There Will Be Pain

Written by: Kevin Cann


This is most likely the most common conversation I have with lifters.  The majority of people taking part in this sport seem to have some fears about getting injured.


Remember when you were a kid?  Chances were you had no fears at the time.  Jumping off the highest points of the playground with no regard for your body at all.  This seems to change as we age.


As our predictive processes get continually updated with information, we begin to fear getting injured because we begin to realize there is a strong chance for it.  Past experiences as well as our beliefs about pain and injury play a role here.  Kids do not have those same experiences or beliefs yet.


It seems that most lifters train and expect to be pain free forever.  Here is the ironic part.  No matter what you do, you will experience pain.  This means whether you train or not.  Why is that?  Because you are human, and you are alive.


I forget the exact stat and I don’t care enough to look it up, but the majority of people will experience a bout of back pain every 1-2 years.  Whether you lift or not.  If this bout doesn’t come on from training, it could come on from sleeping.


You could just wake up one morning and your back hurts for a few days.  Our cultural beliefs about aging fit in here as well.  Most of us can relate to our parents complaining about these bouts of pain as just getting older.


We witness this and now we have a belief about how aging is.  It sucks and it will hurt.  Then as we get older, we experience pain.  Remember that our beliefs are actually part of that physiological pain. Thanks mom and dad.


This discussion about pain is one of the more frustrating things about my job.  The crazy thing is that I am not frustrated with my lifters. I am frustrated with us as a culture. This negative view of pain causes me lots of emotional pain.


Every time a lifter feels pain, they tend to think the worst.  Lifting is one of the safest sports you can actually do, but it seems we have this viewpoint that is completely different.  You just don’t see many injuries from drug free raw lifters.


If there is pain leading to a decrease in performance, aka an injury, it usually clears up within a few days.  We adjust some positions and just continue to train in most cases.  I will go out on a limb here and say it is extremely rare for structural damage to happen as a result of properly progressed training.


I remember reading this example in a Barbell Medicine article I believe.  They talked about delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) as an injury.  DOMS has experienced pain with a decrease in performance.  This makes it an injury.


The difference here is that we expect DOMS.  We know it will clear up in a couple of days and we are good.  When we experience unexpected pain, it is completely different. There comes this panic and hyperawareness and focus on it.


This increased focus and panic can actually increase the pain that we are feeling.  If we had that same attitude about this pain as we did DOMS it would not nearly be as negative.  Remember, we are human, and we will experience pain no matter what you do.


This pain does not mean there is damage somewhere.  Again, in almost all of the cases with drug free raw lifting there is no damage. Although we will have someone experience an acute back injury lifting, get an MRI, and see some disc issues and chalk it up to lifting caused a back injury via disc herniation.


One, there is no way to know if that herniation was there before.  Chances are it was.  Herniations and other “disc issues” are just normal results of aging.  The majority of people with these issues are pain free and partaking in physical activity.


We don’t only need to expect pain; we need to stop viewing it as a negative thing.  With DOMS we might joke around about how sore we are, but we typically do not view that pain as a negative thing.


We experience any other pain, that we ourselves diagnose as something other than DOMS, and we get this extremely negative view of it.  I am not sure where this came from.  Coming from a sports background, pain was expected, and you dealt with it appropriately.  We never worried about getting hurt.  If we did get hurt, it just happened.


In the sport of powerlifting it seems the lifters are always worried about getting hurt.  This can literally increase the pain that you feel. Pain that may not decrease performance if we expected it and did not have negative views about it.


The ironic part is that if we become focused and scared of it and it decreases performance, we just injured ourselves by definition!  This does not mean that we do not listen to the pain signals we feel.


We definitely need to listen.  Oftentimes it is best to train through it and just keep an eye on it.  Other times we may need to adjust positions a bit for a few days, but we can still train.  The biggest part of injury prevention in sport is education.


You cannot decrease injury risk and increase performance at the same time.  Seeking an increase in performance means we need to be exposed to more training, which increases injury risk.  There are no magic pills, “releases”, stretches, or body rubbing that helps you increase performance and/or decrease injury risk.


We give each lifter the tools to deal with their own pain.  This is called self-efficacy.  Self-efficacy in a meta-analysis was shown to be the more beneficial tool for dealing with pain and disability.  Giving someone a foam roller or special warmups takes away that self-efficacy.


You will say it feels good when I do it.  Great. Tons of things feel good temporarily. Education and self-efficacy are tools that you can take with you for a lifetime.  This is important because you will experience pain in your life.  This is a part of living.


