Every Program Works: Why You Should Use Pieces of All of Them

 

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

Over my 5 years of coaching powerlifting, I have tried everything.  Extend that to the 10 years that I was coaching prior, and I have literally tried everything.  As a coach it is easy to get caught up in looking for the next best thing.

 

When this happens, a coach can miss some important information right in front of them.  I know this to be true because I have been there.  We have run Sheiko, linear periodization, undulating periodization, high intensity, high volume, lots of singles, you name it, we have probably tried it.

 

Over this period of time our totals continued to rise.  No matter what we did, we got stronger.  I think that in the beginning it is important for every coach to just try a bunch of different things.  Pay attention, observe, and over time make the necessary adjustments.

 

In the beginning, I was working with Sheiko.  He laid out a format for me to follow.  This was very important for me as an inexperienced coach.  I had rules to follow.  I followed those rules and learned quite a bit.  As I became more comfortable coaching, I was more comfortable to try other things.

 

I even abandoned the things that had worked for a period of time to try the next new shiny thing.  This was my inexperience acting out.  I don’t regret doing it though because it was all a learning experience.  It still is.

 

I understand now that everything has a time and place.  Even if you look around and watch other lifters.  Not only do a bunch of successful lifters do different things, many do something until it stops working and then they do something else.  This seems to work all of the time.

 

Perhaps the continued success we saw was due to the same scenario?  I would not quite go that far.  There are some negatives to constantly changing things up.  The right amount of variety is needed, but too much and too little can cause problems.

 

If you train hard, believe in what you are doing, and have a strong relationship with your coach, you will see progress.  Do not get me wrong, there are better coaches than others out there.  However, as long as you a hire a coach with a distinguished track record, you are probably fine in terms of an adequate program.  A good coach brings other skills to the relationship.

 

I have a much larger appreciation for various training styles now than I did before.  I believe some are better than others and I enjoy talking shit, that is just me being me.  Which brings me to another point.  The coach needs to pick a style that matches their personality.

 

I am often described as intense and aggressive.  Our programs reflect that now.  We joke around a lot and have a lot of fun.  I don’t just sit there and yell.  However, the training matches my personality, which tends to match the personalities of those that seek me out for coaching.

 

This is important for the culture.  A training style that fits the coach and the lifters’ personalities.  This is one reason why Westside is successful in my opinion.  A lot of those guys were looking for an outlet and they found it in the intensity of the training.  The training matched the personality of the coach and the lifters.

 

With that said, it doesn’t mean we can just drive singles every single day in the gym.  This is where understanding of principles and trust comes into play.  The relationship the coach has with the lifter can help the coach decide what is best to do at this given time for this specific lifter.  Everything has a place.

 

According to Occam’s Razor, the simplest solution is most likely the right one.  If we ask the question, “What will make us best at heavy singles?”  The simplest solution seems to be heavy singles.  Now, of course we can’t just do heavy singles every day in the gym, but it is a start.

 

Attempting to come up with ideal volumes and average intensities is overcomplicating what we are attempting to do.  This doesn’t mean that you can’t get stronger with higher volume programs, of course you can. Everything works.

 

I just noticed that when our training sessions were longer and our overall volumes higher, we experienced more nagging issues.  The length of the training sessions becomes an issue at times as well.  The lifters that I coach all have full time jobs and outside stressors.

 

The longer the session, the greater mental and physical energy is needed to get through it.  This can become difficult for the lifter to recover from.  Efficiency is key for a busy life.  Nothing is more efficient than heavy singles.

 

However, heavy singles can come with a psychological cost.  They require more mental energy.  We can split up the singles and the volume.  This splits up the mental energy from the physical.  This allows one to recover while the other is being stressed.  It is not that black and white, but it gets a point across.

 

If we do that, there is your daily undulating periodization.  One day is a single, another day is sets and reps for more volume.  We attempt to leave 5-10lbs on the bar each week so we can add it the following week.  There is linear periodization.  I use a linear approach starting at a top set of 5 reps as the second day of squats and bench as a meet draws near.  Timing here is everything.

 

I realized that most training variables seem to run their course every 4 to 6 weeks.  Probably why most training blocks are 4 to 6 weeks long.  I run my blocks in 3 week waves.  This allows me to bring back in that same variable sooner than I would be able to if I exhausted it.  I may keep the positions the same but add bands or chains or another slight change.

