“Evidence Based” is the New “Functional Fitness”: IDGAF About Your Science

Written by: Kevin Cann


I will admit that that title is quite a bit of clickbait.  I just did not know what to title it and wanted to get started.  To be honest, I read a lot of the research.  However, I am selective on what I read.


I really do not give a shit about EMG studies.  I had a discussion on IG, with someone that was referencing studies showing that the quads and adductors are the main movers out of the hole in the squat.


My post was in regard to pitching forward in the squat when the lifter comes out of the hole.  It is easy to look at that EMG study and chalk it up to weak quads and/or adductors.  However, this is not the case in the real world.


When I started lifting, I was coached by Boris Sheiko.  I had this technical error.  Sheiko told me this was due to weak hamstrings and glutes.  I got lots of good mornings and hyperextensions to build up the hamstrings and hips.  My squat went up 200lbs over the next 3 years.  I was a beginner so maybe this is just beginner gains, right?


I definitely did not have weak quads.  I played soccer through college, a very quad dominant sport, followed by over 10 years of mma, again very quad heavy sport.  In spite of all of this, I was too smart for my own good.


I read those studies and began to really hammer the quads for those pitching forward in the squat. Improvements occurred, but it wasn’t as great as I expected.  I started shifting my focus to more skill acquisition research.  This is research I actually care about.


I decided to treat the pitching forward as a skill issue and utilize positions that disallow it.  I also decided to utilize a position that would target the hamstrings and hips more.  This would help give me some answers in the real world to what muscles are being used.  I was confused with the contradictory information out there.


We utilized wide stance squats here, which are less quads and more hips, and it punishes a pitching technical fault as the lifter will not stand up if they pitch.  We would do this only for a period of time and then bring the feet back in.  Big surprise, the pitching improved immensely, and the squats went through the roof.


This goes against those EMG studies but supports what Sheiko and what Louie Simmons say about the role of the hamstrings and glutes in the squats.  In fact, those studies showed almost no hamstring activity in the squats at all, leading to the conclusion that the hamstrings do not play a major role.


The 2 coaches I mentioned above have over 80 years of coaching world record holders and world champions.  Do we just disregard what they say because of some EMG study?  I did that once and will not do that again.


In my post I was explaining a typical cause of pitching forward.  Many lifters will drive the knees forward hard to initiate the squat.  This loads the weight onto the quads.  In fact, on my post, my lifter was doing box squats for a max effort exercise.  She sat back well to initiate the squat, but halfway down she drove the knees forward hard.


This is a sign of weak hips, not weak quads.  On this set, she had a little bit of pitching off of the box.  If she had driven the knees forward hard from the start the pitching would be worse.  Just like a deadlift, we need to load the hips, hamstrings, and back before the concentric.


If we do not do that for a deadlift, the lifter will pitch forward.  Why would the squat be different?  When my lifter pitched forward off of the box, the quads actually get it moving, and I believe the hips can’t handle the transfer of force.  It is no surprise that these technical faults are shared between the squat and the deadlift.


I have read somewhere that perhaps on the way up, the glutes and hamstrings actually pull the hips down to counter the quads and give the erectors more leverage.  This makes sense logically.  Whether it is true or not I am not sure.  What I witness in the gym seems to support that theory.


When we watch untrained lifters squat, they tend to drive the knees forward hard to initiate the lift.  This is exactly what I am talking about.  This EMG reading would make sense to be lots of quads and adductors in the bottom, and little to no hamstrings.  Does this mean this study is the way to lift massive weights?


No, this study is showing what muscles are used by untrained lifters.  Even the studies on trained lifters seem to be a little off.  In a study I read the other day, the trained lifters average 1RM on the squat was 165kg.  A weight that is below the squat of a 150lb female on PPS.


In Russia, they actually perform studies on their high level lifters.  This is why I am so quick to take the word of Sheiko with these things.  He actually performs a lot of these studies.  They take a biomechanical analysis at Russian Nationals every year as well.


