Accessory Work

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

One of the PPS lifters asked a fantastic question last night and I think this is a good topic to discuss today.  He asked about adding in more accessory work.  This being bodybuilding type exercises at the end of a training session.

 

First, we take a lot of singles.  However, we are not Westside and we differ from them very much.  Our day 1 will be max effort squats, followed by some light backdowns, and ending with some goodmornings.

 

Day 2 will be max effort bench, followed by some lighter backdowns, and finishing with some ohp, floor press, or occasionally JM press and barbell rows.  Day 3 will be rep bench work between 70% and 85% of 1RM, followed by max effort pulls.  These max effort lifts are rotated weekly with rep work.  We do some lighter backdowns and some straight knee variation along with reverse hypers.

 

Day 4 is rep squat work followed by rep deadlift work.  These percentages are relatively low, but still a bit higher than what you would see by Westside.  Westside uses a lot of accessories and the dogma that being a shitty bodybuilder will make you a better powerlifter still exists.

 

We need to look at the hierarchy of specificity.  Comp singles at or near maximal are the most specific.  This is followed by max or near max singles of the comp lift variations.  Following this may be higher rep sets (where this line is drawn who fucking knows.  Is a set of 30 deadlifts more specific than a max set of 5 barbell rows?).  I would say heavy goodmornings, floor press, and maybe even ohp are more specific than light and higher rep comp lift work.

 

All of the way at the end of this spectrum is bodybuilding work.  Bodybuilding is better than nothing, but so far removed from the specificity of powerlifting.  Now, if there are injured areas that need to be addressed, these exercises should be added in here.  That is how we take a generality and then target it for an individual.

 

Bodybuilding can also fill in the gaps in training.  Sometimes I want my lifters to do absolutely nothing and recover.  Other times I want them to move around.  I will sometimes make a day 4 “Bro shit” instead of the compound lifts.  This is one way we take a break and recover.

 

Training is about doing the most in the gym and being able to recover.  I agree with that statement, but we want to do the most of the things that will carry over to the largest totals.  The lifters at Westside lift far greater weights than we do.

 

This changes their recovery curve quite a bit.  They do not do backdown sets and their dynamic effort days are far lighter than ours.  We also max out deadlifts every other week.  They do not do this part.  They alternate squats and deadlifts for max effort work in the same spot.

They have more spots to add in the bodybuilding stuff than we do.  Again, this is better than nothing, but falls pretty far down on the spectrum of specificity.  However, that is what is best for the program that they run at Westside.  It makes a ton of sense for them to be doing that stuff.  It does not for us.

 

Coaches and lifters need to be careful of picking pieces from different programs and trying to put them together.  This is why understanding the general principles of training is so important.  This allows you to look at what other successful coaches are doing and decide which pieces will work for you and how you can manipulate them to meet your lifter’s individual needs within the structure of your own program design.

 

If you want to run Westside, run Westside.  If you want to run a Sheiko template, run a Sheiko template.  Do not try to turn that template into a hybrid Sheiko Westside program.  It will not work.

 

I am going to begin to make these blogs much shorter as I will be discussing all of these topics in greater detail on my Patreon page. If interested visit http://www.patreon.com/precisionpowerlifting.

Managing Fatigue in Powerlifting

 

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

 

As a coach one of our biggest jobs is managing fatigue with lifters.  Fatigue seems to have this very negative perception with lifters and coaches.  Fatigue is not necessarily a bad thing.  We actually probably need it to get stronger.

 

Powerlifting is a very unique sport in terms of lifter attitude in my experiences.  For a sport that you may hit one to two PRs per year on comp lifts, many lifters complain about the day to day inconsistencies in training numbers very frequently.

 

I think this has affected how many coaches actually plan their programs.  Trying to be a powerlifting coach is pretty cutthroat.  I do feel lucky to be able to do this as my full-time job.  As one of my lifters put it yesterday, “Your job is pretty cool.”

 

This competitiveness in the field to be a coach drives decisions a lot of times.  I think many coaches are afraid of losing lifters if they feel they are not performing well consistently.  I know I have had these feelings in the past.

 

I do feel the coach’s responsibility is to educate the lifter and to help address their expectations.  If a lifter has this attitude, they will not last long in the sport.  Also, a lifter with that type of attitude will suck the life out of a coach.

 

Let us get back to the topic of this article, fatigue.  Sheiko was amazing at utilizing fatigue to drive progress.  His infamous, squat/bench/squat days would definitely tire you out.  By the time you get to the second round of your squats you are mentally and physically tired.

