Importance of Speed Work and Why I am Moving Further Away from High Frequency

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

Higher frequency training seems to be all the craze within the powerlifting world.  I was curious when and why it had started so I did some digging around.  Seems that Mike Zourdos. Dissertation on DUP was published in 2012 and coincides with the explosion in raw powerlifting.

 

I remember a 20 year old coach and lifter at 2016 Raw Nationals telling me that science has shown that Sheiko and Simmons don’t know shit.  I was very confused by this statement then, but after digging around this makes much more sense.

 

It is easy to disregard the accomplishments of Westside due to drugs, or the use of specialty equipment. Same can be said about Sheiko and drugs. Not to go off on a rant, but let us be real, drug tested does not mean drug free.  Don’t be so naïve as to believe it is always a tainted supplement.

 

We need to take the information from the generations before us and build off of it, not disregard it. I got lucky by starting there because I did not know better.  I got away from it as we were trying things and seeing results.

 

I noticed we were getting stronger than before and we were competing much better.  The drawback was that we were getting slower and experiencing more nagging things.  In most cases, we pulled back when we experienced these things and there was a PR on the other side of it.

 

This shows that we are training hard but flirting with disaster.  I am fortunate enough that I have a good relationship with my lifters, and we talk a lot.  This allows us to get ahead of these things to avoid anything more significant.

 

Over the years I have become a bigger fan of intensity over volume within our programs.  All of my lifters have full-time jobs at the minimum. Some work full-time and are obtaining a PhD as well as training.  Alyssa Is pretty badass.

 

We need to maximize time in the gym.  When I was training under Sheiko, my training sessions would be very long.  My lifters do not have this kind of time.  I started looking into systems that utilize a heavier approach.  This included Westside, but also the Bulgarian and Greek weightlifters.

 

The weightlifters lift maximally multiple times a day.  The squat is a piece of that, but all of the other 5-7 exercises are submaximal to the squat in their absolute intensity.  Powerlifting has 3 max lifts.  I do not think that the bench is a big issue here, but squatting and deadlifting changes things a bit.

 

Jon Broz only maxes deadlifts 2-3 times per year with his weightlifters.  Most deadlifts are done as “speed work.”  Westside does not pull that often from what I see.  They rotate max effort lower exercises between squats and deadlifts.

 

I feel we have to deadlift more often than they do.  This provides quite a problem.  This is where my experiences with Hartman as a coach have become important to my learning. Hartman is a simple man.  My program when I started was an upper/lower split, and each day was working up to something hard.

 

I learned that this split let me push squats on Monday and be able to recover to pull hard on Thursday. The only change to the program that has been made is I perform some dynamic squats on my day 4.  These are usually pretty light and higher volume.

 

This also gives me plenty of time to recover for my heavy squats on Monday.  I really like this setup.  I feel great and my lifts are going very well.  This flies in the face of the higher frequency training being superior.

 

I honestly think that lifters latch onto it because it is easier on the mind.  I find many lifters are scared of heavier weights and hard work. Not that higher volumes aren’t hard; they are hard in a different way.  Anyone can come in and hit some triples at 80% of 1RM and feel good about themselves.

 

If you are not going to train hard, you better train a lot.  This gets back to what I said earlier, we do not have that kind of time to train.  Focusing on one lift per day saves me time in my training as well.  I work over 60 hours per week.

 

This is mentally and physically exhausting.  Coming in and focusing on one major lift for 45 minutes is very important for me.  I can do this.  We do other stuff after, but that is manageable.

 

Westside Barbell lifts heavy often.  Interestingly enough there is a long list of lifters following this type of training that have been relatively healthy and successful for over 20 years.  Much longer than the higher frequency stuff has been around.

 

The nagging stuff that lifters encounter is due to overuse.  Higher frequency training is a recipe for all kinds of bullshit to pop up. I know because I see it.  Volume is harder to recover from than intensity.

 

After my talks with Dr. Loenneke and my observations in the gym we have adopted max effort days. This is different than Westside as we do squats and pulls in the same week.  After these meets in October, I will separate those days by approximately 72 hours.  This will drop our frequency.

