There Will Be Pain

Written by: Kevin Cann


This is most likely the most common conversation I have with lifters.  The majority of people taking part in this sport seem to have some fears about getting injured.


Remember when you were a kid?  Chances were you had no fears at the time.  Jumping off the highest points of the playground with no regard for your body at all.  This seems to change as we age.


As our predictive processes get continually updated with information, we begin to fear getting injured because we begin to realize there is a strong chance for it.  Past experiences as well as our beliefs about pain and injury play a role here.  Kids do not have those same experiences or beliefs yet.


It seems that most lifters train and expect to be pain free forever.  Here is the ironic part.  No matter what you do, you will experience pain.  This means whether you train or not.  Why is that?  Because you are human, and you are alive.


I forget the exact stat and I don’t care enough to look it up, but the majority of people will experience a bout of back pain every 1-2 years.  Whether you lift or not.  If this bout doesn’t come on from training, it could come on from sleeping.


You could just wake up one morning and your back hurts for a few days.  Our cultural beliefs about aging fit in here as well.  Most of us can relate to our parents complaining about these bouts of pain as just getting older.


We witness this and now we have a belief about how aging is.  It sucks and it will hurt.  Then as we get older, we experience pain.  Remember that our beliefs are actually part of that physiological pain. Thanks mom and dad.


This discussion about pain is one of the more frustrating things about my job.  The crazy thing is that I am not frustrated with my lifters. I am frustrated with us as a culture. This negative view of pain causes me lots of emotional pain.


Every time a lifter feels pain, they tend to think the worst.  Lifting is one of the safest sports you can actually do, but it seems we have this viewpoint that is completely different.  You just don’t see many injuries from drug free raw lifters.


If there is pain leading to a decrease in performance, aka an injury, it usually clears up within a few days.  We adjust some positions and just continue to train in most cases.  I will go out on a limb here and say it is extremely rare for structural damage to happen as a result of properly progressed training.


I remember reading this example in a Barbell Medicine article I believe.  They talked about delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) as an injury.  DOMS has experienced pain with a decrease in performance.  This makes it an injury.


The difference here is that we expect DOMS.  We know it will clear up in a couple of days and we are good.  When we experience unexpected pain, it is completely different. There comes this panic and hyperawareness and focus on it.


This increased focus and panic can actually increase the pain that we are feeling.  If we had that same attitude about this pain as we did DOMS it would not nearly be as negative.  Remember, we are human, and we will experience pain no matter what you do.


This pain does not mean there is damage somewhere.  Again, in almost all of the cases with drug free raw lifting there is no damage. Although we will have someone experience an acute back injury lifting, get an MRI, and see some disc issues and chalk it up to lifting caused a back injury via disc herniation.


One, there is no way to know if that herniation was there before.  Chances are it was.  Herniations and other “disc issues” are just normal results of aging.  The majority of people with these issues are pain free and partaking in physical activity.


We don’t only need to expect pain; we need to stop viewing it as a negative thing.  With DOMS we might joke around about how sore we are, but we typically do not view that pain as a negative thing.


We experience any other pain, that we ourselves diagnose as something other than DOMS, and we get this extremely negative view of it.  I am not sure where this came from.  Coming from a sports background, pain was expected, and you dealt with it appropriately.  We never worried about getting hurt.  If we did get hurt, it just happened.


In the sport of powerlifting it seems the lifters are always worried about getting hurt.  This can literally increase the pain that you feel. Pain that may not decrease performance if we expected it and did not have negative views about it.


The ironic part is that if we become focused and scared of it and it decreases performance, we just injured ourselves by definition!  This does not mean that we do not listen to the pain signals we feel.


We definitely need to listen.  Oftentimes it is best to train through it and just keep an eye on it.  Other times we may need to adjust positions a bit for a few days, but we can still train.  The biggest part of injury prevention in sport is education.


You cannot decrease injury risk and increase performance at the same time.  Seeking an increase in performance means we need to be exposed to more training, which increases injury risk.  There are no magic pills, “releases”, stretches, or body rubbing that helps you increase performance and/or decrease injury risk.


