Every Program Works: Why You Should Use Pieces of All of Them

 

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

Over my 5 years of coaching powerlifting, I have tried everything.  Extend that to the 10 years that I was coaching prior, and I have literally tried everything.  As a coach it is easy to get caught up in looking for the next best thing.

 

When this happens, a coach can miss some important information right in front of them.  I know this to be true because I have been there.  We have run Sheiko, linear periodization, undulating periodization, high intensity, high volume, lots of singles, you name it, we have probably tried it.

 

Over this period of time our totals continued to rise.  No matter what we did, we got stronger.  I think that in the beginning it is important for every coach to just try a bunch of different things.  Pay attention, observe, and over time make the necessary adjustments.

 

In the beginning, I was working with Sheiko.  He laid out a format for me to follow.  This was very important for me as an inexperienced coach.  I had rules to follow.  I followed those rules and learned quite a bit.  As I became more comfortable coaching, I was more comfortable to try other things.

 

I even abandoned the things that had worked for a period of time to try the next new shiny thing.  This was my inexperience acting out.  I don’t regret doing it though because it was all a learning experience.  It still is.

 

I understand now that everything has a time and place.  Even if you look around and watch other lifters.  Not only do a bunch of successful lifters do different things, many do something until it stops working and then they do something else.  This seems to work all of the time.

 

Perhaps the continued success we saw was due to the same scenario?  I would not quite go that far.  There are some negatives to constantly changing things up.  The right amount of variety is needed, but too much and too little can cause problems.

 

If you train hard, believe in what you are doing, and have a strong relationship with your coach, you will see progress.  Do not get me wrong, there are better coaches than others out there.  However, as long as you a hire a coach with a distinguished track record, you are probably fine in terms of an adequate program.  A good coach brings other skills to the relationship.

 

I have a much larger appreciation for various training styles now than I did before.  I believe some are better than others and I enjoy talking shit, that is just me being me.  Which brings me to another point.  The coach needs to pick a style that matches their personality.

 

I am often described as intense and aggressive.  Our programs reflect that now.  We joke around a lot and have a lot of fun.  I don’t just sit there and yell.  However, the training matches my personality, which tends to match the personalities of those that seek me out for coaching.

 

This is important for the culture.  A training style that fits the coach and the lifters’ personalities.  This is one reason why Westside is successful in my opinion.  A lot of those guys were looking for an outlet and they found it in the intensity of the training.  The training matched the personality of the coach and the lifters.

 

With that said, it doesn’t mean we can just drive singles every single day in the gym.  This is where understanding of principles and trust comes into play.  The relationship the coach has with the lifter can help the coach decide what is best to do at this given time for this specific lifter.  Everything has a place.

 

According to Occam’s Razor, the simplest solution is most likely the right one.  If we ask the question, “What will make us best at heavy singles?”  The simplest solution seems to be heavy singles.  Now, of course we can’t just do heavy singles every day in the gym, but it is a start.

 

Attempting to come up with ideal volumes and average intensities is overcomplicating what we are attempting to do.  This doesn’t mean that you can’t get stronger with higher volume programs, of course you can. Everything works.

 

I just noticed that when our training sessions were longer and our overall volumes higher, we experienced more nagging issues.  The length of the training sessions becomes an issue at times as well.  The lifters that I coach all have full time jobs and outside stressors.

 

The longer the session, the greater mental and physical energy is needed to get through it.  This can become difficult for the lifter to recover from.  Efficiency is key for a busy life.  Nothing is more efficient than heavy singles.

 

However, heavy singles can come with a psychological cost.  They require more mental energy.  We can split up the singles and the volume.  This splits up the mental energy from the physical.  This allows one to recover while the other is being stressed.  It is not that black and white, but it gets a point across.

 

If we do that, there is your daily undulating periodization.  One day is a single, another day is sets and reps for more volume.  We attempt to leave 5-10lbs on the bar each week so we can add it the following week.  There is linear periodization.  I use a linear approach starting at a top set of 5 reps as the second day of squats and bench as a meet draws near.  Timing here is everything.

 

I realized that most training variables seem to run their course every 4 to 6 weeks.  Probably why most training blocks are 4 to 6 weeks long.  I run my blocks in 3 week waves.  This allows me to bring back in that same variable sooner than I would be able to if I exhausted it.  I may keep the positions the same but add bands or chains or another slight change.

