Long Term Skill Acquisition in Powerlifting

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

I have had this conversation quite a few times in the last week and I think it makes a very interesting topic.  I view strength as a skill. Not just the technique of the lifts, but the actual physiological adaptation.

 

The definition of a skill is “the ability to do something well, expertise” and “A particular ability.” If we are really good at something, we even identify it as a strength.  Developing a skill is also a dynamic process.

 

In skill development there are progressions, regressions, skips, and jumps.  This is the same as in strength training.  Developing strength is also a dynamic process.  It is a dynamic process that the coach needs to understand both short term and long-term pieces of.

 

In most sports there are long term skill development plans.  I played soccer growing up so I will use that as an example.  At 5 years old the ball was smaller, the field was smaller, the goals were small without goaltenders, and the number of kids on the field was far less than 11.

 

The reasons for all of this go far beyond what many understand.  The ball being smaller allowed the kids to develop appropriate skills for kicking the ball.  If they used the larger adult sized ball this would alter mechanics to move the heavier ball and have an impact in the long term on kicking skills.  The goal is for the kids to self-organize into appropriate kicking technique within a game.

 

The field was smaller because the kids are smaller.  A larger field would not be appropriate for the speed and size of the current players. It would be a very different game with in game skill development being something that would not carry over as much.

 

The goals were smaller without a goaltender to encourage kids to shoot and aim for a target.  If a goalie was in the net there may be hesitation from the kid to shoot.  There may also be a focus developed on the goalie instead of the target.  The goal being smaller allows them to self-organize to a technique that allows them to put the ball in a smaller space.

 

The smaller sided games are actually to avoid swarming to the ball.  This helps to teach appropriate spacing on the field that will carry over to later on.  All of these pieces serve a purpose.

 

In powerlifting I think many forget this.  They want everything right now.  I understand this modern day thinking with the internet being a highlight reel of people hitting big weights.  Athletes need to understand where they are in their journey and how to appropriately set themselves up for the long term.

 

Most lifters start powerlifting later in life.  This isn’t a sport that many start at a young age here in America.  There are a few and they just happen to be the best coaches around now.  We need to understand this part in the beginning.  It isn’t about starting them at lower volumes and building them up.

 

These lifters have developed strengths and weaknesses based off of their experiences.  At this stage in their life their perceptions, beliefs, and sociocultural surroundings have molded them into the human in front of us. This means education is a big part of our job in the beginning.

 

As a coach we want to develop the whole athlete.  Many of the current world champions come from a bodybuilding background and the Eastern Europeans have about 10 years of GPP work before their training becomes specific. This builds a great foundation to build the lifter.

 

This is not usually the case here.  Most programs will call for high volumes of competition lifts.  This can yield fast progress off of the bat, but it can hinder the athlete later on.  This is one reason why I believe lifters see progress for the first couple of years and then there is a drop-off in total or a sustained plateau.

 

Kerry had asked/yelled at me the other day “Why hasn’t my deadlift moved in years!?”  This is one reason why I believe it has been stuck. I wasn’t attempting to build the complete athlete.  I was only attempting to strengthen her comp stance deadlift.

 

Kerry competes in a medium stance sumo where her knees will straighten and back will round under heavier weights.  This can’t be fixed from this position and to build a resilient athlete as well as strengthen weaknesses we need to alter angles.  This shifts emphasis to different muscles that have been ignored and punishes less efficient positions by disallowing the lifter to complete the task.

 

For Kerry this means a lot of wide stance sumo deadlifts.  This will strengthen her hips to take some pressure off of her back to pull. If the hips and legs catch up to her back strength, there is a huge pull to be had there.  However, I kind of fucked up there and it is going to take time.

 

She trained with that less efficient position for 4 years.  This isn’t as simple as putting a variation in for a block and everything is ok. She competed with a wide stance deadlift at the Arnold and we have continued to build it from there.  She has already doubled a weight that didn’t budge a month ago.  There is still a lot of work to be done here to get it where we need it to be.

 

I hindered Kerry’s long-term progress by not being a good enough coach.  Thanks Kerry for sticking with me through all of this.  I remember Sheiko saying that a world class lifter needs a world class coach.  Kerry had an elite deadlift when she started, I was not ready at the time to handle that.

