influences from Sheiko within our programs.

 

I still am big on technique being the most important aspect of training.  A Sheiko program was very big on building technique with repetition based training.  Sets very rarely went over 85% of 1RM and when they did the ROM was often manipulated.

 

We saw very good results using this type of training.  However, when weights became near maximal, the lifters technique would breakdown.  I also noticed that the lifters would get very nervous when the weights got heavy.  These nerves definitely played a role in this breakdown in technique.

 

I had this belief that we make technique efficient with lots of repetitions with lighter weights, but we were not practicing the situations that the lifters are put in during maximal lifts and competition.  I knew I needed to use weights large enough to create an emotional response within the lifters.

 

I manipulated variations more and we loaded them up.  These variations would hopefully punish technical inefficiencies and force the lifters to perform the lifts with better technique.  Over this period of time I noticed we got stronger and stronger the heavier we lifted.

 

When I was implementing this, I figured the warmups would be enough sets in those lighter weight zones to get the repetitions/practice needed to improve technique.  Reps are important for these reasons.  I think of strength training as a balance between brute strength and technique.

 

The variations and the repetitions working up to top sets should help technique, and the heavy top sets should develop the brute strength necessary to move more weight.  We are definitely moving more weight.

 

Yesterday Doug, a 66kg lifter who finished 10thin the Juniors at Nationals last year, squatted 460lbs on a wide stance box squat.  This is 55lbs more than he squatted last October, and 40lbs more than he squatted at the end of April.  These types of jumps are not that uncommon.

 

To change courses just a bit here as I feel it is an interesting observation.  Oftentimes when these large jumps level out, we get a longer stagnation period.  This is what made me interested in complex theory and power-law relationships.

 

This may be why most coaches want 5-10lbs at a time.  It might keep motivation higher by constant increases in performance.  I do not agree with this philosophy.  Tomorrow is not guaranteed, take what is there now.

 

Mike D’amico put 50lbs on his squat from Regionals of last year to Regionals this year.  It just so happened he did it from January to April and it has leveled off since then.  This is very good progress on one lift in a year from someone that has been lifting for more than 5 years.  Progress is not linear, however.

 

These periods of stagnation are important.  The Russians have a saying, the weights and workloads must mature and ripen and then we add more.  In complex theory, in order to have an “avalanche” the system needs to reach a point of criticality.

 

What we see with these large PRs is a large avalanche, a small PR would be a small avalanche. There are no differences between the causes of large and small PRs.  Once the avalanche is over it takes the system time to build up to a state of criticality.

 

During this period, the lifter gets to use the same weights and workloads over and over as strength slowly builds in the background.  This allows those weights to mature and ripen as the Russians say.

 

In terms of stress, training is pretty stressful when those PRs are happening frequently.  Constantly hitting newer and newer weights in all kinds of positions becomes very tough training.  As it levels off, the stress is lowered as the weights become more and more familiar.  The same psychological arousal is not necessary to handle the same weights anymore and technique becomes more consistent.

 

I have said in the past that these periods of stagnation are necessary.  They are a normal trend in complex systems for a reason.  The reason is far outside of our understanding, but we can use this time period to our advantage.

 

Many lifters struggle to realize this for some reason.  If they go a month or 2 or 3 without seeing progress on a lift, after having very good progress for a period of time, they think progress has stopped.  Too often lifters look into the day to day instead of the longer term trends.

 

There is a reason why most high level coaches say you cannot peak for more than 1-2 competitions in a year. Progress is not linear.  A few months is not a long time in the giant scheme of things.  Periodization tries to account for these “down” times by phasing out training.  The problem with that is we cannot predict when those “down” times are going to occur.

 

These periods allow us to refine technique because more weight is not being added to the bar, so brute strength is taking a backseat.  On paper this all sounds great and I stand by the science.  However, lifters do not necessarily make the best decisions on a day to day basis.

 

We talk frequently, but to develop this skill it will take years.  I got lifters that will just max out every day they come into the gym. These lifters are maniacs.  The program calls for a top set between RPE 8.5-9.5.

 

If you feel like shit, keep it at an 8.5 and maybe take an extra set there, or not.  Feeling good, push it a bit.  These should still be submax weights that the lifter can control. There will be some breakdown, but we learn from errors.

