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.”

The Importance of Being Fast and Learning from the Past

Written by: Kevin Cann


The force-velocity curve is a major piece of the curriculum in both undergrad and grad school in this field.  I have been coaching for about 15 years now.  The majority of that time was spent coaching high school athletes.


I was also fortunate enough to intern at Harvard University and got an opportunity to learn how they do things with their division 1 athletes.  Interestingly enough I moved away from this as I got more and more experience coaching powerlifting.


I moved away from this while calling my lifters athletes, and strength a skill.  Even though I looked at them as athletes and the development of strength as a skill, I got away from training them like they were athletes.


In my defense, I didn’t totally neglect these aspects of training.  I assumed that the warmups leading up to the top sets would be enough to develop these other athletic qualities.  Also, the first few reps of a set of 5 are in the lower intensity zones where velocity should be higher.  The problem with that is that the athlete is not focused well on those warmups.  They are using them to tune-up to hit something big and the first few reps are no more than a means to an end.


We got very strong doing this.  Totals were going through the roof by doing near max sets on a daily basis.  However, I was noticing that we were getting slower. This has not had a negative effect on us yet, but I think it might in the long run.


We were very focused on absolute strength.  Load up the weight and fight for a very hard top set.  Absolute strength is what we are striving for at the end of the day. So why not train it more often?


The intensity of the training and the atmosphere must be discussed here as well.  A group straining together and pushing each other with their actions and words definitely contributes to the increases in strength that we have seen.


When I worked with Sheiko, the majority of the work was done between 75% to 85% of 1RM with sets between 2 to 6 reps.  This is what is known as speed-strength.  Basically, speed-strength is the ability to produce force in the shortest time possible.


Absolute strength can go up from training in these zones.  The word “strength” is a part of speed-strength.  I have mentioned this in podcasts and posts in the past about Eastern Europeans and their belief on sticking points.


Some will argue that the sticking point is the inability of the lifter to coordinate the muscles and produce force fast enough.  They try to train in the absence of a sticking point.  I did this for 3 years and my total went up at each competition that I did.  It definitely can work.


Maximal power occurs at intermediate velocities when lifting moderate weights.  This is the 75% to 85% of 1RM for 2-6 repetitions.  These seems to be a pretty decent sweet spot for training.


However, it relies on very small increases in total incrementally over time.  Who is to say that we could not have lifted that 5-10lbs at our last test if we had a better ability to strain?  What I saw with my lifters is that this style of training did not teach the lifters how to strain, and they would get very nervous with heavier weights.


To learn how to strain, the lifters need to train at close to maximal weights/maximal weights.  This is not done for sets of 3 or 5, but singles. A maximal single elicits the greatest neurological response to move the most weight.


It is very difficult to have a system like the Russians within the American culture.  American lifters want it all now and lack the patience to be successful with it.  They also get into this sport later in life.  They have a smaller window to attempt to do the best they can within the sport.


A 20 year old Russian has most likely been training for 10 years.  A 20 year old American has most likely never picked up a barbell before. This changes how the coach needs to organize and structure training.


I went from doing a program emphasizing speed-strength to one emphasizing absolute strength.  Technique was a bit better, and speed of lifts were better with the speed-strength, but our ability to strain and to lift maximally was better with a greater emphasis on absolute strength.


There is a 3rdcomponent of training that is emphasized in sports programs and that is ballistic action.  To achieve the fastest speeds possible the lifter needs to use very light weights. Weights between 30% and 40% of 1RM.


I did some of this style of training with Sheiko on a 4thbench day.  I did not feel that I got anything out of it.  It was just too light.  Also, the barbell has to decelerate because the velocity at lockout is zero.


I am not too sure a lifter can train this with straight weight.  In a strength and conditioning program, this is where plyometrics are used. An athlete can just jump as high as they can without having to stop at a given position. Medball stuff enters the picture here as well.


I want to make well-rounded lifters.  We train in many different positions.  We alter foot positions, bar positions, and grip.  This is a start, but we can be much more well-rounded athletes.  We can be strong and fast.  At some point I think you have to do both, or a plateau is inevitable.  We may have avoided the plateaus by making the change from one to the other.


Absolute strength develops the ability to produce maximal force.  Speed-strength develops the ability to produce maximal force more quickly. Being fast and strong is required to push the bar through the sticking points of the lifts.  It is not an either or.


I have some lifters that I need to speed up, and I have some lifters that I need to slow down.  When I analyze the lifts, I always look at technique. I have never really looked at their strength qualities before.  Are they fast, slow, etc?


All the tempo work and pause work that we did worked well, because we were coming off of a long period of focusing on speed-strength.  We were fast but needed to slow down.  We slowed down and got stronger.  Now, we need to speed up again.


We will focus on all of these aspects, being strong at all angles, and developing all strength qualities within our programs moving forward. Finding balance and continuing to learn along the way.


I am still new at coaching this sport.  I don’t pretend to have all of the answers.  Many out there will speak in absolutes about what works and what does not. I feel this is very true within the raw lifting circles.


Raw lifting has been around for a very short time, and we seem to have forgotten about all of the things that older lifters figured out before us.  I got sucked into this trap.  A community of lifters and coaches with less than 5 years of experience leading the way.


Putting down the lessons from the past due to equipment or drugs.  Those things need to be taken into consideration for sure but shouldn’t lead to a discarding of those lessons the pioneers have taught us.  Let us be real for a minute, drug tested does not mean drug free.


The days of Westside conjugate style training are not dead.  They are forgotten and pushed aside for inexperienced lifters and coaches, that are too smart for their own good.  I can say that because I was one of them.


That style of training has been around for over 40 years.  There is a list of lifters that have done that style of training for over 2 decades.  This comp lift only DUP craze has been around for less than 10 years.


It is the same pre-packaged periodization stuff we have been spoon-fed since the 70s.  The science is not conclusive that it is better than linear periodization.  Lots of studies show no difference in performance, and others show DUP is a bit better.


In the end these are all short-term studies.  The long term studies have been done through trial and error from those that have come before us.  Don’t let their messages fall on deaf ears.  Louie talked a lot about the issues he had with typical periodization.  People will hate on him, but jump on sharing Kiely’s articles referencing the same issues.


Progress occurs from building off of those lessons from those before us.   There are some improvements to be made to that style of training.  Changes need to be made because most lifters we coach have jobs and have different backgrounds.  I made the mistake of ignoring those messages instead of using them to improve upon.


Since I have expanded my circle beyond that typical crowd, I have learned a lot more and it has been a serious gut check to my thinking.  But each gut check moment is an opportunity for our team to get stronger. Looking forward to many more.