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.

How Important/Individualized Should Technique Be?

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

Everyone is their own little unique snowflake.  American culture, especially embraces the individual much more than the group.  We see this play out in powerlifting quite frequently in the way that technique is taught, or better yet, ignored.

 

I have honestly struggled with this.  In the past I was hardcore about technique, then I laid off a little, and now I am kind of swinging back to where we started.  This time around I have a better idea of what I want out of the lifts from everyone, and what is more individualized.

 

I think I needed to give a little more technical freedom to learn these things for myself.  The first example that comes to my mind is head position in the squat.  There are 2 camps, head up, or head down.

 

I teach the squat with a head straight or chin slightly elevated position.  This increases the tone of the back muscles and gives them greater leverage to hold and push back against the weight on the lifter’s back.

 

The back muscles are extremely important in the squat because the bar rests on them.  If the back muscles are not strong enough to support and push back against that weight the lifter’s hips will rise faster than the torso out of the hole, decreasing and changing the muscles used in the lift.

 

Also, if the lifter’s back muscles are not strong enough to support the weight, the lifter will start the squat with a greater torso lean.  This can lead to the lifter not getting the start command, and it also decreases the use of the legs within the squat.  The barbell-athlete system may also be unbalanced in this position.

 

Many will argue that there are very strong lifters that squat with their head looking in the down position.  This is not a false statement and perhaps that does allow them to lift more weight right now.

 

In the past, I would be the one arguing this as well.  I would chalk it up to individual differences and allow them to do it.  Now, I am not so sure that was the right move.  I have changed my stance on this a bit.

 

If you are more comfortable with your head down, this tells me that there is an upper back weakness that we should not embrace and avoid, but that we should work on even harder.  When the chin and eyes are down the back is round.

 

The lifter creates a shelf for the bar from leaning forward, instead of creating tightness.  This often pushes the head further away from the bar as well.  The body will follow the eyes, and the barbell-athlete system is pushed forward of the middle of the foot.  This will be especially true under ever increasing loads.

 

A Russian study showed a 9% increase in power on the deadlift with the chin slightly elevated when compared to the chin in a down position.  A deadlift is nothing more than a high squat with the bar in the lifter’s hands instead of on the lifter’s back.  This shows the importance of the back muscles at those angles.  This is also why we use that same head position on the deadlift.

 

Shin angle is another example that comes to mind here.  Lots of lifters are stronger with a more pronounced shin angle.  This is most likely due to most lifters having stronger quads than hips and hamstrings.  Again, this may lead them to lifting more weight now, but is it the most efficient for long-term continuous progress?

 

I believe that the hips and hamstrings are very underrated in the squat.  I know what the EMG studies show for the hamstrings in the squat.  Not sure I really care what muscles untrained lifters use.

 

My theory is that the two joint muscles of the leg, the rectus femoris of the quads, and the hamstrings, allow force to transfer between the other quad muscles to the hips.  We do this while supporting the barbell on the back.  Any shifting horizontally of the barbell will result in a change of the muscles being used.

 

This would explain why loading the hamstrings on the way down in the squat is important for technique and preventing the chest collapsing forward out of the hole.  Many will argue this is a quad weakness, but my eyes tell me something different.

 

I actually think that the quads are strong enough (they could leg press that weight no problem), but the hamstrings are not strong enough to stay stiff and transfer the force to the hips.  This is if the back muscles stay taught and maintain the barbell over the middle of the foot.  Hips and upper back tend to be common weaknesses, which may be why the chest collapsing forward in the squat is a common technical mishap.

 

I think so many lifters prefer heeled shoes and a closer stance because they can use their quads more and try to work around the weaker hips and hamstrings.  They sacrifice stability from a flatter shoe for more use of the legs (I am actually kicking around the idea of all my lifters spending more time in flats).

 

In a conversation with Anthony Oliveira, he said something that I couldn’t agree more with.  He said if you can’t squat in flats, you should be working on the things that allow you to, not just changing shoes and ignoring it. He is absolutely not wrong there.  Your success in this sport is how hard you are willing to attack your weaknesses.

 

This does not mean that the heels are gone forever.  At some point, technique is what it is, and it is time to go get on that platform and just worry about putting up the biggest total.  However, those time periods are far smaller than the rest of the time we spend training.

 

Also, should lifters that have been lifting for less than 5 years be doing what “they feel is best?”  I am not so sure that is the way it should be.  They should be working on the technique that is going to allow them to have continued progress in the sport.

 

This is why I love a conjugate training style.  I choose max effort exercises that punish those technical inefficiencies while allowing them to strain under heavy weights.  Then we get rep and speed work thrown in.  This is where attention to detail is used.  We use variations here, but it is lighter with a lot of sets to practice what we need to work on.

 

I do not want the lifter focused too much on technique with the max effort.  I want them to dial it in early on with warmups and then get after it.  After the top set, we will talk and work on something with backdowns and on the other lighter squat day.

 

Rome was not built in a day.  We do this and try to get a little better each rep, day, week, month, and year.  Perfect technique does not exist, but we strive towards it forever to keep progress moving in the right direction.

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

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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.