Sports are Not a Stress Outlet and Being Elite is on You, Not Your Program


Written by: Kevin Cann


I hear this quite a lot, “I lift to deal with my regular life.”  Maybe not that exact same quote, but something like that.  This may feel great on some days but will come back to bite you in the ass at some point.


When we are stressed, we can’t just take that anger and frustration we feel and put it into the weights.  Stress, anger, and frustration all change how we accomplish movement tasks.  This was a lesson I learned the hard way.


In my early 20s I started the MMA thing as an outlet for my stress and anger.  I quickly learned that when I allowed my feelings from my personal life to leak into my training my reaction time was slower, my combinations did not flow as smoothly, and punches actually hurt more because your neck is stiff and tense and not rolling with the punches.


The combination of those things would lead to subpar performance that would only make me more frustrated. When this happens you have two options: Figure it out or quit.  In a sport where you are getting hit in the face, it kind of forces you to make that decision.


Going through this taught me a lot about dealing with my emotions.  Sport taught me how to deal with life.  It is not an outlet for when you feel bad, but instead sport is a teacher to teach you how to deal with those emotions.  This difference in perspective is huge.


Powerlifting is a bit different as no one is getting hit in the face (although some should), I see so often a lifter allowing the perceived negativity from their personal lives to flow into their training.  The lifter does not take a few minutes to get their mind right, but instead just starts warming up.


Everything from their facial expressions to their body language tells you that something is not right with them on this day.  When I see this as a coach, I want to ask them who is messing with them and do a few MMA rounds with them, but every moment like this is a teaching moment with life skills that can be taught.


I know things will probably not go well in training for them that day, but I often do not interject. It is on them to figure it out. It is on them to get their mind right before they lift and to make the right decisions for the weight to put on the bar.  I know neither of those things will often happen.


Instead the lifter will sulkingly take a top set, which I plan around an RPE 9 based off of last week’s performance, probably when they were in high spirits.  They will miss the weight and throw the equivalent of an adult temper tantrum.  During this temper tantrum there are no good training decisions being made.  This training day was a complete waste of time, except for the lifter now dumping all of life’s frustrations on me.  This sure as shit didn’t work as a good outlet for stress.  Now I need a stress outlet!  I am kidding, this is the coach’s job, to guide the human, not just write a program.


We have all done this too. I have definitely done it myself and there is not a lifter on PPS that hasn’t done this.  It is recognizing it, recognizing it is on you to figure it out, and to stop putting blame on everything else.  It isn’t the program, it is you.


I think that the majority of lifters involved in this sport want to be somewhat competitive, whatever that means.  For me, I got started in this sport in my early 30s.  I didn’t touch a barbell too often throughout college soccer and MMA after. I did some dumbbell stuff and picked up a trap bar and front squat occasionally.


I knew I was well behind the 8 ball for this sport.  However, I set a goal to be more competitive as a masters lifter.  Then I saw that the masters lifters are just as strong as the open lifters, so maybe a competitive M4.  I am kidding here, but by 40 I will only have 7-8 years of training behind me.


Dave started powerlifting around the same time as I did.  However, he played college football.  They usually squat and bench with coaches in football.  This usually extends back into high school.  A college football player that gets into powerlifting in their early 20s has 8 years of weight room experience, usually with a barbell, and usually with a coach, before they get started.   I won’t have this experience under the bar until I am 40.


With that said, this is why I am not competitive.  If I want to be, I have to do everything right to make up for that lost time.  I have a very high pain tolerance and will train through almost anything.  Not being an asshole, but wisely training through things.  I can make up days here.


I can’t afford to allow my negative emotions to give me shitty training days.  Each shitty training day pushes me further behind everyone else.  For every shitty day I have, I know my competition is having a better day.


In other sports, I was reacting to an opponent.  You would be analyzing them the whole time, pick up on tendencies, and slowly pick them apart.  When things weren’t going well you could really make the game smaller.  Get rid of the ball faster in soccer to an easier outlet and gain some momentum or go out there and control distance and get a jab working in MMA.


In powerlifting it is tough, because the opponent is not the weights, but it is yourself.  This is the toughest opponent you will ever face in your life, because they know every single one of your weaknesses and they will exploit them better than anyone else.


Coaches and athletes are always looking for weaknesses within the lifts themselves.  I do feel that this is important, but these are often not the biggest issues that need to be addressed.  Many of these issues can get better from appropriate training.


