Written by: Kevin Cann
It has been a couple of months since I started instituting some daily maxes with the Precision Powerlifting crew. Not everyone gets these and not everyone gets them for all 3 lifts.
The lifter much show adequate technique in the lift before they get a heavy single. This technique must hold up and remain consistent at 80% loads for 5 sets of 3 reps. If there are breakdowns here we continue to use weights between 70% and 75% to correct these technique issues.
Technique is still the most important aspect of training for us. You earn the right to lift more weight. Also, important is load management. Lifters must be prepared to take these heavier weights. We can’t just go from 75% pause triples to heavy singles over 90%.
When we take heavy singles we do not want our volumes to drop off either. Volume is necessary to get stronger, but it is also necessary to help reduce injury risk. Doing too little actually increases injury risk because the athlete can be ill prepared for the workloads.
This is an important balancing act to control. If average relative intensities, number of lifts, volumes, and last set RPEs are identical, and we increase loads at the right times, I believe that we get an added benefit from the heavy singles without any of the potential negatives.
The heavy singles are as competition specific as we can get. I like performing heavy singles with variations in the blocks further away from a competition and the competition lifts themselves as we draw closer.
Heavy singles on variations help control loads while getting the effort we will need for heavy singles on the competition lift. Most variations are more difficult for the lifter so how heavy they can go for an RPE 9 single is very controlled. This bridges the gap between submaximal work and heavier weights.
I also like working heavy singles in the variations because it tests a skill we are working on under heavier loads. This comes after a block or 2 of volume. This builds the athlete’s volume to reduce injury risk and makes sure that our volumes are where they need to be.
I think heavy singles have a bad reputation that is completely unwarranted. Sheiko did not program many singles for me over 85% because that is where technique breaks down. This coupled with the heavier weights being more psychologically taxing kept them out of his programs too frequently. There were cases where I would take 90% in the comp lifts, but usually close to a meet.
90% was prescribed frequently in the bench press and deadlift for me during that time. However, it be to boards or off blocks. This allowed technique to remain the same with heavier weights.
As a coach I am beginning to disagree with this for my lifters. I like the heavy singles because it allows me to see what breaks down under the heavier weights. After the heavy singles we finish off our volumes with sets between 65% and 75%. This allows us to work on the technique issues that came up with the heavy single.
If technique breaks down on the heavy single, we will repeat the exact same weight the following week. This time working on what we practiced the previous week with the back off sets. Hopefully, we see improvements here.
I do not plan heavy singles more than 2 weeks in a row. If the rep still looked poor, we have the following week to really focus on it with submaximal volume. I do not want the lifter to develop poor technique habits, so I do want to minimize those reps.
Each week that the lifter takes a heavy single, the less psychologically stressful it is. The more you do it the easier it gets. I would rather them learn to deal with these feelings in training rather than on meet day on the platform.
In Episode 42 of Boston’s Strongcast podcast, I discussed some of the work of John Kiely. He explains the downfalls of current periodization models, one of which is they are based off of extremely old stress research. The new stress research tells us a different story.
It is not just mechanical stress that matters. Psychological stress plays a critical role in the success of a program. This helps the lifter’s gain confidence (psychological strength) while still getting the mechanical stress necessary to get stronger.
Many will argue that heavy singles increase the risk for injury. My question to them would be why? The overall loads of a set are less. A heavy double or triple is just 1 or 2 more opportunities to get injured by straight statistics. In terms of load management a triple at 80% is way more load than 2 singles at 90%.
The real threat comes from the increase in psychological arousal. We know that emotional stress can increase the risk of injury. However, this is unavoidable in this sport. We can work on the emotional stress in a completely controlled environment and actually improve upon it before meet day, where the lifter will be lifting much heavier. Remember, we are working up to an RPE 9/9.5, at a meet we are looking for an RPE 10.
I think by not addressing the psychological piece in training you are doing your athletes a disservice. This doesn’t mean taking heavy singles necessarily, but getting their buy in. They need to trust you as a coach and trust in themselves as an athlete.