It is Not the Volume: It is Your Focus and Intent

 

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

I think powerlifting is in this fad of low RPEs and high volumes.  Many lifters are doing well with programs like this, but I would imagine just as many are not.  I think some of this is driven by the inexperience of lifters and coaches.

 

There is not a single lifter or coach that I have talked to, that has been around for a long time, that thinks this is the best way to train for longevity in the sport.  However, if a coach programs a massive stimulus in volume, it almost guarantees success.

 

In these cases the coaches are using way more of a stimulus then is necessary.  In this case, more seems like it is better.  Over time the gap between what is necessary to get stronger gets driven upwards.  I would argue that over time, the risk of injuries is higher with these higher volume programs.

 

Even if the lifter does not get hurt, at some point the volume is impossible to increase.  My lifters have jobs and limited time to get shit done in the gym.  We need to be as effective with our time as possible.

 

In my opinion there is nothing more practical than taking heavy singles.  You get to practice the actual sport by doing this.  With that said, there is something to be said about total volume.  Practice helps improve technical efficiency for one.

 

One thing I noticed at the Arnold was that a lot of lifters really hit the brakes before they hit the hole in the squat.  This tells me that the lifters are using weights that are too heavy too often.  Many of these lifters ended up getting red lights for depth.  I have run into this same issue with PPS.

 

Some of these lifters I know do higher volume programs.  However, they are not increasing the technical efficiency with those higher volumes as the loads seem to be too large for that.  Each training day has a purpose and there is a purpose for each intensity zone being utilized in a training program.

 

With that said, volume is important to a certain extent.  We need to execute enough reps in each intensity zone to develop the necessary skills to improve upon in the sport.  This fact is not lost on me.

 

However, the lifter needs to bring a specific attitude to the gym to develop all of these qualities.  Going through the motions with lighter weights is not going to make anyone better.  Every repetition in training is an opportunity to get better.

 

The lifter needs to bring focus and intent to every repetition.  If we are trying to improve upon the technical inefficiency I mentioned above, the lifter should focus on attacking the hole of the squat with good technique on every repetition.

 

If the coach is looking to improve upon this technical efficiency the correct loads and volumes need to be utilized.  Using weights where the lifter slows down is not helping to improve upon this skill.  Start with lighter weights and then utilize progressive overload with technical efficiency.

 

As the lifter shows competency with the skill under lighter loads, gradually increase them over time.  For every lifter this will be different.  For example, maybe we start at 60% of 1RM because that is appropriate for a given lifter.  After a week or 2 (or longer if needed), maybe we go up to 65% of 1RM.

 

Over the next few blocks we can drive this number up to 80%, then 85%, and eventually take some singles at 90%.  I did this with one PPS lifter who was moving too slow.  We also utilized bands on the max effort lifts.  Everything we were doing I wanted to be focused on doing faster.

 

The lifter needs to move the weight as fast as possible, while maintaining control, in each lift for this to work.  Just going through the motions will not yield the results that we are looking for.  All too often lifters will see 80% and move it with just enough effort to execute the lift.  You can’t get better at moving 100% by moving at 80%.  You need to give your all on every single repetition as if it were a max effort attempt.

 

When a lifter does this the coach can adjust the loads appropriately.  As weights get heavier, reps will get slower, and as they get lighter, they will get faster.  However, effort by the lifter remains the same.  This makes it much easier for the coach to adjust training in a way that they would like to get the desired results.

 

Focus and intent are extremely important to learning a skill, no matter what the skill.  This can include playing an instrument, learning a language, or an athletic skill.  Focus and intent are a major player in this, but we very rarely focus on it.  My guess is because we can’t measure it.

 

The coach can’t just assume that the volumes and intensities are the best choice.  Each needs to do their job in the relationship.  The coach needs to analyze strengths and weaknesses and observe the lifters.  The lifters need to be accountable for their actions.  This includes sleep, nutrition, and stress management.  It also includes the focus and intent that they bring into training.

Charlie Francis: The High/Low Method

 

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

I have been coaching for over 15 years now.  I did not get into powerlifting until about 5 years ago.  The majority of my coaching career was coaching high school and college aged athletes.  Early on in my career I was introduced to Charlie Francis’ stuff.

