My Implementation of “Speed Work”

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

Over the course of the last 4-5 years we have gone from running a very “Sheiko-esque” program, to switching gears a bit and making it more intensity focused.  Don’t get me wrong, there are still lots of influences from Sheiko within our programs.

 

I still am big on technique being the most important aspect of training.  A Sheiko program was very big on building technique with repetition based training.  Sets very rarely went over 85% of 1RM and when they did the ROM was often manipulated.

 

We saw very good results using this type of training.  However, when weights became near maximal, the lifters technique would breakdown.  I also noticed that the lifters would get very nervous when the weights got heavy.  These nerves definitely played a role in this breakdown in technique.

 

I had this belief that we make technique efficient with lots of repetitions with lighter weights, but we were not practicing the situations that the lifters are put in during maximal lifts and competition.  I knew I needed to use weights large enough to create an emotional response within the lifters.

 

I manipulated variations more and we loaded them up.  These variations would hopefully punish technical inefficiencies and force the lifters to perform the lifts with better technique.  Over this period of time I noticed we got stronger and stronger the heavier we lifted.

 

When I was implementing this, I figured the warmups would be enough sets in those lighter weight zones to get the repetitions/practice needed to improve technique.  Reps are important for these reasons.  I think of strength training as a balance between brute strength and technique.

 

The variations and the repetitions working up to top sets should help technique, and the heavy top sets should develop the brute strength necessary to move more weight.  We are definitely moving more weight.

 

Yesterday Doug, a 66kg lifter who finished 10thin the Juniors at Nationals last year, squatted 460lbs on a wide stance box squat.  This is 55lbs more than he squatted last October, and 40lbs more than he squatted at the end of April.  These types of jumps are not that uncommon.

 

To change courses just a bit here as I feel it is an interesting observation.  Oftentimes when these large jumps level out, we get a longer stagnation period.  This is what made me interested in complex theory and power-law relationships.

 

This may be why most coaches want 5-10lbs at a time.  It might keep motivation higher by constant increases in performance.  I do not agree with this philosophy.  Tomorrow is not guaranteed, take what is there now.

 

Mike D’amico put 50lbs on his squat from Regionals of last year to Regionals this year.  It just so happened he did it from January to April and it has leveled off since then.  This is very good progress on one lift in a year from someone that has been lifting for more than 5 years.  Progress is not linear, however.

 

These periods of stagnation are important.  The Russians have a saying, the weights and workloads must mature and ripen and then we add more.  In complex theory, in order to have an “avalanche” the system needs to reach a point of criticality.

 

What we see with these large PRs is a large avalanche, a small PR would be a small avalanche. There are no differences between the causes of large and small PRs.  Once the avalanche is over it takes the system time to build up to a state of criticality.

 

During this period, the lifter gets to use the same weights and workloads over and over as strength slowly builds in the background.  This allows those weights to mature and ripen as the Russians say.

 

In terms of stress, training is pretty stressful when those PRs are happening frequently.  Constantly hitting newer and newer weights in all kinds of positions becomes very tough training.  As it levels off, the stress is lowered as the weights become more and more familiar.  The same psychological arousal is not necessary to handle the same weights anymore and technique becomes more consistent.

 

I have said in the past that these periods of stagnation are necessary.  They are a normal trend in complex systems for a reason.  The reason is far outside of our understanding, but we can use this time period to our advantage.

 

Many lifters struggle to realize this for some reason.  If they go a month or 2 or 3 without seeing progress on a lift, after having very good progress for a period of time, they think progress has stopped.  Too often lifters look into the day to day instead of the longer term trends.

 

There is a reason why most high level coaches say you cannot peak for more than 1-2 competitions in a year. Progress is not linear.  A few months is not a long time in the giant scheme of things.  Periodization tries to account for these “down” times by phasing out training.  The problem with that is we cannot predict when those “down” times are going to occur.

 

These periods allow us to refine technique because more weight is not being added to the bar, so brute strength is taking a backseat.  On paper this all sounds great and I stand by the science.  However, lifters do not necessarily make the best decisions on a day to day basis.

 

We talk frequently, but to develop this skill it will take years.  I got lifters that will just max out every day they come into the gym. These lifters are maniacs.  The program calls for a top set between RPE 8.5-9.5.