We give each lifter the tools to deal with their own pain.  This is called self-efficacy.  Self-efficacy in a meta-analysis was shown to be the more beneficial tool for dealing with pain and disability.  Giving someone a foam roller or special warmups takes away that self-efficacy.


You will say it feels good when I do it.  Great. Tons of things feel good temporarily. Education and self-efficacy are tools that you can take with you for a lifetime.  This is important because you will experience pain in your life.  This is a part of living.


This has much better long-term outcomes than any bullshit “wake-up drills”, foam rolling, lacrosse ball ballet, or any of the other commercial bullshit that is pedaled to a mentally weak society that fears pain and has an extra few bucks to spend on things.


Coaching a Dynamic Systems Approach: This is a Guide not a Solution


Written by: Kevin Cann


I am fortunate enough to coach quite a few other coaches.  We always have some good conversations and I enjoy watching their improvements as a coach just as much as watching their totals grow.


This last week I felt as if I had the same conversation a handful of times.  This made me realize that people want to understand some of these things and actually implement them with their lifters.  I perhaps have not given all of the tools to do that in my podcasts and articles.


A Dynamic Systems Theory (DST) approach is not a solution to a problem.  It is also not as simple as things may seem.  It is easy to take the concepts and morph it into a system that promises to solve a problem.


This is how most things work.  Look at something like the FMS.  The FMS claims that in a series of 7 tests it can detect movement dysfunction that could decrease performance and increase injury risk.  Here is your problem.


By identifying the movement dysfunction and applying corrective exercises you can increase performance and decrease injury risk.  Here is your solution.  The real problem is that this does not work.  Meta-analysis has shown the FMS is not valid or reliable in detecting injury risk or performance outcomes.


This is an easy trap to get stuck in because it is human nature.  We want answers.  However, if you have read and listened to my stuff you know how I feel about this. There are no answers.  This is a tough frame of mind to encapsulate.  It took years of frustration for me.


Using a constraints-led approach we use a lot of variations to help improve efficiency in the lifts. I have go to variations for breakdowns in each lift.  This does not mean that those variations are a solution to that breakdown.


Once we put that variation in, we need to watch and adjust.  Everyone learns and responds very differently.  It is not just the exercise to consider for training either. We need to take a look at the person as a whole.


How is their confidence when lifting?  Their beliefs and past experiences matter as well.  These are very important.  Oftentimes these do not change my exercise selection.  Sometimes if they lack confidence, I will use variations they can load up, but other than that it does not change things much.


Instead it alters how I talk with each lifter.  How we give feedback is extremely important.  Your words matter.  If you tell a lifter that they have a problem within their lifts, they will interpret that in their own individual way.


Some might think they are at risk of injury because of it.  Most of my lifters know that is not the case.  However, if I said they had a problem that needed to be fixed most would become hyperaware of that issue.


This increased conscious awareness can actually decrease performance.  This becomes a paralysis by analysis situation.  It is our job as a coach to guide this process by altering a constraint to get what we want.  It is the lifter’s job to lift.  They need to be an athlete and get after it and make adjustments from rep to rep and set to set.  They can’t be too consciously aware of what they are doing.


Think of Lebron James shooting a basketball.  Think he thinks about every action of that jump shot as he is doing it?  No.  High level skill occurs when movement becomes more subconscious.  When we train, we alter positions to improve this subconscious skill level.


This is very complex and again, is much more than just throwing some exercises, sets, and reps on a piece of paper.  Everything matters.  We need to be able to guide them in a direction with an understanding that there are no answers.  This is very hard to understand.


If you are going to utilize a theoretical approach, you must understand this.  If you aren’t utilizing a theoretical approach you will not get as much success as you should.  The FMS is a good example.  It assumes that 1+1=2.  This is the same for most general principles.


The human is a non-linear complex system.  1+1=a shape. Many of you reading this will laugh and not truly understand what I mean.  Over time you will.  I highly recommend James Gleick’s book “Chaos.”