I think many lifters here forget about the role of the lats in the bench press.  Most will argue they do not play a major role.  This is why the bar path is always said to come back towards the face, to give the pecs and delts more leverage.


There are 17 different bar paths that Sheiko saw at Russian Nationals.  Only 4 have ever produced world champions.  In 2015, a study on Russian lifters looked at the lats role.  All 4 had strong lat activation on the press.  Lats shut off for the last.5 seconds to allow the delts to finish the lift.


There are certain things that lifters can get away with under lighter weights.  The heavier the weights get, the less they will get away with.  Instead of looking at what untrained or weaker lifters are lifting I would rather listen to the lifters that lift the largest absolute loads as well as the coaches that have coached lifters at the highest levels.


This does not mean that science is useless.  I am big on the skill acquisition research.  One study I mentioned above was about movement variability within the lifts.  I love that stuff.  I am also not advocating for everyone’s lifts to look the same.


Forward knee travel is going to be dependent on strengths of the lifter, their build, and stance width, and even choice of footwear.  However, I choose to have the moment arm of the hips be greater than that of the knees during the squat.  This puts more emphasis on the hips.  This seems to be the best way to lift massive weights, and to keep progress moving up.


I know raw lifters are quick to shit on multiply lifters.  I used to do the same thing.  However, these guys and girls lift the highest absolute loads possible.  I understand that technique is dictated by the gear, but there are some things to pay attention to.  Also, the squat suit you need to sit back into to get the most out of it.  This is basically like having super glutes.  Maybe getting your hips strong as fuck is what the answer is here.  This is an assumption based off of my confirmation bias though so take it for what it is worth.


As a coach, my job is to teach the technique that I feel the older lifters and coaches have figured out.  This is why I appreciate the skill acquisition literature.  It guides me on the best way to teach each lifter.


This is where I blend science with experiences of those that came before us.  I have also had quite a bit of experience at this point as well.  Enough time to mess with things and see what works.  I will keep reading the literature on dynamic skill acquisition, and I will continue to disregard EMG studies done on untrained to intermediate lifters without seeing their technique.

F#*$ Your Accessory Work

Written by: Kevin Cann


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

The Importance of Skill Acquisition in Powerlifting

Written by Kevin Cann


USAPL Northeast Regionals just wrapped up this past weekend.  We had 18 lifters compete.  This meet was run very well with some very strict judging.  I loved this.  This was a great opportunity for some of the newer lifters to get a taste of what it is like to be on a bigger stage.


It was also a good opportunity for those that have never competed at Nationals, but will be, to get a feel for what it will be like.  This Regional meet has come a long way in just a few short years.  I am going to encourage my lifters to do it every year.


We did very well.  We had 2 open winners and 6 total top 5 finishes. We hit a lot of PRS in spite of missing quite a few lifts.  I was far more aggressive with my attempt selection than I was in the past.  Big events are for big weights and big opportunities.


A few of the lifters had HUGE days.  Jess Ward won the 72kg weight class and finished 5thoverall with 703 IPF points (and she missed a lift).  Kerry won her weight class, but there are some things we need to work on.  Good to know on a bad day she can still hit her best ever total which was good for 10that Nationals, just wait for a good day.


Alyssa competed the weekend before.  In the past Alyssa has always fizzled by the time deadlifts rolled around.  The weekend before she hit a 20kg total PR. She missed her 3rdsquat and 3rdbench at Regionals.  She was definitely tired by this point.  She then went out and hit a lifetime deadlift PR on her 3rd. That is a competition skill PR right there and very important to see.


Kelly is still a newer lifter.  She has done a few local meets and has been able to get away with a few things.  When we saw the judging assignments for Regionals, we knew we had to tighten up a few things.  Her squat on that platform would not get whites where it has gotten whites in the past.  She had to put it a bit lower.


Each week we handled singles and just practiced putting them deeper.  Kelly then went out onto the platform and put a weight on her back that she hadn’t touched since March, and when she did it would not have been a passing squat at this competition.  She put it right where she needed to and hit a good strong 3rdattempt. She went 9/9 and had a big total PR on a very tough stage.