This has much better long-term outcomes than any bullshit “wake-up drills”, foam rolling, lacrosse ball ballet, or any of the other commercial bullshit that is pedaled to a mentally weak society that fears pain and has an extra few bucks to spend on things.


Dynamic Systems Theory: In with the New and Out with the Old

Written by: Kevin Cann


PPS just had 17 lifters compete this past weekend.  5 weeks out from this meet I made the decision to go with my gut and completely change how we were doing things.  Some of these changes were made by me in person on the fly as I directed the team through training.


Leading into a meet this is a very difficult decision.  I had quite a few new people that started up with me as well.  I didn’t want them to get used to the old way and then change it suddenly.  I decided to just see what happens.


I trusted my knowledge in this subject but screwing up a meet for 17 lifters would not go over well I am assuming.  So 5 weeks out I stopped giving volumes and changed things up drastically.


I wrote the exercise, number of reps, suggested top weights, and gave them rules and guidance to help them make decisions.  We lifted heavy every single day in the gym. By heavy I mean between an RPE 9.5 and 10 in most cases.


I kept variations in there right through the week before the competition.  In some cases we were hitting competition lifts in conjunction with variations for the 5 weeks.  In other situations the competition lifts did not come back in until 3 weeks out where the lifter would work up to a hard double.  In many of these cases lifters were doubling their best ever or all-time PRs here.


Once I saw this happening, I knew we were in pretty good shape going into the meet.  A few lifters had some minor nagging things we had to manage, but all in all things were going very well.


Two weeks out we took heavy singles.  This week did not go quite as well, which was probably a good thing.  Some lifters didn’t even manage to budge what they doubled a week before.  We still got a good heavy single on squats and bench day 1.  We hit a heavy deadlift single with another bench single on day 2, about 10 days out.  This bench single was most likely a variation as well.


On day 3, about 8-9 days out, we took another heavy squat and bench day.  This could have been singles with a variation, or even higher rep sets.  This was dependent upon how the block was going.  Day 4 was lighter and in some cases just accessory stuff.


We had a lot of conversations about the training process and understanding that even though the heavier weights might not have been there, with a light week they will be there on the platform.  For the lifters that hit PRs singles week we were in good shape.


Week of we pulled back pretty hard, but still felt some weight in the 2 days we trained.  Moving forward I will have them take their best triple maybe for a single.  The worst anyone did was 8 for 9 on the platform and everyone hit PRs.  The weights that weren’t there on singles week flew up. More noticeable was the confidence that everyone had.  This was crazy to me.  No one was overly nervous.  Everyone handled their shit extremely well. Even beginners.


This brings me into the dynamic systems theory of training.  Not that anything I did was so far away from the norm for leading into a meet. However, it was very different in some ways.  I did not track volume at all.


Don’t get me wrong, volume decreased over time due to the drop in repetitions.  However, harder sets (sets of RPE 8.5 and higher) actually increased.  Remember general principles are rather true but need to be manipulated for the individual.


I set it up in a way where the reps were decreasing, which increases the weight in most cases, and they determined how many sets to do.  A few hit some lighter sets of 5 reps as backoffs from the singles just to get more work in.  This made the volumes a little higher than the week before in a couple of cases.


Normally, specificity should be high during this period of time.  The comp lifts made up less than the majority of our lifts.  In some cases not coming into the program until 3 weeks out. If performance is going well why change things?  We need to practice the comp lifts a few times before the meet and that is it.


Week of is all competition lifts with commands to really hammer everything home and let any nagging issues go away before the meet.  This clearly worked well.  Even better than expected.  The reason I think it worked better is because it was more focused on the needs of the individual.


I used to test 17-22 days out from competition and used a pretty similar tapering strategy for everyone. This worked at times and didn’t work at times.  I was following the mechanical stress model of peaking at this time.


Lifting heavier up to the meet just made everyone so much more confident on meet day.  I think this stems from training heavy all of the time. This was no different than any other training day.  I also believe attitude is contagious and as a group you can see that with PPS.


Technique actually held up better on the platform than it ever has.  Again, I think lifting heavy plays a role here.  I also think keeping variability high as the competition drew near was really important.  Variability makes movement patterns stable and harder to breakdown.  There is strong support in the literature for this as well as what I saw anecdotally.  Of course these variations were individualized based off of each lifter.


No one was scared of missing reps either.  I have spoken about this in the past.  We get this mentality that we should not miss reps.  Of course that is the fucking goal, but like in any sport, that shit happens. You can’t be scared to miss reps. We miss reps occasionally in training. I am more than ok with this.  It should not happen all of the time, but occasionally it is going to.  This is especially true when you push the envelope daily.  No one went on that platform afraid to miss.  Not a single lifter.  This was awesome to see.  Beginners had elite attitudes competing.


