You Get What You Earn and Is Weightlifting that Different from Powerlifting?

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

I am going to combine two article topics here as there is some carryover.  Just a warning that this could get very long, but reading is good for you.  I follow this IG account “Flowrestling.”  They show mostly wrestling highlights, and some of those kids are fast, strong, and extremely athletic.  I enjoy watching it between everyone else lifting weights.

 

There was a video of wrestling great Terry Brands.  Brands was an NCAA champ and a world champ that failed to make his first Olympic team. He made some changes and came back to not only make the team 4 years later, but to earn a bronze medal.  This video was titled “You get what you earn.”

 

As Nationals rolls around this is an important message.  Brands was talking about the first words his father had said to him in his hotel room, “You get what you earned.  You don’t always know what the reasons are.  You think you might have been the hardest working guy.  You think you might have done everything right, but you get what you earned, figure it out.  If you don’t want it to happen again figure it out.”

 

We live in a day where no one is accountable for their actions.  On a Weightlifting House Podcast, Josh Gibson asked Zach Krych, his thoughts on the 10 years he trained at the Olympic Training Center (OTC) in Colorado.  He talked about lifters not bringing the same intensity as the lifters from other countries. He also talked about lifters living far outside of their weight classes in training.  He then made a comment “The Chinese aren’t doing that.”

 

This is so true of American culture.  We want everything, but without sacrificing anything.  There was another episode with a Romanian weightlifter that was asked about American weightlifting and his response was “Americans do not have patience. It takes patience to add weight to the bar (to be competitive).”

 

If you want to be competitive in this sport you need to make sacrifices and do everything right.  This isn’t just for 8 weeks before a competition. Olympians in weightlifting train for 20 years, or more in many cases, starting at 8 years old.  Powerlifters think after a couple of years of training they should be competing at Nationals.  Don’t get me wrong, this happens frequently, but finishing 80that Nationals is not competitive.

 

However, that gives the lifters this false sense that they are doing everything right and they are just going to climb to the top with the same attitude and work ethic.  I will assure you that this will not happen.

 

If you want to get to the top, or see progress beyond a certain point, it takes much more than just carrying on.  You need to maintain a bodyweight year round, you need to bring focus, effort, and intensity into each and every rep, you need to make good training decisions, and you need to do this consistently.  Every time you choose to go out with your friends and drink, or take it easy on a training day, someone else is not doing that and is gaining ground or getting further away from you.  This goes back to “The Chinese are not doing that.”  This is not just being consistent for 8 weeks, but for years.  This is your choice though.  You do not have to make these sacrifices if you just want to compete at Nationals one day and have fun.  This sport can fit into your life anyway you want and that is what makes it great.  If you do want to be the best possible lifter you can be in your career, it requires much more than just showing up.  Every action of every day needs to be geared to that goal.  I am going to quote another wrestling great, and former title challenger in the UFC, Chael Sonnen “If you aren’t willing to go too far, you will never go far enough.”

 

Weightlifting in other countries seem to have this attitude.  I have had a recent obsession with weightlifting culture and the sport in general.  The question I have been asking myself lately is “Is weightlifting really that different from powerlifting?”  You substitute SBD for Virus and I think the sports have more in common than what many people typically believe.

 

I think weightlifting is a higher skilled sport, but I think that powerlifting is more skilled than people think.  It takes a lot of skill to squat 700lbs, that is why not many people can do it.  Sheiko was actually a weightlifting coach until he had a weightlifter that he knew would be very good at powerlifting.

 

Much of Sheiko’s program was similar to that of a weightlifter.  There were a lot of positional variations that definitely had weightlifting influence.  I would consistently repeat the same weights and same variations as well.  Exercises would change weekly, but if I had 5×5 70% squat with chains in my program, I would perform that around a handful of times in a 12 week period.

 

After 12 weeks, there may be a test.  Hopefully we add some weight onto our maxes and then we repeat a similar program with the new maxes.  This is very similar to weightlifting.  The Greeks test every 4-5 weeks and then run the same program with new loads.