I choose to latch onto Karl Friston’s predictive processing framework.  This theory theorizes that the mind will choose hypothesis based off of error minimization.  The world is a hallucination created by our mind and we choose the hallucination with the lowest amount of predicted error.  Read about Bayesian statistics.


Our mind sits inside of our skull.  It can’t view or experience the world on its own.  It uses our senses to get feedback and make predictions.  It will choose a hypothesis based off of how right it thinks it is. At times we will alter our perceptions to actually decrease error minimization.  This decreases the surprise that we encounter in the world.


This would assume we go along just changing the world based off of our mind’s predictions.  This is not always true.  There is balance between the sensory feedback that we get. We receive information from the world and can update our hypothesis based off of this.  There has to be a balance between this top-down (perception) and bottom-up (sensory feedback) approach.


Let us look at a real-life situation here.  We are sitting inside our house at night time and we hear something outside.  If we read in the news there have been a string of robberies in the area, we may choose this hypothesis.  However, if we live in a more rural location, we may choose a hypothesis such as racoons getting into the trash.


We get up and go outside to check things out.  In both cases we see it is our neighbor coming to give us mail that was placed in their mailbox accidentally.  Now, the next time that we hear the same noise we may choose the hypothesis that our neighbor has our mail again.  We may still choose the other hypothesis as well.  It may take multiple times of this being our neighbor to update the prediction.


So you see, there are no answers and it is impossible for us to know which hypothesis someone will choose. The theory gives us a framework to follow.  If we understand the concepts of the theory, it can help guide our decision making.


We need to understand the layers within this as well.  There are probably an infinite number of hierarchies within the body and how they interact with one another.  Even if we wanted to know the answer, we do not possess the ability to arrive at it.


Here is a funny analogy of what I think of.  I have played this game with my daughter where it is a ship balancing on a skinny pole. You need to put pirate penguins on the ship and whoever puts a pirate penguin down causing it to tip over loses.


This is literally how I view coaching but pretend this ship can move forwards.  Every time we add or subtract something the ship can tip over. We need to do this in a way that allows the ship to stay balanced and move forward.  A little swaying is ok, but we do not want a capsize.


The ship is our lifter and the movement we can see through objective measures such as estimated 1RM. Each pirate penguin is our response. This could be exercise, sets, reps, etc. We make a prediction about placement for the penguin and how it will balance that ship.  We then place it down and see what happens.


We aren’t coming up with solutions to a problem.  We are making our best guess on what to do while taking into consideration the entire human.  We watch objective measures to get unbiased feedback and we updated our coaching predictions as the process goes along.


This theory also applies to motor control.  You predict feedback before you lift.  If we use Friston’s theory, we will choose the motor pattern that has the lowest predicted error.  If we believe the lift is heavy than this may be a technical breakdown.


We perform the set. If we get the breakdown, our feedback is also supporting that hypothesis.  We now have binding that has occurred, and this can be a tough change.  This is why lifting heavy in positions that punish this inefficiency are important. Error in task completion will yield the biggest changes.


While doing this though we need to understand the human in front of us.  Their emotions and beliefs matter as well.  How deeply rooted these predictions, emotions, and beliefs also matter. In some cases they can be right on the surface and easily changed.  In other cases they are so deep it is actually a part of who they are.  These cases can be extremely difficult and maybe even impossible to change.


The biggest take away from this is understanding there are no answers.  The complexity of this needs to be respected as well.  It is easy to take this framework and do exactly what the FMS did and sell it as a solution to a problem.  There are no problems and there are no solutions.

Dynamic Systems Theory: In with the New and Out with the Old

Written by: Kevin Cann


PPS just had 17 lifters compete this past weekend.  5 weeks out from this meet I made the decision to go with my gut and completely change how we were doing things.  Some of these changes were made by me in person on the fly as I directed the team through training.