 

If you feel like shit, keep it at an 8.5 and maybe take an extra set there, or not.  Feeling good, push it a bit.  These should still be submax weights that the lifter can control. There will be some breakdown, but we learn from errors.

 

When we get closer to an RPE 10 more frequently, our technique will change in ways we cannot account for with variation.  Lifters will begin to squat slower and bring the bench press down slower.  The lifter will lose some pop off of the floor with deadlifts that could be due to position, or just being a bit fatigued. The fatigue I don’t worry about as much.

 

I needed to find a way to keep this in check as well as making sure we are not just maxing out every day.  If we did not work full-time jobs and live in a culture that fears fatigue, we would be able to push those RPE 10 lifts much more often.

 

One thing I have been doing over the last year when a lifter gets stagnate in a lift, and begins to lose confidence, is adding in a block of “speed lifts.”  These basically follow Prilepin’s chart with shortened rest. Many times we took 90% singles for a handful of sets.

 

Prilepin’s chart has some downfalls to use as a main tool for deciding intensities and volumes. For one, it was for weightlifters and not powerlifters.  However, it is a good starting point for the lifter to get quality reps.  We can increase the difficulty by decreasing the rest.

 

A lot of Sheiko’s program would fit nicely into Prilepin’s chart.  The intensities were made greater by adding a pause or accommodating resistance. The total volume would often exceed the recommendations of the chart.

 

Adding in this “speed work” occasionally can have some big benefits.  In chaos theory some small perturbations can create large outcomes.  These are not predictable, but I think this can help a lot.

 

For one, these weights are a nice psychological break from lifting heavier more often.  An example would be 8-10 sets of 2 reps at 80% to be completed within 25-30 minutes.  This will be hard, but hard in a different way than what each lifter is used to. The intensities will range from 75% to 90% for 1 to 4 reps for 6-12 sets.

 

These weights will allow lots of practice with lighter weights, while keeping effort high.  It will also get the lifters in and out of the gym.  Too often lifters will take very long rests between sets and end up lifting for 2-3 hours. 2 lifts in a “speed day” should have them in and out of the gym within 1 hour.  This allows for more time to recover and to get other life things done.  Time becomes a stressor for lifters because we all have lives outside of the gym and we need to get shit done sometimes.

 

My implementation of it will not be each week.  To start I will add in a “speed week” every 3rdweek.  Most lifters can push really hard for 2 weeks when they know we will be pulling back.  I will give them more freedom here to go harder on some of those days as well.

 

If they feel good, we will send it.  I think this is a nice compromise between myself and those lifters I have that live the RPE 10 lifestyle.  I also think it gives everyone a bit more flexibility in training.

 

I feel adaptations are more likely to occur when we do extreme things.  Doing extreme things, comes with higher risk for consequences as well.  I think this will be a nice way to get some extremes into training while mitigating some of the consequences.  Guess we will see.  The early feedback so far has been very good from the lifters.

 

Seems to build confidence and momentum while working on technique with relatively heavy weights.

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Technique + Strength + Skill, Oh My

 

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

I have officially been involved in the sport of powerlifting for 5 years now.  I literally had to do the math a few times because I did not believe it.  The older I get the faster that time seems to move.  My daughter is somehow 11 years old too!

 

Over this period of time I have been fortunate enough to learn from so many other coaches and athletes. I also have been fortunate enough to learn from so many of the PPS lifters as well.  We have changed what we do quite a bit over time.

 

Being coached by Sheiko for the first 3 years, our programs looked very similar to what Sheiko’s looked like.  However, I found out that that style of training will not work as well with lifters here.  A big reason for this is due to our culture and the time we spend in this sport.

 

In Russia they go to schools where powerlifting is basically a subject.  From the time they are a youth athlete, they are part of the Soviet System.  To save time I will not go into details on how this works, but they follow this system for over 10 years before they are even a junior in competitions.

 

Not every athlete there climbs up the classification chart to be a Master of Sport in International Competition.  Many lifters “wash out” of these schools long before that happens.  Once they are identified to not have what it takes to get further, they are given a certificate for their current classification and they move on.  Some might even move on to coaching.

 

The ones that end up becoming a Master of Sport or higher are the ones that continue to see progress with this style of training.  My guess is this is the same as the Greek and Bulgarian systems as well.  Not every Russian reaches this classification, we just hear about the ones that do.