Daniel is another one I want to highlight.  Daniel missed all of his singles leading up to the competition.  He had a very tough training block.  Daniel saw a decline in his sumo deadlift performance, but we were able to switch to conventional to hit an all-time PR.  However, all other things just seemed to be trending in the wrong direction leading to the meet.


We had a good talk and Daniel is not scared to miss.  This is why missing reps is important.  It is a skill to learn to miss reps.  You learn how to handle them.  Daniel ended up going 9/9 and hitting PRs on all 3 of his lifts.  He turned what seemed like a down training block into one really good day on the platform.


These were not the only ones that did well, but ones I wanted to highlight for the purpose of this article.  They all showed a high level of skill within the sport.  These were numbers they have hit under all circumstances; this strength is stable.


By all circumstances I am referring to, different foot placements, grips, and stances, as well as under high levels of pressure.  The ones that saw previous bests end up as missed lifts all had something in common, they couldn’t do that.


Strength, as well as skill, are non-linear processes.  There will be progressions, but also regressions at times.  When one skill regresses there needs to be another skill that comes up and takes its place.


We need to develop a strong skillset so that the lifter can solve all problems within the lifts.  For example, Mike D missed his 3rddeadlift at his knees.  Mike pulls sumo and has a best ever gym pull of 670lbs.  Mike can’t pull 600 conventional.  If Mike had a similar conventional pull as his sumo deadlift, he would have the skillset, or strength at those angles, to overcome a slow -moving sumo deadlift off of the floor and to be able to lock it out.  The angles between this deadlift and the conventional deadlift are very similar.


Daniel showed that when his sumo deadlift went backwards, he was able to switch to conventional to hit a PR. Sarah was another PPS lifter that had a monster day.  She went 9/9 with a 22.5kg total PR and qualified for Raw Nationals.


All of the increases in total came from the squat and deadlift.  Sarah was hitting between 285-300lbs on her squat at all angles, with pauses, and on days she didn’t feel great.  She hit 281lbs in April, but 308lbs at Regionals.  Sarah going into her April meet struggled to pull 300lbs sumo but pulled 330lbs conventional.  This is about a 10% difference.


We hammered her sumo deadlift until she was able to pull 330lbs plus.  330lbs was her second and moved like an opener.  She ended up hitting 353lbs for an all-time PR and a bid to Nationals.


I am not saying that if a lifter has a huge difference between lifts that they can’t succeed on the platform.  They most certainly can, but from what I am seeing those probabilities decrease.  Mike D had similar numbers under these conditions with squat and bench and those remained stable for the platform.  250kg on the 3rdsquat moved better than it has in the past even.


This is not an all or nothing thing either.  Lifters with big differences at different angles may be better or worse at handling platform pressure.  There are a number of things that can explain these differences and play a role in performance.


Every weakness will come to the surface at some point.  To quote a video I saw “Momentum is a cruel mistress, always searching for that one thing that you have not prepared for.”  Time for us to take what we learned and begin to prepare for Raw Nationals.

Why Coaches Need a Theoretical Framework


Written by: Kevin Cann


I had posted a research article on Instagram yesterday that seemed to ruffle a lot of feathers.  This actually came as a surprise to me.  When I was writing it, I didn’t think many people would even notice.


I typically do not get a lot of comments on my posts.  For some reason this one got over 60 comments.  Not a single one agrees with the side of the research that I was leaning towards.


For quick context, this was regarding hypertrophy and its role in strength.  The classical view is that in a periodized program we run a hypertrophy block because a larger muscle has greater potential for maximal force.


These authors question that. Their conclusion is that, based off of their research, as well as the body of literature, we cannot confidently say that a larger muscle is necessarily a stronger one.  There are far too many inconsistencies in the research, and the research for it is nothing more than correlation at this given time.


People reading this will get some type of feeling I am sure.  All I am asking is for everyone to keep an open mind, be critical, think, and skeptical.  Changes in muscle size happen across a very wide range of repetitions with loads as low as 20% as long as training is at or near failure.


