The Birth of Constraints-Led Conjugate

 

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

 

I have been doing quite a bit of reflecting lately.  It is pretty crazy to think of where PPS started, and where we are now.  Not even just the growth of the totals of the lifters, but in the culture that we have cultivated.

 

The training environment is intense and tough, but we also have a lot of laughs and eat a lot of snacks.  It is something that I decided to take advantage of leading into our fall meets, including raw nationals.

 

I am going to try to make this as quick as possible, but everyone reading this knows that I like to use lots of words.  We have gone through some changes at PPS over the years.  I was/still am a newer coach finding my way.  This is true of most of the lifters that I have coached.  Almost all of them have started with PPS with very minimal training and competition experience.

 

I was coached by Sheiko and knew that I had very limited knowledge as a coach.  I had structured everything in training as I had learned from him through being his lifter, two seminars, and many email conversations. This could not have been a better start to learning.

 

I learned pretty quickly that I am not Boris Sheiko, and my lifters are not his lifters.  Lifters would be nervous for anything over 90% of 1RM and technique would breakdown at these weights.  High squats were an issue for some because of the nerves with the heavier weights.

 

The training sessions would also take over 3 hours in some situations.  Some days would have 3 lifts, with a substantial amount of volume.  We have limited racks and a growing group.  Time is becoming an issue.

 

This made it a no brainer to start dropping some volume and raising some intensity.  I did this but kept it within the structure of the Sheiko program.  As we raised intensity we got better.  I would raise it more, and we would get even better.

 

I decided to keep things simple and create a more linear approach.  We kept a Sheiko structure with frequency and used some of his special exercises, but just lifted them heavier.  Working up to an RPE 9, starting at 5 reps and eventually working up to singles.

 

Again, we got even stronger and started to see our ability to compete grow.  I had a conversation with Dr. Loenneke, that ended up becoming a major influence on my thinking.  He had said to me that in the ideal situation, you would go into the gym and just max out a single and leave.  That is as specific as it gets to building 1RM strength.

 

Now, throwing this into the real world is difficult because of multiple lifts in the sport, and all of my lifters have jobs and lives outside of the gym.  People tend to forget that a lot of the top-level lifters do not have jobs, or they just work in the gym.

 

This is not a knock against them.  Some made sacrifices like that to get to the top, and that is what needs to be done.  My lifters sacrifice a bit differently.  They sacrifice a bigger total to kick ass outside of the gym.  These are all choices and there are no right or wrong answers here.

 

The linear approach was leading to great success with less time in the gym, but we were seeing greater flare ups of nagging issues.  This included elbow and forearm pain, low back stiffness, and knee and hip pain.

 

These were not major issues but required us to adjust quite a bit.  Seemed we were able to push like that for about 6 months before this stuff started to pop up a bit more.  We were also getting slow and the technique was not as good as it could be.

 

This came mainly to people shortchanging pauses and the like to get more weight.  This is a fine line we walk here, and we were blending two separate components into one exercise.  I wanted strain, but I wanted the pause to help technique.  It just did not work as well as it could.

 

We had gotten too far away from what we were doing in the beginning.  I was also questioning everything we knew about fatigue.  There is some uncertainty with fatigue.  It gets easy to get caught up in that uncertainty when you see lifters train hard 4 days per week and rip off months of continued progress.

 

It seems that the acute factors for fatigue recover within a couple of hours.  The only exception to this seems to be DOMS, which may take a couple of days.  However, there are chronic factors to fatigue that need to be considered.  After about 6 months, we started to see some issues pop up.

 

Sheiko always had lighter days programmed in.  This was usually every week or every other week.  My day 4 would be a very light deadlift variation only.  This was low volume and low intensity.  Often around 70% of 1RM.

 

Sheiko was a master at manipulating training stress to keep training moving forward.  This is a skill that he developed over decades of coaching high level lifters.  I would imagine that the high level lifters would run into issues sooner than the 6 months that we saw.

 

As a coach I needed to have a view of a further future.  Those light days allow for more higher stress training days throughout the year, since the lifter will not need to make as many adjustments and take as many steps back.

 

I know a lot of the literature and texts discuss the importance of deloads.  I needed to see how this stuff actually plays out in the real world, with my lifters, to make the best decisions about training moving forward.  Every 3rd or 4th week giving a lighter week, is not necessarily productive either.  Classic deloads come with their issues as well in terms of load management.

 

I remember Sheiko also saying that the easiest way to program is to have one higher day and one lower day per week for each exercise (bench would actually be a bit more here).  This is very similar to what Westside does with a max effort day and a dynamic effort day.

 

The max effort day is very heavy, and the dynamic day is very light.  They seem to not use many moderate weights in their training at all.  The lighter weights help the lifter increase rate of force development, how quickly the lifter can apply force.

 

This will not directly increase 1RM, but in combination with maximal effort work, will help increase 1RM.  The lighter loads also allow the lifter to work on technique, conditioning, and also allows them to recover from the heavier loads.