 

Some waves we will do doubles with lighter weight, but lots of doubles, like 10-15.  Other times we will use the same weight for sets of 5 or 6 reps.  It all depends.  It depends on their technical levels.  Singles are the best, but when we can’t do singles, working on technique is the next best thing.  This worked well when we ran a Sheiko style system.

 

Sometimes I feel the lifter would get more technical reps with doubles.  Technique is less likely to breakdown and they get more first reps to really work on the walkout and competition technique.  Sometimes I want to challenge their technical capabilities with a bit of fatigue within a set.  That is where the higher rep sets come in.  However, volume stays relatively similar.

 

So those that say speed work doesn’t work, it has a place.  I will often put time limits on the doubles to make the lifter get through them a bit more quickly.  This gets them in and out of the gym quickly, like I mentioned before, but also builds up some work capacity and makes the lighter weights feel a bit heavier.  The fatigue will challenge technique as well.  Little more bang for your buck in my opinion.

 

When a lifter hits a true max in one week, the following week will either be a change in the exercise, or some sets and reps.  I will typically use a higher intensity example from what we did when we ran a Sheiko style training system.  This may mean 4 or 5 sets of doubles or triples at 80%.  These were our “strength” days then, and they worked well.  Seems to be the next best thing to singles.  They also do not take a long time to get through but have adequate effort.  This percentage is based off of the previous week’s max effort number, so it is pretty accurate.

 

We use percentages for some days, RPEs for others depending on what I am looking for.  We always use RPEs as a subjective measurement of the training.  This helps me get a gauge of the lifter’s recovery.  This helps me make my decisions for the following week.

 

Everything has its place.  As a coach you should be open and use all the tools at your exposal.  The goal is to keep the liters healthy and progressing, not proving you are right.

Individual Differences, American Culture and Heavy Singles

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

American culture is very focused on the individual when we compare it to other countries.  This needs to be taken into consideration by the coach.  Our cultural beliefs are an important aspect of our physiological strength.

 

Communist countries have a greater group mentality.  Each individual is part of a greater whole.  In these cultures each individual is used to doing what they are told as well.  This is definitely not the case in America.

 

I have had beginner lifters tell me as their coach, what they need to get stronger, or what works and doesn’t work for them.  The beginner does not have the knowledge or experience to know these things.  A Russian lifter is not saying that to his or her coach.  This is a major cultural difference.

 

I am not saying that we do not need to address each individual.  In fact, I am saying the opposite.  In America, due to our culture, we need to address individual differences.  This is especially true for a sport like powerlifting.

 

Powerlifting draws from everyone.  Past athletes, non-athletes, fitness enthusiasts, Crossfitters, young, and old.  Each individual has their own journey into this sport.  This isn’t Russia where kids are getting into it at 8 years old.

 

This can be a very difficult challenge for a coach.  It requires time getting to know an individual lifter.  The coach needs to understand their strengths and weaknesses in the gym, but also know who they are outside of the gym as this will affect their performance and recovery in a number of ways.

 

Another major piece of American culture is social media.  Love it or hate it, it plays a big role.  The whole “Do it for the Gram” is a thing.  No matter how many times that coaches tell their lifters it doesn’t matter, it absolutely does.  You can’t fight it.  No one is getting excited for a 4×4 at 70% of 1RM, but big lifts get passed around.

 

I started coaching using a Russian system.  Sheiko was my coach and it was all that I knew.  It worked well until it didn’t.  I saw continued progress working directly with him so maybe my ability to coach this system was lacking.

 

Not only did I need to take into account the lifters’ backgrounds, but also mine as a coach.  Both matter when we are attempting to create our own culture.  I do not have a ton of experience with powerlifting.  I have been coaching the sport for only 5 years.  However, I got a lot of experience competing in sports at a high level.

 

I had been competing in sports my whole life.  These experiences would help shape the culture of PPS.  I decided to view powerlifting more like a sport and draw my own conclusions on how to prepare for that sport.  At the same time, we needed to build a culture on just competing.

 

Most lifters that I coach do not have a strong competitive background.  If we can learn to just compete, each lifter will put their best effort on that platform.  There is nothing that will teach a lifter to compete more than heavy singles.  Heavy singles create the greatest psychological response in training.  A psychological response that mimics that same psychological response that they will encounter at a competition.

 

Not only that, singles are the sport.  If I want a lifter to be best prepared for the sport, I want them doing as many singles as they can.  This is where individualization needs to come in.  Some lifters are more capable of recovery from heavy singles than others.

