Accessory Work

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

One of the PPS lifters asked a fantastic question last night and I think this is a good topic to discuss today.  He asked about adding in more accessory work.  This being bodybuilding type exercises at the end of a training session.

 

First, we take a lot of singles.  However, we are not Westside and we differ from them very much.  Our day 1 will be max effort squats, followed by some light backdowns, and ending with some goodmornings.

 

Day 2 will be max effort bench, followed by some lighter backdowns, and finishing with some ohp, floor press, or occasionally JM press and barbell rows.  Day 3 will be rep bench work between 70% and 85% of 1RM, followed by max effort pulls.  These max effort lifts are rotated weekly with rep work.  We do some lighter backdowns and some straight knee variation along with reverse hypers.

 

Day 4 is rep squat work followed by rep deadlift work.  These percentages are relatively low, but still a bit higher than what you would see by Westside.  Westside uses a lot of accessories and the dogma that being a shitty bodybuilder will make you a better powerlifter still exists.

 

We need to look at the hierarchy of specificity.  Comp singles at or near maximal are the most specific.  This is followed by max or near max singles of the comp lift variations.  Following this may be higher rep sets (where this line is drawn who fucking knows.  Is a set of 30 deadlifts more specific than a max set of 5 barbell rows?).  I would say heavy goodmornings, floor press, and maybe even ohp are more specific than light and higher rep comp lift work.

 

All of the way at the end of this spectrum is bodybuilding work.  Bodybuilding is better than nothing, but so far removed from the specificity of powerlifting.  Now, if there are injured areas that need to be addressed, these exercises should be added in here.  That is how we take a generality and then target it for an individual.

 

Bodybuilding can also fill in the gaps in training.  Sometimes I want my lifters to do absolutely nothing and recover.  Other times I want them to move around.  I will sometimes make a day 4 “Bro shit” instead of the compound lifts.  This is one way we take a break and recover.

 

Training is about doing the most in the gym and being able to recover.  I agree with that statement, but we want to do the most of the things that will carry over to the largest totals.  The lifters at Westside lift far greater weights than we do.

 

This changes their recovery curve quite a bit.  They do not do backdown sets and their dynamic effort days are far lighter than ours.  We also max out deadlifts every other week.  They do not do this part.  They alternate squats and deadlifts for max effort work in the same spot.

They have more spots to add in the bodybuilding stuff than we do.  Again, this is better than nothing, but falls pretty far down on the spectrum of specificity.  However, that is what is best for the program that they run at Westside.  It makes a ton of sense for them to be doing that stuff.  It does not for us.

 

Coaches and lifters need to be careful of picking pieces from different programs and trying to put them together.  This is why understanding the general principles of training is so important.  This allows you to look at what other successful coaches are doing and decide which pieces will work for you and how you can manipulate them to meet your lifter’s individual needs within the structure of your own program design.

 

If you want to run Westside, run Westside.  If you want to run a Sheiko template, run a Sheiko template.  Do not try to turn that template into a hybrid Sheiko Westside program.  It will not work.

 

I am going to begin to make these blogs much shorter as I will be discussing all of these topics in greater detail on my Patreon page. If interested visit http://www.patreon.com/precisionpowerlifting.

How We Differ from Westside: In Fact We are Quite Different

 

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

I got this idea for an article in a conversation with a lifter that trains out of Westside.  I think people confuse what we do with Westside because we use variation and take heavy singles.  Beyond that, there are not a ton of similarities.

 

With that said, I love Westside and what they do.  There are definitely some influences from them with the way that I do things.  I think the similarities that Westside and PPS have in the programs comes from my love and appreciation for the Bulgarian and Greek weightlifting systems as well as my time lifting with Sheiko, a Russian coach.

 

Louie has these same fascinations with the Russians and the Bulgarians.  What I really appreciate about Louie is his willingness to try things and learn from mistakes.  He has truly used his gym as a living lab for over 40 years.

