A Thought Process vs a Program

 

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

John Flagg actually said this to me a couple of weeks ago.  He said that certain coaches give you a thought process.  Some of these coaches would include Louie Simmons, Boris Sheiko, and Mike T.  I thought this was a very good point and really thought about it for a minute.  PPS is also a thought process.

 

All of these coaches’ thought processes are guided by general principles.  Louie utilizes the max effort, dynamic effort, and repetition effort methods.  Louie’s thought process is that heavy singles increase absolute strength and dynamic effort work increases explosiveness.  A lifter must generate enough power to move the bar fast enough through their sticking points.  Bands and Chains play a role here as well.

 

Sheiko’s thought process is guided by Verkoshansky’s Principle of Dynamic Organization.  This principle states that the body will always be looking for a more efficient way to complete a task.  Sheiko utilizes variations to guide this organization.  This is why all variations are done in the competition stances and grips.  As the lifter gets more efficient, they will lift more.

 

I am not as familiar with Mike T’s stuff, just what I have heard on his podcast and his articles that I have read.  I see a little of both of the above in his stuff.  He allows a program to emerge, hence emerging strategies, based off of how the individual is responding to it.  This would be the principle of self-organization.  This is very similar to Verkoshansky’s principle.  In fact, it kind of builds off it and just includes more pieces of the whole person.

 

Many coaches will attempt to mimic the ones above and for good reason.  Those coaches have had some of the greatest success in the sport.  They are 3 coaches that I definitely look up to and hope to achieve a similar level of success as they have in time.

 

They all have been doing this a very long time and I am sure they have learned a thing or 2 along the way.  As a coach that utilizes more of a thought process in training it can be tough at times.  I have only been doing this for 5 years.  I fuck up sometimes.  I fuck up more often than what even my lifters realize.  But I learn from those mistakes and I like to think I am getting better.

 

Here is an example.  Jess Ward is prepping for the Arnold Pro-Am.  She had a hip thing going on so we could only do close stance squats since Nationals and conventional deadlifts.  About 4 weeks out she felt 100% in her hip.

 

During this time she had hit close to her best squat in a close stance, but her deadlift was blowing up.  She pulled 400lbs, her best ever meet pull, from a deficit in the middle of the week.  Instead of just riding the wave, I got too cute.  I kept thinking we needed to get some wider stance stuff into training.  I took out conventional and put in some sumo for the heavier work.

 

Her sumo technique looked great, and the weights were moving well.  Watching it you would think that everything was going well.  However, I feel this lost her some momentum.  Close stance squats don’t build your squats, they build your pull.  I assumed this would be enough to maintain what we had developed, and the sumo would spark something more.

 

In hindsight I should have kept the conventional in until it got stuck, or until the meet was over.  I would have added bands to the deficit and pushed it.  I should have paid more attention to how things were playing out.  That is my bad.  I am lucky enough that Jess trains her fucking ass off and is still looking to hit around a 10kg total PR at the Arnold.

 

Lifters need to trust me as a coach.  I will make mistakes.  They got to trust me that I will learn from them and continue to develop a thought process that gives us an advantage over everyone.  If we have a strong relationship and we are flexible and adaptable to the ever changing training needs, we can accomplish a lot.  It is why we have lifters at the Arnold every year, but we can do better.

 

Louie Simmons is constantly learning and trying things out.  I can say confidently that I believe Mike T does the same thing.  I know Sheiko was coaching his in person lifters on a day to day basis.  Meaning he wrote the day’s training that day.

 

I heard a story of one of his lifters not hitting depth at 80%.  He made this lifter keep doing it until he did right.  He ended up doing something like 20 sets at 80%.  This was far more than was scheduled for the day.  I am sure there were adjustments made to the rest of the week.

 

When lifters and coaches try to mimic these coaches they can run into a lot of problems.  They think they are getting a program structure to follow.  You just follow the structure and you are on your way to coaching world level athletes.

 

Unfortunately, this is not true.  I learned this lesson the hard way.  I followed the structure that Sheiko painted for me.  This worked very well, but there were definite limits.  Following any 3 of the above is a great start and will yield some positive results.  However, if you want to be on their level you need to develop your own process.  I don’t want to be on their level.  I want to exceed their level.  I am willing to make mistakes for as long as it takes to develop a thought process that yields the greatest amounts of success.