 

I have heard some lifters say that heavy singles do not work for them.  This makes no sense to me.  Singles are the sport; you should probably practice it.  However, it may create such a psychological response that recovery becomes difficult.  This is where coaching comes into play.

 

Perhaps in the beginning the lifter needs to be coddled a bit with the singles.  Each max effort day does not need to be a true max.  Find a weight the lifter is comfortable with, and increase it by as little as 5lbs, we just want to create a psychological response.

 

This is often a hard, but doable weight.  In the beginning, this does not even have to be programmed each week.  We can go every other week with max effort singles.  Even longer if it becomes necessary.  I have not coached someone that is not ok with every other week of max effort lifts.

 

On the other end of the spectrum are the psychos.  These lifters just want to max out all of the time.  They need to be protected from themselves.  These lifters will also only get max effort lifts every other week.  This is to make sure we are taking enough psychological and physical breaks from heavier weight to keep the lifter healthy and progress moving forward in the long term.

 

Most people will fit somewhere in the middle.  I tell my lifters to leave 5-10lbs on the bar for the following week.  If someone is a little more conservative, they are able to get more consecutive weeks of max effort lifts.  If they are more aggressive, or progress stalls on a movement, and a true max is reached, the following week we either change the exercise or just hit some sets and reps.

 

The lighter dynamic work/rep work later in the week helps me see how well they are recovering.  These days are very similar to what our days looked like when we ran a Sheiko style of training.  I have years’ worth of data on RPE of various exercise and set and rep schemes.

 

If a lifter is putting an RPE at 8 or higher on these days, then recovery is certainly maxed out.  Higher and they are not recovering well.  Lower RPEs tell me that we can keep going.  When a higher RPE is scored on these days I have options.

 

I often will leave the training the exact same to see if it improves or if it is getting worse.  If it improves, we can run the same training day again, or add a little weight or volume.  99% of the time I will leave it the same.  Let them fully recover and hit the next wave hard.

 

If I see that recovery is a continuous issue, I will cut the volume on the later days’ lifts in half.  We will gradually increase volume from here as the RPEs dictate.  It is rare that I see the max effort performance drop significantly due to fatigue.

 

One interesting thing that I have seen from doing it this way is that we have far fewer nagging issues popping up, with much more progress.  +This is the best use of RPE in my opinion.  Perceived effort tells us a lot about the lifter and their needs.

 

Over time, I want to see an increase in max effort days.  This is not always possible.  Outside life really gets in the way sometimes.  However, if I have that viewpoint to make my decisions, then it helps me to make better ones.

 

I find myself pulling back on volume more than increasing it.  With that said, I will increase it at times.  On the later days we may do a 10×2 at 70% of 1RM, or a 5×6 at the same intensity.  It all depends on where we are, and what that lifter needs at that given time.

 

Sheiko would always say that load variability was very important.  The changing of exercises on max effort days changes absolute loads, and on the other days, we move things around quite frequently.  This keeps training interesting and forces the lifter to pay attention in different ways.

 

Training is a dynamic process that is affected by literally everything.  The coach needs to understand this dynamic process.  Part of understanding it is understanding we can’t control a lot of it, and there is a lot of uncertainty.

 

Each coach needs to have their own set of rules that allows them to navigate this process in the best possible way for their lifters.  I like singles because they are the sport and they embrace that Instagram culture.

 

I also understand that individual differences exist.  I have a means of navigating the process for each individual.  We combine this all together to form the culture of PPS.

Why Singles for a Constraints-Led Approach

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

Seems that there is some hate for singles still floating around the interwebs.  This tends to be the words of inexperience, but still, these inexperienced coaches are getting this information from somewhere.

 

I have seen an increase in singles being utilized in many different training strategies.  Research shows that the closer one is to 1RM, the greater the increase in 1RM.  Many coaches have taken this information and added weekly singles into their DUP programs.

 

This can negate the decreases in strength from running higher rep schemes for a period of time.  This is good coaching, taking the information available to them and applying it to their training models.  I love seeing stuff like this.

 

Most of these singles seem to be performed at an RPE 8.  I am by no means shitting on other programs, but instead giving my opinions on the subject matter.  Hitting a single of something that I can triple may maintain strength, but it certainly will not improve it.

 

I believe there is a fear that heavy singles are tough to recover from.  Perhaps in the beginning if the lifter is not used to higher intensities.  The same can be said about a higher volume program.  All I have done for 3 months is singles, a set of 10 may actually kill me.