 

The problem with Westside is that they do not deadlift enough.  Multiply totals seem to be built off of big squats and big benches.  Raw totals tend to be built off of big squats and big pulls.  This poses a problem with the standard split with Westside.

 

Those lifters at Westside are highly skilled and the absolute loads are huge.  Raw lifters may be able to get away with a squat and a deadlift max effort day each week, due to the smaller loads utilized.

 

This also can be addressed by the exercises chosen for max effort.  Lifters will lift less with certain variations and more with others.  I can manipulate the exercises to control absolute loads and potentially keep the lifter fresher.  Max effort day is about the strain, not the weight.

 

We want technique to be the best that it can be under heavier weights as well.  We can manipulate positions to punish inefficient techniques.  This is the constraints-led approach.  If a lifter is pitching forward in the squat, giving them a high bar wide stance squat will punish that inefficiency.

 

It will also limit absolute loads.  If there is a 10-15% drop in maximal loads here, the lifter can push a deadlift max effort exercise that is a bit heavier.  This may be a pull off of mats.  If the lifter really struggles with this variation, I can instead place it on the speed squat day.

 

Here we can get lots of practice with lighter weights.  In some cases I may start a high bar wide stance squat on dynamic days and after 3 weeks, rotate it up to a max effort lift.  This requires some planning and knowledge for the coach.  Not only of the general principles, but also understanding each individual lifter.

 

A lifter that is more built to pull will most likely be able to handle higher deadlift stress than someone with t-rex arms and long legs.  Manipulating variations to control loads and also manipulating ROM becomes very important.

 

It is also important that the lifters understand the dynamic days need to be light.  They often complain about how light the work is. They also seem to all really enjoy it.  It gets tough with the time constraints and being technical under fatigued conditions is a skill and this is a constraint as well.

 

We had our first fall meet this past weekend, and it was incredible to watch.  Everyone hit PRs, but there were other things that stood out to me.  Our lifters were showing an ability to strain that more experienced lifters could not match.

 

Even our misses there was strain, and fight, with zero quit.  The head judge had to say “take it” to end the lift.  You do not see this often in beginners.  This was awesome to watch.  The misses fired me up as much as the makes.

 

We went 10/11 on 3rd pulls, with many hitting all-time PRs.  The one miss was a 10 second grind that was lost right at lockout.  Our conditioning was more than ok here.  One of the all-time PRs was a 150kg deadlift by Kelly.

 

This was the first time Kelly cut weight down to the 57kg class, and she hit an all-time deadlift PR, total PR, and qualified for nationals.  It is cool to see her qualify so quickly because she started with PPS from the empty bar.  Her max was under 135lbs at that time.

 

She has obtained this success going through every phase of PPS from the start of her lifting life.  This made me realize that we were straying too far from what we did in the past, and the benefits of the training we did under Sheiko.

 

The one constant has been the culture.  We train hard and we support each other, but we also push each other.  This was seen at the meet as well.  Each lifter was feeding off the previous ones.  One badass lift right after the other.  This time with Kelly setting the pace in the first session.  The women that followed crushed some pulls including some all-time PRs.  That carried that momentum into the men.  From there it was badass lift after badass lift just like the women in the morning.

 

One of the most fun meets I have experienced as a coach.  Just seeing our culture, our grit, and our fight in a competition scenario like that was just amazing.  Made me realize that we are on the right track.  Next up raw nationals.  Already some big PRs this week and it is only Tuesday for this group.

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Why Training Harder is and is not the Answer

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

The title of this article may seem a little contradictory but hear me out.  I have discussed the uncertainties with fatigue quite a bit in past articles and on podcasts.  I have also discussed the importance of self-organization for each individual to find the sweet spot of when the lighter days or weeks comes into play.

 

They were instructed to take how they feel and make decisions based off of those feelings, combined with how weights were moving while warming up.  I coach competitive powerlifters.  There is not much “taking it easy” in this group.

 

What I observed were the lifters getting strong as fuck very quickly.  They were coming in each week and just crushing it.  Some were ripping off 8+ weeks of continued PRs.  This led me to question everything I believed about fatigue and programming.

 

I decided to let it continue to run and see what happens.  What I realized is that going balls to the walls can be done for a period of time.  This period of time seems to be about 6 months.  Keep in mind that I coach beginners to intermediates.  This number may significantly drop with a greater skillset within the sport.

 

After that period of time, the lifters would start to develop some nagging issues and some loss of motivation.  In spite of my telling them not to do this, some would continue to push and end up suffering a setback.

 

Oftentimes, when the lifters started to experience a nagging issue or a drop in motivation, we pulled back for a week.  After this semi-deload, we would see a PR in many cases.  This is a good sign that there is some fatigue building up here.

 

I have mentioned this issue as well, we were getting slower from the constant intensity.  I assumed the warmups and first few reps of higher rep sets would be enough to maintain speed.  The Russians showed that all four aspects of strength are seen in a jump, the same is true of max effort lifts.  Speed matters here.