 

The beauty of their programs lies in their heads.  I watched a video of Louie coaching up Stefi Cohen.  You can see the thought process in action.  He is literally thinking and analyzing the whole time and then he puts her in positions where she struggles to even complete reps.  She pulls 550lbs but struggled to hit 225lbs on a deadlift variation he gave her.  His ability to identify a weakness within minutes of meeting her was amazing to watch.

 

Many options out there for coaching are just programs.  They are an algorithm built into an Excel spreadsheet.  There is not much of a thought process here.  Now, I am not trying to shit on coaches and lifters that do this.  There are many successful lifters and coaches that utilize these methods.  Many are more successful than me, so take this for what it is worth.

 

These programs just manipulate the training variables that we can measure.  There is not a thought process here.  In a documentary Bill Belichek actually discussed the increase of data in sports.  He said he got on the plane after a loss and saw all of the coaches buried in their computers.  He said “Guys, we didn’t lose because of something in those computers.  We lost because we couldn’t tackle.”

 

I know that is about football, but it is relevant.  When something does not go as planned in powerlifting, these coaches will stare at their charts and graphs and add more volume or something.  This may work, but in many cases it doesn’t.

 

The coach needs to watch and know their athletes.  The coach needs to be willing to try things.  A big part of coaching is holding the lifter accountable.  They need to take care of business on their end with sleep, recovery, nutrition, and mindset.  This is not just mindset in the gym, but out of the gym as well.

 

Belichek sends in a series of plays to the defense.  However, the players have the ability to change the play based off of what they see.  He gives them that ability.  This leads to them studying film harder during the week and discussing plans of attack with each other constantly.

 

He helps guiding the process of them making good decisions on the field on Sundays.  He then holds them, as well as himself, accountable for the outcomes.  Learn from your mistakes and get better.  We have seen this play out over 20 years.  The Pats may look shitty in September, only to be there holding the trophy at the end of the season.  Belichek coaches by a thought process.

 

I feel like I am rambling on here so I will cut it off.  I am a big believer in finding a coach with a thought process and not a program as you will learn far more.  You will also have a lot more fun.  It is fun to try things and buy into a team and coach so much that you are willing to do anything to try to gain an edge.

Managing Fatigue in Powerlifting

 

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

 

As a coach one of our biggest jobs is managing fatigue with lifters.  Fatigue seems to have this very negative perception with lifters and coaches.  Fatigue is not necessarily a bad thing.  We actually probably need it to get stronger.

 

Powerlifting is a very unique sport in terms of lifter attitude in my experiences.  For a sport that you may hit one to two PRs per year on comp lifts, many lifters complain about the day to day inconsistencies in training numbers very frequently.

 

I think this has affected how many coaches actually plan their programs.  Trying to be a powerlifting coach is pretty cutthroat.  I do feel lucky to be able to do this as my full-time job.  As one of my lifters put it yesterday, “Your job is pretty cool.”

 

This competitiveness in the field to be a coach drives decisions a lot of times.  I think many coaches are afraid of losing lifters if they feel they are not performing well consistently.  I know I have had these feelings in the past.

 

I do feel the coach’s responsibility is to educate the lifter and to help address their expectations.  If a lifter has this attitude, they will not last long in the sport.  Also, a lifter with that type of attitude will suck the life out of a coach.

 

Let us get back to the topic of this article, fatigue.  Sheiko was amazing at utilizing fatigue to drive progress.  His infamous, squat/bench/squat days would definitely tire you out.  By the time you get to the second round of your squats you are mentally and physically tired.

 

These training sessions force the lifter to really dig down mentally and physically to complete the session.  There is a ton of positive training pieces here.  Fatigue can be quite an uncertain piece of training.

 

Sometimes a lifter will be tired and crush a PR, sometimes they will be fresh and have a poor performance, sometimes the taper before a meet works, sometimes it does not.  Fatigue is a very complex topic and it gets even more complex when we look at how it effects performance.

 

This does not mean it does not exist.  It certainly does and we need to do our best as coaches to know our lifters and to know when to push them and when to pull back.  I went through a period where I pushed everyone and tried to let the weight on the bar dictate lighter days.

 

This was a great learning experience.  For one, external load is not the only piece that affects recovery.  Internal load also matters.  Westside alternates upper and lower days to ensure enough recovery between training sessions.

 

The idea is that the lower body muscles get a break while we train the upper body muscles.  This is true for part of the picture.  There is still a larger fatigue piece that effects the system as a whole.  I have seen this referred to as systemic fatigue.