Leading into a meet this is a very difficult decision.  I had quite a few new people that started up with me as well.  I didn’t want them to get used to the old way and then change it suddenly.  I decided to just see what happens.


I trusted my knowledge in this subject but screwing up a meet for 17 lifters would not go over well I am assuming.  So 5 weeks out I stopped giving volumes and changed things up drastically.


I wrote the exercise, number of reps, suggested top weights, and gave them rules and guidance to help them make decisions.  We lifted heavy every single day in the gym. By heavy I mean between an RPE 9.5 and 10 in most cases.


I kept variations in there right through the week before the competition.  In some cases we were hitting competition lifts in conjunction with variations for the 5 weeks.  In other situations the competition lifts did not come back in until 3 weeks out where the lifter would work up to a hard double.  In many of these cases lifters were doubling their best ever or all-time PRs here.


Once I saw this happening, I knew we were in pretty good shape going into the meet.  A few lifters had some minor nagging things we had to manage, but all in all things were going very well.


Two weeks out we took heavy singles.  This week did not go quite as well, which was probably a good thing.  Some lifters didn’t even manage to budge what they doubled a week before.  We still got a good heavy single on squats and bench day 1.  We hit a heavy deadlift single with another bench single on day 2, about 10 days out.  This bench single was most likely a variation as well.


On day 3, about 8-9 days out, we took another heavy squat and bench day.  This could have been singles with a variation, or even higher rep sets.  This was dependent upon how the block was going.  Day 4 was lighter and in some cases just accessory stuff.


We had a lot of conversations about the training process and understanding that even though the heavier weights might not have been there, with a light week they will be there on the platform.  For the lifters that hit PRs singles week we were in good shape.


Week of we pulled back pretty hard, but still felt some weight in the 2 days we trained.  Moving forward I will have them take their best triple maybe for a single.  The worst anyone did was 8 for 9 on the platform and everyone hit PRs.  The weights that weren’t there on singles week flew up. More noticeable was the confidence that everyone had.  This was crazy to me.  No one was overly nervous.  Everyone handled their shit extremely well. Even beginners.


This brings me into the dynamic systems theory of training.  Not that anything I did was so far away from the norm for leading into a meet. However, it was very different in some ways.  I did not track volume at all.


Don’t get me wrong, volume decreased over time due to the drop in repetitions.  However, harder sets (sets of RPE 8.5 and higher) actually increased.  Remember general principles are rather true but need to be manipulated for the individual.


I set it up in a way where the reps were decreasing, which increases the weight in most cases, and they determined how many sets to do.  A few hit some lighter sets of 5 reps as backoffs from the singles just to get more work in.  This made the volumes a little higher than the week before in a couple of cases.


Normally, specificity should be high during this period of time.  The comp lifts made up less than the majority of our lifts.  In some cases not coming into the program until 3 weeks out. If performance is going well why change things?  We need to practice the comp lifts a few times before the meet and that is it.


Week of is all competition lifts with commands to really hammer everything home and let any nagging issues go away before the meet.  This clearly worked well.  Even better than expected.  The reason I think it worked better is because it was more focused on the needs of the individual.


I used to test 17-22 days out from competition and used a pretty similar tapering strategy for everyone. This worked at times and didn’t work at times.  I was following the mechanical stress model of peaking at this time.


Lifting heavier up to the meet just made everyone so much more confident on meet day.  I think this stems from training heavy all of the time. This was no different than any other training day.  I also believe attitude is contagious and as a group you can see that with PPS.


Technique actually held up better on the platform than it ever has.  Again, I think lifting heavy plays a role here.  I also think keeping variability high as the competition drew near was really important.  Variability makes movement patterns stable and harder to breakdown.  There is strong support in the literature for this as well as what I saw anecdotally.  Of course these variations were individualized based off of each lifter.


No one was scared of missing reps either.  I have spoken about this in the past.  We get this mentality that we should not miss reps.  Of course that is the fucking goal, but like in any sport, that shit happens. You can’t be scared to miss reps. We miss reps occasionally in training. I am more than ok with this.  It should not happen all of the time, but occasionally it is going to.  This is especially true when you push the envelope daily.  No one went on that platform afraid to miss.  Not a single lifter.  This was awesome to see.  Beginners had elite attitudes competing.