 

These training sessions force the lifter to really dig down mentally and physically to complete the session.  There is a ton of positive training pieces here.  Fatigue can be quite an uncertain piece of training.

 

Sometimes a lifter will be tired and crush a PR, sometimes they will be fresh and have a poor performance, sometimes the taper before a meet works, sometimes it does not.  Fatigue is a very complex topic and it gets even more complex when we look at how it effects performance.

 

This does not mean it does not exist.  It certainly does and we need to do our best as coaches to know our lifters and to know when to push them and when to pull back.  I went through a period where I pushed everyone and tried to let the weight on the bar dictate lighter days.

 

This was a great learning experience.  For one, external load is not the only piece that affects recovery.  Internal load also matters.  Westside alternates upper and lower days to ensure enough recovery between training sessions.

 

The idea is that the lower body muscles get a break while we train the upper body muscles.  This is true for part of the picture.  There is still a larger fatigue piece that effects the system as a whole.  I have seen this referred to as systemic fatigue.

 

If we come into the gym and just push it hard every day, we will experience some fatigue.  This is true even if we alternate upper and lower.  Westside also breaks it up by max effort and dynamic effort.  The max effort is heavy weights and the dynamic effort is very light weights moved quickly.

 

Sheiko used a combination of high, medium, and low stress training days throughout his programs.  Sheiko did not structure it the same way as Westside.  He planned it based off of each individual lifter.  Sheiko also wasn’t using very heavy weights, or very light weights.  The program utilized mostly moderate weights for higher frequencies and volumes.

 

I decided for a period of time that I knew more than these two coaches.  I did lay out rules for each lifter to follow to help them self-organize into these higher, medium, and lower stress training days.  However, this did not work out as planned.

 

We definitely got stronger.  There are no questions asked about that.  We got really strong, really quick too.  I learned a lot about fatigue during this time.  Fatigue did not really begin to effect performance right away.

 

There would be days when lifters would not hit the numbers they expected to, but in general progress was moving forward at an incredible rate.  I thought I figured it out.  Lifters just needed to train harder!  As if no lifter ever thought of this before.

 

Fast forward a few months and we started experiencing a lot more nagging issues than we ever did before. We were just running a simple linear program during this time.  I was witnessing lifters that would go from 5s to 1s hitting PRs almost every week, to hitting some PRs early on and fizzling out as the block continued on. Almost as if they lost endurance to get through a training block.  Much of this fizzling out was probably due to the nagging issues starting to pop up more frequently.

 

This brought me back to my time with Sheiko.  Training needs to be a balance of high stress days to drive adaptation, medium stress days to maintain strength, and low stress days to aid in recovery.

 

I am a huge fan of singles.  This is the sport and I truly believe we need to train the sport.  Westside alternates the singles between squats and pulls.  I want to do both with my lifters.  How can I manage to do this?  That was the big question.

 

Westside spaces out their training days so that they are well recovered to crush a max effort lift.  I do like this idea, but I am also not against having a little fatigue going into those sessions.  However, if we are going to be training this hard in a fatigued state, we need to pay a lot of attention and pull back when it is necessary.  So somehow, we need to be able to monitor fatigue as best we can.

 

I decided to space out the max effort lifts by 72 hours.  In the research it seems like this is the upper end of the recovery time period from a hard training session.  48 to 72 hours seems like the sweet spot.  We squat on Monday, bench on Tuesday, and pull on Thursday.  This gives the lifter an extra day between the deadlift max effort and the beginning of the next week to ensure we are getting enough rest to perform adequately.

 

The deadlifts do rotate weekly between max effort and more rep work.  Before deadlifts, my lifters will do some rep work for bench press.  This is usually 48 hours after max effort bench press.  I am usually still a little sore at this point.

 

This is right at the very beginning of the recovery timetable from the max effort bench press we did on Tuesday.  That means they are most likely executing these bench press reps with some fatigue.

 

This fatigue makes light weights a little heavier and will really force the lifter to focus on technique.  Usually a variation to work on technique is used here as well.  After this session, they get 4 days of rest before they bench again.  This ensures they are fresh to hit that max effort bench press again.

 

On Friday or Saturday my lifters will do rep work with the squats and deadlifts.  These are usually very light, maybe around 70% to 75% of 1RM.  However, there will be a lot of sets and reps here.  This is to get the volume in and to work on technique.

