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Few Words on Volume

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

I was reading a thread that was about me on the internet yesterday and this topic was mentioned. Surprisingly, the thread was overwhelmingly positive in regard to the information about the way in which PPS does things.  This was a nice change of pace from the usual negativity.

 

One of things mentioned was that it seems that we are low volume and high intensity.  This is not necessarily wrong, but I think it is a good topic to discuss.  I think there is a lot of misinformation out there on the importance of volume as well.

 

First off how are we defining volume?  There are certain definitions of volume out there that I believe are quite useless.  One of those is total tonnage.  I do not feel that the total tonnage lifted in training tells us anything about the training session itself.

 

I view training from a behavioral learning/motor control lens.  I feel this includes all parts of the human including both psychological and physical.  If we just view training as a program of sets and reps, we can miss the piece about the human going through it.  The unpredictability of training also decreases the emphasis that should be placed on the program at the expense of the person in front of the coach.

 

There is a certain amount of practice required to develop a skill.  Someone cannot just squat one time per month and win a world championship.  I care about number of lifts in training for this reason.  But what lifts do I care about?

 

Do I care about how many reps are taken with the empty bar?  I want them to warmup with the empty bar, but I am not including this in the tracked volume of the session.  With the research out there, it seems as if sets completed from RPE 6 to RPE 10 have benefits towards increasing strength.

 

I include all lifts within these ranges as the total number of lifts per session, per week, per month, and so on.  In a max effort session, the lifter usually gets around 2 to 4 repetitions above 90% of 1RM.  They are warming up with singles and the singles previous to these attempts are most likely below the RPE 6 threshold.  Even if it was not, it is not really volume that I care about on this given day.  This is not an exact science, so an extra rep is not going to be a big deal if I miss it.

 

The goal of max effort is to build absolute strength.  I care about the singles at or near failure here.  This context redefines volume for me on this given day. I only want to count the reps that are useful to the goal that we are trying to achieve in the gym.

 

If a lifter hits a true RPE 10 on week 1, week 2 we will use a percentage of that number for a sets and reps.  This may look like:

 

Wide Stance Box Squat, 80% of last week, 1 set of 4-5 reps

 

I choose 80% because it is the average intensity that the majority of the repetitions were performed in the Soviet System.  Also, from the times we ran a more linear program, most lifters could execute 80% of 1RM for 4-5 reps.  This just so happens to be the same number of repetitions the lifter executed at higher intensities the week prior.  On max effort day we get 2-4 reps at the same RPEs.

 

The closer you are to RPE 6, the more volume you need.  The closer you are to an RPE 10, the less volume you need.  This is a general rule that I tend to follow.  Both days usually have some kind of backdown work.

 

I will say in many cases coaches just throw the kitchen sink at the lifter.  The lowest volume should be utilized to get results.  This is true on any program.  Throwing insanely high volumes at a lifter will ensure a stimulus is being achieved and will lead to short term results.  This will not work in the long term.

 

This backdown work that we perform is usually between 65% of 1RM and 80% of 1RM.  This may be the same variation we maxed out on or a different one that we are working on the technical breakdowns seen in the max work.  The percentage is taken from the max work of that day.

 

The number of lifts for backdowns is usually between 8 and 15, with some wiggle room to go higher depending on the variation used and the person.  We are getting between 10 and 20 reps of work between an RPE 7 and RPE 10.  If your program reads 5 sets of 4 reps at RPE 7, we have done similar volumes.

 

However, we get singles between RPE 9.5 and RPE 10.  Our specificity is higher.  Out of those 20 reps we are getting 2 to 4 reps between an RPE 8.5 and RPE 10.  Due to our intensity, we have a larger recovery cost.  This recovery is actually more psychological than physical.

 

Due to this greater recovery cost our frequency is limited to 1-2 times per week.  A program performing a 5×4 at RPE 7 will not have a huge recovery cost.  These programs allow the lifters to utilize a higher frequency if they so choose.

 

Many DUP programs may have 3 days where all of the lifts are performed.  It would be very difficult to do this with max singles thrown in there.  The fact that the RPEs are lower, the frequency and the volume can increase to drive results.

 

Lifters have limited time in the gym.  I prefer max singles due to the efficiency of training sessions.  When I first started coaching, training sessions would take 2-3 hours to complete.  Now they are completed in 1-1.5 hours and we are much stronger now than we were then.  This allows more time to get stuff done outside of the gym and more recovery time.

 

We can’t just max out every day in the gym.  Although this is literally what I have been doing for the last few months.  I know this is not the best program to be doing, but I wanted to, and I don’t care what is best.  I have been having a lot of fun training and looking forward to sessions.

