Written by: Kevin Cann
I have had quite a few rants about this lately and felt like it be a good article topic. This coupled with a few more people joining Team Precision, it makes it even that much more important for me to get this information out there.
Everyone wants fast results in the sport of powerlifting. They want to pick up a barbell, create a lifting IG account, and show the world their progress. In the beginning, you can definitely see some really big progress.
Beginner gains is a real thing. In some cases, you may even qualify for Raw Nationals in your first meet and find yourself in a respectable placing within the rankings. However, these lifters are few and far between, and even then they may serve themselves better in the long run if they slow down the process a bit.
I view this sport as a long-term process. I don’t necessarily ask myself what the fastest way is to get this athlete strong and competitive within their weight class, but instead what is the BEST way. At face value these may seem like the same things, but they are not.
We can just load this athlete from day 1 and progress it quickly over time. As a beginner, or even an intermediate lifter, in a new program we can see some very fast results. We can throw some RPEs on the program and continue to increase bar weight and volume, only taking the occasional break to deload.
This will be effective for most athletes. This can be a very fast way to seeing big results. However, is this necessarily what we want to do? There is a major drop-off in totals within the IPF after the age of 27 years old. Could it be because of this type of training style and mentality? I believe it is.
I have written quite frequently about my use of the Acute Chronic Work Ratio (ACWR). This is a ratio between the fitness levels (chronic workload) of the athlete and the fatigue (acute workload) levels of the athlete.
The chronic workload is a 28-day weekly average of volume and the acute workload is the 7-day period the athlete is in for their training program. A ratio outside of .80-1.30 has an increased risk of injury. This does not mean that you will get injured, but risk seems to be increased when we do too little or too much.
That acute workload can increase pretty quick if we are constantly driving volume and training intensity. You do a few extra sets because you feel good and are attempting to work up to a certain RPE, or you took a certain weight last week, so you want to take more this week. This increases that acute workload pretty quick.
Now, I am not trying to say RPEs don’t work. They absolutely do when they are used properly. I also think they work best when variations are thrown into the program. Typically, variations will be selected based upon the weaknesses of the lifter.
This means that the lifter will not be as good at the variation and will not be able to load it in the same manner as they may be able to load their comp lift. Often variations include things such as pauses which make it more difficult to load. Variations are a good way to actually control athlete loads and help to keep them healthy.
I know some coaches that actually drop the frequency of the main lifts after a competition. This may mean only 1 squat, 1 bench press, and 1 deadlift day and those days may actually be some variation. From there, as the next competition draws near the frequency gradually increases.
I do things a bit differently. When I get a new lifter, I analyze their current program and their technique. Boris Sheiko has been my coach for nearly 3 years now and I am sold that technique is the most important aspect of training.
If we build a strong movement pattern by focusing on making every repetition look the same, we can stress it more because it is strong. If the lifter has poor technique, and every repetition looks different this is an unstable movement pattern and cannot be stressed as high.
If technique is poor, we will use lots of submaximal weights and variations that closely mimic the competition lift to work on those technical errors. We will always use comp bar placement, foot placement, grip, and deadlift stance in this scenario until technique clears up.
For example, in April I started working with Maytal. Her best squat was 305lbs, but there were some issues that needed to be cleared up. Here volumes were also below the recommendations laid out by Sheiko.
We worked with light weights building volume and technique. This week she hit a very easy 335lbs on the squat. She did not touch anything over 260lbs in training leading up to this block. Last week was the first week, when she hit 315lbs for doubles. We worked on building a consistent and stable movement pattern. After her next competition we will start utilizing variations that are different from the competition lifts to build up weak areas.
This is extremely important as this sets the athlete up for long term success. Maytal experienced results that are not typical. I would have been happy with a 5-10lb PR with better technique for her. Now that we have a solid technical foundation, we can load this exercise and hopefully see nice steady progress.
Alyssa, had also experienced some progress with her squat. At her test for her April meet she hit 305lbs. However, there was still some technique issues popping up. We focused on variations that help with these issues and we loaded the squat as heavy as we could without seeing these errors. Last week Alyssa hit 315lbs with much improved technique. This puts us in a good spot leading into Nationals. After this meet we can load this movement with more volume and intensity.
With both Alyssa and Maytal we could have just added weight and volume to the poor technique. It wasn’t like their squats were going to get them hurt or they weren’t lifting within the rules. Chances are they may have even increased their lifts more if we did that.
However, you can only beat physics for so long. Ignoring technical issues to load more weight can only get you so far. Things don’t work, and people typically load more, or they just keep increasing intensity and volume within the competition lifts. This is most likely where we see the drop-off in totals after 27. People get frustrated or injured.
I have a saying, “You earn the right to lift more weight.” If you do things appropriately from the beginning you will set yourself up for better long-term success. Sometimes this means doing things that do not feel as good and being patient.
It is always more comfortable to lift how you are used to. However, it does not mean that it is the best way, especially if you are a beginner. Training may feel easy. However, it may be easy because we are working on safely building volume and technique.
When things get tough you may question your stance, or your grip, or your shoes. Too often lifters are too concerned with the small things that most likely don’t matter. What you need is the discipline to put time under the bar.
Have the discipline to listen to your coach and follow the program. If you hired a quality coach there is a reason for everything in that program. If you have questions or feel things are too easy, just ask the coach. Maybe you get to go up in weight, but maybe you don’t.
There will be times you don’t agree with the coach. However, have the discipline to understand you are the athlete. You do not know better than the coach. I couldn’t imagine every telling Sheiko I do not agree with him.