 

Luckily, she was not elite in the other 2 lifts and we have had increases in total each year due to those continually growing.

 

I asked Sheiko how I get to that level.  He said that I must think about powerlifting 20 hours a day.  The rest of the time is spent training.  I think there was about an hour break per day where I could think of something else.  Reasonable.

 

I have literally done that since that day.  It has brought me down some fun rabbit holes and has gotten me to this point.  Without Kerry’s deadlift we are probably not seeing the results we are today as a group.

 

Some will argue that that is just how she pulls.  Yes technically it is, but it is definitely inefficient and will have a lower ceiling than if we correct those issues.  Those issues cannot be corrected with lighter weights.

 

I would sit there and give her a lot of feedback on each repetition in training.  This is not usually my style, but I think my frustration coming out as trying to do too much and fix it with words.  This feedback is not appropriate.

 

Our jobs as coaches is to guide discovery for more efficient positions.  I was having a good conversation about this with Alyssa. Alyssa is a PhD candidate for educational leadership.  She is doing some research on this topic and how it applies to learning.

 

Even though it is intended for the classroom, the same principles apply to skill acquisition.  The research shows a lot of support for guided discovery groups performing much better than groups receiving a lot of feedback.

 

Basically, these studies are usually setup where one group receives a lot of instruction from an administrator while another group will be given the same task except with constraints placed upon it to help them discover the appropriate behavior.

 

Oftentimes the instructional group will perform better in the earlier tests.  However, upon coming back and being forced to recall the information they tend to score much lower than the guided discovery groups.

 

This means that the feedback you give a lifter today may make the lift look better, but in the long run, or under higher stress, the ability to recall it will be lower.  This is why I follow a constraints-led approach.

 

A constraints-led approach allows me to alter the task in a way that punishes less efficient positions by disallowing the athlete to complete the task.  It also allows me to place the athlete into all kinds of various positions to see where their strengths and weaknesses are.

 

From there we get a good glimpse of the whole athlete.  We can then build a complete lifter that is strong at all angles.  This builds resiliency as well as an increased skill of strength.  These changes in angles are the feedback for the lifter.

 

Instead of focusing on my words they are focused on completing the task at these different angles. Different angles that are usually punishing their positions that they tend to fallback too.  The sensory input that they receive is their feedback. Feedback that will have higher recall rates under higher stress conditions, like heavier weights or a competition.  We also load these positions up with heavy weights respectfully.

 

Every athlete predicts movements before they occur.  Every repetition they perform gives feedback that gets put into this predictive process. Over time we have a higher level of skill because this is more subconscious than conscious attention.  A coach’s words are conscious attention.

 

When our lifters are surfing Instagram, these perceptual processes are also being updated.  This is why education is so important.  This is why it is also important to be adaptable as a coach.  It is not as easy as this variation will fix this problem.

 

Each athlete is different in how they learn.  Tweaks to these exercises will need to be made.  The human is also dynamic.  They are constantly changing initial conditions that the coach needs to be aware of and make the appropriate decisions.

 

My understanding of this has made me change how I write the programs quite a bit.  I no longer write number of sets.  I let each athlete decide that based off of how each day goes. I will write the exercise, reps, and suggested top weight.  They adjust accordingly.

 

Through this process we have a lot of conversations.  These conversations help educate each lifter on making appropriate decisions.  I feel this is the best way to address all of the things that we know can positively and negatively affect training.

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Fatigue: What Do We Really Know?

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

There is an old saying “The more I learn the less I know.”  I think this statement misses the mark quite a bit.  To be honest, the more I learned, the more I thought I knew.  If you truly want to know something you need to be observant.

 

Observing lifters going through training will tell you what you know and what you don’t know.  I had Jacob Tyspkin on the podcast, and he made a great point.  He said that general principles are all right until you narrow them down for the individual.

 

As coaches when we are trying to learn more, we are reading articles and books.  We are looking for answers in every place but the place that can give us those answers.  The only place where that answer lies is within each individual in front of us.