 

Some waves we will do doubles with lighter weight, but lots of doubles, like 10-15.  Other times we will use the same weight for sets of 5 or 6 reps.  It all depends.  It depends on their technical levels.  Singles are the best, but when we can’t do singles, working on technique is the next best thing.  This worked well when we ran a Sheiko style system.

 

Sometimes I feel the lifter would get more technical reps with doubles.  Technique is less likely to breakdown and they get more first reps to really work on the walkout and competition technique.  Sometimes I want to challenge their technical capabilities with a bit of fatigue within a set.  That is where the higher rep sets come in.  However, volume stays relatively similar.

 

So those that say speed work doesn’t work, it has a place.  I will often put time limits on the doubles to make the lifter get through them a bit more quickly.  This gets them in and out of the gym quickly, like I mentioned before, but also builds up some work capacity and makes the lighter weights feel a bit heavier.  The fatigue will challenge technique as well.  Little more bang for your buck in my opinion.

 

When a lifter hits a true max in one week, the following week will either be a change in the exercise, or some sets and reps.  I will typically use a higher intensity example from what we did when we ran a Sheiko style training system.  This may mean 4 or 5 sets of doubles or triples at 80%.  These were our “strength” days then, and they worked well.  Seems to be the next best thing to singles.  They also do not take a long time to get through but have adequate effort.  This percentage is based off of the previous week’s max effort number, so it is pretty accurate.

 

We use percentages for some days, RPEs for others depending on what I am looking for.  We always use RPEs as a subjective measurement of the training.  This helps me get a gauge of the lifter’s recovery.  This helps me make my decisions for the following week.

 

Everything has its place.  As a coach you should be open and use all the tools at your exposal.  The goal is to keep the liters healthy and progressing, not proving you are right.

I Did My First Equipped Meet

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

I had kicked around the idea of trying out some equipment back in the late spring, early summer of last year.  I felt like I needed a change in training.  It is hard to coach and also try to get better as an athlete.

 

I am always working.  From the time I wake up to the time that I go to bed I am reviewing lifts, writing programs, coaching in-person, writing articles, interviewing people for the podcast, and any free moment I have I spend it reading and trying to expand my knowledge and coaching abilities even more.

 

I spend 40+ hours at the gym each week coaching.  Learning is not just learning about the technique of the lifts.  I need to learn those aspects, the aspects of skill acquisition, and sports psychology.  This is not just about the psychology of a lifter hitting a heavy single, but the ecological dynamics of the group as a whole.  Culture matters.  It may even matter more than anything else.

 

I am not a good lifter, but me being in those trenches training my ass off with my group is huge for that culture.  To steal a quote from Conor McGregor, “Excellence is not a skill.  Excellence is an attitude.”  That attitude starts with the coach.

 

I felt it was important for my group to see me try something different.  I began to realize that I could not make the necessary adjustments that I would need to make to truly become the best lifter that I can.  However, I can use my training to set the pace in the gym for the group to get stronger and also to use my training to become an even better coach.

 

I knew absolutely nothing about equipped lifting.  I was around a bunch of multiply stuff for a few years, but never experienced it for myself.  I am fortunate enough to have a large network of coaches and lifters to help me out.  I got some loose gear and just did it.

 

I did not have a clue what I was doing and neither did anyone on the team.  I never knew when or if I would have enough help to train.  My knees were never wrapped by the same person twice.  PPS stepped up when they could to help out and would help in any way that they could.  Again, proof that culture matters.

 

I had signed up for a meet in January before I even got my equipment.  After talking to Jeremy Hartman, I decided to compete equipped at this meet.  This left me about 3 months to figure out how to execute in the gear well enough to put up a total in a competition.

 

This was quite the learning process.  I ended up being in the gear almost every training session.  The majority of my sessions were singles as well.  I did the occasional doubles or triples on squats and bench as backdowns.

 

This goes against almost everything you hear or see in equipped lifting.  I can get away with a bit here because I am a beginner and not good enough in the equipment yet to truly overload it.  This allowed me to recover a bit better from each training day.