The bigger issue is within each and every individual.  I will set training up as a coach to bring these emotions to the forefront.  I firmly believe in training with consequences and I will make you frustrated at some point.  Some are stronger than others here, but they will all experience it.


Each one of these experiences is an opportunity to learn and to face your biggest opponent in this sport, YOU.  You will want to blame the program, the coach, the equipment, and so on.  This isn’t facing your opponent; this is running away.  This is the opponent winning, and you either figure it out, or quit.


If you are working with a coach that has had some higher levels of success with lifters over a period of time, it is not the program that is at fault for anything.  I would have never left Sheiko if he did not stop taking distance lifters.


I have not hit a PR since I started working with Hartman about a year ago.  This has absolutely nothing to do with him as a coach.  He coaches girls that can’t legally drink that will out lift me.  This all falls on me as an athlete.


I was forced to find a new coach and Hartman does things very differently than Sheiko.  I think if I had reached out to Hartman under different circumstances that the transition would have been different.  I wasn’t fully bought in because the situation was forced upon me by circumstance.


The switch in program style was very drastic too.  It actually pissed me off at times.  He elicited an emotional response in me for sure.  At times I wanted to put my fist through a wall and the frustration made me hate training at times.


It didn’t help that I am coaching at the same time and lifters dumping this same frustration on me too when their training doesn’t fit their ideal picture.  With Sheiko you just did what you are told.  He gave me a little flexibility, but not much at all. I coached in a similar way and the frustration as an athlete and coach was far less at this time due to this.


With Hartman, it wasn’t setup to just do as I am told, but I lifted as if it was.  I missed a lot of reps and made some really poor decisions within training.    I would then come in for the next session frustrated and try to get it all back that day and have another shitty day of bad decisions and poor lifting.


It took me a while to realize this.  I learned how to apply general principles in training and the technique of the lifts from Sheiko.  This was such an important period of time for me as a coach, more so than an athlete.


Hartman, whether it was intentional or not, taught me how to handle my emotions in training.  This allows me to handle the emotions of the lifters I coach.  Hartman forced me to be a better lifter.  I am lucky I had past experiences in other sports that allowed me to improve this very quickly once I recognized it.


I took more of a role in my lifting.  I write my own program, but Hartman gives me his insights and thoughts on my decisions. Almost always I take what he says, and I do it as he has much more experience than I do and a more objective view of my lifting.


I have not benched over 300lbs in a meet since August of 2017.  For the first time since then, I am confident I can hit that 303lbs bench press on any day, with any grip.  It took 2 years to get to this point for me.  Probably would have been less time with a better attitude.


My squat feels the best it has ever felt.  I have had some good runs with squats over the last year that just fizzled out by the time I got to singles or a competition.  Some of this is due to my inconsistency with the technical aspects of the lift.  I am pretty confident that I can chip a PR on the platform right now if I had a meet in a couple weeks.  This weight would be a 3rdI missed due to depth last summer at a competition. It took a year for me to feel like I am back to that number with technique that will hold up under the rules of the sport.


My deadlift is weird. It is my strongest lift, but it experiences some big ups and downs.  With Sheiko my deadlift went to 505lbs in my second meet, to 455lbs the next time I tested. It then went to 485lbs a few months later when I tested again.  9 months after I pulled the 505lbs on a deadlift bar, I hit 518lbs in a USAPL meet. I put 15lbs on my best deadlift with tougher equipment in a year, but it just went backwards for a while for me to get there.  Long term progress isn’t too bad here at all.  At the time it seemed terrible, but I wasn’t so worried without a meet scheduled.


I missed 545lbs a couple weeks ago, which is about 20lbs behind my best ever meet pull from last summer. It is in my head a little, and this is why I have a coach.  Hartman gave me some ideas, so I threw them into the program.  I know it will come around, I just need to train hard and make good decisions.


I had 2 very different programs that yielded very similar results.  No matter what program I would decide to do, this would have been the case because the problem was me and not the program.  Find a coach you can work well with and stick with them while addressing those individual weaknesses we all possess.


Take ownership for the things that YOU can do better as lifter.  This includes maintaining bodyweight, sacrificing drinking on weekends, bringing 100% to each training day, and your attitude.


If you choose to go out with friends and eat like shit, it is ok to do these things as you got to live life but accept the consequences that comes with these actions.  This sport can fit in your life however you want. World champions aren’t going out every weekend and sulking between sets.