 

We will do back offs on the squats at times or focus on building weaknesses.  If a lifter can squat 500lbs, but only can hit 185lbs for a triple on goodmornings, they will do a lot of goodmornings.  We will squat less to squat more in these situations.

 

Everyone will get waves of goodmornings more frequently, so we will all squat less to squat more over the larger picture.  I mentioned earlier that we are getting slower.  Westside uses dynamic effort days to be fast, but these also I think serve as a mini-taper each week.

 

The loads are much less. They may use 50% bar weight with 25% to 30% added in accommodating resistance.  This makes it 75% to 80% at the top, but the bands and chains do not seem to beat me up the same way as straight weight.

 

There is this old saying “Lift light weights like they are heavy weights.”  This idea is good but misses the mark.  You can’t lift light weights like heavier weights.  Deceleration needs to occur no matter what with straight weight. The speed of the bar at the top of the lift is zero.

 

However, being fast plays a role in moving maximal weight.  The Russians showed that starting strength, absolute strength, and reactive ability are all part of a jump.  This can be said about a maximal effort single as well.

 

There is a time limit on absolute strength.  The lifter needs to be able to complete this lift within a given window.  Dr. Squat, Fred Hatfield was a big proponent of power training for powerlifters.

 

He discussed the importance of compensatory acceleration (C.A.T.).  The idea was to accelerate the bar through the full ROM.  I am not too sure this can be accomplished with straight weights.  However, enter bands and chains.

 

Louie figured this out over 20 years ago.  He took the model laid out by Dr. Hatfield and improved it.  This is how progress should happen.  Bands and chains are extremely difficult to figure out.

 

Each lifter has their own individual strength curve that requires the precise bar weight mixed with accommodating resistance.  It is not as easy as just throwing a band on the bar.  Hartman had sent me a chart that Dave Tate made that is a nice starting point.  From there being able to watch and adjust is pretty easy.

 

I really like the idea of waving very light bar weight with 30% accommodating resistance for recovery. If the lifter moves this weight as fast as possible, they can force an adaptive response without using heavy loads.

 

I will most likely do 3 week waves like this to allow the lifters to recover.  This may be followed by a 3 week wave of more moderate to heavy weights with time constraints to make it more difficult.  This will be in addition to squatting and deadlifting less in total.

 

I do this on day 4 sometimes when the week has beat me up.  I feel I get good quality reps that actually help me recover and focus on technique as opposed to just digging my grave deeper.  I have given my lifters quite a bit of freedom to navigate the fatigue associated with training.  This was a good idea in principle, but I coach psychopaths.

 

I see why every coach has a structure that is similar for everyone.  It is just much easier to manage.  Day to day adjustments can still be made like that.  My group just tends to continuously push hard through everything.

 

This is a great problem to have.  It is probably why we see such good results.  It can also be our demise if we do not get it in check.  My day 4 with Sheiko was almost always super light deadlifts. Those easier days were important to allow for recovery and continual progress.  I need to get us back to there.

 

Lifters just need to understand that results come from the combination of training days and not trying to get it all today in the gym.  Sometimes pulling back is the right thing to do and getting that message across to this group is pretty tough.

 

We have a saying; we are strong at all angles.  Time to adjust that to “we are strong and fast at all angles.”

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The Importance of Being Fast and Learning from the Past

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

The force-velocity curve is a major piece of the curriculum in both undergrad and grad school in this field.  I have been coaching for about 15 years now.  The majority of that time was spent coaching high school athletes.

 

I was also fortunate enough to intern at Harvard University and got an opportunity to learn how they do things with their division 1 athletes.  Interestingly enough I moved away from this as I got more and more experience coaching powerlifting.

 

I moved away from this while calling my lifters athletes, and strength a skill.  Even though I looked at them as athletes and the development of strength as a skill, I got away from training them like they were athletes.