 

If we come into the gym and just push it hard every day, we will experience some fatigue.  This is true even if we alternate upper and lower.  Westside also breaks it up by max effort and dynamic effort.  The max effort is heavy weights and the dynamic effort is very light weights moved quickly.

 

Sheiko used a combination of high, medium, and low stress training days throughout his programs.  Sheiko did not structure it the same way as Westside.  He planned it based off of each individual lifter.  Sheiko also wasn’t using very heavy weights, or very light weights.  The program utilized mostly moderate weights for higher frequencies and volumes.

 

I decided for a period of time that I knew more than these two coaches.  I did lay out rules for each lifter to follow to help them self-organize into these higher, medium, and lower stress training days.  However, this did not work out as planned.

 

We definitely got stronger.  There are no questions asked about that.  We got really strong, really quick too.  I learned a lot about fatigue during this time.  Fatigue did not really begin to effect performance right away.

 

There would be days when lifters would not hit the numbers they expected to, but in general progress was moving forward at an incredible rate.  I thought I figured it out.  Lifters just needed to train harder!  As if no lifter ever thought of this before.

 

Fast forward a few months and we started experiencing a lot more nagging issues than we ever did before. We were just running a simple linear program during this time.  I was witnessing lifters that would go from 5s to 1s hitting PRs almost every week, to hitting some PRs early on and fizzling out as the block continued on. Almost as if they lost endurance to get through a training block.  Much of this fizzling out was probably due to the nagging issues starting to pop up more frequently.

 

This brought me back to my time with Sheiko.  Training needs to be a balance of high stress days to drive adaptation, medium stress days to maintain strength, and low stress days to aid in recovery.

 

I am a huge fan of singles.  This is the sport and I truly believe we need to train the sport.  Westside alternates the singles between squats and pulls.  I want to do both with my lifters.  How can I manage to do this?  That was the big question.

 

Westside spaces out their training days so that they are well recovered to crush a max effort lift.  I do like this idea, but I am also not against having a little fatigue going into those sessions.  However, if we are going to be training this hard in a fatigued state, we need to pay a lot of attention and pull back when it is necessary.  So somehow, we need to be able to monitor fatigue as best we can.

 

I decided to space out the max effort lifts by 72 hours.  In the research it seems like this is the upper end of the recovery time period from a hard training session.  48 to 72 hours seems like the sweet spot.  We squat on Monday, bench on Tuesday, and pull on Thursday.  This gives the lifter an extra day between the deadlift max effort and the beginning of the next week to ensure we are getting enough rest to perform adequately.

 

The deadlifts do rotate weekly between max effort and more rep work.  Before deadlifts, my lifters will do some rep work for bench press.  This is usually 48 hours after max effort bench press.  I am usually still a little sore at this point.

 

This is right at the very beginning of the recovery timetable from the max effort bench press we did on Tuesday.  That means they are most likely executing these bench press reps with some fatigue.

 

This fatigue makes light weights a little heavier and will really force the lifter to focus on technique.  Usually a variation to work on technique is used here as well.  After this session, they get 4 days of rest before they bench again.  This ensures they are fresh to hit that max effort bench press again.

 

On Friday or Saturday my lifters will do rep work with the squats and deadlifts.  These are usually very light, maybe around 70% to 75% of 1RM.  However, there will be a lot of sets and reps here.  This is to get the volume in and to work on technique.

 

This would be a more medium stress training day.  A medium stress training day should be something the lifter can recover from in 24 hours.  This should not take 48 to 72 hours to recover from.  This means if they do this day on Friday, they have 72 hours to recover from this session, and if it is completed on Saturday, they have 48 hours to recover.  This should be enough.

 

These days at the end of the week are very tough even if they are light.  After maxing out all week, usually with backdowns after, the lifters are pretty tired.  This makes the lighter weights feel heavier and challenges technique even more.

 

The coach needs to pay attention here.  My lifters write RPEs in next to all completed sets.  I want these day 4 lifts to be around an RPE 7.  The backdowns after the max effort, I want to be between an RPE 7-9.

 

I keep volumes and intensities very consistent here to help me monitor fatigue.  If the 70% of the max effort lift for a 4×4 is constantly an RPE 8, but all of a sudden with a variation it is an RPE 9, it will catch my attention.  If the day 4 squats and deadlifts are usually around an RPE 7, but they are creeping up to an RPE 8-8.5, it shows we are building some fatigue.  When this happens, I will tend to pull back a little and continue to monitor the RPEs.  Here instead of a 4×4 at 70% for backdowns we may do a 4×3 at the same weight.  On day 4, I can leave it the exact same to see if it improves, or I can scale it back a little.  I do both very frequently.