 

A heavy single close to max, or at max will be tougher to recover from than one performed at an RPE 8.  There are not many physiological resources that go into singles.  Research can only induce overtraining symptoms if there is an endurance component.  It is nearly impossible to induce overtraining with higher intensity sets.

 

Higher volumes utilize a lot more physiological resources and there is an endurance component to multiple sets of higher reps.  This does not mean that higher intensities do not create fatigue.  They most certainly do.  However, I do believe that it is more psychological than physical.

 

With a higher volume program you may get really sore afterwards.  This is typically not the case for singles.  However, over time it can be tougher to get psychologically aroused for the singles, and research has shown some burnout in studies from constant singles.

 

These studies are not always performed on powerlifters, who may have increased motivational factors that decreases burnout.  However, we should still listen because they are human.  I have literally only performed singles for 3 months leading into my competition and I have never felt better.  The majority of these days were done in equipment with overloaded weights.

 

Now, do keep in mind I am a beginner in the equipment.  I cannot overload the lifts by that much yet.  I would imagine if I just kept doing this, at some point I would not be able to keep it up.

 

Another argument against singles is for the breakdown in technique.  This comes down to how the coach views error in the lifts.  Is error a bad thing or a good thing?  I believe that error teaches the lifter.  The coach needs to know how the lifts will breakdown under heavy weights.

 

Anyone can look good at 70% of 1RM, but we compete at greater than 90% of 1RM.  All errors in the sport of powerlifting are either mental, physical, or technical.  Heavy singles give the coach answers to those questions.  A single at an RPE 8 does not have a psychological piece tied to it.  A single at or near max certainly does.  It adds in the psychological component that will be present at competition.

 

Training is practice for competition.  Competition scenarios need to be included in the training scenarios so that the lifter can be best prepared for actual competition.  Heavy singles are an important element to this.

 

If you are a lifter reading this, you can attest to competition nerves.  Those nerves can negatively effect performance.  Best way to train for that is to get those nerves going in training.  This is what heavy singles do.

 

Louie Simmons uses the terms testers and builders for his exercises.  I like this a lot.  Each individual has their own testers and builders.  The coach can program a tester and get feedback on how the lifter is responding to the current training.

 

The testers also help show the coach what is breaking down and where to attack the training moving forward.  Training involves a coach analyzing a lifter’s strengths and weaknesses and laying out a plan to attack those same weaknesses, whether they are mental, physical, or technical.

 

I am a firm believer that if the coach wants to attack a physical or technical weakness within the lift, it is more than just attacking a single muscle group.  I just do not think it comes down to “X” happens in the squat, so ‘Y” must be weak, and the lifter attacks it with bodybuilding.

 

This is where an understanding of biomechanics becomes important.  The coach needs to find a way to alter the task in a manner that will target that weaker muscle group more.  A common example is a weak low back compared to the leg strength.

 

If I identify this weakness in a lifter, I will use a close stance box squat.  The lifter needs to push their hips back onto the box, and the closer stance leads to a greater forward lean of the torso.  This basically looks like a conventional deadlift with the bar on the lifter’s back.

 

In this same wave, I may have them perform conventional deadlifts off 2” mats.  This takes the legs out of the deadlift and forces the lifter to utilize more hips and low back in the lift.  The coach needs to know their lifter and the volumes may need to work up to doing both of these exercises in the same wave.

 

I believe that this works better than just hitting some lower back accessory work.  Now, I do not think it hurts to add in some reverse hypers and back extensions.  This is as long as the lifter can recover from the exercises.  I encourage each lifter to do both of those exercises one time per week.

 

However, we cannot just keep hitting competition squats, add in reverse hypers, and expect the weaknesses to get stronger.  The change in angles in the lifts themselves are required to strengthen these weaknesses. Does the combination of the 2 work better?  Maybe, maybe not.

 

The change in task also needs to take into consideration the technical breakdown seen by the coach.  A common technical breakdown in the squat is when the lifter hits the part where the hips have poor leverage, they will drive the knees forward hard to continue to get the lift.

 

Of course, the lifter should do what they need to do to lift the heaviest weights possible.  I do not necessarily think this is bad, but instead it is telling.  This tells me that the hips need to be strengthened.  In this case, I may use a wide stance squat.