Strength is best developed from lifting heavy loads.  If 1RM is your goal, you need to practice that skill.  If we can grow muscle mass with heavier loads and practice that skill wouldn’t that be better than perhaps lowering the loads to focus more on increases in muscle mass?


Heavier weights also can elicit an emotional response from the lifter that is similar in competition. This is an important aspect to train in the gym.  This is why we lift heavy very often.  It covers skill and emotion.  It builds hypertrophy as well.  I think covering all of these bases is more important than trying to put on more muscle mass.  I think this makes sense.


These inconsistencies exist across science though.  This makes it very difficult for the coach.  This is why I feel it is extremely important for every coach to have a theoretical framework to guide decisions.


Most coaches have some type of “system.”  The definition of a system is a set of principles or procedures according to which something is done.  Also called a method.  These coaches methods are constructed based off of their bias and beliefs.


We all do this.  It is unavoidable.  When coaches create these systems, they tend to follow the same structure. Frequencies of the lifts will be one way, the progressions will be one way, and so on.  Most of the time these systems are created with the coach thinking they have/know the answers.


Let us look at the hypertrophy example above.  If we believe that muscle mass is a significant contributor to strength, we might look at total volume as being a main driver to progress.  For sake of easy understanding, we will call this a high-volume program.


We develop a system that probably has higher frequencies of the lifts with multiple sets each day. Maybe we squat 3 times per week, bench 4 times, and deadlift 2 times.  This is pretty common, and I have used this in the past and still do when the timing is right.


This system works most of the time.  It should anyways as the lifter is getting a good amount of practice.  What happens when this stops working?  If we believe the hypertrophy/volume piece to be true, what would we do next?


Chances are you increase volume.  Maybe this works, maybe it doesn’t.  I actually think when it does work that the added volume just increases the effort of the set because the lifter is more tired.  This is just a theory though, but also important for this conversation.


This can become a vicious cycle, where the coach and athlete get extremely frustrated and it may lead to a dissolving of that relationship.  As coaches we need to understand the inconsistencies found in the research and observed in training.


These inconsistencies need to be considered in our decision making and actually be a part of our “system.” How can something be a part of our system if we do not know an answer?  That is the tricky part.


This requires the coach to one, be aware of their bias.  They need to know that they don’t know anything for certain.  Two, they need to be able to control that bias.  This can be difficult because you can be using your bias without being aware that you are.  It is always there.


The coach needs to identify the things that they know and be aware of the things that we cannot say we definitely know.  We know volume is important, but to what extent?  We know hypertrophy may play a role, but to what extent?  We know the emotions, experiences, and beliefs of the lifter are also important.


The coach needs a framework that takes all of these aspects into consideration.  I choose the Dynamic Systems Theory/Constraints-Led Approach for this reason.  One of the constraints alone is the performer.  This includes the mechanical aspects such as muscle mass, but also includes the lifter’s emotions, experiences, and beliefs.


This framework is utilized for skill acquisition.  Due to that fact I choose to view strength as a skill.  It views the human as an open, complex, dynamic system.  It understands the non-linear process of training.  This helps the coach avoid banging their head off of a wall when what they believe to be true turns out to not be the case for that individual.


I have an idea of what the most efficient technique on the lifts are.  There are general rules that I find to work well.  For one, the lifts need to be done within the rules of the sport, and safely.  Instead of me pushing my ideal technique onto people, I alter the task in ways to minimize options.


When I alter the task, I want to punish the inefficient technique, while simultaneously only leaving a couple of options.  These options being left need to only be what I deem more efficient.


For example, the chest falling forward in the squat is a very common breakdown.  Pin squats are an often-utilized variation to help redirect this to something more efficient.  When we do this how do we normally decide reps and sets?


These are usually some arbitrary numbers that the coach will latch onto some logic with.  This implies that we know what optimal volumes and intensities are for this lifter.  We are going to allow this logic to make that decision.  This will not always work.  Each lifter is different.