 

This is hard though. This requires us to develop our skills as a coach.  Learning to write a program is easy, learning to actually coach takes time.  I am still learning these lessons.

 

We have these general beliefs about volumes and fatigue management.  Like Tsypkin said, these general principles are true until we narrow it down for the individual.  When you look at this from an individual perspective it is very messy.  In fact, it is chaos.

 

If we were as simple as machines that just adapted to mechanical stress than we could predict and reproduce results based off of mechanical stress.  However, that is very rarely the case.  In my experiences results have never been reproducible.

 

We may get positive results from the same stimulus, but the extent of those results always is different. For example, maybe adding in pause squats led to a 10lb squat PR in a block, but the next time you use them you only get a 5lbPR, or 15lb PR.  It is never the exact same.

 

Of course there are other variables that go into that but using that example so you can see what I am saying.  Strength is not a linear process so why would we apply linear strategies to it?  If we truly want to know the answers, we need to ask the individual.

 

How do we do this?  We can’t just go up to our lifters and be like “Hey, what are the best volumes for you?”  They would have no idea.  However, they do have that answer and a well-constructed program can help you find those answers.

 

I gave the lifters freedom to come and get after it as long as they were physically and psychologically capable of it.  What I witnessed was pretty amazing.  When I started coaching, I would structure programs with high, medium, and low stress days.

 

I have never been a fan of classic deloads.  They never made a lot of sense to me.  Having a well laid out plan with enough high stress days to drive results, medium stress days to maintain, and lower stress days for recovery made more sense to me.

 

Around this same time I began working with Jeremy Hartman.  We had a good conversation about coaching, and he gave me a documentary to watch.  This documentary was about the weightlifter Dimas who won medals in 4 Olympics.

 

One part of this documentary really stood out to me.  He had said it took 3 years for him to get used to the new coaching style.  He went from a Soviet Training System to the Bulgarian Method.  This seemed difficult for him.

 

He didn’t totally buy in at first.  He asked the coach for more volume.  The coach collaborated with him and told him that he can take more warmup sets.  Over time Dimas adapted to it and the results were remarkable.

 

There are a couple of things here that caught my attention.  For one, the coaches willingness to collaborate for buy in.  This is more important than many think.  Also, that once he bought in and believed in the system, he not only adapted but excelled.

 

Learning more about the Bulgarian Method, coming from a Soviet System, was interesting to me as well. The Soviet System yielded great results within the Soviet Union.  However, here in America the results were not quite the same and I have a best guess for that.

 

In the Soviet Union they go to schools where powerlifting is a class subject.  They are taught all about the Soviet System.  Their perceptions and beliefs are that it is the best for strength training.  Here in America we do not have schools like that, we have Instagram.

 

The perceptions and beliefs of the American lifter is very different.  American lifters do not have the same beliefs in their coach either. This is why you see them constantly jump from coach to coach.  Cultural aspects are also a part of physiological strength along with the perceptions and beliefs of the lifter.

 

The Soviet System works well in Russia.  This is lots of submaximal volumes.  The Bulgarian Method works well over there.  This is less volume and more heavy sets.  Both of these programs work when it is in line with the perceptions and beliefs of the lifter and they have a good relationship with the coach. Again, it comes down to the individual.

 

I want to take into account all of this stuff with a program.  I want to structure the program in a way that is in line with their perceptions and beliefs, and that accounts for general strength principles at an individual level.

 

In doing so, I had to forget about a lot of what I thought I knew.  I set up training in a way that gave as much flexibility as I think I can, and I just observed.  What I observed was that volumes don’t matter anymore than what the lifters perceive them to.

 

There is no magical number of lifts or tonnage for each lifter.  Our understanding of overload is weak at best.  If the lifter feels they got a good training stimulus, chances are they did.  We are led to believe that as we train, we build up fatigue, see a dip in performance, deload, and supercompensate and come back stronger.  This isn’t true either.

 

This works sometimes and doesn’t work others.  It also never works exactly the same way.  However, many times we hit PRs in the middle of training blocks when fatigue should be high.  So what does this mean?

 

This tells me that the general idea of mechanical stress overload and supercompensation is poorly understood.  We need to let performance dictate decisions and when performance decreases, we need to stop and think for a minute.