 

Louie did not come up with the “conjugate” system.  In fact, he actually uses the term incorrectly when we look at the Verkoshansky texts.  The Conjugate Sequential System is block periodization.  What Louie uses is concurrent or complex-parallel periodization.

 

Louie instead uses the term conjugate to be synonymous with concurrent, meaning training multiple skills at once.  Again, he did not invent this style of training, he just found a way to practically apply it at a high level.  Just because someone is doing a max effort lift, it is not Westside.

 

The max effort method is discussed in “Supertraining.”  Also, there is a lot of research showing that to increase absolute strength singles at or near maximal are superior than reps.  The SAID principle states that the body will adapt to the demands placed upon it.  If you want to get better at singles, you need to practice singles.

 

Sheiko was not a big proponent of singles and had unparalleled success as a coach.  Sheiko was a proponent for technique first.  Verkoshansky’s Principle of Dynamic Organization states that the body is always looking for a more efficient way to execute a movement.  This supplies the main focus of Sheiko’s coaching style.

 

When we take heavy singles, technique breaks down.  Sheiko does not want to see that.  He described the difference between him and Westside as his focus being on technique first and Westside on strength first.  Better way to think of it is Louie uses the max effort method as the main piece to get stronger and Sheiko uses the Principle of Dynamic Organization.

 

This then comes down to the coach and how they view error.  Is error good or bad?  I coach using a Dynamic Systems Theory approach.  I view error as being a tool to teach the lifter.  Error also allows the coach to assess strengths and weaknesses.

 

I prefer to place the lifter in a position that will punish the technical inefficiency that I see, and we perform this lift with near max or max weights.  The inability to complete the task gives the lifter and the coach feedback on what needs to be improved.

 

In my opinion this is kind of a balance between Sheiko and Louie.  My main focus is on the skill acquisition of the sport.  This includes increasing the abilities of the lifter to produce maximal force while increasing technical efficiency of the lifts.

 

The Principle of Dynamic Organization states that the coach should give the athlete problems to solve and that the solution to those problems is movement.  This is exactly what a Dynamics System Theory/Constraints-Led Approach does.

 

In powerlifting, the coach changes stance width, bar position, grip width, or uses bands, chains, pins, boxes, pauses, and tempos.  This gives the lifter a problem to solve.  They are still performing the lifts within the rules of the sport under these constraints.  The goal is to build a large skill set within the sport.  Variation is key for this.  It may also be important for reducing injury risk, jury is still out.

 

Louie uses specialty bars here.  We primarily use a straight bar.  Louie is a big proponent of the box squat.  His lifters use a wide stance and sit back on the box so that the shins are vertical or even in a position where the knees are behind the ankles.  The hip flexors are relaxed, and the lifter thinks of performing a leg curl to stand up from the box.

 

I do not have my lifters sit on the box.  The box is an external cue to get the lifter to sit back, it lets them know when they are at depth, they pause on the box, and they explode up after the pause.  This is basically a glorified pause squat.  The box does cue them to get less forward knee travel and trains a different position where the low back can be targeted with the hips.

 

The static to dynamic part of the movement builds explosive strength.  I could not adequately coach a Westside style box squat as the lifters would end up rocking off of the box every time.  I thought about what I wanted out of the exercise and made the adjustments.  We have some big squats, so it works.

 

The majority of the volume in a Westside program comes from the GPP work.  Ours comes from the variations of the main lifts.  We do not have comp lifts until we have a comp coming up.  A medium stance low bar squat is the comp squat of over 80% of lifters.  So how we break up variations and comp lifts is very different from the norm.  Do we use more comp lifts?  I don’t know because we do not know where we will be strongest at the time of the meet.

 

Perhaps the lifter has a big improvement in conventional and decides to pull with that style instead of sumo.  Perhaps wider stance squats feel better, so they move their feet out a bit and compete there.  Strengths and weaknesses are always changing.  This is a key component of a Dynamic Systems Theory approach.