 

Sheiko was big on technique first.  This often gets misunderstood in translation.  He would control loads but make them more difficult with variations to work on technique within the lifts.  You would get a lot of practice with these variations and these same loads. Training was very hard, but very hard in a different way.  It was a lot of work, often taking over 3 hours to complete a session.

 

We had great success using these methods, but I learned that technique was still breaking down with heavier weights.  I remember Sheiko talking about meeting Louie Simmons and the difference in their programming.  Sheiko said that Louie emphasized strength first, while he emphasized technique first.

 

This wasn’t a criticism of his methods.  Instead it was a very enlightening conversation about how coaching works. Sheiko also said that powerlifting is big enough for many different methods.  This also resonated with me quite a bit.

 

I started adding in more heavier weights into our training.  Over about a 2 year period, we added many heavier weights into our training. We work up to 1-2 hard sets of an RPE 8.5-9.5 each training session.

 

I also added in more drastic variations to bring a skill component to our training.  I started placing lifters in positions that would punish technical inefficiencies, and we will push weights in these positions. This is how we acquire those skills. Lifting heavy also allows the lifter to practice their skill of competing.

 

When we go to a competition, most lifters for PPS are not nervous.  We do this every day in the gym.  We compete.  Not against each other, but against ourselves and our emotions.  We learn to harness them and be more confident lifters.

 

Perhaps we swung the pendulum too far towards the strength side.  When I initially changed things up, I assumed the warmups would be enough to get those sets in to work on technique.  However, I realized many lifters were taking huge jumps and all of the focus was on the top set.  The warmups were just pushed aside as nothing more than that, a warmup.

 

Also, lifters were taking huge jumps to not be “tired” for their top set.  Basically, lifters were doing like 9 seconds of good solid work for each lift.  That is it. That is a far cry from the 3+ hours we would train in the beginning.  This made me realize that I need to interject here again.

 

I started giving more days with more “top sets”. For example, a lifter might hit a hard set of 3 reps at 300lbs on the squat, at an RPE 9.  I might have them hit this for 2-3 sets the following week, and then even maybe 3-4 sets the week after that.  Sometimes I drop the weight a little to do this.  The following week we may work up to a heavy triple again. This has been working well.

 

They get more practice with submaximal weights that are still heavy, and we see that triple go up pretty significantly.  When we push a single now, we see a bigger number on that bar.  I base these decisions off of their best competition lifts.

 

This is a nice parallel between how we ran a Sheiko style program before to what we do now.  It takes care of the weights being too light, and since they work up to a heavy set the week before, I have a good idea for what weight we put on the bar.  These sessions are VERY difficult.

 

One other aspect of a Sheiko program is the alternating of stress levels on each training day.  Some days are high stress, others medium, and some low.  When I go back and look at everyone’s programs now, we see this trend play out for everyone.

 

We have been doing a lot more comp singles in training as well.  This is not something we work up to each training day.  This is a weight I prescribe, that they are not allowed to go up from.  If they feel like shit they can go down, but I encourage them to just hit this weight no matter what.

 

This weight is a hard, but doable weight.  It is not something they should miss.  Often it lies between their best double and triple.  On a good day it might be an RPE 8, and on a tough day it will be a solid RPE 9. It is basically practice with a weight between an opener or second attempt.

 

This helps me to gauge their progress a bit.  It also gives each lifter some feedback as to where they are at on a given training day and it can help them make better decisions on their other work.  It highlights some weaknesses within their comp lifts too and they work on tightening it up under that given load.

 

I have gone through periods of time where I put more emphasis on accessories and less emphasis on them.  This has been one of those things I have really struggled with.  I use far more variation now than I used to.

 

We are constantly changing foot position, bar position, grip, and stance.  This is to ensure that we are training all angles and creating well rounded lifters.  I think this decreases the need for accessory work.  Accessory work comes in more as a filler when the volume drops for the competition lifts and their variations.

 

My programs have gotten far simpler over time.  I write a lot about theoretical concepts, but our programs are extremely simple.  I give the lifter way more responsibility now. I went from being a dictator to being a facilitator.  I guide the process with exercises to improve technical efficiency, suggested weight, and many conversations to help each lifter make the best training decisions possible each training day.