 

Wide stance squats will put more emphasis on the hips.  If we get the lifter wide enough the center of gravity of the athlete-barbell system will actually shift slightly towards the heels.  This shift in COG also makes it more difficult to come forward with the knees at the tough part of the lift.  If the lifter comes forward beyond the center of the foot, they will lose balance.

 

In order for the exercise to punish the technical inefficiency, we need enough weight.  A 600lb squatter will be able to get away with technical inefficiencies at 405lbs.  The closer the lifter gets to their max, the less they will get away with.

 

Even to strengthen a weak muscle group, we want heavy singles.  If we want to increase the 1RM capability of the lower back, what is the best way to do that?  Research states that the best way to increase 1RM strength is to train at or near 1RM.  Heavy singles.

 

These exercises give the coach even more information about the lifter.  When we train heavy singles, we can see where each angle stacks up against their best competition squat.  If that 600lb squatter can only hit 500lbs on a close stance box squat, we have identified a weakness.

 

This becomes the angle that we need to build up.  I use 3 week waves for each variation.  The reason? Because in the past I realized each variation has a 4 to 6 week shelf life.  If we end it a bit earlier, I can bring it back in earlier and still get a training effect.

 

We can keep the close stance box squat, but add chains, then add bands, we can change the bar placement, the bar itself, use pins instead of the box (still make sure the lifter sits back).  The coach can be creative here. After a few waves of altering these angles, bring the first exercise back in and see how we did.  Often there will be a PR here.  If we get a PR here, we can almost be certain there will be a PR in the competition lift.

 

Now, I would not throw in the competition lift right away after this.  The absolute loads are far less than what the lifter is capable of.  I typically would find an exercise to bridge that gap.  Something they can lift in the high 500s with.  Often, we will see a PR on this exercise, sometimes even an all-time PR.  After this wave, it may be appropriate to test a competition style squat if the coach wishes to.

 

Altering exercises like this adjusts the absolute loads.  This makes the lifts easier to recover from.  I will also replace a max effort day with rep work after the lifter reaches a true max on an exercise.  I will also do this when it seems as if the lifter is struggling to recover from training.

 

All of my lifters have jobs and outside stress.  How much gym stress the coach gives them needs to accommodate for life.  If I have a lifter with a lot of outside stress, we may alternate each week between max effort and rep work.  We can also be a bit more conservative.

 

My lifters are instructed to leave 5 to 10lbs on the bar for the following week.  This is very near max, but not max.  Think a conservative 3rd attempt or hard 2nd.  The coach can tell the lifter to be a bit more conservative than that.  Little less psychological stress induced by training and easier for the lifter to recover from.  It can also allow the lifter to build some momentum when things seem to be difficult.

 

The end of the week is also where we utilize lighter weights to build some rate of force development and technical efficiency.  This also gives the lifter a psychological break and allows them to be somewhat fresh when they come back in for max effort work the following week.

 

Chronic fatigue symptoms that can have negative effects on training do not just pop up when the lifter hits this certain barrier.  There are acute fatigue factors each day for sure, but the human body can recover pretty quickly from them.  Usually this is within a few hours even.  Muscle breakdown may require 2-3 days to fully recover, but this seems to be more of a volume issue than an intensity one.  This is why the lighter days and accessory work volume needs to be kept in check.

 

Each individual will come with a different tolerance to the higher intensities.  The coach needs to adjust the training for each individual and their capabilities.  Tracking their RPEs, maxes on each lift, and having a relationship with them can help the coach make these decisions.  Max singles are training the sport, they should be a part of every program.

Conjugate Doesn’t Work for Raw?

 

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

Ever since I became involved in powerlifting about 5 years ago, this has been the theme, “Conjugate does not work for raw lifting.”  I must admit, I bought into it for a period of time, although my reasons may have been different from the internet’s.

 

My biggest issue was with technique.  Technique will break down at the higher intensities.  This is absolutely true.  Working with Sheiko, I was mimicking what he did in making every repetition in training look the same.

 

My other argument was more against heavy bands and chains.  We used accommodating resistance, but we used a much smaller amount than most conjugate training programs.  This was due to the changing of the strength curve.

 

The more accommodating resistance, the lower the weight at the difficult parts of the lift and the higher the weight during the more biomechanically efficient parts of the lift.  I would argue that a lifter is only as strong as they are in their weakest positions.  This is also true.  However, heavy accommodating resistance has a place for CAT (compensatory acceleration training) and it helps strengthen certain technical inefficiencies.