 

Sheiko was big on variations and load variability.  I also have a bias towards those two pieces, but the premise is very similar.  I also like the intensities of the Greek weightlifting system.  I incorporate much of both training styles into my programs.

 

The Greeks will hit a new max and then hit that same number for the next 3-4 weeks.  Repeating that new max over and over.  Sheiko would use a variation with the same reps and weight over and over.  You get better at that weight and exercise the more you practice it.

 

I started programming prescribed singles for my lifters.  This single is somewhere between their best double and triple.  On a good day it is an RPE 8, on a tough day it is an RPE 8.5/9.  This is a hard, but doable weight that causes some technique breakdown and brings some emotions into the lifter.  We repeat this weight for 3-4 weeks and then we will add some weight to the bar and repeat the process.

 

After the singles we perform the variations like we always have.  These typically work on the technical inefficiencies we see with the single.  We removed a lot of the bodybuilding stuff and replaced it with more barbell stuff like snatch grip deadlifts, good mornings, front squats, floor press, and so on. I am actually thinking of leaving these in long term instead of waving them out.  Why not build these up?  I think we often just change for the sake of change.

 

I think the argument of bodybuilding exercises are to build up weaknesses and keep things healthy. The variations will build up weaknesses within the lifts better than isolated exercises.  I think for beginners with limited body awareness and coordination, those exercises are still important and there will be more in their programs.

 

After Nationals, when volume drops, we will add more bodybuilding stuff in as well just to give them a bit of a physical and mental break from the grinds of training.  Most weightlifting systems that I am aware of forces the kids early on to experience a wide range of sports.  This is true in both Russia and Greece.

 

Once they enter the teenage years they begin to specialize more.  In America, kids specialize early in life, or do not participate in sports before entering the sport of powerlifting.  This is why I think variation is so important here.  It helps counter some of those pieces of American culture.  Bodybuilding/GPP exercises can fit in here as well for newer lifters.

 

I feel most things usually fall in the middle somewhere.  Powerlifters probably overestimate the importance of bodybuilding type exercises and weightlifters may underestimate their importance.  A logical implementation for me is to include them in the program after major competitions but remove them as the competition season gets into full swing.  They can come and go based off of volume of the lifts and as nagging things pop up.

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F#*$ Your Accessory Work

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

In a conversation with John Flagg (might have been on the Clinical Athlete podcast) he had pointed out that my training style is very similar to the training style of many weightlifters.  To be honest I have never thought about that before.

 

Weightlifting is the yacht club of the strength sports; I don’t want my reputation being destroyed by that getting out there.  This sparked an interest in the sport of weightlifting for me.

 

I got Quinn Henoch on the podcast to chat programming stuff.  I found this podcast “Weightlifting House” that is very good and definitely not just for weightlifters, and I got some good information on the training of various national teams within the sport.

 

When I first started working with Jeremy Hartman, he told me to watch this documentary on Pyros Dymas, the famous Greek weightlifter.  I developed a fascination with the Greek weightlifting system here.

 

Dymas did spend quite a bit of time in the Soviet System before the current day Greek system.  As did the rest of that Greek weightlifting Dream Team.  I know in Russia every kid does gymnastics and does not specialize in a sport until they are a little older.

 

This is how the Greek system is today as well.  Children are encouraged to play as many sports as possible and specialization does not come until later.  Year 1 of weightlifting seems to be unloaded positions of the clean and jerk and the snatch and GPP stuff like jumps and pull-ups.  This is also similar to the Soviet System.

 

Year 2, the Greeks only perform 8 exercises.  The front and back squat, the Olympic lifts, and a couple variations of the Olympic lifts. They hit a maximal attempt only 1 time every 2 weeks at this stage.  The majority of the work is done between 80-85% of 1RM.

 

In the 3rdyear of training the exercises drop down to just 4.  They hit maximal attempts every 4thor 5thweek. During that training block after the acquiring of a new max, they work up to 100% very frequently, sometimes multiple times per day.