 

If performance decreases and you believe that the fatigue aspects are true, you will do whatever you can to dissipate that fatigue.  This may work, but it very well may not work.  In cutting down work and deloading here you may actually limit the adaptations of the lifter.

 

Chances are if they just kept plugging away, they would adapt and come out stronger.  This is of course assuming that there are no glaring physical pains that are negatively effecting performance.

 

We definitely need enough training to elicit a training stimulus.  All my lifters get 1 to 2 hard sets as we call them.  These sets are anywhere from an RPE 8.5 or higher.  We do this every training day unless the lifter has some soft tissue thing flaring up.  Even then we may just tweak the exercise and carry on as usual.

 

What I have learned from doing this and just observing is that fatigue does not affect performance like we think.  In many cases lifters will start to feel a little banged up, like elbow pain, or back tightness, or knee pain.  We keep at it and the pain goes away and they start hitting these continuous PRs.  That is adaptation right there.

 

If the pain is altering mechanics or decreasing performance, we don’t just plow through.  We make the adjustments that are needed in those scenarios. There is the athlete taking their low stress day for recovery.  Most of these pains recover very quickly.

 

I actually think pain and “fatigue” in powerlifting is more psychological.  This doesn’t mean it is in your head.  It is physical pain wherever you are feeling it.  However, there isn’t tissue damage.  You can still make the pain worse too so hear me carefully.

 

Outside of the acute fatigue that builds up within a training day, the days after are also more psychological in my theory.  The recovery aspects of training from a physical standpoint are quick.

 

This doesn’t mean you just say you are ok, and you are.  This is happening at the subconscious level and it is tied to our beliefs, perceptions, and emotions as well as our cultural upbringing.  Those that played sports tend to recover “faster” in my experiences.

 

I also believe this can be trained, but it requires a strong relationship between the athlete and coach. This requires strong communication between the two.  With that said we shouldn’t be afraid of fatigue.  There is a lot to be gained from training in a fatigued state and still hitting PRs.

 

Once the PRs stop it is time to change the stimulus and repeat it all over again.  This usually means we alter the exercise a bit to attack what I see as a weakness.  This weakness is either a strength issue or an efficiency issue.  We feel out the exercise and then right back to loading it up.

Coaching in Chaos: Embracing the Theoretical

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

There have been a few seemingly random incidents that have drawn me to write this article.  It started about a week ago when one of my lifters said she doesn’t like the idea of being a lab rat in an experiment. This was a good conversation even though it may not sound like that from that statement.

 

I wrote an article explaining a coaching theory that got grown men to bring out the poop emojis to tear it down and last night I read an article that said everyone that disagreed with the author was wrong.  This author offers zero reasons why he is right other than “it works” and the other person gave no reason why my theories were wrong other than “it’s stupid.”

 

Sadly this is the way of the world nowadays.  No one can have a discussion anymore.  In the absence of a discussion I am going to give some context into my thinking.  You see, everyone that has a coach is a lab rat in an experiment.

 

This is all theory. There are not many things that we know that are absolutes in strength training.  The only difference is that I embrace the theoretical while the others are dealing in absolutes that don’t exist.

 

I wasn’t always like this. There was a time too that I coached by absolutes.  It was easy to think I was on the right path because we saw results.  Of course we did, we are training.  As Fred Hatfield said, training is either good, better, or best. I was hanging out in the good range.

 

I was using “mobility” tools at this time as well.  Of course they “worked” at times.  I was tapping into the person’s expectation bias and the placebo effect.  In many of these cases the “issues” of the person were probably a result of the nocebo effect.

 

This past October when I was assessing my performance as a coach throughout the previous year something happened.  Every year I would ask myself questions and answer these questions.  The answers to my questions would dictate some changes to our training.

 

This past October was different.  The majority of the answers I came up with to questions were “I don’t know.”  I felt lost at first and there was a shadow of doubt that creeped over me for a brief period of time.

 

I knew volume was important. I would argue it was the most important aspect of training.  However, when I pushed volumes we didn’t always get stronger.  There was no optimal volume for each person where we saw results.