 

In my defense, I didn’t totally neglect these aspects of training.  I assumed that the warmups leading up to the top sets would be enough to develop these other athletic qualities.  Also, the first few reps of a set of 5 are in the lower intensity zones where velocity should be higher.  The problem with that is that the athlete is not focused well on those warmups.  They are using them to tune-up to hit something big and the first few reps are no more than a means to an end.

 

We got very strong doing this.  Totals were going through the roof by doing near max sets on a daily basis.  However, I was noticing that we were getting slower. This has not had a negative effect on us yet, but I think it might in the long run.

 

We were very focused on absolute strength.  Load up the weight and fight for a very hard top set.  Absolute strength is what we are striving for at the end of the day. So why not train it more often?

 

The intensity of the training and the atmosphere must be discussed here as well.  A group straining together and pushing each other with their actions and words definitely contributes to the increases in strength that we have seen.

 

When I worked with Sheiko, the majority of the work was done between 75% to 85% of 1RM with sets between 2 to 6 reps.  This is what is known as speed-strength.  Basically, speed-strength is the ability to produce force in the shortest time possible.

 

Absolute strength can go up from training in these zones.  The word “strength” is a part of speed-strength.  I have mentioned this in podcasts and posts in the past about Eastern Europeans and their belief on sticking points.

 

Some will argue that the sticking point is the inability of the lifter to coordinate the muscles and produce force fast enough.  They try to train in the absence of a sticking point.  I did this for 3 years and my total went up at each competition that I did.  It definitely can work.

 

Maximal power occurs at intermediate velocities when lifting moderate weights.  This is the 75% to 85% of 1RM for 2-6 repetitions.  These seems to be a pretty decent sweet spot for training.

 

However, it relies on very small increases in total incrementally over time.  Who is to say that we could not have lifted that 5-10lbs at our last test if we had a better ability to strain?  What I saw with my lifters is that this style of training did not teach the lifters how to strain, and they would get very nervous with heavier weights.

 

To learn how to strain, the lifters need to train at close to maximal weights/maximal weights.  This is not done for sets of 3 or 5, but singles. A maximal single elicits the greatest neurological response to move the most weight.

 

It is very difficult to have a system like the Russians within the American culture.  American lifters want it all now and lack the patience to be successful with it.  They also get into this sport later in life.  They have a smaller window to attempt to do the best they can within the sport.

 

A 20 year old Russian has most likely been training for 10 years.  A 20 year old American has most likely never picked up a barbell before. This changes how the coach needs to organize and structure training.

 

I went from doing a program emphasizing speed-strength to one emphasizing absolute strength.  Technique was a bit better, and speed of lifts were better with the speed-strength, but our ability to strain and to lift maximally was better with a greater emphasis on absolute strength.

 

There is a 3rdcomponent of training that is emphasized in sports programs and that is ballistic action.  To achieve the fastest speeds possible the lifter needs to use very light weights. Weights between 30% and 40% of 1RM.

 

I did some of this style of training with Sheiko on a 4thbench day.  I did not feel that I got anything out of it.  It was just too light.  Also, the barbell has to decelerate because the velocity at lockout is zero.

 

I am not too sure a lifter can train this with straight weight.  In a strength and conditioning program, this is where plyometrics are used. An athlete can just jump as high as they can without having to stop at a given position. Medball stuff enters the picture here as well.

 

I want to make well-rounded lifters.  We train in many different positions.  We alter foot positions, bar positions, and grip.  This is a start, but we can be much more well-rounded athletes.  We can be strong and fast.  At some point I think you have to do both, or a plateau is inevitable.  We may have avoided the plateaus by making the change from one to the other.

 

Absolute strength develops the ability to produce maximal force.  Speed-strength develops the ability to produce maximal force more quickly. Being fast and strong is required to push the bar through the sticking points of the lifts.  It is not an either or.

 

I have some lifters that I need to speed up, and I have some lifters that I need to slow down.  When I analyze the lifts, I always look at technique. I have never really looked at their strength qualities before.  Are they fast, slow, etc?