 

His coaching information really resonated with me.  It was so simple, but so complex at the same time.  He understood that the athlete’s needed more than a program to reach the highest levels.  He learned how to do massage himself, he would go into their apartments and check their cabinets for food.

 

I remember reading one story where he did this and saw one of the sprinters only had boxes of cereal. Francis then went out and bought food for this athlete.  Francis knew how important nutrition was for recovery and performance.  He was a big proponent of regenerative methods too.  He knew sleep was important and massage was a huge part of his recovery methods.

 

He had access to the Eastern Bloc coaches that others did not have access to at this time.  I am not even sure where that connection came from.  Francis was a national level sprinter and coached some of the best sprinters on the planet at this time.  The most famous/infamous one being Ben Johnson.

 

The things that I really liked about Francis were, for one, his focus on fundamentals.  Technique mattered and it was practiced frequently.  Francis also had a focus on the quality of repetitions over the quantity of repetitions.

 

He would very often watch a sprinter hit a high performance run in training and end the sprinter’s training there.  His reasoning would be that the sprinter had an exceptional individual performance and they were very unlikely to repeat that effort again.  He had a mantra of “Don’t be afraid to walk away.”

 

Performing at that high of a level is a very strong stimulus to the athlete.  Sometimes more is not better as the recovery cost becomes greater.  The sprinter was unlikely to improve upon that performance on that day and anymore could even result in an increased injury risk.

 

I have read in articles that he would also shut down training days when the athletes just did not look right.  He was very good at walking that line of training hard, but also recovering just as hard.

 

In an article written by Derek Hanen, who worked closely with Francis, he explains how Francis was able to create training to fit circumstances.  In Canada it is cold, and they are forced indoors for a chunk of the year.  During this time his sprinters would work on their acceleration.  This is the short in the short to long sprint training he is famous for.  In this same article the author explains that he has seen Francis use long to short with some individuals because it worked better for them.  He was always willing to find what works for each athlete.

 

I haven’t thought about Charlie Francis in years.  Once I got into powerlifting, I was constantly looking at powerlifting specific stuff.  I heard his name mentioned a couple of weeks ago, and a light bulb went off.  I am literally applying a similar model with my lifters.

 

We start the week with high intensity singles and lighter rep work is performed later in the week to work on technique and allow recovery. I want these days to register lower than an RPE 8.   If an athlete seems like they need more recovery, we replace the max effort work with sets and reps.

 

Francis would avoid the middle zones of intensity as they do not really make you faster and they come with a higher recovery cost than what they are worth.  This is why he would send sprinters home instead of just lowering the intensity for the day.  I choose to lower the intensity instead on these days.

 

If a lifter’s schedule leads to them needing to cram a day 4 later in the week, they are instructed to just skip that day.  That is our walking away.  Just because it is on the paper doesn’t mean we follow it blindly.  I want the lifter recovered enough to hit those high intensity days.

 

If they are struggling to find time to get a training day in it most likely means they have increased stress outside of the gym.  This means less stress in the gym is probably most important.

 

I feel the middle ranges in powerlifting have a place, but not as the most important part of training.  The majority of programs out there focus primarily on the middle zones.  Coaches just throw a ton of volume in there to get enough of a stimulus to drive adaptation.

 

This often leads to lifters feeling rundown or getting injured.  In my experiences the lifter does not develop the confidence under heavier weights to truly exceed in this sport.  You can’t develop explosiveness and strength for 100% efforts while only training at 75%.

 

People get stronger while utilizing those middle intensities, so I am not ready to throw them out completely.  It is why I utilize them in place of max effort lifts.  On these days I view them as the next best thing.  They are heavy enough weights to generate adequate force to help the lifter get better.  This is as long as they are putting their max effort into each repetition.  With that said, the middle zones make up a very miniscule amount of our actual volumes.

 

What is pretty crazy is, even though I have not thought about Charlie Francis in years, what I learned from his stuff had stuck with me and I ended up finding myself using a similar approach as I did when I was a younger coach of field and court athletes.  The information I learned definitely stuck with me.

 

Francis wanted attempts on the high intensity days to be 95-100% of the sprinter’s capabilities.  He used very few exercises to achieve this as well.  This is where powerlifting differs from sprinting in my opinion.