 

I had even run highly successful blocks over again with new maxes and we did not reproduce results. How can this be?  This worked before, why is it not working now?  Something would go poorly and I would blame it on something outside of the gym.

 

They are eating less, that is it.  That is why they aren’t getting stronger.  Poor performance on the platform?  Had to be the weight cut.  Do these things matter?  Absolutely. However, they are just a small piece of a larger puzzle.

 

That last part brought a lot of questions about fatigue and how it affects performance.  How can someone hit higher numbers when volume is higher than after we taper?  What about supercompensation?  Why didn’t this happen?

 

Through my experiences I have begun to realize that we do not know as much as we think.  My world was shattered for a bit.  Here I am a full-time powerlifting coach and I can’t answer basic questions about getting stronger.

 

I went back and reread Kiely’s article “Periodization Paradigms in the 21stCentury: Evidence-Led or Tradition-Driven.”  I had read this article in the past and made some changes to the program.  I had allowed the lifters to have a bit more freedom and started monitoring some more internal data such as mood and RPE.  This time I read it through a different lens.

 

I had more experience as a coach.  My team has grown exponentially, and I think I was just seeing what happens with a large data pool using my current methods.  These experiences made this article make a lot more sense to me.

 

When I first read the article, I was reading it for answers.  This time I think I read it to ask more questions.  I was basically soul searching at this time.  After reading and rereading this article something clicked. Mike Amato and I had done a seminar that we titled “Embracing Uncertainty.”  I needed to just do that.

 

I needed to embrace the uncertainty of training and be a better coach.  A coach makes decisions based off of the information they have. The program is not the coach.  I was focused on the wrong things.  I was dealing with absolutes that just aren’t true.

 

I sat down and decided to look back over the years and to figure out what we actually know.  We know that volume matters, but how much is necessary?  Over the years I added in more heavy singles and these intensity intervals that allowed lifters to go up to a certain point if it felt easy.

 

These intervals had restrictions based off of load management monitoring which I will get to in a minute.  I noticed the more heavier sets we did the better results we got.  The number of lifts and average intensities were the same, I made sure of this.  With that being equal, heavier sets worked better.

 

The number of lifts and average intensities were the same because of my load management strategies. I realized I was allowing this monitoring tool to dictate training instead of myself as the coach using that information in combination with other information to make the best decisions for the athlete.

 

This brought me to my other question, what about fatigue management?  I was utilizing this load management tool because we know fatigue management is important.  However, how do we know when we need to pull back and when we should push it?

 

We don’t.  I do not think powerlifting is as taxing as many of the other sports out there.  I think we are capable of training much harder than we think.  The sport of powerlifting is one of the safest ones to participate in.  It is safer than running.

 

No one is blowing out an ACL lifting weights.  Our feet are stationary, and we are laying down for a third of it.  We deal with the occasional muscle strain and that is basically it.  I am talking about raw powerlifting.  Once we throw gear on and add steroids the risks of muscle tears increase.

 

So how can we monitor fatigue?  We can listen to what our body is telling us and what our performance is dictating. If we are experiencing some discomfort, we discuss it and alter positions or weight if necessary.

 

If performance is dropping we have options.  If we are far away from a meet, we can continue to push through.  This will force the lifter to adapt and progress will be on the other side.  We can also pull back for a few training sessions.  Let them recover a bit so we can have a high-performance training session sooner than later.

 

This brings me to my next point, the person’s emotions matter.  The lifter’s emotions, beliefs, and perceptions are a piece of their physiological strength.  This information needs to be taken into consideration into the decision-making process.

 

Next, because of my time with Sheiko I have the strong fundamental belief that lifting is a skill and technique is the most important aspect of training.  This doesn’t mean that the lifts need to look perfect, but we need to structure training in a way that focuses on these weaknesses.

 

I dove into the skill acquisition rabbit hole. I learned about a constraints-led approach and realized I had been attempting to do this without understanding the theory fully. This would allow me to put lifters into positions that punish bad technique and I can still load them up with heavier weights.