 

Our max effort work rotates into rep work at times too.  If I think a lifter needs a break, or we hit a true RPE 10 in an exercise, the following week they will get some sets and reps at around 80% of 1RM.  This is very similar to what Sheiko does.  There will be 4-5 sets of 2-3 reps at 80%.  The percentage is drawn off of the max effort from the previous week, so it is pretty accurate.

 

The more you get to know a lifter, the more you know when to do these things.  Every other week the deadlifts become sets and reps.  These are usually between 70% to 80% of 1RM and done for 4-5 sets of 3 reps.  Usually no more than doubles at 80% of the previous week’s max effort lift.

 

On these weeks, the last 2 training days of the week are lighter to moderate.  They should only require 24 hours to recover from.  This gives the lifter a 6 day break from max effort lifts.  This is a nice physical and mental reset.

 

There are also some weeks where there will be zero max effort lifts.  If a lifter hit all RPE 10s the week before, this is pretty common.  This is a week of all low to medium stress training days.  This is an easy week to recover from.

 

This turned out to be a lot longer than I had anticipated, but managing fatigue is a major component of a coach’s job.  Fatigue is not something to fear.  Training with fatigue is probably unavoidable because of work and other life stressors.  Mental fatigue can affect performance and for most of us our jobs are mentally fatiguing.  We have some lifters with physical jobs too.  Learning to navigate all of these situations takes experience.

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.

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

 

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Few Words on Volume

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

I was reading a thread that was about me on the internet yesterday and this topic was mentioned. Surprisingly, the thread was overwhelmingly positive in regard to the information about the way in which PPS does things.  This was a nice change of pace from the usual negativity.

 

One of things mentioned was that it seems that we are low volume and high intensity.  This is not necessarily wrong, but I think it is a good topic to discuss.  I think there is a lot of misinformation out there on the importance of volume as well.

 

First off how are we defining volume?  There are certain definitions of volume out there that I believe are quite useless.  One of those is total tonnage.  I do not feel that the total tonnage lifted in training tells us anything about the training session itself.

 

I view training from a behavioral learning/motor control lens.  I feel this includes all parts of the human including both psychological and physical.  If we just view training as a program of sets and reps, we can miss the piece about the human going through it.  The unpredictability of training also decreases the emphasis that should be placed on the program at the expense of the person in front of the coach.

 

There is a certain amount of practice required to develop a skill.  Someone cannot just squat one time per month and win a world championship.  I care about number of lifts in training for this reason.  But what lifts do I care about?

 

Do I care about how many reps are taken with the empty bar?  I want them to warmup with the empty bar, but I am not including this in the tracked volume of the session.  With the research out there, it seems as if sets completed from RPE 6 to RPE 10 have benefits towards increasing strength.

 

I include all lifts within these ranges as the total number of lifts per session, per week, per month, and so on.  In a max effort session, the lifter usually gets around 2 to 4 repetitions above 90% of 1RM.  They are warming up with singles and the singles previous to these attempts are most likely below the RPE 6 threshold.  Even if it was not, it is not really volume that I care about on this given day.  This is not an exact science, so an extra rep is not going to be a big deal if I miss it.

 

The goal of max effort is to build absolute strength.  I care about the singles at or near failure here.  This context redefines volume for me on this given day. I only want to count the reps that are useful to the goal that we are trying to achieve in the gym.

 

If a lifter hits a true RPE 10 on week 1, week 2 we will use a percentage of that number for a sets and reps.  This may look like:

 

Wide Stance Box Squat, 80% of last week, 1 set of 4-5 reps

 

I choose 80% because it is the average intensity that the majority of the repetitions were performed in the Soviet System.  Also, from the times we ran a more linear program, most lifters could execute 80% of 1RM for 4-5 reps.  This just so happens to be the same number of repetitions the lifter executed at higher intensities the week prior.  On max effort day we get 2-4 reps at the same RPEs.

 

The closer you are to RPE 6, the more volume you need.  The closer you are to an RPE 10, the less volume you need.  This is a general rule that I tend to follow.  Both days usually have some kind of backdown work.

 

I will say in many cases coaches just throw the kitchen sink at the lifter.  The lowest volume should be utilized to get results.  This is true on any program.  Throwing insanely high volumes at a lifter will ensure a stimulus is being achieved and will lead to short term results.  This will not work in the long term.