 

Effort is effort.  From a neuromuscular perspective, as long as the athlete is attempting to produce the greatest force necessary, they will develop the ability to produce maximal force.  Changing angles within the lifts can help build up weaknesses as well.  If our weaker angles get stronger, typically our stronger angles get stronger.  While still changing angles we are still squatting, benching, and deadlifting.  Can’t really do that with sprinting.

 

I think the efforts of the Francis system is what really piques my interest.  It is definitely inline with what I have seen in the gym.  I am going to go back through and reread those books that I read over 10 years ago and see how my newfound perspectives can make sense of the information now.

Is the Body 650 Muscles or 1 Muscle?

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

This is a question every coach should think about for a minute.  It is kind of fun, and perhaps not so black and white.  Science tends to reduce complex systems into its parts and make some giant assumptions that the sum of those parts equals the whole.

 

This reductionist approach may have served the medical community well at times, but when we look at behavior and skill it tends to take an open complex system and close it.  We are dealing with one human not a bag of 650 muscles plus 1 brain.

 

Even our research tends to reduce the human body into a bag of muscles.  When researchers look at the squat, they tend to use EMG to look at individual muscle groups at various locations of the squat.  I am not saying that this research is completely useless, but I am also not sure what it really tells us.

 

These studies are usually performed on untrained participants.  Their skill levels within the lift tend to be very low.  This may just be an example of Bernstein’s degrees of freedom problem.  The human body has a very large number of movement options to choose from to complete a task.

 

When presented with a new problem, the body will limit the amount of movement options available.  Through practice where movement is explored, the body will free up more degrees of freedom.  This is where the movements being asked of the athlete tend to look more “fluid.”

 

Degrees of freedom is something that is impossible for a coach to measure on an Excel spreadsheet.  Match this with a big cultural piece.  In the 60s and 70s there was a fascination with bodybuilding in America.  This is the time period where Arnold was at his peak.

 

These bodybuilders then found their way into movies as iconic action stars.  America began to view being jacked as being strong.  The logic of a larger muscle having greater potential to contract makes sense, but it just does not hold up to the scrutiny of science.

 

I am not saying muscle mass is not important, but instead the human body will adapt as it needs to, based off of the demands placed upon it.  If we train with more specific weights to 1RM, we will still put on muscle mass, in many cases just as much as a hypertrophy focused program.  I would argue that the body puts on the muscle mass it needs to complete that task and that more is not necessary.

 

You put all of this together and you have coaches obsessed with Excel spreadsheet numbers because they are measurable and allow us to feel safe in an uncertain world, analyzing lifts based off of EMG results of beginners, and adding in bodybuilding exercises to make them better at powerlifting.

 

The focus on one muscle group is a bodybuilding ideology.  A program that looks like this is part powerlifting and part bodybuilding.  I feel the majority of people that do this will be less than mediocre bodybuilders and powerlifters.

 

Now do not get me wrong.  This style of training works for many.  However, watch those lifters when they train.  They are focused and bring intent to every repetition in training.  For example, Westside uses a lot of accessories to get their volume in.  However, watch those guys train.  They absolutely fucking get after it from the second their hands touch the bar to the end of the training session.  No matter what they do, they will get stronger with that attitude.

 

At the end of the day every program can work, especially if the lifters bring that attitude to it.  You do not get weaker from training.  However, we need to look at what is best to push the field forward.

 

When we were doing more Sheiko type stuff in the gym we would be spending 10-12 hours per week training.  Now we spend no more than 6 hours per week training, and we are getting even stronger.  For lifters with jobs and lives this is important.

 

I also think that this is important for longevity.  Training half the time per week will save miles on each lifter.  It just will not beat you up as much because you are not being required to do more than you have to.

 

Since this thinking dominates the strength sports what should we do instead?  Bernstein’s degrees of freedom was published in 1967, it got lost amongst the culture of bodybuilding.  I think we start there.  A dynamic systems theory approach looks at the whole human as well as the environment in which they live instead of reducing the human into its parts.  This is why I utilize this approach; it treats a non-linear open system as a non-linear open system.

 

We want to guide this system towards the technical efficiency and the strength necessary to be the best powerlifter that they can possibly be.  In the literature, the closer we train to 1RM, the greater we increase 1RM.  This is the law of specificity.