People will say you can’t lift heavy every single day.  No one missed competing due to an injury and everyone hit PRs.  Huge PRs for the most part.  This doesn’t mean we went through training unscathed.  There were some issues that arose.


Emily had some discomfort in her lower back 3 weeks out.  It was bad enough that we had to drastically adjust training.  The difference with our group is the mental toughness and the understanding that these things are expected, and we handle them appropriately.


We did some long tempo work with lighter weights that week and came in and hit our singles the following week.  On the platform Emily hit a 20kg total PR.  She qualified for Nationals, which I did not think was even possible when they raised the totals in November.  Even more impressing was her 3rddeadlift.


Her second pull qualified her.  Knowing her back was acting up a couple weeks ago it is easy to pack it in here.  She did not do that.  She went out and grinded out a 3rdattempt deadlift that was an all-time PR.  That act defines this team extremely well.  So does the beginners attacking weights and smoking them when they did not move the week before.


In future articles I will discuss the science behind this.  The biomechanical approach is very outdated and missing some major pieces. Dynamic Systems theory covers these pieces and can help push progress further than you think.

You Are Not Overtraining: Unless You Believe You Are


Written by: Kevin Cann


I put up a very quick post about this yesterday and it garnished a bit of attention.  Due to that attention, I want to write it all out for a better understanding since we should not just be quoting Instagram.


I have always struggled to understand overtraining in the strength sports.  I have played sports my whole life.  I did far more work in those sports than I do in the gym as a strength athlete.  On top of that, we still went to the gym and trained hard!


I believe those sports set up my expectations and beliefs in a way that I am not afraid to work hard, and I will work through some pain.  Powerlifting in America is unique as it becomes attractive for those that don’t play other sports, or those that weren’t necessarily competing at a high level.


They may be lacking this same cultural experience that I was fortunate enough to have.  This can lead to some misunderstandings about training that actually lead to decreases in performance and even an increase in injury risk.


There is this unwritten understanding that lifting heavy tires out the central nervous system (CNS) and higher rep stuff tends to be more metabolically tiring.  This just does not hold up in the scientific literature.


There is a good amount of research that shows that duration induces higher levels of central fatigue than high intense short bouts of effort.  Interestingly enough when you look at the evidence in its totality it seems that CNS fatigue is very difficult to achieve.  In fact, many studies were unable to even show CNS fatigue.


The markers tested in this research tend to show no significant changes.  It is purposed that CNS fatigue may actually be a factor in perceived exertion. Think RPE here.  The ability to perform is still in tact from a central fatigue perspective, but psychologically we may begin to perceive the effort as more difficult despite no changes.  In some cases there was even upregulation of the CNS.  This is the opposite of fatigue.  The theory here is that the central pieces are making up for peripheral fatigue within the muscles themselves.  This will likely be proven incorrect at some point.


This sounds like the body has a framework to control effort in a manner that would disallow any type of overtraining to occur.  We still possess the physical capabilities, but a feedback loop somewhere along this chain is making us perceive effort as more difficult.  This is why an end of session score is important to me.  This shows me the perceived effort of the lifter.


In studies where they show that CNS fatigue occurs the recovery time happens very quickly.  By very quickly I am talking 20 minutes! Many of the other studies showing no CNS fatigue occurred, if they tested after the exercise they may just have missed the window.  Perhaps those subjects were already recovered?  This is why putting that end of session score down right away is important. RPEs should be recorded immediately after the attempts.


Seems that the drop in performance that we see is more peripheral than central.  This means within the actual muscles themselves.  In an entry in the Journal of Neurophysiology in 2016 by Contessa, et al. suggested that central fatigue may not exist because all of the “symptoms” of it can be explained by peripheral fatigue.


Many reading this will then say, “Well maybe peripheral fatigue is responsible for overtraining?” Not so fast.  If peripheral fatigue results in decreased muscle contraction, which results in decreased performance, and this is coupled with the CNS perhaps increasing the perceived effort, how is that possible?


Performance is dropping and we are perceiving it to be more difficult.  This seems like a nice little built in defense against overtraining system within the human body.  We usually decrease weight and volume to “deload.”  This seems like the body has this well under control.


These measures are trainable.  As long as we don’t have any nagging things going on why would we decrease training effort in this scenario?  Psychophysiological pieces are perhaps more important than external loads for increases in performance.  As long as effort is still high, we can get some really good training here.


Training that builds the resiliency as well as the total for the lifter.  The body will control that perceived effort and the performance based off of what it is capable of under these conditions.  Now I am sure the question becomes “What if I am experiencing some nagging pain?”