 

The internet will tell you that conjugate is not specific enough.  This has really never made much sense to me.  Aren’t heavy singles the actual sport?  To my knowledge it was the only powerlifting program that was actually very specific to the sport.  The amount of variation in a Sheiko program was very similar to a Westside program, so the variability of training was something that I was accustomed to.

 

5 years ago was the start of the rise of popularity for DUP (daily undulating periodization).  DUP was well researched, and Dr. Mike Zourdos made it much more accessible for powerlifters.  Now every powerlifter could go on IG and yell their training was better because of #science.

 

Over the years I have found my way to a conjugate training system.  I realized that following a Sheiko program that we were not lifting heavy enough and lifters were getting nervous to attempt heavier weights.

 

A Sheiko program did not allow the lifters to explore positions either.  All variations were done in comp stance and with comp grip.  This makes sense for the Russians that had all those years of GPP work before being coached by Sheiko.

 

In America, many lifters do not have that same base.  They start the sport later in life and come with a lot of weaknesses and lower skill levels within the lifts.  Variability is important to increase that skill level while simultaneously bringing up weaker areas.

 

Raw lifting is a relatively new thing.  I believe the first IPF raw world championships was in 2013.  The first raw nationals was just a couple years prior to that.  This leads to a lot of inexperience in the sport.

 

It also seems to attract the younger demographics that grew up with technology.  A DUP program is easy to make on an Excel spreadsheet and really does not require a whole lot of coaching.  In fact, I would argue that this is writing programs and not coaching at all.

 

So what is a conjugate program?  A conjugate program is a method of training where multiple methods are trained at the same time.  DUP, has some similarities here.  A DUP program may have a hypertrophy day, strength day, and power day.  Each week the program may call for adding a set, or increasing weight, so there are some linear components to it as well.

 

A conjugate program will look to build absolute strength (max effort method), rate of force development (dynamic effort method), technical efficiency (dynamic effort method/repetition effort method), and mental toughness (max effort method).

 

At the end of the day, powerlifting is about displaying absolute strength.  There is no better way to increase maximal strength than taking heavy singles.  Singles over 90% increase motor unit recruitment better than lighter weights, and it develops the ability to strain under heavy weights.

 

Sets of greater than one rep do not do that.  One, the lifter, will conserve as much energy as needed to finish the set.  This is even true for doubles and triples.  This also trains strength endurance and not absolute strength.  Singles also build mental toughness to handle heavier weights.

 

Technique does break down at these heavier weights.  When I first started, I viewed this as a negative.  However, now I view it as a positive.  Error teaches us.  The max effort singles allow us to easily analyze the lifter and build a program around attacking weaknesses.

 

We can alter the angles of the max effort lifts to punish technical inefficiency and strengthen any lagging areas.  It seems like everyone needs stronger hips, hamstrings, and low back.  This is why the majority of lifters lean towards lifting in a raised heel.  It allows them to stay more upright and use more quads.  A very simple fix to this, is we now do the majority of our training in flats.

 

A lifter cannot have as much of a positive shin angle in flats as compared to a raised heel.  This decreases the ability to use more quads and forces the lifter to use a bit more hips and hamstrings.  On top of that we do a lot more wider stance squat work.  This emphasizes those areas even more.  Increasing toe flail can limit the forward travel of the knee as well.

 

This allows the lifter to build technical efficiency under maximal loads, where it actually matters in this sport.  These positions can also target weaknesses in a sport specific manner.  If a wide stance squat in flats is 10% lower for a 1RM than a comp stance in heels, we got a weakness to work on.  We can build up those angles, and when we do that, we will see an increase in the competition lift itself.  Sometimes the lifter will prefer the new positions.  Now, our strengths and weaknesses have shifted, and the process continues.

 

We cannot just do heavy singles every day in the gym.  This is for recovery for one.  Psychological burnout can become high if we just perform heavy singles.  I also think there are some positives to repeated practice.

 

Singles do not give the lifter a lot of practice.  This is where the dynamic effort and repetition effort methods come into play.  The coach can use lighter weights and higher volumes to get the lifter more practice and to continue to work on weaknesses.

 

Weaknesses can be technical, mental, and physical.  If a lifter is slow, work on getting faster, if a lifter has poor technique maybe slowing them down and teaching control is more appropriate than speeding them up.  We can always speed them up later on, when the control is there.  This is a long term process.  The coach can choose the angles of the lift to also work on weaknesses.  If the lifter needs more hips and hamstrings, the box squat is good here.