We usually start with 5 reps to get some time with a new variation and each 1-2 weeks we decrease the reps and increase the weight up until singles.  These get HEAVY at the end.  We take 1-2 sets at an RPE 8.5 or above every time.  I will explain why in a bit.


I noticed with one lifter, that they were able to complete the task of pin squats, with the same technique as I was trying to discourage.  In this case, this is NOT a constraint for that lifter.  I have options here, but I need to decide what to do because this variation is not appropriate.


I decided to load it up. At some point, it will be too heavy to get away with that.  We took singles here for a few weeks.  She hit a nice PR on the squat at the meet and a 20kg total PR from a few months back. This allowed her to qualify for Nationals.


I had another lifter, with the same issue.  However, this lifter tends to not be as comfortable in the bottom position of the squat.  There is what I refer to as “panic” that occurs.  I need to keep this in mind when tweaking the same variation.


Instead of overloading it, because I feel like it would have led to missed reps, I decided to have her take it to the pins and then raise the bar off the pins an inch or two and pause for two seconds.  This forces her to spend more time in a position that she is not comfortable with. This too led to increases in performance and a qualifying total.


I strongly believe if I had each of these lifters just carry out the variation as is, we would not have seen the increases in performance.  I would have been following a system, but with unanticipated results.  I am then left wondering why.  I know this, because I have been there.


This doesn’t mean that I am just ignoring general principles.  I understand the nuances that go along with training and the human in front of me, as well as the limitations of the available science.  I use objective measures and a theoretical framework that is supported by strong empirical evidence to guide me.


This framework also gives me the flexibility to make adjustments.  I am not holding myself hostage with trying to hit certain volumes for example.  We start at fives, like I said, and work up to heavy singles in the exercise over a block.  Typically, but it can change.


Every day we lift heavy. 1-2 sets of an RPE 8.5 or more.  I would rather them overshoot than undershoot here.  The intensity gives the lifter skill practice under heavier weights and again stresses the emotions of the lifter.  The research shows that strength is best gained from loads greater than 85% of 1RM.


This is about what lifters start the block at with variations on average.  Might be less as they figure it out, but the relative intensity is still high, and this may be more important.  When they are in difficult positions, there is a lot of strain and a lot of figuring it out sometimes.  As they figure it out, we load it up.  That is why I choose fives.  Anything more seems to be more of an endurance task.


Hypertrophy is developed from a bunch of different rep ranges as long as we lift at or near failure. My lifters gain hypertrophy as a byproduct of training.  If I lowered loads for higher reps, to focus on hypertrophy would this be more beneficial?


From the current literature and from my observations, I will say no.  More here is not necessarily better and I will explain it through the framework that guides me.  Heavier weights challenge the lifter’s emotions as well as the skill of lifting heavy.


They see a high amount of weight on the bar, they feel it on their back and in their hands, and they execute with it.  This hits all angles of performance in my opinion.  If I lower the loads, they see less weight, are executing a skill with lower loads (less than 85% of 1RM as recommended in the literature so this may not be good enough practice for heavy weights), and the perceived effort is more endurance related than strain related.


This helps guide my decision making when inconsistencies in the literature and amongst other coaches and lifters exist.  We had 22 people compete in April with 22 total PRs in competition.  This is a pretty amazing feat.  I have never experienced success like that as a coach.


Most of these were not tiny PRs either.  The majority were 15kg or higher in a few months of time.  Some of those with missed lifts as well.  The outcomes currently speak for themselves.


I understand that the success may be novelty.  With that in mind I alter the structure of the programs frequently.  I am not bound by one way of doing things.  This can allow novelty to exist over longer domains. This is due to the framework being open ended as well.  It even discusses the human as an open system.


If I believed that high frequency was truly the best option for training, I could not do this.  Instead I would be handcuffed to a given structure. It will work until it doesn’t and then what?


My final message is this. We need to have more discussions to move the field forward.  Too many coaches and lifters deal in absolutes.  The majority of people were just telling me that I am wrong and here is some old cherrypicked research to prove my point.