 

From there, the coach needs to have a good understanding of technique and how to teach and guide each lifter there.  As Keith Davids says, “Training should have consequences.”  The coach can place the lifter in positions that will punish the technical inefficiency.  The punishment will be an inability to complete the task.

 

The heavy singles also force the lifter to be completely mentally involved in the training session.  If they are worried about outside stress they will not perform up to their capabilities.  This error teaches the lifter.  It allows the coach and the lifter to constantly be analyzing strengths and weaknesses.  This is something that lighter weights cannot do.

 

There may be some technical breakdown under lighter weights, but sometimes those breakdowns do not show up until the weight is heavier.  The coach will never identify a mental weakness because there are no consequences to training with lighter weights.

 

There has to be technical and physical practice under heavier weights to truly get better at handling heavier weights as well.  This is not to say that lighter weights do not have a place.  They absolutely do.  A good program should be utilizing all intensity ranges.  I am a big fan of doing as many singles as possible that allows the individual lifter to recover.  From there, we fill in the blanks with rep work.

 

I used to push the heavy stuff as long as I could and only pull back when the lifter feels they need to.  The problem with this is eventually coaching becomes nothing more than being reactive to the day to day.  I now take a bit more of a proactive approach.  More is not always better.

 

Day 1 we have max effort squats, day 2 max effort bench, day 3 is rep bench work followed by max effort deadlifts, and day 4 is rep work for squats and pulls.  The deadlift rotates weekly on day 3 between max effort work and lighter rep work.

 

If a lifter hits a true 10 on any of these lifts, we replace max effort work with rep work on the following week.  This will usually be around 80% of that max effort lift so that the weights are pretty accurate and done for 4-5 sets of 2-3 reps.  This was our “strength” day so to speak when we ran Sheiko stuff.  This gives the lifter a built in psychological break too.  80% tends to be a weight most lifters can hit for at least 5 reps, this drops the intensity as well.  This day is to maintain the strength qualities that are being developed.

 

A lot of studies do show burn out from higher intensity programs.  Granted these are not studies on motivated powerlifters, and usually with a ridiculous amount of intensity and frequency, but still something we need to take into consideration.  The lifters write RPEs for all sets in their sheets and this allows me to see how they are recovering.

 

I actually try to keep these intensities and volumes pretty stable so that I get a good gauge of their recovery abilities.  After the heavy singles on bench and squat we do backdowns.  I usually put 70% of the max effort lift for a 4×4.  I tend to keep this the same on max effort days so that I can compare RPEs.  If they are creeping up more than normal, I know I need to pull back a bit.

 

Some variations tend to be more difficult to recover from than others.  This is completely dependent upon the individual lifter too.  We run a variation for a 3 week wave.  I learned that most variations run their course in 4-6 weeks so I decided to change it before then so I can use it again in the near future to gauge progress.

 

These variations are ones that will punish technical inefficiencies.  If a lifter is pitching forward, we may use a wider stance with a high bar position.  I require all my lifters to train in flats and 4-6 weeks out from a meet they are allowed to put the heels back on if they want.

 

That position will punish pitching forward, but also the flats and the wide stance targets the hips more.  I will use that latter argument at times, but it is more to get buy in than me actually believing it.  I just have a hard time believing that if a lifter’s knees cave in that their glute medius is weak.  The glute medius is small and has a ton of leverage with its position on the hip.  I just don’t think individual muscles like that can be weak.  I think this is more of a skill problem.

 

This does not mean that these muscles cannot be targeted to become stronger.  Certain angles are more technically efficient and put more emphasis on certain muscle groups.  I know this sounds contradictory but being strong at certain angles is a skill.  More often than not, a few months of targeting these angles and the lifter is hitting PRs from them.

 

Is this really due to individual muscles getting stronger, or is the lifter’s skill just improving?  Again, is the body 650 muscles or 1 muscle?

Why Singles for a Constraints-Led Approach

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

Seems that there is some hate for singles still floating around the interwebs.  This tends to be the words of inexperience, but still, these inexperienced coaches are getting this information from somewhere.

 

I have seen an increase in singles being utilized in many different training strategies.  Research shows that the closer one is to 1RM, the greater the increase in 1RM.  Many coaches have taken this information and added weekly singles into their DUP programs.