 

Over my 5 years of coaching in this sport we focused on technique over everything, swung the pendulum far to the strength side, and began to focus on strength as a skill.  Now it is time to bring it all together.  To take these last 5 years of learning and put our best product on the platform.

Why Do Reps Even Matter?

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

This is a question I have been asking myself a bit lately.  This article is just going to be some thoughts, an inside to my thinking process if you will.

 

My guess is that this started around the 1970s when there was this obsession about the Russian’s training secrets.  This was the birth of our periodization models here in America.  These periodization models broke training up into specific phases.

 

These phases tend to be a preparatory phase, a competitive phase, and a transition phase.  The preparatory phase recommendations are for lots of non-specific high repetition work.  In some sources they recommend around 12 to 20 reps.  The competition cycle would be more specific work and between 2 to 8 reps, and the transition phase would be time off after competition.  Perhaps the lifter does some different activities here.

 

Over time this got adapted more.  There became hypertrophy, strength, and power phases.  Even those these phases had different names it was the same exact model repackaged in a different way.

 

So, back to my original question, “Why do reps matter?”  The idea between higher rep sets is to increase the size of the muscle within the lifter.  Theoretically a larger muscle has the ability to lift more weight.  When we look into the literature this narrative just does not hold true.

 

Muscle mass can be obtained from various loading schemes.  However, strength tends to be higher in the groups lifting heavier. This makes sense as the heavier loads are more specific to the sport.

 

There is some correlation to larger muscles moving more weight, and if you are a coach or lifter that performs high rep sets for this, and you enjoy doing them, by all means keep doing it.  I am just not convinced by the available evidence that this is worth the time, which is also a constraint on lifters, in the gym.  There is a Boston’s Strongcast episode with researcher, Dr. Loenneke, that discusses these topics in further details.

 

If we analyze the sport of powerlifting this may help to give us our answers.  It is a sport where the lifter takes 3 attempts of a single repetition of the squat, bench press, and deadlift.  Each attempt gets heavier from the first attempt to the third attempt of each lift.

 

The third attempt should be a maximal lift for the lifter.  A maximal lift may take anywhere from a couple seconds, and I have seen upwards of 11 seconds.  Looking at this information, I would say that reps matter up to the maximal amount of time the lifter will be lifting a maximal attempt for.  For the information I have, 11 seconds (that was on a deadlift, squat was 8 seconds, and bench was a little less than squat).

 

This is the equivalent to a set of 3 repetitions.  A hard set of 3 reps is probably taking a bit longer as well.  The research has shown that to get stronger, you need to lift larger loads.  Well, what is a larger load?  The research suggests that loads greater than 85% of 1RM are ideal.

 

Research also suggests that the internal loads, not the external loads, are the drivers of physiological adaptation.  The most common way to measure internal loads is with RPE.  From practical experience I have found that an RPE 8+ is pretty sufficient for strength increases.

 

The closer to maximal we get the better here.  My guess is it is due to psychological factors.  The heavier weights peak arousal from the lifter.  This forces them to handle their emotions.  As Keith Davids says, “Training should have consequences.”  There are a large number of lifters that undershoot this RPE, so I make our hard sets a range from 8.5 to 9.5.  I would rather them overshoot here than undershoot because of the number of sets we are performing.  Usually starting out at 1 to 2.

 

The dogmatic argument to this is that you can’t lift heavy every day like that because of overtraining. The idea of overtraining comes from Hans Selye who shocked rats in the 1930s.  This literally has nothing to do with lifters taking a handful of hard sets 3-4 days per week.

 

Research struggles to induce overtraining symptoms from intensity alone, and they do things that are far removed and much crazier than the real world would.  There needs to be an endurance component to this.  Higher volume programs have an endurance component, perhaps this is where that fear came from?  I do not know.

 

The argument then is always “But volume matters!  You’re dumb! (insert appropriate emoji here).”  Not all volume is created equal.  Seems there needs to be a higher intensity to it, and a duration of no more than about 11 seconds.

 

We typically start at 5 repetitions.  My argument is that this gives the lifter greater exposures to new variations to figure it out.  It is hard to load it up for a heavier triple right away.  When I go back and analyze the 5s, I saw some interesting things.