 

This is a case for, training harder is not the answer.  We probably didn’t need to train as hard as we were on a day to day basis.  By hard I am referring to the intensity of the lifts.  However, we could train harder on given days.

 

We were staying within an RPE 9-9.5 on a daily basis.  We ran 6 week cycles on average that would start at 5 reps and taper down to singles.  This is mostly submaximal work.  Anything over a single is submax, plus everything we were hitting was under an RPE 10.  This is all submaximal.

 

We have switched over to utilizing more singles for maximal effort work.  I have learned that volume is what really beats you up.  The closer we are to 1RM, the better it is at building our 1RM.  Now, we have learned that we can’t do that every single day.  We also need to have some workload within a training plan.

 

When I was coached by Sheiko, fatigue would be an often used tool to build technique and increase perceived effort.  Westside uses a similar approach with their dynamic effort days.  I have begun to incorporate something similar within our programs.

 

I am calling these speed days to enforce what I want out of the lifters.  These days use typical daily volumes and intensities that I utilized with Sheiko.  I even incorporate some of his special exercises within these days.

 

In the past we may have done 5 sets of 4 reps at 70% squat with chains.  I like Westside’s view of getting more first reps in training.  We now might do 10×2 70% squats with chains and you need to finish within 20 minutes.

 

I have done similar things with pauses on the halfway down squats, high bar squats, paused box squats, and many others.  This day is to not only develop speed, but to work on technique.  Our goal on this day is to be fast and technical.

 

There are times that we will push the intensities of this day with straight weight.  We may do a 10×2 at 80% with a bit more time to complete the training.  Most people can hit 80% for at least 5 reps.  This would make the RPE a 7, pretty fast and manageable for technique.  Fatigue builds, raising that perceived effort.  This should have greater carryover to the technique under more maximal weights, but without beating the lifters up too bad.  We would often get this same number of reps at 80% on a given day with Sheiko.

 

Managing loads on the maximal effort days is also important.  We squat for max effort on day 1, and day 3 we pull heavy.  We have been pulling heavy on day 2, but we need to space this out a bit more.  There is some skill involved in coordinating these efforts.

 

The goal of max effort is to practice straining like we will on the platform for third attempts.  The weight is only secondary here (although if a lifter is scared of a given weight this needs to be addressed).  We can choose a max effort squat that limits the absolute loads.  This seems to save the lifter quite a bit.

 

For example, Dave has been doing wide stance box squats w/ bands and chains.  This limits the weight on the bar to between 85% and 90% of 1RM.  The accommodating resistance was adding another 150lbs.  This exceeds his 1RM at the top, and the strain was as hard as anything I have seen him perform.

 

This allowed him to pull heavy on his day 3.  We also used bands and chains here, but less of them so that we could get more bar weight on the floor.  The bar weight was a little over 90% off the floor but overloaded the top slightly so that Dave could work on that lockout.

 

Even doing this, every 3rd week seemed to be a down deadlift day.  Moving forward we will add in speed pulls in this spot.  Fitting the deadlift into max effort work with squats is very tricky, but it definitely can be done.

 

I do not think we need to deadlift as often as we squat.  Even if we deadlift heavy 1-2 times per month, I think that will work well.  Seems like most can go for 2-3 weeks before they need a break from the pulls.  Oftentimes, we keep squats very heavy during this week and the lifter is still able to recover for the following week.

 

Westside does not deadlift as often, and they only have 1 max effort lower day.  Being in the equipment, they lift a lot more absolute loads than we do.  I think this matters and gives us the ability to add in some more max effort lower exposures per month.  This is true even if it is just 1-2 of those exposures.

 

We are running most exercises in 3 week waves.  Week 3 is where we really send it.  Perhaps we go whole hog on the squats, but deload the intensity of the deadlifts on this week.  This would make it a lower intensity deadlift day every 3rd week, but lets the lifter push it the first 2, when the squats aren’t achieving a full out max.  We tend to leave 5-10lbs on the bar during those weeks.

 

If we are capable of going all out for 6 months at a time before we start seeing some issues, adding in these lighter speed weeks, and pulling back every 3rd week on the pulls, will extend that 6 months even further.  Fatigue is an accumulated process.  These days are not easy, but they are different and a break from heavier weights.  They also get the lifter in and out of the gym in much faster times.

 

We may use lighter bar weight and accommodating resistance at times on these speed days.  This may allow for even more recovery and allow us to stretch out the max effort sessions even longer.  I am sure lifters will need a break at some point but finding balance can allow us to do max effort lifts on a year round basis.

 

Training is the accumulation of days, not what we can stretch out of one day.  I think we are getting closer to something that will allow us to train hard over each calendar year.  This is a huge advantage to our performance.

 

We are going to train harder than we have on given days, but we are going to pull back harder on other days. That is how training harder is and is not the answer.

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.”

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.