 

We actually perform backdown work after the max effort lift.  We will take a percentage of the max effort lift and perform a few sets working on the technique breakdown that we saw on the heavy single.

 

As most are aware, I am not a huge fan of accessory work.  I do not think it increases 1RM, and if it does somehow indirectly, it is so minimal.  Doesn’t mean that it does not have a place.  It can help build up weak areas and improve recovery by increasing work capacity.  However, I believe it is best to target the weak areas with appropriate variations and angles within the main lifts.

 

We do not rotate the max effort lifts weekly.  Bonderchuk discussed the importance of variability, and not having the variation in the program long enough to get a training effect from it.  I keep an exercise in for 3 weeks.

 

If a lifter hits a true max on one of the weeks, we just do sets and reps the following week to really hone in on technical mastery so that we can add 5lbs the following week.  I may decide to leave a variation in there, but just make subtle changes to it every 3 weeks.

 

For example, Kerry is only hitting 240lbs on an SSB low box squat.  Her best comp squat is 305lbs at 52kg bodyweight.  We will keep this variation in for a longer period.  I will just add chains to it, maybe bands, change the box to pins, and even remove the box, no box with bands or chains.  We will build up this lift because it is highlighting a weakness.

 

Alyssa performed sumo deadlifts for 40 of the 52 weeks last year because of how large of a discrepancy there was.  She saw incredible progress on her conventional deadlift in competitions from doing this.  80% of the year we focused on building up a stance she is weaker in and does not compete in.

 

We perform max effort squats and max effort deadlifts in the same week.  The deadlifts rotate weekly between max effort work and rep/dynamic effort work.  Westside uses an either or approach.  The lifters at Westside are lifting far greater absolute loads and that may be required to allow them to recover.

 

We bench before our deadlifts.  This is something I did with Sheiko.  Also, Vince Anello was a big proponent of doing something to tire you out a little before you pull.  He is one of the greatest deadlifters of all time so I will listen to him.

 

We do not do dynamic effort work like Westside does.  Sometimes we do, but it is pretty rare.  What I did steal from Westside was the set and rep schemes.  Instead of doing 5 sets of 4 at 70%, we will do 10 sets of 2 at 70%.  Total volume is the same, but we get more first reps, better looking technique for all 20 reps, and faster execution for an increase in rate of force development.

 

We need sport specific speed.  Lighter loads may be more appropriate for team and field sport athletes to increase power.  Not sure they are necessary for powerlifting.  Even Louie seems to use enough accommodating resistance to be sure the top weight is 70% to 80% of 1RM.

 

I also like to use time limits on the sessions like Westside does.  At a meet you do not take an attempt when you want.  You go when you are told.  Also, fatigue makes technique more difficult.  It raises the stakes and the necessary skill level.  A newer lifter gets more time between sets.  As they get better, we can decrease that time between sets.  This increases the skill level of the lifter.

 

Sometimes I still use 70% for 5 sets of 4.  Sheiko taught me that load variability is important.  So our later week training sessions may be rep work that looks very similar to the way our programs looked when we were doing a more Sheiko-like format.  It also may not look like that.

 

Our frequency is lower than it was when we were running a more Sheiko-like program, but higher than a Westside program.  We squat 2 times per week, bench 2 times per week, and deadlift 1 to 2 times, per week (2nd deadlift session is very light).

 

On a Sheiko program we would squat 2 to 3 times, bench 3 to 4 times, and deadlift 1 to 2 times.  We utilize similar frequency as Westside, but a little more.  We split up the max effort squats on its own day and bench on its own day, but we do rep/dynamic bench work before max effort or rep/dynamic deadlifts.  Day 4 is usually rep/dynamic squats and light deadlifts.

 

What PPS does is not Westside.  I love Westside, but I am not Louie and my lifters are not his lifters.  What we do is unique to us and our journey of figuring this shit out.  We are not a copy of someone else.  We do not follow a simple structure laid out by anyone else.  We have our own structure.