 

The advanced athletes are even required to take it when they know they will miss.  The Greeks see benefits to missing weights.  Every 3rdor 4thweek is a lighter week with a drop in volume and only working up to 85% of 1RM.

 

Every year they have a transition period that lasts 15-20 days where they are eased back into the handling of maximal attempts.  This fascinates me because their program is only 4 exercises.  There are not variations and there is zero accessory work.

 

Dymas competed in 4 straight Olympics at a gold medal level in this system.  Part of that long-term success requires you to stay healthy.  I am sure the coach makes day to day decisions in the gym.  In any high level weightlifting gym there is always a coach sitting there a few feet away.

 

This has really got me thinking over the last year.  How important is variation and how important are accessories?  Time is a constraint and we need to maximize our time in the gym to drive high level performance.

 

I find variation to be very important.  Many powerlifters played sports growing up, many did not.  I think building up strength at various angles is our way of addressing the chances that the lifter specialized in another sport early in life or did not play sports at all.  Americans get into this sport later in life.

 

I also find variations to be important for skill development.  There are more efficient ways to lift than others.  Variation allows each lifter to explore those movements and find the ones that work best.  The coach can place constraints on these movements that help guide that process.

 

All skills and strength follow a non-linear pattern.  When one skill regresses, another better be there to pick it up.  For example, maybe you pull sumo, but you start to see a decline in sumo performance.  If you train conventional hard and make sure you can lift numbers close to your best, you can switch and potentially hit a PR.  We see this at times with PPS.

 

Variation also gives you a wide skillset to pick from.  Let us say that a lifter gets stuck at the knees with the sumo deadlift because they were out of position off the floor.  This most likely looks very similar to a conventional deadlift for the back.  If the lifter has that skill with a conventional, they have a stronger chance of locking out that weight.

 

I choose to use many different exercises in my training than just a few for those reasons.  I could go on with that as well, but you guys get the point.  As for accessories (think bodybuilding type work) I have always been skeptical.

 

It just does not make sense to me that a 50lbs chest fly is going to help you bench 400lbs.  I get the theory a bigger muscle has more potential, blah blah blah.  Your body adapts to the stressors placed upon it.  Muscle growth will occur from training the lifts, more is not necessary.

 

I have used this argument in the past, that accessories help to increase load tolerance at joints and may help to reduce injury risk.  This theory is also nice, but just not true.  Fact is, we don’t know shit about what causes injuries.

 

Tendons and ligaments don’t respond better to light weights and higher reps to help protect you from heavier weights.  I think we may believe this stuff because accessories help to control loads.  Lifters tend to “leave room” in the program for the accessories.

 

Increasing performance and reducing injury risk is a contradictory statement.  You need to do more to perform at a higher level.  Doing more increases injury risk.  As a coach we need to take the information that we have and make day to day decisions based off of that information.  Basically, don’t train like an asshole.

 

As a coach we need to educate each lifter to understand what pain is and what it isn’t, and we need to create an environment that allows them to learn those lessons in the gym as well. Through education and smart training we can build resilient lifters.

 

Over time we give them the tools to navigate painful situations and to keep training. Self-efficacy decreases disability. Self-efficacy also increases strength through developing the skill of training.  Making good decisions that allows the lifter to get the most out of each training day.

 

Over time we get more high quality training days (doing more), and less missed training days (injury risk), but that is all that we can do.  We don’t understand enough about injuries to say that we should spend time with accessories as they are “protective.”  Shit will happen at some point.  Lifters should expect it, not fear it, and be equipped to deal with it.

 

Going into Nationals, we are dumping all accessories out of the program.  We are going to spend time doing the things that we know will make us stronger. I like how the Greeks setup training. We aren’t going to just do singles as grinding out a rep in powerlifting might take around 10 seconds.  We need to be prepared for that.

 

However, we train heavy every single day in the gym.  We will continue to do that.  That is the sport.  This just requires the coach and the lifter to pay attention as training becomes a lot more than numbers on a spreadsheet.  This is the new standard.