 

When we get closer to an RPE 10 more frequently, our technique will change in ways we cannot account for with variation.  Lifters will begin to squat slower and bring the bench press down slower.  The lifter will lose some pop off of the floor with deadlifts that could be due to position, or just being a bit fatigued. The fatigue I don’t worry about as much.

 

I needed to find a way to keep this in check as well as making sure we are not just maxing out every day.  If we did not work full-time jobs and live in a culture that fears fatigue, we would be able to push those RPE 10 lifts much more often.

 

One thing I have been doing over the last year when a lifter gets stagnate in a lift, and begins to lose confidence, is adding in a block of “speed lifts.”  These basically follow Prilepin’s chart with shortened rest. Many times we took 90% singles for a handful of sets.

 

Prilepin’s chart has some downfalls to use as a main tool for deciding intensities and volumes. For one, it was for weightlifters and not powerlifters.  However, it is a good starting point for the lifter to get quality reps.  We can increase the difficulty by decreasing the rest.

 

A lot of Sheiko’s program would fit nicely into Prilepin’s chart.  The intensities were made greater by adding a pause or accommodating resistance. The total volume would often exceed the recommendations of the chart.

 

Adding in this “speed work” occasionally can have some big benefits.  In chaos theory some small perturbations can create large outcomes.  These are not predictable, but I think this can help a lot.

 

For one, these weights are a nice psychological break from lifting heavier more often.  An example would be 8-10 sets of 2 reps at 80% to be completed within 25-30 minutes.  This will be hard, but hard in a different way than what each lifter is used to. The intensities will range from 75% to 90% for 1 to 4 reps for 6-12 sets.

 

These weights will allow lots of practice with lighter weights, while keeping effort high.  It will also get the lifters in and out of the gym.  Too often lifters will take very long rests between sets and end up lifting for 2-3 hours. 2 lifts in a “speed day” should have them in and out of the gym within 1 hour.  This allows for more time to recover and to get other life things done.  Time becomes a stressor for lifters because we all have lives outside of the gym and we need to get shit done sometimes.

 

My implementation of it will not be each week.  To start I will add in a “speed week” every 3rdweek.  Most lifters can push really hard for 2 weeks when they know we will be pulling back.  I will give them more freedom here to go harder on some of those days as well.

 

If they feel good, we will send it.  I think this is a nice compromise between myself and those lifters I have that live the RPE 10 lifestyle.  I also think it gives everyone a bit more flexibility in training.

 

I feel adaptations are more likely to occur when we do extreme things.  Doing extreme things, comes with higher risk for consequences as well.  I think this will be a nice way to get some extremes into training while mitigating some of the consequences.  Guess we will see.  The early feedback so far has been very good from the lifters.

 

Seems to build confidence and momentum while working on technique with relatively heavy weights.

Technique + Strength + Skill, Oh My

 

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

I have officially been involved in the sport of powerlifting for 5 years now.  I literally had to do the math a few times because I did not believe it.  The older I get the faster that time seems to move.  My daughter is somehow 11 years old too!

 

Over this period of time I have been fortunate enough to learn from so many other coaches and athletes. I also have been fortunate enough to learn from so many of the PPS lifters as well.  We have changed what we do quite a bit over time.

 

Being coached by Sheiko for the first 3 years, our programs looked very similar to what Sheiko’s looked like.  However, I found out that that style of training will not work as well with lifters here.  A big reason for this is due to our culture and the time we spend in this sport.

 

In Russia they go to schools where powerlifting is basically a subject.  From the time they are a youth athlete, they are part of the Soviet System.  To save time I will not go into details on how this works, but they follow this system for over 10 years before they are even a junior in competitions.

 

Not every athlete there climbs up the classification chart to be a Master of Sport in International Competition.  Many lifters “wash out” of these schools long before that happens.  Once they are identified to not have what it takes to get further, they are given a certificate for their current classification and they move on.  Some might even move on to coaching.

 

The ones that end up becoming a Master of Sport or higher are the ones that continue to see progress with this style of training.  My guess is this is the same as the Greek and Bulgarian systems as well.  Not every Russian reaches this classification, we just hear about the ones that do.

 

Sheiko was big on technique first.  This often gets misunderstood in translation.  He would control loads but make them more difficult with variations to work on technique within the lifts.  You would get a lot of practice with these variations and these same loads. Training was very hard, but very hard in a different way.  It was a lot of work, often taking over 3 hours to complete a session.