 

How is this not for raw lifters?  A DUP program may have a block of 8/6/4 reps and then a block of 5/3/1 reps. Sometimes singles are included but done at an RPE 8. A rep at that intensity is not maximal effort and will not build absolute strength.

 

It may allow the lifter to maintain strength while they wait for the program to get more specific.  The closer to a single that the lifter gets, the more specific.  Let us look at the efficiency of each program.

 

A conjugate program takes no more than an hour to hour and a half to complete.  Performing multiple higher rep sets of all 3 lifts each day, takes far longer.  My lifters have jobs and lives outside of the gym.  The less time they spend in the gym the more time they can recover and manage their lives outside of the gym.

 

This is not to rip on those that use a DUP program.  If you enjoy doing that, by all means keep doing it.  It also works for a lot of lifters out there.  I will just argue that it is not the best.  Long term training requires a continual analysis of weaknesses and a program that targets those weaknesses.

Why Conjugate is Superior to Other Programs

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

In the USAPL circle of powerlifting it seems that daily undulating periodization (DUP) is what the majority leans towards for their training with some linear and block periodization sprinkled in.  It seems as if speaking the term “conjugate” aloud will result in some punishment.

 

This is contradictory to the people that I follow outside of the USAPL.  It seems that conjugate is a popular training style.  I find this very interesting as it is all powerlifting.  I am not sure why one group doesn’t utilize it at all, and another group seems to utilize it more.

 

In my previous article I broke down the history of periodization and made arguments against the need for a periodized strength program.  If you have not read that one yet I encourage you to do that first.

 

This is not to say that the coach should not have a plan.  The coach needs to have a plan that is flexible and adaptable to the ever changing needs of the individual.  The plan should also be one that enhances the skills necessary for the sport.

 

Many programs begin with a hypertrophy block.  The reps are usually between 6 and 12 during this block and 65% to 85% of 1RM, roughly.  Interestingly enough the research shows similar muscle growth between higher load and lower load exercises as long as the effort is at or near max.

 

This means that increased workloads to increase muscle size are most likely unnecessary as heavier weights for less reps build muscle size about as well.  This also assumes that increased muscle size increases strength potential of a muscle.  There is nothing that suggests that this is true.

 

Hypertrophy may just be a byproduct of training.  Even if higher rep sets with lower loads built hypertrophy better does it matter?  The difference in muscle size would be very small and more may not be better.  This may be especially true if the other group is lifting at or near 1RM.  The specificity of that training will trump the miniscule difference in muscle size potentially leading to greater gains in strength.

 

The strength increases between periodized and non-periodized training in the literature can oftentimes be attributed to that same specificity.  The periodized groups end up training closer to 1RM than the non-periodized groups.

 

There was a study titled “Reduced Volume ‘Daily Max’ Training Compared to Higher Volume Periodized Training in Powerlifters Preparing for a Competition-A Pilot Study” that showed that hitting a daily max in the lifts around an RPE 9.5 was as effective in training beginner to intermediate powerlifters in a 10 week training program as a standard periodized program.

 

This was interesting to me because the program with singles is what it is in a study.  There are times where I adjust from singles to rep work for my lifters based off of some performance parameters.  We do this for 1 week in place of max effort and then we pick up max effort the following week.

 

The fact that these lifters did daily maxes every training day for 10 weeks is pretty impressive and interesting.  We have 2 to 3 days of max effort per week (it can be less if we have rep work in another spot).  So we have lighter days thrown into our programs.

 

These lighter days allow for recovery and a focus on technical efficiency as well as rate of force development.  Keeping the lifter fresher and improving technical efficiency can lead to even greater success on the max effort days.

 

The variation on the max effort days seems to keep training interesting and fun.  After 2 to 3 weeks of max effort of the same exercise we see a decrease in performance.  This study used the comp lift throughout the whole process.  This had to be done for the sake of research but imagine how much better the daily max group would have done if it could be applied like it would in the real world.

 

The results were comparable, and better in some areas, for the daily max group under those circumstances. This is pretty amazing to me.  It also shows that periodization is not necessary in a strength training program.  I will say, if the daily max group never had a plan to be flexible and adaptable, I think in the long term the periodized group would win out.  However, having a plan on how and when to use those maxes mitigates that piece.