 

I now focus my attention on “effective sets.”  We perform 1 to 2 sets at an RPE between 8.5-9.5 on each exercise each training day. We pull back on these as performance and other fatigue measures such as discomfort dictate.

 

It is my job as the coach to guide them along the path of self-organizing technique.  This is from analyzing their lifts and altering the task by variation as well as presenting the appropriate feedback at the right times and in the correct manner.

 

Volume is important. I have decided to keep the number of lifts roughly the same and allow the hard sets to be utilized to make sure we get a minimum effective training stimulus.  When progress stalls we change things up.  Maybe this means we add more volume, maybe it doesn’t.

 

I think the volume has a protective effect to the lifter.  We make sure we are staying around baseline at all times.  When we pull back, we make sure that we don’t pull back too hard as spikes in acute workloads when chronic workloads are lower may increase injury risk.

 

I began coaching the whole person.  The mechanical pieces still matter, but so do the psychological.  I take the emotions of the lifter into consideration when making decisions.  Sometimes we will do things just to build confidence and momentum.  This can help the lifter to get their mind working for them rather than against them.  This also means getting to know them as a human being and showing them that you care.

 

Chaos theory is a form of math that focuses on dynamical systems that are highly sensitive to perturbations.  Within these seemingly disordered events we can see some order when we view it from a macroscopic view.  This is true of the people in front of us looking to get stronger.

 

A lot of the questions I could not answer in the beginning seemed like random disorder.  However, when I took a second to step back and take a larger view, I could see some order forming.  Hopefully as I gain more experience, I can continue to make more and more sense of this.

 

 

A Case Against Specificity

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

When I first started coaching the sport of powerlifting, I thought specificity was everything.  We did a lot of variations, but the variations would be in the competition stance with competition bar and hand placement, competition grip on the bench, and competition style deadlift.

 

AI would argue that this is for maximum carryover to the main lifts due to the similar positions. I would argue that every repetition in training should look the exact same.  This is to ensure that we are training the same movement pattern consistently.  This I would argue leads to a stable movement pattern.

 

The issue with this is that it was not holding up well under the heavier weights.  We were making good progress, but I knew it could be better. I began looking more into skills acquisition and a constraints-led approach.

 

I was basically attempting to teach skill acquisition without really having a good understanding of the theories out there.  This clearly was limiting my abilities as a coach trying to work on technique (skills) of the lifts.

 

I had this theory that the lighter weights were not heavy enough to actually transfer over to the heavier lifts.  A constraints-led approach also has a different view on the variability of the movement pattern.  This theory does not view error as all bad, but instead the athlete learning.

 

This made some bells go off in my head.  I had started hitting some heavier sets in training with my lifters, but there were limits on these based off of load management.  I ended up taking off these limits as I found they really didn’t matter and the heavier we were lifting the better that we were getting.  This is a different topic though.

 

I was still holding back at this time too due to technique breaking down.  However, learning about the constraints-led approach made me think a little more about this.  I could lift heavy more often to give lifters confidence under heavier weights and even to fix technique.

 

Yes, heavier weights can fix technique.  In order for this to work, I just need to put the lifters in positions where that technical fault is punished and just let them figure it out.  By heavy I am talking RPE 8.5-9.5 in these various positions.

 

Oftentimes we build these positions up enough where lifters are taking 90+% of 1RM for reps.  A lot of the positions are just altered by foot placement and I do not think there is a big difference in 1RM between the same lifter squatting close, medium, or wide.

 

A pin squat with a pause off of the pins will not be as heavy in absolute loads, but the relative intensity will still be between an RPE 8.5 to 9.5.  I believe that the mind knows the weight on the bar, but the body only knows effort.

 

This doesn’t mean that we only need effort.  We can’t separate the body from the mind.  We need to train the mind.  I believe the mind needs to see these bigger weights to build confidence and there actually is a skill to lifting higher absolute loads.  The weight on the bar is actually a constraint.

 

The problem is you can’t train this skill with only the competition movements.  Every lifter will come to a coach with a stable pattern in all 3 lifts.  This stable pattern is based off of their perceptions and previous training experiences.

 

In order to develop a different skill under the weights (different pattern), you need to alter constraints to guide the lifter to self-organizing towards that pattern. This is how you destabilize the original pattern and stabilize a new and improved one.