One of these studies was from 1996 (probably copied from some blog somewhere).  The stress literature as well as the motor control and skill acquisition literature, has made some huge strides since then that cannot be ignored.  The majority of this research is after 1996.


This is where work by Kiely and Loenneke have made an impact on my thinking.  They are critical thinkers, asking hard questions, and being skeptical.  This can drive discussions as long as butthurt stays low.

How Important is the Program?


Written by: Kevin Cann


I was having this discussion recently and felt it would make a good quick read.  Before I get into that, there is something that I want to say. This was in regard to another conversation.


Seems to me that coaches and lifters in the powerlifting community dislike other coaches and lifters in the community because their methods are different.  I truly don’t understand this attitude.  I dislike these people because they are fucking assholes, not because of their methods.


Discussing training concepts with coaches that do things very differently from me is one of the ways I have learned the most.  In fact, our programs today would not look like they do if it wasn’t for discussions with Jason Tremblay, even though our programs are very different.


It was not because I thought he was wrong, and I decided to run the other way.  It was actually the exact opposite.  He was right, for him and his lifters.  This brings me into the topic of the article, how important is the program?


This depends on the coach and the training theory that they are using.  When I trained with Sheiko, the program was very important due to the data he was collecting.  I got very little freedom to change things.


This may seem like it goes against everything I say.  In Russia, the lifters grow up in schools with the sport as a subject.  They believe in their coach and they believe that their system is the greatest for strength development.  This system is perfect for those lifters.


My development as a coach has just led me down another path.  I embrace a more theoretical approach.  I feel our current understanding of strength development is outdated and extremely incomplete.


I did not grow up in a school learning powerlifting.  I played sports into my 30s.  My beliefs our going to be shaped by these experiences.  This is why I latch onto a constraints-led approach of skill acquisition.


When I started training the whole mma thing this is how I actually learned.  My very first day, I got the shit kicked out of me with no headgear on.  Times were a bit different.  I kept coming back and how I developed as a fighter was a direct result of these experiences.


I was quicker and more athletic than most.  I would back up a lot and I became very good a judging distance.  I got very good at not being hit.  Once these skills were developed, I started putting more offense behind it.  I developed power in my hands walking backwards and started to get very good at countering.  I added a lot of clinch work and wrestling later on to round it out as well as continued to develop better techniques.  A change in training partners, definitely played a role here as well.  I switched from a gym of strong grapplers to one with strong strikers.  This made me even a better striker.


This was over 10 years of me using a constraints-led approach to develop skills of a sport that requires a lot of skills.  I didn’t get taken down much and I feel this is one reason why my game from my back was so weak.  We also started there and did rounds that way.  Altering constraints.


Another note, not wearing a headgear that whole time taught me how to take a punch.  This is another skill developed in training that would be similar to competition.  So you can see why I feel this approach is the best for powerlifting.  It fits my beliefs.


I have never chased after lifters.  They have come to me for one reason or another.  That is buy in right from the start.  The way that I do things fits my beliefs and fits those of my lifters.


Our programs are very different.  I do not write out sets.  I leave the number of sets done up to the lifters.  They are supposed to take 1 to 2 hard sets.  These should be very hard.  This is our training stimulus.  Anything on top of that is guided through discussion and they have the power to decide.


I choose an exercise based off of what I see in training.  This exercise is altering a constraint to guide them to greater skills. Strength is a skill here.  I give them a suggested top weight, but they get to adjust if necessary.


So basically, all I am doing is writing some exercises on a piece of paper and through conversations and education, the lifters end up deciding what is best for them on each day. I monitor estimated 1RM and we just train.


The focus is on effort of each lifter, novelty of an exercise that hopefully helps improve inefficiencies, challenging weights that that improve the lifter’s emotional responses, and combining this into a group setting of everyone doing the same thing.


For me and how I run things, the program is the least important part of training.  I don’t write out set, only reps.  So volume is not considered outside of the hard sets. I don’t use percentages to worry about average intensities.  I feel the program is a compass and not GPS.


Progress comes from effort. It is the coach’s job to guide the effort in the correct direction.