 

All the tempo work and pause work that we did worked well, because we were coming off of a long period of focusing on speed-strength.  We were fast but needed to slow down.  We slowed down and got stronger.  Now, we need to speed up again.

 

We will focus on all of these aspects, being strong at all angles, and developing all strength qualities within our programs moving forward. Finding balance and continuing to learn along the way.

 

I am still new at coaching this sport.  I don’t pretend to have all of the answers.  Many out there will speak in absolutes about what works and what does not. I feel this is very true within the raw lifting circles.

 

Raw lifting has been around for a very short time, and we seem to have forgotten about all of the things that older lifters figured out before us.  I got sucked into this trap.  A community of lifters and coaches with less than 5 years of experience leading the way.

 

Putting down the lessons from the past due to equipment or drugs.  Those things need to be taken into consideration for sure but shouldn’t lead to a discarding of those lessons the pioneers have taught us.  Let us be real for a minute, drug tested does not mean drug free.

 

The days of Westside conjugate style training are not dead.  They are forgotten and pushed aside for inexperienced lifters and coaches, that are too smart for their own good.  I can say that because I was one of them.

 

That style of training has been around for over 40 years.  There is a list of lifters that have done that style of training for over 2 decades.  This comp lift only DUP craze has been around for less than 10 years.

 

It is the same pre-packaged periodization stuff we have been spoon-fed since the 70s.  The science is not conclusive that it is better than linear periodization.  Lots of studies show no difference in performance, and others show DUP is a bit better.

 

In the end these are all short-term studies.  The long term studies have been done through trial and error from those that have come before us.  Don’t let their messages fall on deaf ears.  Louie talked a lot about the issues he had with typical periodization.  People will hate on him, but jump on sharing Kiely’s articles referencing the same issues.

 

Progress occurs from building off of those lessons from those before us.   There are some improvements to be made to that style of training.  Changes need to be made because most lifters we coach have jobs and have different backgrounds.  I made the mistake of ignoring those messages instead of using them to improve upon.

 

Since I have expanded my circle beyond that typical crowd, I have learned a lot more and it has been a serious gut check to my thinking.  But each gut check moment is an opportunity for our team to get stronger. Looking forward to many more.

A Letter to My Younger Self

Written By: Kevin Cann

 

The NFL Hall of Famers write letters to their younger selves once they get inducted into the Hall of Fame. I really like this idea.  I have been coaching a long time, but I have been in powerlifting now for 5 years.

 

This is not a lot of time, but I think it is a milestone in this sport.  I feel the majority of the people in this sport have been in it for less time than that.  I still have a lot to learn.  In fact, learning never stops.

 

I wouldn’t be where I am today without making all of the mistakes that I made.  I will make many more mistakes that will lead me to get even better than I am now.  With PPS, we will always try new things in the pursuit of strength.  Sometimes we miss, but sometimes we hit big.

 

Dear younger Kevin,

 

I know you have been out of coaching for about 9 months.  You took a job teaching at a school because the daily grind of being a strength coach got to you.  You enjoyed coaching the high school athletes and the adult classes that you had, but the money was poor and there was definitely something missing.  You weren’t challenged.

 

After this break, you are about to enter a completely different world within the fitness community.  The world of competitive strength.  You are about to find out that you don’t know shit about getting people strong.

 

It is time to dump your FMS screens and “perfect movement” narratives.  You won’t do this right away; it will take time.  However, those things make coaching easy.  Anyone can coach someone to get a better score on an FMS screen, or to achieve more optimal movement.  Worrying about these things will only hinder their strength.

 

You will learn that those things don’t matter.  This will shatter the foundation of everything you believed you built your coaching philosophy off of.  This will be really tough to swallow, but it is necessary for you to grow into a better coach of competitive strength athletes.

 

This is a lesson you will learn the hard way.  You will hire Sheiko as a coach because you really like what he says about technique. This will be the biggest and most important time period of your coaching career.  You know you are lucky to have him as a coach, but his importance was understated at the time.