My motto right now is “No reps off.”  This includes every rep from the empty bar up through my top sets.  I noticed I was only getting focused once the weight gets heavier.  This was a lot of missed opportunities to get better.  We can always improve our mental and physical attributes.


My Conversation with Vince Anello


Written by Kevin Cann


I was fortunate enough today to have a talk with a legend of the sport.  I shared some stuff with our team, but I want to get it all down on paper and I think all of the people reading this will benefit from the information.


Vince Anello was the first person under 200lbs to deadlift 800lbs.  He deadlifted 820lbs at 198lbs bodyweight in 1982.  The timeframe here was important.  There wasn’t a lot of information out there for the sport at the time, so these guys had to figure it out.  He told me that they used phonebooks for boards on the bench!


The majority of coaches and athletes involved in powerlifting, have been involved in this sport for less than 5 years.  The lessons that these legends can teach has got lost in an egocentric world filled with 20 somethings that think they know everything.


The conversation started with Mr. Anello telling me that every program works.  However, it only works if the mental approach of the lifter is on point.  He told me that we need to be open minded about all aspects of strength training as we don’t know anything.


Right there I was sold. This is literally something that I say all of the time.  I use the phrase of “embrace uncertainty.”  He even said that we need to be comfortable with uncertainty.  The conversation only got better from here.


He went on to explain the process of training.  He said to allow the process to happen and don’t force it.  He said to let go and let guide and the movement patterns and the process will take care of itself.  This has literally been my coaching philosophy since October.  Sounds a lot like self-organizing to me.


The internet jumped on me when I showed week 1 of a program and how bare it looks.  They called me lazy and a shitty coach.  They told me that I am ripping people off for this coaching as well.


I give them a starting point, we observe how things are working, and we adjust as we see fit. The lifter fills in all of the other blank spaces in the program.  They decide the sets based off feel and the accessories based off their identification of their needs and what they like to do.  I supervise this process and teach them when there are teachable moments.  This is the process building itself. We do this together as a team.  We help each other and the decisions are made with both me and the lifter.


In light of all of the criticism I have received for my coaching it was nice to hear this from him. I care more about the opinion of someone that has been in this sport as long as he has and someone that has achieved so much.  I have a podcast with Dr. Loeneke that will be out next week that explains a lot of the science behind the reasoning for us lifting heavy more often instead of higher volumes.

Lots of these legends of the sport trained each lift one day per week.  Vince Anello was no different.  They got after it each week and basically maxed out for the reps of that given day.  Seems most started with 5 reps and worked up to singles (from what I could find).  They found exercises that attacked weaknesses and lifted them heavy.

I theorize that volume became more popular in strength training as our ability to track it became more pronounced.  The 70s seems to be when the hypertrophy contributes to strength training paradigm shifted without substantial evidence.  During this time Russian training systems were all of the rage, and shortly after the computer came onto the scene.  As the computer became more common in households, more coaches began to have access to Excel.  We can’t track conversations objectively, but we can track many of the external load data points in this sport.  Technology was the death of intuitive coaching.  I think it led to many coaches disregarding the words of past legends as well because it did not fit their limited knowledge base.  I can say this because it was me a couple years ago.

This is a sport without role models.  Raw lifting blew up onto the scene and the giants of the past were forgotten.  I feel if we learned more about where the sport started and where it came from there would be less negative commentary on the internet about different training styles.  This is a different conversation and I am going to save myself the frustration.

He made a very interesting comment that really resonated with me.  He said not to analyze your lifts.  That analyzing deters from performance.  This was really amazing to me.  I spoke about perfectionism and how it deters from performance on the Clinical Athlete podcast, episode 33.  We discuss a current paper on the topic.  He figured this out 20 years before there was even research on the subject matter.

We also discussed the mental aspects of training.  I am going to save the specifics for our group, but he truly believes the mental aspects are the most important aspects to train.  You can’t handle big weights physically if you are not mentally prepared. This is something we are really going to focus on as a group, no matter how weird people think that it is.

I am very excited to start utilizing some of this mental training that he suggested.  I think it will pay huge dividends for the entire group.  We have had some great conversations about the mental side of training as a group lately and this has already payed dividends.

It also brings us closer as a group and helps to drive further progress.  I encourage everyone to be open minded and skeptical of everything.  Just as Mr. Anello said, we don’t know anything.  Once I adopted this attitude our group started to have more fun and we have seen an explosion of totals.