 

This backdown work that we perform is usually between 65% of 1RM and 80% of 1RM.  This may be the same variation we maxed out on or a different one that we are working on the technical breakdowns seen in the max work.  The percentage is taken from the max work of that day.

 

The number of lifts for backdowns is usually between 8 and 15, with some wiggle room to go higher depending on the variation used and the person.  We are getting between 10 and 20 reps of work between an RPE 7 and RPE 10.  If your program reads 5 sets of 4 reps at RPE 7, we have done similar volumes.

 

However, we get singles between RPE 9.5 and RPE 10.  Our specificity is higher.  Out of those 20 reps we are getting 2 to 4 reps between an RPE 8.5 and RPE 10.  Due to our intensity, we have a larger recovery cost.  This recovery is actually more psychological than physical.

 

Due to this greater recovery cost our frequency is limited to 1-2 times per week.  A program performing a 5×4 at RPE 7 will not have a huge recovery cost.  These programs allow the lifters to utilize a higher frequency if they so choose.

 

Many DUP programs may have 3 days where all of the lifts are performed.  It would be very difficult to do this with max singles thrown in there.  The fact that the RPEs are lower, the frequency and the volume can increase to drive results.

 

Lifters have limited time in the gym.  I prefer max singles due to the efficiency of training sessions.  When I first started coaching, training sessions would take 2-3 hours to complete.  Now they are completed in 1-1.5 hours and we are much stronger now than we were then.  This allows more time to get stuff done outside of the gym and more recovery time.

 

We can’t just max out every day in the gym.  Although this is literally what I have been doing for the last few months.  I know this is not the best program to be doing, but I wanted to, and I don’t care what is best.  I have been having a lot of fun training and looking forward to sessions.

 

My progress stalled pretty heavily and even went backwards some, but I still do not care.  I can’t emphasize enough that I am having fun training and right now, that is all that I want.  I am not weaker from training.  I am also not a good lifter.  I am not winning a world championship anytime soon (my goal is just to outlive everyone else to win).  If I stay consistent and keep training, I will adapt and get stronger no matter what I do.

 

That brings me to my next topic here, it takes time to adapt to a change in stimulus.  If you are coming from a high volume program to a conjugate style training program, you will see a dip in performance in the beginning. Your workload is dropping, this is common.  Also, your psychological pieces are not used to being challenged as frequently as they will be with a higher intense program.

 

I have had many lifters freak out the second a max effort lift is under their all-time best.  The process is not linear.  We are just looking to beat old PRs on variations by 5lbs in each wave.  Lifters are instructed to leave 5 to 10lbs on the bar each week.  On the 3rd week of a wave they can go full send.  In a perfect world we are really only maxing out 1 time per month.  However, sometimes what you think will be a good weight gets heavy fast.  When this happens the following week is sets and reps without max effort anyways, so at most lifters are truly maxing 2 times per month.  The other days there is 5-10lbs left for the following week.  The deadlift is rotated between max effort and dynamic effort/rep work every other week.

 

Since we cannot max out every day (do as I say not as I do), we need to use lighter days.  On these lighter days I look for an RPE 7 intensity, but we get as many as 15 sets of both squats and deadlifts done on the same day (30 sets total), and usually as low as 20 sets.  In these cases the reps per set for squats would be 2 and deadlifts 1 to 2.

 

If we use rep work the reps for squats will be between 20 to 30 and the reps for deadlifts between 10 and 20.  This is done on day 4 in the program.  We do dynamic bench work/rep work before pulls on day 3.  On these days bench press volume is between 25 and 35 reps.

 

These numbers are only including the working weight sets.  I used to include all warmups in my total number of lifts.  When we ran a more Sheiko style of programming, average number of lifts for a lifter would be between 150 and 200 lifts per week.  This included all warmups.

 

Now the average is between 100 and 130 lifts, not including warmups.  If we included warmups, our total number of lifts would be near the lower end of how we did it before.  Our average intensity is higher now, so volume needs to be a little lower.  With that said, it is not as high as you would think since only 7-10% of the total number of lifts are above 90% of 1RM.  The majority of our work is between 65% to 80% of 1RM.  This lowers the average quite a bit.

 

The problem with the lower intensity is that it requires more work, which requires more time.  This is a luxury many lifters do not have.  It also fails to train the psychological pieces of the sport.  I would argue the psychological may be more important than the physical.