 

You loved that under Sheiko, technique was the most important aspect of training because it fit your old narrative of optimal movement.  Eventually you will see lifters struggle to get better with this narrative.  It will not be because technique does not matter, but because you don’t really know it is not as easy as “better movement equals better results.”  This will force you to seek out your own answers to so many questions.

 

This will be tough to do, because so many of these answers will contradict your beliefs and what you believe to be true.  You will latch on to popular beliefs within the community in which you are lifting.  This wasn’t the facility in which you were working in, but a community filled with a lack of experience within the sport itself.

 

A community filled with regurgitations of other people’s words (that you will add to) with little knowledge on what it actually takes to produce long-term strength.  In doing this you will miss the message of some coaches that have been coaching longer than you have been alive.

 

You will discard what they say in the name of science.  Cherry-picking articles and poking holes in those coach’s narratives.  You will be completely unaware of the blind spots within the research.  Not sure you would have even cared, as you only cared about proving what you know. And of course you know better than those that have been getting people to top levels of strength for decades.

 

You will be one of the crowd shouting that “Westside sucks” and equipped lifting is cheating and a completely different sport.  It is different, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore aspects of it.  At the end of the day it is still about getting stronger.

 

You will make a smart move and surround yourself with more experienced coaches.  You will realize that a couple of them love quite a few aspects of Westside’s training methods, and even the one that isn’t a huge fan of them, doesn’t disregard everything that Westside does.

 

You will reluctantly be convinced to start a podcast.  This podcast will have a few world level lifters, other coaches, and researchers as guests.  You will get to have very lengthy conversations with all of these people. This will be huge for your learning.

 

You will discuss many theoretical concepts on the podcast and in your blog.  You will have trolls because of this.  Remember that they don’t know what training with PPS really looks like. At the end of the day it is not that different from what everyone else is doing.  They just think you are nuts.

 

The more you talk to other coaches, lifters, and researchers, the more open minded you will become.  You will see many parallels between the pain science world and performance.  You will have a smart group of physical therapists that will help you make sense of that world and make it easier to connect those dots.

 

You will be able to put innovation on top of the foundation of general principles that Sheiko taught you for 3 years.  Eventually, you will come back around full circle and realize that those coaches that you discarded in the beginning were actually onto something.

 

You will begin to see your own methods put onto paper.  These methods will be a combination of the things you learned with Sheiko, and what you have learned works for the culture of PPS.  You will see Sheiko’s influence in the program, you will see the influence from the researchers you have spoken with, and you will even see the influence of Westside in your program.

 

Continue to keep an open mind as you coach.  Continue to learn as much as you can.  Continue to use science to guide the process but understand that science has blind spots that can be filled in by continuing to talk to those that have been successful in this sport for long periods of time.

 

Continue to try out new things.  Never stop experimenting.  The goal of the team is to continue to grow and learn in the name of strength.  This is a big reason why lifters in PPS see results. We have this desire to try whatever we can to get stronger than everyone else.  That attitude goes a long way.

 

And no matter what just keep outworking every other coach by reading, learning, talking to others, experimenting in the gym, and coaching your ass off.

My Implementation of “Speed Work”

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

Over the course of the last 4-5 years we have gone from running a very “Sheiko-esque” program, to switching gears a bit and making it more intensity focused.  Don’t get me wrong, there are still lots of influences from Sheiko within our programs.

 

I still am big on technique being the most important aspect of training.  A Sheiko program was very big on building technique with repetition based training.  Sets very rarely went over 85% of 1RM and when they did the ROM was often manipulated.

 

We saw very good results using this type of training.  However, when weights became near maximal, the lifters technique would breakdown.  I also noticed that the lifters would get very nervous when the weights got heavy.  These nerves definitely played a role in this breakdown in technique.

 

I had this belief that we make technique efficient with lots of repetitions with lighter weights, but we were not practicing the situations that the lifters are put in during maximal lifts and competition.  I knew I needed to use weights large enough to create an emotional response within the lifters.