Great question and one that we need to discuss often.  First, we need to deal with our cultural beliefs about pain.  Pain does not necessarily mean something bad.  However, we had this cultural shift to believe that at some point.  This requires a good relationship between the coach and lifter and the coach educating the lifter on some pain science.  This is a big conversation for another time.  I have talked in depth about these concepts on my podcast, Boston’s Strongcast.


My theory behind this pain is that there are layers of feedback loops within the human body. Perhaps within some of these peripheral fatigue feedback loops we get the physiological experience of pain. These feedback loops contain our emotions, beliefs, experiences, and cultural upbringing.


An interesting anecdote here.  I have never experienced elbow pain while benching.  Lately I have had a couple lifters that we made some adjustments for on bench due to some nagging elbow pain.  With 50 lifters this is expected.  Nothing major, we dropped some frequencies, changed some angles, and carried on.


However, me dealing with this may have led to me experiencing elbow pain.  My elbow pain started around the same time as I was dealing with some with the group.  Even though I understand how these things work, there are subconscious pieces at play. I find this coincidence very interesting.  My volume has also been higher.  Perhaps load management here is not the only piece necessary for me to experience pain, but it is the totality of the information sent to the brain from the feedback loops?  Impossible to know, but very interesting.


We have these cultural beliefs and emotions regarding overtraining.  I theorize that these are the reason in which people experience “overtraining” symptoms.  We can all relate to how our feelings create physiological responses within the human body.


Ever have your palms sweat or heart race before a heavy squat?  Your anxiety is leading to those physiological feelings.  Ever experience the same feelings when you see your significant other? These physiological feelings are consistent, but yet different in many ways.  They can be a result of positive or negative emotions.


The pain experienced here from training can be very similar.  If we view it as a negative, we can create this scenario where it lingers around.  If we view it as a result of our hard work and not being anything to worry about. We adjust things if needed, or train through it wisely and it tends to go away pretty quickly.


In the absence of deformity, there is probably not structural damage being caused to tissues from lifting weights.  This is even true in acute onset of sharp pains, such as back pain.  This does not mean the pain is in your head.  You are experiencing physical pain at the place you feel it.  However, it is most likely psychological in nature.


By that I mean, tied into our emotions, past experiences, and beliefs.  Load management is definitely something to consider here as well. These types of things absolutely happen when you are working for performance.  This only becomes a long-term problem if you catastrophize it into one.  This is also a very long story for another day.


Those are my thoughts on overtraining from my experiences as a coach and athlete and my understanding of the current literature.

Embrace the Chaos: Everything Sucks and Inception is a True Story

Written by: Kevin Cann


We have a saying around the gym.  This saying is “Embrace the chaos.”  This came about because of my fascination for chaos theory and how I feel it applies to the sport of powerlifting.


Basically, this means that we understand that progress is nonlinear, and we take each day as it comes to us. We make the best decisions on each day to get the best training stimulus based off of how the day is going.


This may mean pushing it hard, only taking some moderate weight sets, or pulling back for a day. This is a concept I can easily understand as a coach, but as an athlete it can still be difficult to accept when you are having a bad day.


As coaches we all have a bias as to what works best in terms of programming and training.  We need to be aware of these biases and embrace the chaos as coaches as well.  You see, our biases usually dictate training, but the self-efficacy of the lifter may be the most important aspect in training.  These can be very different from one another, leading to a lack of progress.


Most coaches understand that gaining strength is a nonlinear process, but they do not act accordingly. Instead they rely on linear mechanical stress principles to apply to an individual lifter.


These mechanical stress principles are derived from Hans Selye’s research on the General Adaptation Syndrome.  This research is 100 years old and was looking at insulin response to stress. Hans Selye most likely had a very low total.


Out of this research comes our overload principle.  Basically, we overload the lifter with stress (volume and/or intensity), we deload, and something super occurs where we are now stronger.  I am having some fun with this wording, but it gets the point across.


This is assuming that strength training is a linear process.  We continue to load more until we get to “functional overreaching” and then we deload and we are stronger.  We know this works sometimes, but also doesn’t work a lot of the time.


I will say that I believe most coaches will change things up when things stop working.  This novelty of a new stimulus can definitely help.  I think this is where we see “This variation blasted through my plateau.”


My theory is that the change is what drives the progress again.  The exercise or the details of the change really does not matter.  We like answers though and we like to pat ourselves on the back in these situations.


There are coaches out there that try their best to be aware of the current research.  The problem is that our strength and conditioning research is absolutely pathetic.  In 2019 I am still reading EMG studies about squat variations.  Has innovation completely died?  Why do we still care about this?