 

This would be a more medium stress training day.  A medium stress training day should be something the lifter can recover from in 24 hours.  This should not take 48 to 72 hours to recover from.  This means if they do this day on Friday, they have 72 hours to recover from this session, and if it is completed on Saturday, they have 48 hours to recover.  This should be enough.

 

These days at the end of the week are very tough even if they are light.  After maxing out all week, usually with backdowns after, the lifters are pretty tired.  This makes the lighter weights feel heavier and challenges technique even more.

 

The coach needs to pay attention here.  My lifters write RPEs in next to all completed sets.  I want these day 4 lifts to be around an RPE 7.  The backdowns after the max effort, I want to be between an RPE 7-9.

 

I keep volumes and intensities very consistent here to help me monitor fatigue.  If the 70% of the max effort lift for a 4×4 is constantly an RPE 8, but all of a sudden with a variation it is an RPE 9, it will catch my attention.  If the day 4 squats and deadlifts are usually around an RPE 7, but they are creeping up to an RPE 8-8.5, it shows we are building some fatigue.  When this happens, I will tend to pull back a little and continue to monitor the RPEs.  Here instead of a 4×4 at 70% for backdowns we may do a 4×3 at the same weight.  On day 4, I can leave it the exact same to see if it improves, or I can scale it back a little.  I do both very frequently.

 

Our max effort work rotates into rep work at times too.  If I think a lifter needs a break, or we hit a true RPE 10 in an exercise, the following week they will get some sets and reps at around 80% of 1RM.  This is very similar to what Sheiko does.  There will be 4-5 sets of 2-3 reps at 80%.  The percentage is drawn off of the max effort from the previous week, so it is pretty accurate.

 

The more you get to know a lifter, the more you know when to do these things.  Every other week the deadlifts become sets and reps.  These are usually between 70% to 80% of 1RM and done for 4-5 sets of 3 reps.  Usually no more than doubles at 80% of the previous week’s max effort lift.

 

On these weeks, the last 2 training days of the week are lighter to moderate.  They should only require 24 hours to recover from.  This gives the lifter a 6 day break from max effort lifts.  This is a nice physical and mental reset.

 

There are also some weeks where there will be zero max effort lifts.  If a lifter hit all RPE 10s the week before, this is pretty common.  This is a week of all low to medium stress training days.  This is an easy week to recover from.

 

This turned out to be a lot longer than I had anticipated, but managing fatigue is a major component of a coach’s job.  Fatigue is not something to fear.  Training with fatigue is probably unavoidable because of work and other life stressors.  Mental fatigue can affect performance and for most of us our jobs are mentally fatiguing.  We have some lifters with physical jobs too.  Learning to navigate all of these situations takes experience.

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.

Conjugate Doesn’t Work for Raw?

 

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

Ever since I became involved in powerlifting about 5 years ago, this has been the theme, “Conjugate does not work for raw lifting.”  I must admit, I bought into it for a period of time, although my reasons may have been different from the internet’s.

 

My biggest issue was with technique.  Technique will break down at the higher intensities.  This is absolutely true.  Working with Sheiko, I was mimicking what he did in making every repetition in training look the same.

 

My other argument was more against heavy bands and chains.  We used accommodating resistance, but we used a much smaller amount than most conjugate training programs.  This was due to the changing of the strength curve.

 

The more accommodating resistance, the lower the weight at the difficult parts of the lift and the higher the weight during the more biomechanically efficient parts of the lift.  I would argue that a lifter is only as strong as they are in their weakest positions.  This is also true.  However, heavy accommodating resistance has a place for CAT (compensatory acceleration training) and it helps strengthen certain technical inefficiencies.

 

The internet will tell you that conjugate is not specific enough.  This has really never made much sense to me.  Aren’t heavy singles the actual sport?  To my knowledge it was the only powerlifting program that was actually very specific to the sport.  The amount of variation in a Sheiko program was very similar to a Westside program, so the variability of training was something that I was accustomed to.

 

5 years ago was the start of the rise of popularity for DUP (daily undulating periodization).  DUP was well researched, and Dr. Mike Zourdos made it much more accessible for powerlifters.  Now every powerlifter could go on IG and yell their training was better because of #science.

 

Over the years I have found my way to a conjugate training system.  I realized that following a Sheiko program that we were not lifting heavy enough and lifters were getting nervous to attempt heavier weights.

 

A Sheiko program did not allow the lifters to explore positions either.  All variations were done in comp stance and with comp grip.  This makes sense for the Russians that had all those years of GPP work before being coached by Sheiko.