 

This takes a high level of skill from the coach.  This is where coaching blends the science into an art.  Oftentimes I will completely remove the competition lift from a training block and only perform variations of the lifts.

 

This will ruffle some feathers I am sure on the internet, but I have had some really good success lately in doing this.  People will argue quite heavily about specificity of training and how powerlifting is one of the sports in which we can train with high specificity.

 

The belief that the competition lifts should be the primary focus relies on information from traditional theories of motor control.  These traditional theories put an emphasis on the development of movement skills from developing cognitive structures that influence memory recall.

 

A constraints-led approach does not put the same emphasis on memory recall.  Coordinated movement is instead viewed as an “emergent property” based off the variables given to the lifter in training.  There are many levels of learning that take place.  It does not just occur in the memory recall portion of the brain.

 

Competition actually is driven by the “ego” portion of the brain.  This is very different from practice.  In order to make it more “specific” there would need to be a way to tap into that ego driven piece.  Competition does well with that.   I think that this is something that Westside actually gets right.  They create competition in training.

 

I also think we can get this by pushing weights a little bit when the timing is right.  I think that competition with ones self brings about that competition specific ego driven behavior.  This is one of my theories why the higher intensity sets tend to lead to better results for my lifters than measurements such as total tonnage.

 

High repetition work is not competition specific either.  Sets of 6 or more repetitions are actually more metabolically challenging than heavy singles.  The mindset approaching a set of 6 is very different from the mindset of approaching a heavy single.

 

We can’t just max out our lifts every day in the gym though.  However, we can put our lifters in positions that punish their technique flaws and still get that same relative intensity.  If we choose the right positions, we do not need to necessarily worry about the errors we are seeing under the bar.

 

These errors are expected as we are exploiting weaknesses and are a result of the lifter attempting to learn a new behavior.  In the beginning the weights are usually controlled by the lifter’s inexperience with the exercise.

 

However, we tend to see some beginner gains with these exercises even on more advanced lifters. Very quickly they are able to begin to figure it out and start to load it up.  We keep loading it up until progress seems to stall and then we change it up.

 

Sometimes at this point the competition lift will come back in and we see a remarkable improvement. Sometimes we see a bit of an improvement, but it is not necessarily as good as it can be.  From here I will bring the variation back in but alter it in a way that further addresses that need.

 

For a lifter with the common pitching out of the hole, this may mean high bar wide stance squats to start. We run that for a bit and see how the competition lift looks.  In a lot of cases it will look better, but still need some work.  This is where I might use a high bar wide stance squat with a pause on the halfway up.

 

Many will think that this is not specific to the low bar comp stance squat.  I don’t care, I am looking for a transference of skill.  The rules of the squat are still the exact same as is the equipment.  We squat to depth and stand back up with a straight bar on our backs.

 

The only difference is bar placement by an inch or 2 and foot placement by a couple of inches.  This just changes the angles enough to give a different stimulus to the lifter to figure out.  It is still a squat.  In fact, a squat that may be targeting the hips a little more.  In this scenario the hips may actually be lagging behind the quads and back in terms of strength in the squat.

 

This not only punishes bad technique but may actually be strengthening a “weaker” muscle group.  Neither of which can be corrected from the competition lifts alone.  Lifting lighter weights with good technique does not hold up well under maximal attempts.

 

The amount of success that I have had from this approach has even surprised me.  Now it is just a matter of utilizing this approach while managing the performance/fatigue scale of each athlete.  That is a story for another day.

I would Rather Overshoot than Undershoot: Why I am not Concerned with Missed Reps

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

When I first started getting involved in powerlifting one major piece of information that was drilled into me was that you should not miss reps in training.  This belief is still carried on strong within the powerlifting world and for good reasons.

 

For one, making reps builds confidence through building success.  You get used to making reps and you definitely build some confidence. The other statement that would get made is that you don’t get stronger from missing reps.

 

I followed these guidelines for years and with good success.  However, there were a few things that I noticed.  For one, you had to use lighter weights and always took a more conservative approach.  Many of my lifters would get scared of the heavier weights.