 

This can negate the decreases in strength from running higher rep schemes for a period of time.  This is good coaching, taking the information available to them and applying it to their training models.  I love seeing stuff like this.

 

Most of these singles seem to be performed at an RPE 8.  I am by no means shitting on other programs, but instead giving my opinions on the subject matter.  Hitting a single of something that I can triple may maintain strength, but it certainly will not improve it.

 

I believe there is a fear that heavy singles are tough to recover from.  Perhaps in the beginning if the lifter is not used to higher intensities.  The same can be said about a higher volume program.  All I have done for 3 months is singles, a set of 10 may actually kill me.

 

A heavy single close to max, or at max will be tougher to recover from than one performed at an RPE 8.  There are not many physiological resources that go into singles.  Research can only induce overtraining symptoms if there is an endurance component.  It is nearly impossible to induce overtraining with higher intensity sets.

 

Higher volumes utilize a lot more physiological resources and there is an endurance component to multiple sets of higher reps.  This does not mean that higher intensities do not create fatigue.  They most certainly do.  However, I do believe that it is more psychological than physical.

 

With a higher volume program you may get really sore afterwards.  This is typically not the case for singles.  However, over time it can be tougher to get psychologically aroused for the singles, and research has shown some burnout in studies from constant singles.

 

These studies are not always performed on powerlifters, who may have increased motivational factors that decreases burnout.  However, we should still listen because they are human.  I have literally only performed singles for 3 months leading into my competition and I have never felt better.  The majority of these days were done in equipment with overloaded weights.

 

Now, do keep in mind I am a beginner in the equipment.  I cannot overload the lifts by that much yet.  I would imagine if I just kept doing this, at some point I would not be able to keep it up.

 

Another argument against singles is for the breakdown in technique.  This comes down to how the coach views error in the lifts.  Is error a bad thing or a good thing?  I believe that error teaches the lifter.  The coach needs to know how the lifts will breakdown under heavy weights.

 

Anyone can look good at 70% of 1RM, but we compete at greater than 90% of 1RM.  All errors in the sport of powerlifting are either mental, physical, or technical.  Heavy singles give the coach answers to those questions.  A single at an RPE 8 does not have a psychological piece tied to it.  A single at or near max certainly does.  It adds in the psychological component that will be present at competition.

 

Training is practice for competition.  Competition scenarios need to be included in the training scenarios so that the lifter can be best prepared for actual competition.  Heavy singles are an important element to this.

 

If you are a lifter reading this, you can attest to competition nerves.  Those nerves can negatively effect performance.  Best way to train for that is to get those nerves going in training.  This is what heavy singles do.

 

Louie Simmons uses the terms testers and builders for his exercises.  I like this a lot.  Each individual has their own testers and builders.  The coach can program a tester and get feedback on how the lifter is responding to the current training.

 

The testers also help show the coach what is breaking down and where to attack the training moving forward.  Training involves a coach analyzing a lifter’s strengths and weaknesses and laying out a plan to attack those same weaknesses, whether they are mental, physical, or technical.

 

I am a firm believer that if the coach wants to attack a physical or technical weakness within the lift, it is more than just attacking a single muscle group.  I just do not think it comes down to “X” happens in the squat, so ‘Y” must be weak, and the lifter attacks it with bodybuilding.

 

This is where an understanding of biomechanics becomes important.  The coach needs to find a way to alter the task in a manner that will target that weaker muscle group more.  A common example is a weak low back compared to the leg strength.

 

If I identify this weakness in a lifter, I will use a close stance box squat.  The lifter needs to push their hips back onto the box, and the closer stance leads to a greater forward lean of the torso.  This basically looks like a conventional deadlift with the bar on the lifter’s back.

 

In this same wave, I may have them perform conventional deadlifts off 2” mats.  This takes the legs out of the deadlift and forces the lifter to utilize more hips and low back in the lift.  The coach needs to know their lifter and the volumes may need to work up to doing both of these exercises in the same wave.

 

I believe that this works better than just hitting some lower back accessory work.  Now, I do not think it hurts to add in some reverse hypers and back extensions.  This is as long as the lifter can recover from the exercises.  I encourage each lifter to do both of those exercises one time per week.