 

I still ran into some problems.  I had the hardest time hitting depth in the suit.  It gets easy to get caught up in the “I just need more weight” thought process.  I got to a certain point where I realized that more weight was not the solution to this problem.

 

This was no coincidence that my least technical and least strong raw lift had the most issues in the equipment.  I have this bad habit of moving slow in the squat with heavier weights.  Well, in the equipment this will increase the stopping power of the suit and makes hitting depth more difficult.

 

I had to learn to trust the suit and to be a bit more aggressive on the way down.  This is good for me to learn, but tough to change after a few years of moving too slow.  This is especially true with overloaded weights and a suit on.

 

The balance was tough under those conditions to move faster.  All of a sudden, I was less than 3 weeks out and did not have a fucking choice.  I just had to do it, or I would bomb out at the meet.  I was able to hit depth in my next 2 training sessions and head into the meet with some really good momentum on squats.

 

The shirt I took too pretty quickly.  My second session I got a solid touch at a weight about 40lbs over my raw best.  The next few weeks saw me add 20lbs more to this number.  Then I hit a little bit of a wall.

 

This was partly due to doing the same thing every day in the gym.  I definitely needed more variety in training, but I also just needed to keep getting experience.  The numbers were not as important as the exposures in my opinion.

 

Since I had some good success in the shirt and hit a little wall, I decided to pull back from the heavy touches about 3 weeks out.  I would take a lighter weight for a touch and then the heavier weights to a 1 or 2 board.  I figured this was a nice balance between keeping technique sharp as well as practice handling the heavier weights.

 

I ended up missing a warmup at the meet and needing to really focus and grind out 3 benches on the platform.  My opener moved extremely slow, hit 5kg more with a hair more speed but still hard, and finished grinding out 2.5kg over the second.  My 3rd attempt ended up being less than my planned second attempt.

 

In the future I will reshuffle those heavier touches a bit.  Do far less further away and more as the meet draws closer.  My 3rd ended up being 25lbs less than my gym best.  I also have never squatted in gear before benching.  I am sure that plays a little bit of a role as well.

 

Deadlifts have been hit or miss in training.  I think the heavy singles frequently really hit me hardest here.  My deadlift in the gym was anywhere between 575 and 615lbs on any given day.  I made some adjustments to my deadlift training later in the block as well.

 

I took to the deadlift suit pretty quick.  I felt that I didn’t need a ton more work in it for this meet.  I could get to the bar and get in a decent enough position.  I took some conservative singles in the suit and even threw in some raw work here.  8 days before the meet I pulled a hard 595lbs, but it looked solid and felt pretty good.  This was the most weight I hit in a little over a month.

 

At the meet, I smoked my opener of 550lbs.  My second was 590lbs and it was hard, but easier than the 595lbs in training.  Took a conservative jump of 5kg and the bar fell out of my hands.  I have never dropped a deadlift before.

 

I did lose my wedge and got in a crappy position, but nothing I have not fought through before.  My grip may have just been shot from bench and even a little bit from squats.  I have never done all 3 lifts in one day in the equipment.  Never pulled after overloaded bench like that either.  Something to think about moving forward.

 

I ended up going 8/9 for the day.  This exceeded expectations quite a bit.  I learned quite a bit over the last 3 months.  I have a good idea of what I need to do in the gear.  I just need to get better at doing it.

 

I got to get faster on the way down in the squat, be better at getting the bar moving back over the chest plate on my bench, and I need stronger hips for my deadlifts and my squats.  My upper back is also a weakness that needs to be addressed in these next training cycles.

 

I was pleasantly surprised that I had enough stamina to get through my first equipped competition when all I did in training was singles.  I was not too sure how that was going to play out.  Squats and deadlifts felt great.  Bench not so much, but I actually had more volume and frequency with bench in training.  I think this was more due to too much board work closer to the meet.

 

These last few months have given me a new perspective on training and coaching.  I definitely had a lot of fun and will continue to compete equipped.  I got quite a few ideas on training moving forward.  Stay tuned.

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.

How We Differ from Westside: In Fact We are Quite Different

 

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

I got this idea for an article in a conversation with a lifter that trains out of Westside.  I think people confuse what we do with Westside because we use variation and take heavy singles.  Beyond that, there are not a ton of similarities.