 

Reps 1 and 2 are definitely not intense enough to be included in the volume that matters. Reps 4 and 5 were mostly effective reps, and rep 3 was sometimes effective.  Keep in mind the majority of the sets are taken at around an RPE 9.5. The days of the 8.5s is usually when the lifter is feeling a little tired and banged up.  This puts that 3rdrep around an 8.

 

On sets of 3 the first rep is probably outside of the range of intensity to be counted as an effective rep. However, the 3rdrep is important for the timing component of the sport.  We need to learn how to lift for upwards of 11 seconds.

 

In terms of volume, we need to define how we use volume.  Most use total tonnage and average intensity.  I use “number of hard sets.”  I don’t care whether it was a set of 5 or a set of 1 it gets the same score, 1 volume unit.  The reason for that is with the effective reps for one.

 

Also, there is a lot of uncertainty with using volume to predict progress.  Tetlock showed in a long running study that experts with more information tended to make worse predictions.  I choose to keep it simple and to give me an idea about how hard the lifter is working.  If progress seems to be stalling, we can add more hard sets.  This is pretty simple.

 

I think reps are important for practice.  However, we want them to be more deliberate for the sport that we are competing in. A set of 10 at 70% is not practice for powerlifting in my opinion.  The weight is too light to create technique issues, it is too light to create an emotional response, it lasts longer than 11 seconds, and its reasoning is based off of Russian folklore from the 1970s and before.

 

I view volume as measuring practice time within the sport itself.  Wouldn’t I want to know how many sets the lifter is performing that is actually going to yield benefits?  Wouldn’t this help me see the training process better and give me the necessary information to make the decisions for that lifter to increase progress?  I think so.  Of course, we can’t forget about manipulating other factors such as exercise selection.  That is usually my go to.  You will be surprised at how often adding more volume is not the answer.

From Sheiko to Where We Are Now

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

This article is going to go with a solo podcast I just recorded.  I discussed how I started and how we ended up doing things the way that we do them now.  This is going to be a quick addition as I believe that people think we do so many things different than we did before.

 

When we were mimicking a Sheiko program before we were using a specific number of lifts and average intensity based off of lifter classification.  We used percentages for these numbers.  Technique was the primary driver of exercise selection and those other factors.

 

We would squat 2 times per week, deadlift 2 times per week, and bench 3-4 times per week.  There would be high, medium, and low stress training days sprinkled throughout the block.  We would even do the dreaded double lift days.

 

Currently, I do not write sets, just exercise and suggested top weight.  There are no percentages and the top sets are just a range of RPEs from 8.5 to 9.5.  The frequencies of lifts shift around as well.  The rest of the information is lifter dependent.

 

The lifter chooses the number of sets based off of how the day is going and how they feel they need to warmup.  They have rules governing the top sets.  They are to get 1-2 at RPE 8.5-9.5.  I give a suggested weight, but they can adjust accordingly.  Sometimes it does not work well at first, but then they drop the weight and work back up and hit it.  Sometimes they don’t work back up.

 

If they do not work back up, that is a lighter or medium stress day.  They still have those; they just self-organize into them.  We get so hellbent on general principles being true that we think we can predict when the lifter will need a break and we think we can predict performance.  None of this is true.

 

The human body is pretty amazing.  There are all kinds of feedback loops that can dictate this process if we just listen. If fatigue is going to affect performance, we will see it by the top set being less than we anticipated.  Sometimes the lifter feels tired and still exceeds that number.

 

We need to embrace uncertainty and understand that we are not smarter than the human body.  I will vary frequencies based off of performance for the lifters.  Sometimes 3 days a week where we squat twice, bench 2-3 times, and deadlift once is better. Sometimes we need more.  It often will look exactly like it used to with 4 days per week.  Squats and deadlifts twice and bench 3-4 times.

 

We still use double lift days as I see appropriate.  I still use variations to attack the technical inefficiencies.  These variations make up the majority of the volume just like they did before.  I vary more now, where before everything was in comp stance or grip.  Now I move the lifters around in a bunch of different positions.

 

Instead of getting lots of sets for practice, I choose to have a more targeted approach where our practice will be more specific.  We will get the 1-2 sets at a very challenging weight.  Effort at the end might be the same, I just choose to use a heavier weight as I feel it is a different skill and has an emotional response from the lifter.