 

However, we cannot just keep hitting competition squats, add in reverse hypers, and expect the weaknesses to get stronger.  The change in angles in the lifts themselves are required to strengthen these weaknesses. Does the combination of the 2 work better?  Maybe, maybe not.

 

The change in task also needs to take into consideration the technical breakdown seen by the coach.  A common technical breakdown in the squat is when the lifter hits the part where the hips have poor leverage, they will drive the knees forward hard to continue to get the lift.

 

Of course, the lifter should do what they need to do to lift the heaviest weights possible.  I do not necessarily think this is bad, but instead it is telling.  This tells me that the hips need to be strengthened.  In this case, I may use a wide stance squat.

 

Wide stance squats will put more emphasis on the hips.  If we get the lifter wide enough the center of gravity of the athlete-barbell system will actually shift slightly towards the heels.  This shift in COG also makes it more difficult to come forward with the knees at the tough part of the lift.  If the lifter comes forward beyond the center of the foot, they will lose balance.

 

In order for the exercise to punish the technical inefficiency, we need enough weight.  A 600lb squatter will be able to get away with technical inefficiencies at 405lbs.  The closer the lifter gets to their max, the less they will get away with.

 

Even to strengthen a weak muscle group, we want heavy singles.  If we want to increase the 1RM capability of the lower back, what is the best way to do that?  Research states that the best way to increase 1RM strength is to train at or near 1RM.  Heavy singles.

 

These exercises give the coach even more information about the lifter.  When we train heavy singles, we can see where each angle stacks up against their best competition squat.  If that 600lb squatter can only hit 500lbs on a close stance box squat, we have identified a weakness.

 

This becomes the angle that we need to build up.  I use 3 week waves for each variation.  The reason? Because in the past I realized each variation has a 4 to 6 week shelf life.  If we end it a bit earlier, I can bring it back in earlier and still get a training effect.

 

We can keep the close stance box squat, but add chains, then add bands, we can change the bar placement, the bar itself, use pins instead of the box (still make sure the lifter sits back).  The coach can be creative here. After a few waves of altering these angles, bring the first exercise back in and see how we did.  Often there will be a PR here.  If we get a PR here, we can almost be certain there will be a PR in the competition lift.

 

Now, I would not throw in the competition lift right away after this.  The absolute loads are far less than what the lifter is capable of.  I typically would find an exercise to bridge that gap.  Something they can lift in the high 500s with.  Often, we will see a PR on this exercise, sometimes even an all-time PR.  After this wave, it may be appropriate to test a competition style squat if the coach wishes to.

 

Altering exercises like this adjusts the absolute loads.  This makes the lifts easier to recover from.  I will also replace a max effort day with rep work after the lifter reaches a true max on an exercise.  I will also do this when it seems as if the lifter is struggling to recover from training.

 

All of my lifters have jobs and outside stress.  How much gym stress the coach gives them needs to accommodate for life.  If I have a lifter with a lot of outside stress, we may alternate each week between max effort and rep work.  We can also be a bit more conservative.

 

My lifters are instructed to leave 5 to 10lbs on the bar for the following week.  This is very near max, but not max.  Think a conservative 3rd attempt or hard 2nd.  The coach can tell the lifter to be a bit more conservative than that.  Little less psychological stress induced by training and easier for the lifter to recover from.  It can also allow the lifter to build some momentum when things seem to be difficult.

 

The end of the week is also where we utilize lighter weights to build some rate of force development and technical efficiency.  This also gives the lifter a psychological break and allows them to be somewhat fresh when they come back in for max effort work the following week.

 

Chronic fatigue symptoms that can have negative effects on training do not just pop up when the lifter hits this certain barrier.  There are acute fatigue factors each day for sure, but the human body can recover pretty quickly from them.  Usually this is within a few hours even.  Muscle breakdown may require 2-3 days to fully recover, but this seems to be more of a volume issue than an intensity one.  This is why the lighter days and accessory work volume needs to be kept in check.

 

Each individual will come with a different tolerance to the higher intensities.  The coach needs to adjust the training for each individual and their capabilities.  Tracking their RPEs, maxes on each lift, and having a relationship with them can help the coach make these decisions.  Max singles are training the sport, they should be a part of every program.

Few Words on Volume

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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