 

When I first started getting into powerlifting, I was definitely against a conjugate style of training.  My main concern was the technique.  Heavy singles will lead to a breakdown in technique.  I wanted every repetition to look the same.

 

However, over time I learned that we can learn more from error than from success.  I also learned about a constraints-led approach.  With this approach I can place lifters in positions that punish that technical inefficiency.  I learned by doing this that the heavy weight is needed to punish these inefficiencies.  Anyone can get away with poor technique with the empty bar, but not 500, 600, or 700lbs.

 

Putting the lifters in those positions that disallow completion of the task under heavier weights, removes that negative of lifting heavy singles.  Also, those singles make up a small percentage (7-10%) of our total volume.  The other 90+% of our training is performed with submaximal weights.

 

When I was less experienced, I would argue that accommodating resistance used like it is used in Westside does not match the strength curve of the raw squat.  We always used accommodating resistance on bench and deadlifts.  However, we used just a small amount of accommodating resistance.  There was nothing wrong with this, but I now feel like heavy bands and chains have a place in training.  I have seen firsthand how squats have blown up with them, mine included.

 

I think one big reason is for the overloaded eccentric.  Controlling the tension on the way down and beating it on the way up has a lot of carryover to straight weight.  It teaches constant acceleration of the weight, something you can’t learn with straight weight.

 

Hatfield preached about compensatory acceleration, moving lighter weights as fast as possible having the same effect as moving heavy weights.  Straight weight needs to have deceleration to reach the top because the end speed is 0.  The bands and chains force the lifter to keep accelerating due to the increase in load as the bar approaches lockout.

 

Light bands and chains do not have this same effect as the initial drive out of the hole still carries the lifter through to the top.  I have found that the accommodating resistance needs to be close to 100% of 1RM or higher at the top on max effort days.  On the dynamic days, it needs to make up 20% to 35% of the total weight being lifted.  It needs to be heavy enough to punish the lifter if they explode and coast in the squat, but not so heavy that the bar weight is too light.

 

Another major argument against conjugate is the lack of specificity.  First, we need to identify what is specific.  This is a sport where the lifter takes max singles of a squat, bench press, and deadlift.  What is more specific?  A squat at 75% for a set of 6, or a squat where we move the feet out 2 inches and hit a heavy single?  It is the heavy single.

 

Max effort attempts require a different motor unit response than submax reps.  You need to train that ability in the gym to have it on the platform.  Submax work increases technical efficiency, which is also important.  Also, max weights train the mind to handle heavy weights and to not be scared.

 

Our volumes tend to remain about the same week to week with little fluctuations.  There is very small incremental increases in the workload as the lifter increases their strength.  That is all that is needed.  We have this belief that every week something needs to increase.  Why every week?  It is made up to fit a calendar.  Same with 4 week blocks, it is just 1 month.  They are random time frames.

 

In Russia a lifter may go from 800 lifts to 1300 lifts in a 5 year period of time.  This would be an increase of 100 lifts per year (these numbers are made up and it probably takes even longer to make those increases).  That means the lifter will perform 8 more repetitions per month each year.  That is 2 more reps per week each year.  That is a really small increase.

 

Often in a linear program or a DUP program you will see way more than that increased each week.  That increase in workload can lead to increases in nagging issues.  Keep increasing and those nagging issues can turn into something bigger.

 

Inexperience is a big issue in powerlifting.  You can throw a ton of volume on a lifter at one time to be sure you get enough of a stimulus to see results.  In some cases you will see remarkable results right away.  However, we need to look at the long term.

 

A conjugate training program is more of a long term strategy.  Volumes rise very incrementally over time as the lifter gets stronger.  This is exactly what Sheiko did with me for 3 years.  My number of lifts remained the same, but as I got stronger each percentage was a heavier weight and my workload increased.  I drove the increases in workload, not the program.

 

A conjugate program requires the coach to actually coach.  The coach needs to be able to identify the weaknesses of the lifter and put that lifter in positions to strengthen those weaknesses.  The coach also needs to guide the program to fit the needs of each individual.

 

Each individual comes with different genetics, motivational factors, and outside stressors.  Helping them make the right choices on each training day is the job of the coach.  Anyone can make a fancy Excel spreadsheet to do all of the work.

 

I encourage everyone to read Dr. Loenneke’s new paper titled “The Basics of Training for Muscle Size and Strength: A Brief Review on the Theory.”  Him and his colleagues breakdown the literature.  Seems more is based on dogma than science in the world of powerlifting.