People will say you can’t lift heavy every single day.  No one missed competing due to an injury and everyone hit PRs.  Huge PRs for the most part.  This doesn’t mean we went through training unscathed.  There were some issues that arose.


Emily had some discomfort in her lower back 3 weeks out.  It was bad enough that we had to drastically adjust training.  The difference with our group is the mental toughness and the understanding that these things are expected, and we handle them appropriately.


We did some long tempo work with lighter weights that week and came in and hit our singles the following week.  On the platform Emily hit a 20kg total PR.  She qualified for Nationals, which I did not think was even possible when they raised the totals in November.  Even more impressing was her 3rddeadlift.


Her second pull qualified her.  Knowing her back was acting up a couple weeks ago it is easy to pack it in here.  She did not do that.  She went out and grinded out a 3rdattempt deadlift that was an all-time PR.  That act defines this team extremely well.  So does the beginners attacking weights and smoking them when they did not move the week before.


In future articles I will discuss the science behind this.  The biomechanical approach is very outdated and missing some major pieces. Dynamic Systems theory covers these pieces and can help push progress further than you think.

Embrace the Chaos: Everything Sucks and Inception is a True Story

Written by: Kevin Cann


We have a saying around the gym.  This saying is “Embrace the chaos.”  This came about because of my fascination for chaos theory and how I feel it applies to the sport of powerlifting.


Basically, this means that we understand that progress is nonlinear, and we take each day as it comes to us. We make the best decisions on each day to get the best training stimulus based off of how the day is going.


This may mean pushing it hard, only taking some moderate weight sets, or pulling back for a day. This is a concept I can easily understand as a coach, but as an athlete it can still be difficult to accept when you are having a bad day.


As coaches we all have a bias as to what works best in terms of programming and training.  We need to be aware of these biases and embrace the chaos as coaches as well.  You see, our biases usually dictate training, but the self-efficacy of the lifter may be the most important aspect in training.  These can be very different from one another, leading to a lack of progress.


Most coaches understand that gaining strength is a nonlinear process, but they do not act accordingly. Instead they rely on linear mechanical stress principles to apply to an individual lifter.


These mechanical stress principles are derived from Hans Selye’s research on the General Adaptation Syndrome.  This research is 100 years old and was looking at insulin response to stress. Hans Selye most likely had a very low total.


Out of this research comes our overload principle.  Basically, we overload the lifter with stress (volume and/or intensity), we deload, and something super occurs where we are now stronger.  I am having some fun with this wording, but it gets the point across.


This is assuming that strength training is a linear process.  We continue to load more until we get to “functional overreaching” and then we deload and we are stronger.  We know this works sometimes, but also doesn’t work a lot of the time.


I will say that I believe most coaches will change things up when things stop working.  This novelty of a new stimulus can definitely help.  I think this is where we see “This variation blasted through my plateau.”


My theory is that the change is what drives the progress again.  The exercise or the details of the change really does not matter.  We like answers though and we like to pat ourselves on the back in these situations.


There are coaches out there that try their best to be aware of the current research.  The problem is that our strength and conditioning research is absolutely pathetic.  In 2019 I am still reading EMG studies about squat variations.  Has innovation completely died?  Why do we still care about this?


In a brief conversation with Hartman yesterday he told me a story.  He told me about Vince Anello and how he used accommodating resistance. Briefly, Vince Anello was the first sub 200lb lifter to pull 800lbs.


He knew that certain positions of the lift were harder.  Bands and chains were not a thing at the time.  He would put some submaximal weight on the bar and tell his training partner to push down on the bar in the tough positions.  He would also tell him how hard to push down on the bar.


This is absolutely fucking brilliant. If this was today, he would be roasted on Instagram. Innovation is sadly laughed at now a days.  Another point being made there gets back to what I said about self-efficacy.