 

This is a constraints-led approach.  We get more deliberate practice, so we don’t need as much.  There was the old 10,000-hour rule that was believed to be true, but research suggests that it comes down more to the quality of training than the quantity.  How much each person needs are dependent on that person.  Everyone learns at a different rate.

 

Everyone has different stuff going on outside of the gym.  We do not know how this stuff can affect performance, but sometimes it may be best to just do 3 days as trying to get that 4thday in just becomes a stressor to them.  Sometimes performance stalls and we got to suck it up and get that 4thday in.

 

There are no answers. As a coach I feel we need to guide the process with the general principles in the back of our minds.  I learned the general principles from Sheiko, and you can still see how heavily our programs are influenced by him.  I choose to use 1 to 2 hard sets for the number of lifts and average intensity now, but technique is still first.  The structure changes throughout as I see fit, but much of it is still influenced from the structure I used under him.  It may seem very different, but it is not so different at all.

Long Term Skill Acquisition in Powerlifting

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

I have had this conversation quite a few times in the last week and I think it makes a very interesting topic.  I view strength as a skill. Not just the technique of the lifts, but the actual physiological adaptation.

 

The definition of a skill is “the ability to do something well, expertise” and “A particular ability.” If we are really good at something, we even identify it as a strength.  Developing a skill is also a dynamic process.

 

In skill development there are progressions, regressions, skips, and jumps.  This is the same as in strength training.  Developing strength is also a dynamic process.  It is a dynamic process that the coach needs to understand both short term and long-term pieces of.

 

In most sports there are long term skill development plans.  I played soccer growing up so I will use that as an example.  At 5 years old the ball was smaller, the field was smaller, the goals were small without goaltenders, and the number of kids on the field was far less than 11.

 

The reasons for all of this go far beyond what many understand.  The ball being smaller allowed the kids to develop appropriate skills for kicking the ball.  If they used the larger adult sized ball this would alter mechanics to move the heavier ball and have an impact in the long term on kicking skills.  The goal is for the kids to self-organize into appropriate kicking technique within a game.

 

The field was smaller because the kids are smaller.  A larger field would not be appropriate for the speed and size of the current players. It would be a very different game with in game skill development being something that would not carry over as much.

 

The goals were smaller without a goaltender to encourage kids to shoot and aim for a target.  If a goalie was in the net there may be hesitation from the kid to shoot.  There may also be a focus developed on the goalie instead of the target.  The goal being smaller allows them to self-organize to a technique that allows them to put the ball in a smaller space.

 

The smaller sided games are actually to avoid swarming to the ball.  This helps to teach appropriate spacing on the field that will carry over to later on.  All of these pieces serve a purpose.

 

In powerlifting I think many forget this.  They want everything right now.  I understand this modern day thinking with the internet being a highlight reel of people hitting big weights.  Athletes need to understand where they are in their journey and how to appropriately set themselves up for the long term.

 

Most lifters start powerlifting later in life.  This isn’t a sport that many start at a young age here in America.  There are a few and they just happen to be the best coaches around now.  We need to understand this part in the beginning.  It isn’t about starting them at lower volumes and building them up.

 

These lifters have developed strengths and weaknesses based off of their experiences.  At this stage in their life their perceptions, beliefs, and sociocultural surroundings have molded them into the human in front of us. This means education is a big part of our job in the beginning.

 

As a coach we want to develop the whole athlete.  Many of the current world champions come from a bodybuilding background and the Eastern Europeans have about 10 years of GPP work before their training becomes specific. This builds a great foundation to build the lifter.

 

This is not usually the case here.  Most programs will call for high volumes of competition lifts.  This can yield fast progress off of the bat, but it can hinder the athlete later on.  This is one reason why I believe lifters see progress for the first couple of years and then there is a drop-off in total or a sustained plateau.

 

Kerry had asked/yelled at me the other day “Why hasn’t my deadlift moved in years!?”  This is one reason why I believe it has been stuck. I wasn’t attempting to build the complete athlete.  I was only attempting to strengthen her comp stance deadlift.

 

Kerry competes in a medium stance sumo where her knees will straighten and back will round under heavier weights.  This can’t be fixed from this position and to build a resilient athlete as well as strengthen weaknesses we need to alter angles.  This shifts emphasis to different muscles that have been ignored and punishes less efficient positions by disallowing the lifter to complete the task.