 

With that said, I love Westside and what they do.  There are definitely some influences from them with the way that I do things.  I think the similarities that Westside and PPS have in the programs comes from my love and appreciation for the Bulgarian and Greek weightlifting systems as well as my time lifting with Sheiko, a Russian coach.

 

Louie has these same fascinations with the Russians and the Bulgarians.  What I really appreciate about Louie is his willingness to try things and learn from mistakes.  He has truly used his gym as a living lab for over 40 years.

 

Louie did not come up with the “conjugate” system.  In fact, he actually uses the term incorrectly when we look at the Verkoshansky texts.  The Conjugate Sequential System is block periodization.  What Louie uses is concurrent or complex-parallel periodization.

 

Louie instead uses the term conjugate to be synonymous with concurrent, meaning training multiple skills at once.  Again, he did not invent this style of training, he just found a way to practically apply it at a high level.  Just because someone is doing a max effort lift, it is not Westside.

 

The max effort method is discussed in “Supertraining.”  Also, there is a lot of research showing that to increase absolute strength singles at or near maximal are superior than reps.  The SAID principle states that the body will adapt to the demands placed upon it.  If you want to get better at singles, you need to practice singles.

 

Sheiko was not a big proponent of singles and had unparalleled success as a coach.  Sheiko was a proponent for technique first.  Verkoshansky’s Principle of Dynamic Organization states that the body is always looking for a more efficient way to execute a movement.  This supplies the main focus of Sheiko’s coaching style.

 

When we take heavy singles, technique breaks down.  Sheiko does not want to see that.  He described the difference between him and Westside as his focus being on technique first and Westside on strength first.  Better way to think of it is Louie uses the max effort method as the main piece to get stronger and Sheiko uses the Principle of Dynamic Organization.

 

This then comes down to the coach and how they view error.  Is error good or bad?  I coach using a Dynamic Systems Theory approach.  I view error as being a tool to teach the lifter.  Error also allows the coach to assess strengths and weaknesses.

 

I prefer to place the lifter in a position that will punish the technical inefficiency that I see, and we perform this lift with near max or max weights.  The inability to complete the task gives the lifter and the coach feedback on what needs to be improved.

 

In my opinion this is kind of a balance between Sheiko and Louie.  My main focus is on the skill acquisition of the sport.  This includes increasing the abilities of the lifter to produce maximal force while increasing technical efficiency of the lifts.

 

The Principle of Dynamic Organization states that the coach should give the athlete problems to solve and that the solution to those problems is movement.  This is exactly what a Dynamics System Theory/Constraints-Led Approach does.

 

In powerlifting, the coach changes stance width, bar position, grip width, or uses bands, chains, pins, boxes, pauses, and tempos.  This gives the lifter a problem to solve.  They are still performing the lifts within the rules of the sport under these constraints.  The goal is to build a large skill set within the sport.  Variation is key for this.  It may also be important for reducing injury risk, jury is still out.

 

Louie uses specialty bars here.  We primarily use a straight bar.  Louie is a big proponent of the box squat.  His lifters use a wide stance and sit back on the box so that the shins are vertical or even in a position where the knees are behind the ankles.  The hip flexors are relaxed, and the lifter thinks of performing a leg curl to stand up from the box.

 

I do not have my lifters sit on the box.  The box is an external cue to get the lifter to sit back, it lets them know when they are at depth, they pause on the box, and they explode up after the pause.  This is basically a glorified pause squat.  The box does cue them to get less forward knee travel and trains a different position where the low back can be targeted with the hips.

 

The static to dynamic part of the movement builds explosive strength.  I could not adequately coach a Westside style box squat as the lifters would end up rocking off of the box every time.  I thought about what I wanted out of the exercise and made the adjustments.  We have some big squats, so it works.

 

The majority of the volume in a Westside program comes from the GPP work.  Ours comes from the variations of the main lifts.  We do not have comp lifts until we have a comp coming up.  A medium stance low bar squat is the comp squat of over 80% of lifters.  So how we break up variations and comp lifts is very different from the norm.  Do we use more comp lifts?  I don’t know because we do not know where we will be strongest at the time of the meet.