Anello clearly had a really high training skill.  He knew what he needed to do to get stronger and would make the right decisions day in and day out in the gym.  I remember Sheiko saying that Kirill was the smartest lifter he ever worked with. Tsypkin mentioned in the podcast that Chad Wesley Smith was the same way.  See a trend here of the elite?


As coaches our biases cannot hold back that self-efficacy.  In fact, it is our job to guide it and develop it.  Worrying about what percent of a squat variation is performed with what muscle is a failure to understand that we are not a bag of muscles.


We are complex nonlinear human beings.  We don’t supercompensate after a deload after we hit this magical overreaching number. None of those things are real.  Even if they were it is impossible to know when overreaching is actually occurring.  The inconsistencies in the results show that these beliefs are not principles.


I saw a post shared yesterday about force vector loading.  This post said that a bent over barbell row will have more carryover to the deadlift than a seated row.  Are you fucking kidding me?  The ability to speak in such absolutes is amazing to me.


Logically this makes sense to people due to the angles of the lifts.  Everyone accepts that as being true.  For one, research showing this to be true came from Contreras and showed the hip thrust was better for sprinting than squats.  Contreras sells hip thrust equipment.  Think there is a bias here?


Other research was performed by Beardsley, a researcher that does work with Contreras often.  Again, think there is bias?  This doesn’t mean that the research is bad, it just needs to be understood that bias exists throughout science.  The research not done by them shows no correlation to force vector loading on horizontal and vertical jumping.  Just saying.


Again, this research is assuming we are nothing more than a bag of muscles.  I have had people tell me that the seated row helped them understand the “pinch and push” I talk about with the shoulder blades in the squat. There is transference there even though it is very different.


This doesn’t mean the seated row is better.  Neither is. Train them both and be strong in both angles.  We know neither of those exercises will make the deadlift better without the deadlift itself.  So how much of a role do they really play?


The hard part is where do we go to learn about this stuff?  Motor control research has come a long way.  There is a starting point.  I view the lifts and strength itself as a skill.  Skill acquisition accepts the fact that it is a nonlinear process that is constantly changing.  This meets our needs.


This is how I latched onto a constraints-led approach.  This is a nonlinear dynamic systems theory that gives me a basis to construct my coaching. This seems to fit much better than a linear mechanical stress model.


In terms of understanding the physiological concept of strength, it can be difficult.  Good thing chronic pain being an epidemic has led to a lot of pain research.  Also, pain tends to be a nonlinear dynamic physiological experience with physical and psychological components.


This sounds just like strength and skill acquisition to me.  We know that strength and pain both are affected by the emotions, beliefs, perceptions, and cultural upbringing of each person.  These emotions and beliefs and experiences can be updated and elicit a change.


This is where I latch onto predictive processing theories.  These theories follow the same mechanisms as those applied in a constraints-led approach.  You predict and perceive, experience something, and then we update those predictions and perceptions based off of the feedback from the world.


It is not so simple as there are layers to this.  We have perceptual inference upon our perceptual inference.  Basically the movie Inception is true.  You go layers deep to change an “idea” and we see changes in behavior.


Remember my mention of self-efficacy in elite lifters earlier?  That is the idea we are implanting when we perform “inception.”  That is our job as coaches.  We are Leonardo DiCaprio and help guide those changes by planting an idea and making them think it was their idea.


Remember in the movie it had to be his idea in order for it to stick.  We guide that process through conversations and coaching.  I only give lifters an exercise, based off of a constraints-led approach, and reps with a suggested top weight.


They decide number of sets, and how to adjust the suggested top weight based off of the day.  I help guide this process.  Over time you can begin to see the program fill out into what it looks like with sets and reps and all of that.  Except here it has been created by the lifter and their self-efficacy.


This skill of training takes time and we continue to improve it every single day as much as our skill within the lifts and strength.  I think this is very unique and many might enjoy hearing about it.


Most will just assume I am losing my mind.

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.