 

I manipulated variations more and we loaded them up.  These variations would hopefully punish technical inefficiencies and force the lifters to perform the lifts with better technique.  Over this period of time I noticed we got stronger and stronger the heavier we lifted.

 

When I was implementing this, I figured the warmups would be enough sets in those lighter weight zones to get the repetitions/practice needed to improve technique.  Reps are important for these reasons.  I think of strength training as a balance between brute strength and technique.

 

The variations and the repetitions working up to top sets should help technique, and the heavy top sets should develop the brute strength necessary to move more weight.  We are definitely moving more weight.

 

Yesterday Doug, a 66kg lifter who finished 10thin the Juniors at Nationals last year, squatted 460lbs on a wide stance box squat.  This is 55lbs more than he squatted last October, and 40lbs more than he squatted at the end of April.  These types of jumps are not that uncommon.

 

To change courses just a bit here as I feel it is an interesting observation.  Oftentimes when these large jumps level out, we get a longer stagnation period.  This is what made me interested in complex theory and power-law relationships.

 

This may be why most coaches want 5-10lbs at a time.  It might keep motivation higher by constant increases in performance.  I do not agree with this philosophy.  Tomorrow is not guaranteed, take what is there now.

 

Mike D’amico put 50lbs on his squat from Regionals of last year to Regionals this year.  It just so happened he did it from January to April and it has leveled off since then.  This is very good progress on one lift in a year from someone that has been lifting for more than 5 years.  Progress is not linear, however.

 

These periods of stagnation are important.  The Russians have a saying, the weights and workloads must mature and ripen and then we add more.  In complex theory, in order to have an “avalanche” the system needs to reach a point of criticality.

 

What we see with these large PRs is a large avalanche, a small PR would be a small avalanche. There are no differences between the causes of large and small PRs.  Once the avalanche is over it takes the system time to build up to a state of criticality.

 

During this period, the lifter gets to use the same weights and workloads over and over as strength slowly builds in the background.  This allows those weights to mature and ripen as the Russians say.

 

In terms of stress, training is pretty stressful when those PRs are happening frequently.  Constantly hitting newer and newer weights in all kinds of positions becomes very tough training.  As it levels off, the stress is lowered as the weights become more and more familiar.  The same psychological arousal is not necessary to handle the same weights anymore and technique becomes more consistent.

 

I have said in the past that these periods of stagnation are necessary.  They are a normal trend in complex systems for a reason.  The reason is far outside of our understanding, but we can use this time period to our advantage.

 

Many lifters struggle to realize this for some reason.  If they go a month or 2 or 3 without seeing progress on a lift, after having very good progress for a period of time, they think progress has stopped.  Too often lifters look into the day to day instead of the longer term trends.

 

There is a reason why most high level coaches say you cannot peak for more than 1-2 competitions in a year. Progress is not linear.  A few months is not a long time in the giant scheme of things.  Periodization tries to account for these “down” times by phasing out training.  The problem with that is we cannot predict when those “down” times are going to occur.

 

These periods allow us to refine technique because more weight is not being added to the bar, so brute strength is taking a backseat.  On paper this all sounds great and I stand by the science.  However, lifters do not necessarily make the best decisions on a day to day basis.

 

We talk frequently, but to develop this skill it will take years.  I got lifters that will just max out every day they come into the gym. These lifters are maniacs.  The program calls for a top set between RPE 8.5-9.5.

 

If you feel like shit, keep it at an 8.5 and maybe take an extra set there, or not.  Feeling good, push it a bit.  These should still be submax weights that the lifter can control. There will be some breakdown, but we learn from errors.

 

When we get closer to an RPE 10 more frequently, our technique will change in ways we cannot account for with variation.  Lifters will begin to squat slower and bring the bench press down slower.  The lifter will lose some pop off of the floor with deadlifts that could be due to position, or just being a bit fatigued. The fatigue I don’t worry about as much.

 

I needed to find a way to keep this in check as well as making sure we are not just maxing out every day.  If we did not work full-time jobs and live in a culture that fears fatigue, we would be able to push those RPE 10 lifts much more often.