 

We are PPS, not anyone else.  We want to be PPS and no one else.

How Important is the Program?

 

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

I was having this discussion recently and felt it would make a good quick read.  Before I get into that, there is something that I want to say. This was in regard to another conversation.

 

Seems to me that coaches and lifters in the powerlifting community dislike other coaches and lifters in the community because their methods are different.  I truly don’t understand this attitude.  I dislike these people because they are fucking assholes, not because of their methods.

 

Discussing training concepts with coaches that do things very differently from me is one of the ways I have learned the most.  In fact, our programs today would not look like they do if it wasn’t for discussions with Jason Tremblay, even though our programs are very different.

 

It was not because I thought he was wrong, and I decided to run the other way.  It was actually the exact opposite.  He was right, for him and his lifters.  This brings me into the topic of the article, how important is the program?

 

This depends on the coach and the training theory that they are using.  When I trained with Sheiko, the program was very important due to the data he was collecting.  I got very little freedom to change things.

 

This may seem like it goes against everything I say.  In Russia, the lifters grow up in schools with the sport as a subject.  They believe in their coach and they believe that their system is the greatest for strength development.  This system is perfect for those lifters.

 

My development as a coach has just led me down another path.  I embrace a more theoretical approach.  I feel our current understanding of strength development is outdated and extremely incomplete.

 

I did not grow up in a school learning powerlifting.  I played sports into my 30s.  My beliefs our going to be shaped by these experiences.  This is why I latch onto a constraints-led approach of skill acquisition.

 

When I started training the whole mma thing this is how I actually learned.  My very first day, I got the shit kicked out of me with no headgear on.  Times were a bit different.  I kept coming back and how I developed as a fighter was a direct result of these experiences.

 

I was quicker and more athletic than most.  I would back up a lot and I became very good a judging distance.  I got very good at not being hit.  Once these skills were developed, I started putting more offense behind it.  I developed power in my hands walking backwards and started to get very good at countering.  I added a lot of clinch work and wrestling later on to round it out as well as continued to develop better techniques.  A change in training partners, definitely played a role here as well.  I switched from a gym of strong grapplers to one with strong strikers.  This made me even a better striker.

 

This was over 10 years of me using a constraints-led approach to develop skills of a sport that requires a lot of skills.  I didn’t get taken down much and I feel this is one reason why my game from my back was so weak.  We also started there and did rounds that way.  Altering constraints.

 

Another note, not wearing a headgear that whole time taught me how to take a punch.  This is another skill developed in training that would be similar to competition.  So you can see why I feel this approach is the best for powerlifting.  It fits my beliefs.

 

I have never chased after lifters.  They have come to me for one reason or another.  That is buy in right from the start.  The way that I do things fits my beliefs and fits those of my lifters.

 

Our programs are very different.  I do not write out sets.  I leave the number of sets done up to the lifters.  They are supposed to take 1 to 2 hard sets.  These should be very hard.  This is our training stimulus.  Anything on top of that is guided through discussion and they have the power to decide.

 

I choose an exercise based off of what I see in training.  This exercise is altering a constraint to guide them to greater skills. Strength is a skill here.  I give them a suggested top weight, but they get to adjust if necessary.

 

So basically, all I am doing is writing some exercises on a piece of paper and through conversations and education, the lifters end up deciding what is best for them on each day. I monitor estimated 1RM and we just train.

 

The focus is on effort of each lifter, novelty of an exercise that hopefully helps improve inefficiencies, challenging weights that that improve the lifter’s emotional responses, and combining this into a group setting of everyone doing the same thing.

 

For me and how I run things, the program is the least important part of training.  I don’t write out set, only reps.  So volume is not considered outside of the hard sets. I don’t use percentages to worry about average intensities.  I feel the program is a compass and not GPS.

 

Progress comes from effort. It is the coach’s job to guide the effort in the correct direction.