 

For Kerry this means a lot of wide stance sumo deadlifts.  This will strengthen her hips to take some pressure off of her back to pull. If the hips and legs catch up to her back strength, there is a huge pull to be had there.  However, I kind of fucked up there and it is going to take time.

 

She trained with that less efficient position for 4 years.  This isn’t as simple as putting a variation in for a block and everything is ok. She competed with a wide stance deadlift at the Arnold and we have continued to build it from there.  She has already doubled a weight that didn’t budge a month ago.  There is still a lot of work to be done here to get it where we need it to be.

 

I hindered Kerry’s long-term progress by not being a good enough coach.  Thanks Kerry for sticking with me through all of this.  I remember Sheiko saying that a world class lifter needs a world class coach.  Kerry had an elite deadlift when she started, I was not ready at the time to handle that.

 

Luckily, she was not elite in the other 2 lifts and we have had increases in total each year due to those continually growing.

 

I asked Sheiko how I get to that level.  He said that I must think about powerlifting 20 hours a day.  The rest of the time is spent training.  I think there was about an hour break per day where I could think of something else.  Reasonable.

 

I have literally done that since that day.  It has brought me down some fun rabbit holes and has gotten me to this point.  Without Kerry’s deadlift we are probably not seeing the results we are today as a group.

 

Some will argue that that is just how she pulls.  Yes technically it is, but it is definitely inefficient and will have a lower ceiling than if we correct those issues.  Those issues cannot be corrected with lighter weights.

 

I would sit there and give her a lot of feedback on each repetition in training.  This is not usually my style, but I think my frustration coming out as trying to do too much and fix it with words.  This feedback is not appropriate.

 

Our jobs as coaches is to guide discovery for more efficient positions.  I was having a good conversation about this with Alyssa. Alyssa is a PhD candidate for educational leadership.  She is doing some research on this topic and how it applies to learning.

 

Even though it is intended for the classroom, the same principles apply to skill acquisition.  The research shows a lot of support for guided discovery groups performing much better than groups receiving a lot of feedback.

 

Basically, these studies are usually setup where one group receives a lot of instruction from an administrator while another group will be given the same task except with constraints placed upon it to help them discover the appropriate behavior.

 

Oftentimes the instructional group will perform better in the earlier tests.  However, upon coming back and being forced to recall the information they tend to score much lower than the guided discovery groups.

 

This means that the feedback you give a lifter today may make the lift look better, but in the long run, or under higher stress, the ability to recall it will be lower.  This is why I follow a constraints-led approach.

 

A constraints-led approach allows me to alter the task in a way that punishes less efficient positions by disallowing the athlete to complete the task.  It also allows me to place the athlete into all kinds of various positions to see where their strengths and weaknesses are.

 

From there we get a good glimpse of the whole athlete.  We can then build a complete lifter that is strong at all angles.  This builds resiliency as well as an increased skill of strength.  These changes in angles are the feedback for the lifter.

 

Instead of focusing on my words they are focused on completing the task at these different angles. Different angles that are usually punishing their positions that they tend to fallback too.  The sensory input that they receive is their feedback. Feedback that will have higher recall rates under higher stress conditions, like heavier weights or a competition.  We also load these positions up with heavy weights respectfully.

 

Every athlete predicts movements before they occur.  Every repetition they perform gives feedback that gets put into this predictive process. Over time we have a higher level of skill because this is more subconscious than conscious attention.  A coach’s words are conscious attention.

 

When our lifters are surfing Instagram, these perceptual processes are also being updated.  This is why education is so important.  This is why it is also important to be adaptable as a coach.  It is not as easy as this variation will fix this problem.

 

Each athlete is different in how they learn.  Tweaks to these exercises will need to be made.  The human is also dynamic.  They are constantly changing initial conditions that the coach needs to be aware of and make the appropriate decisions.

 

My understanding of this has made me change how I write the programs quite a bit.  I no longer write number of sets.  I let each athlete decide that based off of how each day goes. I will write the exercise, reps, and suggested top weight.  They adjust accordingly.

 

Through this process we have a lot of conversations.  These conversations help educate each lifter on making appropriate decisions.  I feel this is the best way to address all of the things that we know can positively and negatively affect training.