 

One thing I have been doing over the last year when a lifter gets stagnate in a lift, and begins to lose confidence, is adding in a block of “speed lifts.”  These basically follow Prilepin’s chart with shortened rest. Many times we took 90% singles for a handful of sets.

 

Prilepin’s chart has some downfalls to use as a main tool for deciding intensities and volumes. For one, it was for weightlifters and not powerlifters.  However, it is a good starting point for the lifter to get quality reps.  We can increase the difficulty by decreasing the rest.

 

A lot of Sheiko’s program would fit nicely into Prilepin’s chart.  The intensities were made greater by adding a pause or accommodating resistance. The total volume would often exceed the recommendations of the chart.

 

Adding in this “speed work” occasionally can have some big benefits.  In chaos theory some small perturbations can create large outcomes.  These are not predictable, but I think this can help a lot.

 

For one, these weights are a nice psychological break from lifting heavier more often.  An example would be 8-10 sets of 2 reps at 80% to be completed within 25-30 minutes.  This will be hard, but hard in a different way than what each lifter is used to. The intensities will range from 75% to 90% for 1 to 4 reps for 6-12 sets.

 

These weights will allow lots of practice with lighter weights, while keeping effort high.  It will also get the lifters in and out of the gym.  Too often lifters will take very long rests between sets and end up lifting for 2-3 hours. 2 lifts in a “speed day” should have them in and out of the gym within 1 hour.  This allows for more time to recover and to get other life things done.  Time becomes a stressor for lifters because we all have lives outside of the gym and we need to get shit done sometimes.

 

My implementation of it will not be each week.  To start I will add in a “speed week” every 3rdweek.  Most lifters can push really hard for 2 weeks when they know we will be pulling back.  I will give them more freedom here to go harder on some of those days as well.

 

If they feel good, we will send it.  I think this is a nice compromise between myself and those lifters I have that live the RPE 10 lifestyle.  I also think it gives everyone a bit more flexibility in training.

 

I feel adaptations are more likely to occur when we do extreme things.  Doing extreme things, comes with higher risk for consequences as well.  I think this will be a nice way to get some extremes into training while mitigating some of the consequences.  Guess we will see.  The early feedback so far has been very good from the lifters.

 

Seems to build confidence and momentum while working on technique with relatively heavy weights.

F#*$ Your Accessory Work

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

In a conversation with John Flagg (might have been on the Clinical Athlete podcast) he had pointed out that my training style is very similar to the training style of many weightlifters.  To be honest I have never thought about that before.

 

Weightlifting is the yacht club of the strength sports; I don’t want my reputation being destroyed by that getting out there.  This sparked an interest in the sport of weightlifting for me.

 

I got Quinn Henoch on the podcast to chat programming stuff.  I found this podcast “Weightlifting House” that is very good and definitely not just for weightlifters, and I got some good information on the training of various national teams within the sport.

 

When I first started working with Jeremy Hartman, he told me to watch this documentary on Pyros Dymas, the famous Greek weightlifter.  I developed a fascination with the Greek weightlifting system here.

 

Dymas did spend quite a bit of time in the Soviet System before the current day Greek system.  As did the rest of that Greek weightlifting Dream Team.  I know in Russia every kid does gymnastics and does not specialize in a sport until they are a little older.

 

This is how the Greek system is today as well.  Children are encouraged to play as many sports as possible and specialization does not come until later.  Year 1 of weightlifting seems to be unloaded positions of the clean and jerk and the snatch and GPP stuff like jumps and pull-ups.  This is also similar to the Soviet System.

 

Year 2, the Greeks only perform 8 exercises.  The front and back squat, the Olympic lifts, and a couple variations of the Olympic lifts. They hit a maximal attempt only 1 time every 2 weeks at this stage.  The majority of the work is done between 80-85% of 1RM.

 

In the 3rdyear of training the exercises drop down to just 4.  They hit maximal attempts every 4thor 5thweek. During that training block after the acquiring of a new max, they work up to 100% very frequently, sometimes multiple times per day.