 

My progress stalled pretty heavily and even went backwards some, but I still do not care.  I can’t emphasize enough that I am having fun training and right now, that is all that I want.  I am not weaker from training.  I am also not a good lifter.  I am not winning a world championship anytime soon (my goal is just to outlive everyone else to win).  If I stay consistent and keep training, I will adapt and get stronger no matter what I do.

 

That brings me to my next topic here, it takes time to adapt to a change in stimulus.  If you are coming from a high volume program to a conjugate style training program, you will see a dip in performance in the beginning. Your workload is dropping, this is common.  Also, your psychological pieces are not used to being challenged as frequently as they will be with a higher intense program.

 

I have had many lifters freak out the second a max effort lift is under their all-time best.  The process is not linear.  We are just looking to beat old PRs on variations by 5lbs in each wave.  Lifters are instructed to leave 5 to 10lbs on the bar each week.  On the 3rd week of a wave they can go full send.  In a perfect world we are really only maxing out 1 time per month.  However, sometimes what you think will be a good weight gets heavy fast.  When this happens the following week is sets and reps without max effort anyways, so at most lifters are truly maxing 2 times per month.  The other days there is 5-10lbs left for the following week.  The deadlift is rotated between max effort and dynamic effort/rep work every other week.

 

Since we cannot max out every day (do as I say not as I do), we need to use lighter days.  On these lighter days I look for an RPE 7 intensity, but we get as many as 15 sets of both squats and deadlifts done on the same day (30 sets total), and usually as low as 20 sets.  In these cases the reps per set for squats would be 2 and deadlifts 1 to 2.

 

If we use rep work the reps for squats will be between 20 to 30 and the reps for deadlifts between 10 and 20.  This is done on day 4 in the program.  We do dynamic bench work/rep work before pulls on day 3.  On these days bench press volume is between 25 and 35 reps.

 

These numbers are only including the working weight sets.  I used to include all warmups in my total number of lifts.  When we ran a more Sheiko style of programming, average number of lifts for a lifter would be between 150 and 200 lifts per week.  This included all warmups.

 

Now the average is between 100 and 130 lifts, not including warmups.  If we included warmups, our total number of lifts would be near the lower end of how we did it before.  Our average intensity is higher now, so volume needs to be a little lower.  With that said, it is not as high as you would think since only 7-10% of the total number of lifts are above 90% of 1RM.  The majority of our work is between 65% to 80% of 1RM.  This lowers the average quite a bit.

 

The problem with the lower intensity is that it requires more work, which requires more time.  This is a luxury many lifters do not have.  It also fails to train the psychological pieces of the sport.  I would argue the psychological may be more important than the physical.

Conjugate Doesn’t Work for Raw?

 

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

Ever since I became involved in powerlifting about 5 years ago, this has been the theme, “Conjugate does not work for raw lifting.”  I must admit, I bought into it for a period of time, although my reasons may have been different from the internet’s.

 

My biggest issue was with technique.  Technique will break down at the higher intensities.  This is absolutely true.  Working with Sheiko, I was mimicking what he did in making every repetition in training look the same.

 

My other argument was more against heavy bands and chains.  We used accommodating resistance, but we used a much smaller amount than most conjugate training programs.  This was due to the changing of the strength curve.

 

The more accommodating resistance, the lower the weight at the difficult parts of the lift and the higher the weight during the more biomechanically efficient parts of the lift.  I would argue that a lifter is only as strong as they are in their weakest positions.  This is also true.  However, heavy accommodating resistance has a place for CAT (compensatory acceleration training) and it helps strengthen certain technical inefficiencies.

 

The internet will tell you that conjugate is not specific enough.  This has really never made much sense to me.  Aren’t heavy singles the actual sport?  To my knowledge it was the only powerlifting program that was actually very specific to the sport.  The amount of variation in a Sheiko program was very similar to a Westside program, so the variability of training was something that I was accustomed to.

 

5 years ago was the start of the rise of popularity for DUP (daily undulating periodization).  DUP was well researched, and Dr. Mike Zourdos made it much more accessible for powerlifters.  Now every powerlifter could go on IG and yell their training was better because of #science.

 

Over the years I have found my way to a conjugate training system.  I realized that following a Sheiko program that we were not lifting heavy enough and lifters were getting nervous to attempt heavier weights.

 

A Sheiko program did not allow the lifters to explore positions either.  All variations were done in comp stance and with comp grip.  This makes sense for the Russians that had all those years of GPP work before being coached by Sheiko.