 

My lifters also became too scared of actually missing reps.  It was something they shouldn’t do, so they naturally didn’t want to do it. This leads to more conservative competition performances.

 

I began to question this thought process.  It is easier for me to compare this sport to others in which I participated in.  I played college soccer.  For my college team and many of my club teams growing up I took the majority of the dead ball kicks.

 

On numerous occasions I have sailed balls over the net, didn’t get enough spin on it to bend it where I wanted, and overshot teammates.  There were also occasions where I put it exactly where I wanted or in the back of the net.

 

Those previous mis-strikes didn’t deter me on future kicks.  In fact, they gave me information to adjust.  This is one of many reasons why I feel a constraints-led approach is the way to go.  It is ok to mess up.  No sport has a 100% success rate.

 

Think of hitting a baseball. If we were looking for a 100% success rate the ball would never leave the tee.  Failure is part of sports.  It would be pretty boring without it.  You can’t fear messing up.  You also can’t let it rip you apart when it happens.  This is mental weakness.

 

What are the negatives of missed reps in training?  You lose confidence?  If you can’t handle missing a rep without losing confidence your mental game needs a lot of improvements.  Its ok to be pissed off after it.  You should care enough to be pissed.  However, if it rattles your confidence that is a problem that needs to be worked on and there is nothing wrong with that.  We will work on it.

 

Is missing a rep dangerous? Nope.  As long as the athlete is prepared to handle the weight, it’s not dangerous.  Plenty of missed reps happen on the platform without injuries.  I hurt my back on a made attempt, so it is not any more dangerous.

 

Many will argue you miss out on the training volume.  This assumes you know the exact training volume down to the pound that that person needs. If you have that information you are the only one capable of calculating that.  You should use that to get rich.  I would buy it.

 

Using training volumes is an educated guess.  It is not an exact science.  I actually read some interesting research this morning saying that internal load is what drives progress not external load.

 

When we can’t nail down the ideal volumes for someone, we need to be sure our intensity is high enough to get a training stimulus.  I make sure my lifters get 1 to 2 of these hard sets per lift per day and we adjust on a daily and weekly basis as needed.  Nothing is written in stone.

 

Gauging internal load is very difficult.  Often lifters feel it is heavier than what it is.  I have had Kerry take 80% for a set of 10 that looked moderately hard for triples. She wasn’t the only one that experienced this.

 

My volumes better be on if I am giving her triples with something, she can hit for 10 at the end of all of the sets.  Literally that translates to an RPE 3.  Not heavy enough.  We are training so it will yield a training stimulus, but not the best one.

 

If I want to get a training stimulus, I want that triple to be HEAVY.  If we go up too much and only get a double, so what?  She performed a hard double that will definitely yield a training stimulus.  Is not getting that triple going to hinder progress?  If that triple wasn’t heavy enough it absolutely would.

 

So say that double is an RPE 9.5-10.  I definitely know we got a training stimulus, but to what extent can it hurt us?  Heavier sets may come with a greater recovery need. How much greater is that recovery need?

 

Most of my lifters train every other day.  Is it something that will last beyond that day off?  Chances are it won’t.  If it does, we adjust that training day as needed and make a note moving forward. Sometimes I don’t care about that day getting screwed up a little bit.  Training is a process that always needs to be adapted.  The program is nothing more than a rough draft guide to that process.

 

Often missing a rep allows you to assess what went wrong.  Were they nervous?  Did they just misgroove it because it was the first time touching that weight?  Was it just too heavy?  It gives you some information to adjust the training process. Make those adjustments and come back to it and see if it has improved.

 

If a set is really heavy you can just end everything right, there instead of doing backoffs.  You can back way down and still get the reps and skip accessories, or you just decide to plow through.  You have decisions you can make based off of the lifter and what is best for them at that current time.

 

I know I am probably an outlier in this, but I really don’t care if they miss reps.  It should not happen often at all, that is not what I am saying.  If it happens too frequently, we got to work on choosing the right weight to put on the bar. However, if it happens occasionally so what?

 

You got into this sport to put more weight on the bar.  You will miss reps, it is part of the sport.