 

The advanced athletes are even required to take it when they know they will miss.  The Greeks see benefits to missing weights.  Every 3rdor 4thweek is a lighter week with a drop in volume and only working up to 85% of 1RM.

 

Every year they have a transition period that lasts 15-20 days where they are eased back into the handling of maximal attempts.  This fascinates me because their program is only 4 exercises.  There are not variations and there is zero accessory work.

 

Dymas competed in 4 straight Olympics at a gold medal level in this system.  Part of that long-term success requires you to stay healthy.  I am sure the coach makes day to day decisions in the gym.  In any high level weightlifting gym there is always a coach sitting there a few feet away.

 

This has really got me thinking over the last year.  How important is variation and how important are accessories?  Time is a constraint and we need to maximize our time in the gym to drive high level performance.

 

I find variation to be very important.  Many powerlifters played sports growing up, many did not.  I think building up strength at various angles is our way of addressing the chances that the lifter specialized in another sport early in life or did not play sports at all.  Americans get into this sport later in life.

 

I also find variations to be important for skill development.  There are more efficient ways to lift than others.  Variation allows each lifter to explore those movements and find the ones that work best.  The coach can place constraints on these movements that help guide that process.

 

All skills and strength follow a non-linear pattern.  When one skill regresses, another better be there to pick it up.  For example, maybe you pull sumo, but you start to see a decline in sumo performance.  If you train conventional hard and make sure you can lift numbers close to your best, you can switch and potentially hit a PR.  We see this at times with PPS.

 

Variation also gives you a wide skillset to pick from.  Let us say that a lifter gets stuck at the knees with the sumo deadlift because they were out of position off the floor.  This most likely looks very similar to a conventional deadlift for the back.  If the lifter has that skill with a conventional, they have a stronger chance of locking out that weight.

 

I choose to use many different exercises in my training than just a few for those reasons.  I could go on with that as well, but you guys get the point.  As for accessories (think bodybuilding type work) I have always been skeptical.

 

It just does not make sense to me that a 50lbs chest fly is going to help you bench 400lbs.  I get the theory a bigger muscle has more potential, blah blah blah.  Your body adapts to the stressors placed upon it.  Muscle growth will occur from training the lifts, more is not necessary.

 

I have used this argument in the past, that accessories help to increase load tolerance at joints and may help to reduce injury risk.  This theory is also nice, but just not true.  Fact is, we don’t know shit about what causes injuries.

 

Tendons and ligaments don’t respond better to light weights and higher reps to help protect you from heavier weights.  I think we may believe this stuff because accessories help to control loads.  Lifters tend to “leave room” in the program for the accessories.

 

Increasing performance and reducing injury risk is a contradictory statement.  You need to do more to perform at a higher level.  Doing more increases injury risk.  As a coach we need to take the information that we have and make day to day decisions based off of that information.  Basically, don’t train like an asshole.

 

As a coach we need to educate each lifter to understand what pain is and what it isn’t, and we need to create an environment that allows them to learn those lessons in the gym as well. Through education and smart training we can build resilient lifters.

 

Over time we give them the tools to navigate painful situations and to keep training. Self-efficacy decreases disability. Self-efficacy also increases strength through developing the skill of training.  Making good decisions that allows the lifter to get the most out of each training day.

 

Over time we get more high quality training days (doing more), and less missed training days (injury risk), but that is all that we can do.  We don’t understand enough about injuries to say that we should spend time with accessories as they are “protective.”  Shit will happen at some point.  Lifters should expect it, not fear it, and be equipped to deal with it.

 

Going into Nationals, we are dumping all accessories out of the program.  We are going to spend time doing the things that we know will make us stronger. I like how the Greeks setup training. We aren’t going to just do singles as grinding out a rep in powerlifting might take around 10 seconds.  We need to be prepared for that.

 

However, we train heavy every single day in the gym.  We will continue to do that.  That is the sport.  This just requires the coach and the lifter to pay attention as training becomes a lot more than numbers on a spreadsheet.  This is the new standard.