A Thought Process vs a Program

 

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

John Flagg actually said this to me a couple of weeks ago.  He said that certain coaches give you a thought process.  Some of these coaches would include Louie Simmons, Boris Sheiko, and Mike T.  I thought this was a very good point and really thought about it for a minute.  PPS is also a thought process.

 

All of these coaches’ thought processes are guided by general principles.  Louie utilizes the max effort, dynamic effort, and repetition effort methods.  Louie’s thought process is that heavy singles increase absolute strength and dynamic effort work increases explosiveness.  A lifter must generate enough power to move the bar fast enough through their sticking points.  Bands and Chains play a role here as well.

 

Sheiko’s thought process is guided by Verkoshansky’s Principle of Dynamic Organization.  This principle states that the body will always be looking for a more efficient way to complete a task.  Sheiko utilizes variations to guide this organization.  This is why all variations are done in the competition stances and grips.  As the lifter gets more efficient, they will lift more.

 

I am not as familiar with Mike T’s stuff, just what I have heard on his podcast and his articles that I have read.  I see a little of both of the above in his stuff.  He allows a program to emerge, hence emerging strategies, based off of how the individual is responding to it.  This would be the principle of self-organization.  This is very similar to Verkoshansky’s principle.  In fact, it kind of builds off it and just includes more pieces of the whole person.

 

Many coaches will attempt to mimic the ones above and for good reason.  Those coaches have had some of the greatest success in the sport.  They are 3 coaches that I definitely look up to and hope to achieve a similar level of success as they have in time.

 

They all have been doing this a very long time and I am sure they have learned a thing or 2 along the way.  As a coach that utilizes more of a thought process in training it can be tough at times.  I have only been doing this for 5 years.  I fuck up sometimes.  I fuck up more often than what even my lifters realize.  But I learn from those mistakes and I like to think I am getting better.

 

Here is an example.  Jess Ward is prepping for the Arnold Pro-Am.  She had a hip thing going on so we could only do close stance squats since Nationals and conventional deadlifts.  About 4 weeks out she felt 100% in her hip.

 

During this time she had hit close to her best squat in a close stance, but her deadlift was blowing up.  She pulled 400lbs, her best ever meet pull, from a deficit in the middle of the week.  Instead of just riding the wave, I got too cute.  I kept thinking we needed to get some wider stance stuff into training.  I took out conventional and put in some sumo for the heavier work.

 

Her sumo technique looked great, and the weights were moving well.  Watching it you would think that everything was going well.  However, I feel this lost her some momentum.  Close stance squats don’t build your squats, they build your pull.  I assumed this would be enough to maintain what we had developed, and the sumo would spark something more.

 

In hindsight I should have kept the conventional in until it got stuck, or until the meet was over.  I would have added bands to the deficit and pushed it.  I should have paid more attention to how things were playing out.  That is my bad.  I am lucky enough that Jess trains her fucking ass off and is still looking to hit around a 10kg total PR at the Arnold.

 

Lifters need to trust me as a coach.  I will make mistakes.  They got to trust me that I will learn from them and continue to develop a thought process that gives us an advantage over everyone.  If we have a strong relationship and we are flexible and adaptable to the ever changing training needs, we can accomplish a lot.  It is why we have lifters at the Arnold every year, but we can do better.

 

Louie Simmons is constantly learning and trying things out.  I can say confidently that I believe Mike T does the same thing.  I know Sheiko was coaching his in person lifters on a day to day basis.  Meaning he wrote the day’s training that day.

 

I heard a story of one of his lifters not hitting depth at 80%.  He made this lifter keep doing it until he did right.  He ended up doing something like 20 sets at 80%.  This was far more than was scheduled for the day.  I am sure there were adjustments made to the rest of the week.

 

When lifters and coaches try to mimic these coaches they can run into a lot of problems.  They think they are getting a program structure to follow.  You just follow the structure and you are on your way to coaching world level athletes.

 

Unfortunately, this is not true.  I learned this lesson the hard way.  I followed the structure that Sheiko painted for me.  This worked very well, but there were definite limits.  Following any 3 of the above is a great start and will yield some positive results.  However, if you want to be on their level you need to develop your own process.  I don’t want to be on their level.  I want to exceed their level.  I am willing to make mistakes for as long as it takes to develop a thought process that yields the greatest amounts of success.

 

The beauty of their programs lies in their heads.  I watched a video of Louie coaching up Stefi Cohen.  You can see the thought process in action.  He is literally thinking and analyzing the whole time and then he puts her in positions where she struggles to even complete reps.  She pulls 550lbs but struggled to hit 225lbs on a deadlift variation he gave her.  His ability to identify a weakness within minutes of meeting her was amazing to watch.

 

Many options out there for coaching are just programs.  They are an algorithm built into an Excel spreadsheet.  There is not much of a thought process here.  Now, I am not trying to shit on coaches and lifters that do this.  There are many successful lifters and coaches that utilize these methods.  Many are more successful than me, so take this for what it is worth.

 

These programs just manipulate the training variables that we can measure.  There is not a thought process here.  In a documentary Bill Belichek actually discussed the increase of data in sports.  He said he got on the plane after a loss and saw all of the coaches buried in their computers.  He said “Guys, we didn’t lose because of something in those computers.  We lost because we couldn’t tackle.”

 

I know that is about football, but it is relevant.  When something does not go as planned in powerlifting, these coaches will stare at their charts and graphs and add more volume or something.  This may work, but in many cases it doesn’t.

 

The coach needs to watch and know their athletes.  The coach needs to be willing to try things.  A big part of coaching is holding the lifter accountable.  They need to take care of business on their end with sleep, recovery, nutrition, and mindset.  This is not just mindset in the gym, but out of the gym as well.

 

Belichek sends in a series of plays to the defense.  However, the players have the ability to change the play based off of what they see.  He gives them that ability.  This leads to them studying film harder during the week and discussing plans of attack with each other constantly.

 

He helps guiding the process of them making good decisions on the field on Sundays.  He then holds them, as well as himself, accountable for the outcomes.  Learn from your mistakes and get better.  We have seen this play out over 20 years.  The Pats may look shitty in September, only to be there holding the trophy at the end of the season.  Belichek coaches by a thought process.

 

I feel like I am rambling on here so I will cut it off.  I am a big believer in finding a coach with a thought process and not a program as you will learn far more.  You will also have a lot more fun.  It is fun to try things and buy into a team and coach so much that you are willing to do anything to try to gain an edge.