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.