 

In America, many lifters do not have that same base.  They start the sport later in life and come with a lot of weaknesses and lower skill levels within the lifts.  Variability is important to increase that skill level while simultaneously bringing up weaker areas.

 

Raw lifting is a relatively new thing.  I believe the first IPF raw world championships was in 2013.  The first raw nationals was just a couple years prior to that.  This leads to a lot of inexperience in the sport.

 

It also seems to attract the younger demographics that grew up with technology.  A DUP program is easy to make on an Excel spreadsheet and really does not require a whole lot of coaching.  In fact, I would argue that this is writing programs and not coaching at all.

 

So what is a conjugate program?  A conjugate program is a method of training where multiple methods are trained at the same time.  DUP, has some similarities here.  A DUP program may have a hypertrophy day, strength day, and power day.  Each week the program may call for adding a set, or increasing weight, so there are some linear components to it as well.

 

A conjugate program will look to build absolute strength (max effort method), rate of force development (dynamic effort method), technical efficiency (dynamic effort method/repetition effort method), and mental toughness (max effort method).

 

At the end of the day, powerlifting is about displaying absolute strength.  There is no better way to increase maximal strength than taking heavy singles.  Singles over 90% increase motor unit recruitment better than lighter weights, and it develops the ability to strain under heavy weights.

 

Sets of greater than one rep do not do that.  One, the lifter, will conserve as much energy as needed to finish the set.  This is even true for doubles and triples.  This also trains strength endurance and not absolute strength.  Singles also build mental toughness to handle heavier weights.

 

Technique does break down at these heavier weights.  When I first started, I viewed this as a negative.  However, now I view it as a positive.  Error teaches us.  The max effort singles allow us to easily analyze the lifter and build a program around attacking weaknesses.

 

We can alter the angles of the max effort lifts to punish technical inefficiency and strengthen any lagging areas.  It seems like everyone needs stronger hips, hamstrings, and low back.  This is why the majority of lifters lean towards lifting in a raised heel.  It allows them to stay more upright and use more quads.  A very simple fix to this, is we now do the majority of our training in flats.

 

A lifter cannot have as much of a positive shin angle in flats as compared to a raised heel.  This decreases the ability to use more quads and forces the lifter to use a bit more hips and hamstrings.  On top of that we do a lot more wider stance squat work.  This emphasizes those areas even more.  Increasing toe flail can limit the forward travel of the knee as well.

 

This allows the lifter to build technical efficiency under maximal loads, where it actually matters in this sport.  These positions can also target weaknesses in a sport specific manner.  If a wide stance squat in flats is 10% lower for a 1RM than a comp stance in heels, we got a weakness to work on.  We can build up those angles, and when we do that, we will see an increase in the competition lift itself.  Sometimes the lifter will prefer the new positions.  Now, our strengths and weaknesses have shifted, and the process continues.

 

We cannot just do heavy singles every day in the gym.  This is for recovery for one.  Psychological burnout can become high if we just perform heavy singles.  I also think there are some positives to repeated practice.

 

Singles do not give the lifter a lot of practice.  This is where the dynamic effort and repetition effort methods come into play.  The coach can use lighter weights and higher volumes to get the lifter more practice and to continue to work on weaknesses.

 

Weaknesses can be technical, mental, and physical.  If a lifter is slow, work on getting faster, if a lifter has poor technique maybe slowing them down and teaching control is more appropriate than speeding them up.  We can always speed them up later on, when the control is there.  This is a long term process.  The coach can choose the angles of the lift to also work on weaknesses.  If the lifter needs more hips and hamstrings, the box squat is good here.

 

How is this not for raw lifters?  A DUP program may have a block of 8/6/4 reps and then a block of 5/3/1 reps. Sometimes singles are included but done at an RPE 8. A rep at that intensity is not maximal effort and will not build absolute strength.

 

It may allow the lifter to maintain strength while they wait for the program to get more specific.  The closer to a single that the lifter gets, the more specific.  Let us look at the efficiency of each program.

 

A conjugate program takes no more than an hour to hour and a half to complete.  Performing multiple higher rep sets of all 3 lifts each day, takes far longer.  My lifters have jobs and lives outside of the gym.  The less time they spend in the gym the more time they can recover and manage their lives outside of the gym.

 

This is not to rip on those that use a DUP program.  If you enjoy doing that, by all means keep doing it.  It also works for a lot of lifters out there.  I will just argue that it is not the best.  Long term training requires a continual analysis of weaknesses and a program that targets those weaknesses.