 

We had great success using these methods, but I learned that technique was still breaking down with heavier weights.  I remember Sheiko talking about meeting Louie Simmons and the difference in their programming.  Sheiko said that Louie emphasized strength first, while he emphasized technique first.

 

This wasn’t a criticism of his methods.  Instead it was a very enlightening conversation about how coaching works. Sheiko also said that powerlifting is big enough for many different methods.  This also resonated with me quite a bit.

 

I started adding in more heavier weights into our training.  Over about a 2 year period, we added many heavier weights into our training. We work up to 1-2 hard sets of an RPE 8.5-9.5 each training session.

 

I also added in more drastic variations to bring a skill component to our training.  I started placing lifters in positions that would punish technical inefficiencies, and we will push weights in these positions. This is how we acquire those skills. Lifting heavy also allows the lifter to practice their skill of competing.

 

When we go to a competition, most lifters for PPS are not nervous.  We do this every day in the gym.  We compete.  Not against each other, but against ourselves and our emotions.  We learn to harness them and be more confident lifters.

 

Perhaps we swung the pendulum too far towards the strength side.  When I initially changed things up, I assumed the warmups would be enough to get those sets in to work on technique.  However, I realized many lifters were taking huge jumps and all of the focus was on the top set.  The warmups were just pushed aside as nothing more than that, a warmup.

 

Also, lifters were taking huge jumps to not be “tired” for their top set.  Basically, lifters were doing like 9 seconds of good solid work for each lift.  That is it. That is a far cry from the 3+ hours we would train in the beginning.  This made me realize that I need to interject here again.

 

I started giving more days with more “top sets”. For example, a lifter might hit a hard set of 3 reps at 300lbs on the squat, at an RPE 9.  I might have them hit this for 2-3 sets the following week, and then even maybe 3-4 sets the week after that.  Sometimes I drop the weight a little to do this.  The following week we may work up to a heavy triple again. This has been working well.

 

They get more practice with submaximal weights that are still heavy, and we see that triple go up pretty significantly.  When we push a single now, we see a bigger number on that bar.  I base these decisions off of their best competition lifts.

 

This is a nice parallel between how we ran a Sheiko style program before to what we do now.  It takes care of the weights being too light, and since they work up to a heavy set the week before, I have a good idea for what weight we put on the bar.  These sessions are VERY difficult.

 

One other aspect of a Sheiko program is the alternating of stress levels on each training day.  Some days are high stress, others medium, and some low.  When I go back and look at everyone’s programs now, we see this trend play out for everyone.

 

We have been doing a lot more comp singles in training as well.  This is not something we work up to each training day.  This is a weight I prescribe, that they are not allowed to go up from.  If they feel like shit they can go down, but I encourage them to just hit this weight no matter what.

 

This weight is a hard, but doable weight.  It is not something they should miss.  Often it lies between their best double and triple.  On a good day it might be an RPE 8, and on a tough day it will be a solid RPE 9. It is basically practice with a weight between an opener or second attempt.

 

This helps me to gauge their progress a bit.  It also gives each lifter some feedback as to where they are at on a given training day and it can help them make better decisions on their other work.  It highlights some weaknesses within their comp lifts too and they work on tightening it up under that given load.

 

I have gone through periods of time where I put more emphasis on accessories and less emphasis on them.  This has been one of those things I have really struggled with.  I use far more variation now than I used to.

 

We are constantly changing foot position, bar position, grip, and stance.  This is to ensure that we are training all angles and creating well rounded lifters.  I think this decreases the need for accessory work.  Accessory work comes in more as a filler when the volume drops for the competition lifts and their variations.

 

My programs have gotten far simpler over time.  I write a lot about theoretical concepts, but our programs are extremely simple.  I give the lifter way more responsibility now. I went from being a dictator to being a facilitator.  I guide the process with exercises to improve technical efficiency, suggested weight, and many conversations to help each lifter make the best training decisions possible each training day.

 

Over my 5 years of coaching in this sport we focused on technique over everything, swung the pendulum far to the strength side, and began to focus on strength as a skill.  Now it is time to bring it all together.  To take these last 5 years of learning and put our best product on the platform.

Understanding Acute Fatigue….Or Not

 

Written By: Kevin Cann

 

I had a very good conversation with Quinn Henoch about acute fatigue.  I then posed this same question and had this same discussion with Mike Amato of Barbell Medicine.  I feel sharing some of these thoughts will be entertaining at the least.