In a brief conversation with Hartman yesterday he told me a story.  He told me about Vince Anello and how he used accommodating resistance. Briefly, Vince Anello was the first sub 200lb lifter to pull 800lbs.


He knew that certain positions of the lift were harder.  Bands and chains were not a thing at the time.  He would put some submaximal weight on the bar and tell his training partner to push down on the bar in the tough positions.  He would also tell him how hard to push down on the bar.


This is absolutely fucking brilliant. If this was today, he would be roasted on Instagram. Innovation is sadly laughed at now a days.  Another point being made there gets back to what I said about self-efficacy.


Anello clearly had a really high training skill.  He knew what he needed to do to get stronger and would make the right decisions day in and day out in the gym.  I remember Sheiko saying that Kirill was the smartest lifter he ever worked with. Tsypkin mentioned in the podcast that Chad Wesley Smith was the same way.  See a trend here of the elite?


As coaches our biases cannot hold back that self-efficacy.  In fact, it is our job to guide it and develop it.  Worrying about what percent of a squat variation is performed with what muscle is a failure to understand that we are not a bag of muscles.


We are complex nonlinear human beings.  We don’t supercompensate after a deload after we hit this magical overreaching number. None of those things are real.  Even if they were it is impossible to know when overreaching is actually occurring.  The inconsistencies in the results show that these beliefs are not principles.


I saw a post shared yesterday about force vector loading.  This post said that a bent over barbell row will have more carryover to the deadlift than a seated row.  Are you fucking kidding me?  The ability to speak in such absolutes is amazing to me.


Logically this makes sense to people due to the angles of the lifts.  Everyone accepts that as being true.  For one, research showing this to be true came from Contreras and showed the hip thrust was better for sprinting than squats.  Contreras sells hip thrust equipment.  Think there is a bias here?


Other research was performed by Beardsley, a researcher that does work with Contreras often.  Again, think there is bias?  This doesn’t mean that the research is bad, it just needs to be understood that bias exists throughout science.  The research not done by them shows no correlation to force vector loading on horizontal and vertical jumping.  Just saying.


Again, this research is assuming we are nothing more than a bag of muscles.  I have had people tell me that the seated row helped them understand the “pinch and push” I talk about with the shoulder blades in the squat. There is transference there even though it is very different.


This doesn’t mean the seated row is better.  Neither is. Train them both and be strong in both angles.  We know neither of those exercises will make the deadlift better without the deadlift itself.  So how much of a role do they really play?


The hard part is where do we go to learn about this stuff?  Motor control research has come a long way.  There is a starting point.  I view the lifts and strength itself as a skill.  Skill acquisition accepts the fact that it is a nonlinear process that is constantly changing.  This meets our needs.


This is how I latched onto a constraints-led approach.  This is a nonlinear dynamic systems theory that gives me a basis to construct my coaching. This seems to fit much better than a linear mechanical stress model.


In terms of understanding the physiological concept of strength, it can be difficult.  Good thing chronic pain being an epidemic has led to a lot of pain research.  Also, pain tends to be a nonlinear dynamic physiological experience with physical and psychological components.


This sounds just like strength and skill acquisition to me.  We know that strength and pain both are affected by the emotions, beliefs, perceptions, and cultural upbringing of each person.  These emotions and beliefs and experiences can be updated and elicit a change.


This is where I latch onto predictive processing theories.  These theories follow the same mechanisms as those applied in a constraints-led approach.  You predict and perceive, experience something, and then we update those predictions and perceptions based off of the feedback from the world.


It is not so simple as there are layers to this.  We have perceptual inference upon our perceptual inference.  Basically the movie Inception is true.  You go layers deep to change an “idea” and we see changes in behavior.


Remember my mention of self-efficacy in elite lifters earlier?  That is the idea we are implanting when we perform “inception.”  That is our job as coaches.  We are Leonardo DiCaprio and help guide those changes by planting an idea and making them think it was their idea.


Remember in the movie it had to be his idea in order for it to stick.  We guide that process through conversations and coaching.  I only give lifters an exercise, based off of a constraints-led approach, and reps with a suggested top weight.


They decide number of sets, and how to adjust the suggested top weight based off of the day.  I help guide this process.  Over time you can begin to see the program fill out into what it looks like with sets and reps and all of that.  Except here it has been created by the lifter and their self-efficacy.


This skill of training takes time and we continue to improve it every single day as much as our skill within the lifts and strength.  I think this is very unique and many might enjoy hearing about it.


Most will just assume I am losing my mind.

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.