 

Perhaps the lifter has a big improvement in conventional and decides to pull with that style instead of sumo.  Perhaps wider stance squats feel better, so they move their feet out a bit and compete there.  Strengths and weaknesses are always changing.  This is a key component of a Dynamic Systems Theory approach.

 

We actually perform backdown work after the max effort lift.  We will take a percentage of the max effort lift and perform a few sets working on the technique breakdown that we saw on the heavy single.

 

As most are aware, I am not a huge fan of accessory work.  I do not think it increases 1RM, and if it does somehow indirectly, it is so minimal.  Doesn’t mean that it does not have a place.  It can help build up weak areas and improve recovery by increasing work capacity.  However, I believe it is best to target the weak areas with appropriate variations and angles within the main lifts.

 

We do not rotate the max effort lifts weekly.  Bonderchuk discussed the importance of variability, and not having the variation in the program long enough to get a training effect from it.  I keep an exercise in for 3 weeks.

 

If a lifter hits a true max on one of the weeks, we just do sets and reps the following week to really hone in on technical mastery so that we can add 5lbs the following week.  I may decide to leave a variation in there, but just make subtle changes to it every 3 weeks.

 

For example, Kerry is only hitting 240lbs on an SSB low box squat.  Her best comp squat is 305lbs at 52kg bodyweight.  We will keep this variation in for a longer period.  I will just add chains to it, maybe bands, change the box to pins, and even remove the box, no box with bands or chains.  We will build up this lift because it is highlighting a weakness.

 

Alyssa performed sumo deadlifts for 40 of the 52 weeks last year because of how large of a discrepancy there was.  She saw incredible progress on her conventional deadlift in competitions from doing this.  80% of the year we focused on building up a stance she is weaker in and does not compete in.

 

We perform max effort squats and max effort deadlifts in the same week.  The deadlifts rotate weekly between max effort work and rep/dynamic effort work.  Westside uses an either or approach.  The lifters at Westside are lifting far greater absolute loads and that may be required to allow them to recover.

 

We bench before our deadlifts.  This is something I did with Sheiko.  Also, Vince Anello was a big proponent of doing something to tire you out a little before you pull.  He is one of the greatest deadlifters of all time so I will listen to him.

 

We do not do dynamic effort work like Westside does.  Sometimes we do, but it is pretty rare.  What I did steal from Westside was the set and rep schemes.  Instead of doing 5 sets of 4 at 70%, we will do 10 sets of 2 at 70%.  Total volume is the same, but we get more first reps, better looking technique for all 20 reps, and faster execution for an increase in rate of force development.

 

We need sport specific speed.  Lighter loads may be more appropriate for team and field sport athletes to increase power.  Not sure they are necessary for powerlifting.  Even Louie seems to use enough accommodating resistance to be sure the top weight is 70% to 80% of 1RM.

 

I also like to use time limits on the sessions like Westside does.  At a meet you do not take an attempt when you want.  You go when you are told.  Also, fatigue makes technique more difficult.  It raises the stakes and the necessary skill level.  A newer lifter gets more time between sets.  As they get better, we can decrease that time between sets.  This increases the skill level of the lifter.

 

Sometimes I still use 70% for 5 sets of 4.  Sheiko taught me that load variability is important.  So our later week training sessions may be rep work that looks very similar to the way our programs looked when we were doing a more Sheiko-like format.  It also may not look like that.

 

Our frequency is lower than it was when we were running a more Sheiko-like program, but higher than a Westside program.  We squat 2 times per week, bench 2 times per week, and deadlift 1 to 2 times, per week (2nd deadlift session is very light).

 

On a Sheiko program we would squat 2 to 3 times, bench 3 to 4 times, and deadlift 1 to 2 times.  We utilize similar frequency as Westside, but a little more.  We split up the max effort squats on its own day and bench on its own day, but we do rep/dynamic bench work before max effort or rep/dynamic deadlifts.  Day 4 is usually rep/dynamic squats and light deadlifts.

 

What PPS does is not Westside.  I love Westside, but I am not Louie and my lifters are not his lifters.  What we do is unique to us and our journey of figuring this shit out.  We are not a copy of someone else.  We do not follow a simple structure laid out by anyone else.  We have our own structure.

 

We are PPS, not anyone else.  We want to be PPS and no one else.

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.