 

The question that Quinn asked me was “Why can’t you squat your true 1RM for a double?”  My response: “Hold my beer.”  This led to a pretty long discussion afterwards.  I hope Quinn does not mind, but I am going to share his take on this:

 

“As with all of this, I think it is multifactorial, but yes (physical issues lead to not doubling your true 1RM).  I think physiology plays a role.  Everyone has a max at every rep range.  What stops them from getting 1,2, or 10 more reps, I don’t know-but I am not ready to discard physiology…I fully concede that the psychological element is a big time player.”

 

I think this is a fantastic explanation of the situation.  I actually agree with 99% of it.  Like most things, we agree on the majority, but get really hung up on the smaller pieces.  For now I am going to focus on that 1%.

 

I agree that it is an interplay between physical and psychological factors, that is undeniable. However, I am reluctant to call fatigue the culprit of the inability to double my 1RM and here is why.

 

ATP-PC lasts for about 10 seconds.  A hard single is 3-5 seconds.  I do not see ATP being an issue here.  If we were discussing a triple, perhaps.  A more confusing piece of this puzzle lies with our motor units.  This excerpt comes from “A motor unit-based model of muscle fatigue” written by Jim Polvin and Andrew Fuglevand

 

“Fig 5C shows the force contribution of the individual MUs over the course of the 100% force trial.  It is important to note that, at the outset of the trial, before any fatigue occurred, the forces produced by the highest threshold MUs were less than their theoretical forces.  For example, MU120 had a capacity to generate 100 times more force than MU1, yet its initial force at 100% MVE was only 57 times greater than MU1. This was due to: a) the imposed “onion skin” organization that limits the maximum firing rates of high threshold MUs to be less than that of low threshold MUs, and b) the briefer contraction times of high threshold MUs which decreased their normalized firing rates and led to lower forces.  This implies that there is a reserve capacity of force that is not normally accessed even during maximal voluntary efforts.”

 

Is it fatigue if our body is holding reserves, or is it just the fact that we are not trained or adapted to handle that?  Is it that we accept that our 1RM is our 1RM, and we believe that we can’t double that, so we accept we can’t?  To be fair, no one knows the answer to this, and we are most likely far away from that answer, but it is fun to think about.

 

The majority of this research is performed on endurance events.  This is due to the fact that inducing measurable fatigue with intensity, in a laboratory setting, is very difficult, if not impossible.  It gets even more difficult to measure afterwards as central and peripheral fatigue recovers very quickly.  Muscle damage is the only measurable piece that lasts more than a few hours.

 

This does not mean that fatigue is not present.  We can’t measure it.  This probably speaks more to our lack of understanding with what it is.  It also does not rule out that it is not a culprit in this situation.

 

Quinn then asked, “But could “acute fatigue” not just be a proxy term for the accumulation of factors that cause us to fail a set?”  This made a light bulb go off in my head.  We are disagreeing about “fatigue” in this case because we are defining it differently.

 

I have always associated fatigue with being tired, either physically or psychologically.  I have watched lifters miss a weight 2 weeks in a row, only to come back week 3 and hit it, and never miss it again.  We did not pull back in these cases.  In some we pushed even harder.  These lifters weren’t tired, they just weren’t adapted was my response to myself.

 

With a different definition, I think communication can be improved on this topic.  I proposed this definition of fatigue to Mike Amato:

 

“A decrease in performance that is a result of psychological factors that include mood, perceptions, expectations, and cultural beliefs, as well as physical properties that include available energy stores, heart rate, and core temperature.  These two pieces are not exclusive as it is the same individual. Biological processes such as motor unit recruitment is a combination of both physical and psychological factors and is a contributor to decreases in performance.  Fatigue is a multifactorial process that extends beyond the feelings of exhaustion and tiredness.”

 

Mike made a great point; it does not always decrease performance. Adding in after the decreased performance; decreased motivation, and/or increases in pain sensitivity is important. We can be fatigued and still driving progress forward, but for how long?  In these situations we see a loss of motivation and increases in pain sensitivity.  Often these issues are due to factors outside of the gym, and not the training itself.

 

 

Having a better definition of fatigue can allow for more productive conversations regarding the subject matter.  I think many coaches view fatigue as being tired and needing to pull back.  I think this definition highlights how complex fatigue is and how we do not always need to pull back when a lifter is fatigued. However, sometimes we do need to pull back.

 

This is just a start on the topic.  More to come.