 

In America, many lifters do not have that same base.  They start the sport later in life and come with a lot of weaknesses and lower skill levels within the lifts.  Variability is important to increase that skill level while simultaneously bringing up weaker areas.

 

Raw lifting is a relatively new thing.  I believe the first IPF raw world championships was in 2013.  The first raw nationals was just a couple years prior to that.  This leads to a lot of inexperience in the sport.

 

It also seems to attract the younger demographics that grew up with technology.  A DUP program is easy to make on an Excel spreadsheet and really does not require a whole lot of coaching.  In fact, I would argue that this is writing programs and not coaching at all.

 

So what is a conjugate program?  A conjugate program is a method of training where multiple methods are trained at the same time.  DUP, has some similarities here.  A DUP program may have a hypertrophy day, strength day, and power day.  Each week the program may call for adding a set, or increasing weight, so there are some linear components to it as well.

 

A conjugate program will look to build absolute strength (max effort method), rate of force development (dynamic effort method), technical efficiency (dynamic effort method/repetition effort method), and mental toughness (max effort method).

 

At the end of the day, powerlifting is about displaying absolute strength.  There is no better way to increase maximal strength than taking heavy singles.  Singles over 90% increase motor unit recruitment better than lighter weights, and it develops the ability to strain under heavy weights.

 

Sets of greater than one rep do not do that.  One, the lifter, will conserve as much energy as needed to finish the set.  This is even true for doubles and triples.  This also trains strength endurance and not absolute strength.  Singles also build mental toughness to handle heavier weights.

 

Technique does break down at these heavier weights.  When I first started, I viewed this as a negative.  However, now I view it as a positive.  Error teaches us.  The max effort singles allow us to easily analyze the lifter and build a program around attacking weaknesses.

 

We can alter the angles of the max effort lifts to punish technical inefficiency and strengthen any lagging areas.  It seems like everyone needs stronger hips, hamstrings, and low back.  This is why the majority of lifters lean towards lifting in a raised heel.  It allows them to stay more upright and use more quads.  A very simple fix to this, is we now do the majority of our training in flats.

 

A lifter cannot have as much of a positive shin angle in flats as compared to a raised heel.  This decreases the ability to use more quads and forces the lifter to use a bit more hips and hamstrings.  On top of that we do a lot more wider stance squat work.  This emphasizes those areas even more.  Increasing toe flail can limit the forward travel of the knee as well.

 

This allows the lifter to build technical efficiency under maximal loads, where it actually matters in this sport.  These positions can also target weaknesses in a sport specific manner.  If a wide stance squat in flats is 10% lower for a 1RM than a comp stance in heels, we got a weakness to work on.  We can build up those angles, and when we do that, we will see an increase in the competition lift itself.  Sometimes the lifter will prefer the new positions.  Now, our strengths and weaknesses have shifted, and the process continues.

 

We cannot just do heavy singles every day in the gym.  This is for recovery for one.  Psychological burnout can become high if we just perform heavy singles.  I also think there are some positives to repeated practice.

 

Singles do not give the lifter a lot of practice.  This is where the dynamic effort and repetition effort methods come into play.  The coach can use lighter weights and higher volumes to get the lifter more practice and to continue to work on weaknesses.

 

Weaknesses can be technical, mental, and physical.  If a lifter is slow, work on getting faster, if a lifter has poor technique maybe slowing them down and teaching control is more appropriate than speeding them up.  We can always speed them up later on, when the control is there.  This is a long term process.  The coach can choose the angles of the lift to also work on weaknesses.  If the lifter needs more hips and hamstrings, the box squat is good here.

 

How is this not for raw lifters?  A DUP program may have a block of 8/6/4 reps and then a block of 5/3/1 reps. Sometimes singles are included but done at an RPE 8. A rep at that intensity is not maximal effort and will not build absolute strength.

 

It may allow the lifter to maintain strength while they wait for the program to get more specific.  The closer to a single that the lifter gets, the more specific.  Let us look at the efficiency of each program.

 

A conjugate program takes no more than an hour to hour and a half to complete.  Performing multiple higher rep sets of all 3 lifts each day, takes far longer.  My lifters have jobs and lives outside of the gym.  The less time they spend in the gym the more time they can recover and manage their lives outside of the gym.

 

This is not to rip on those that use a DUP program.  If you enjoy doing that, by all means keep doing it.  It also works for a lot of lifters out there.  I will just argue that it is not the best.  Long term training requires a continual analysis of weaknesses and a program that targets those weaknesses.

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.