My Self Analysis and Some Changes to Programming

Written by: Kevin Cann


Every year I like to look back and reflect on how well I did as a coach.  I try to look at everything and see what things I am doing well and what things I need to improve upon.  I usually do this after Nationals, but since I have grown quite a bit since then I need to do it now as we are preparing for the next training year.


This year was pretty crazy overall.  For one, PPS got a lot bigger.  Learning to manage a large team was an experience in and of itself.  This past year I also had a lot more conversations with other coaches.


A year ago I was trapped in a place of stagnant growth with coaches not looking to get better, but happy being stuck in the dark ages of powerlifting.  Getting out of that situation has been critical in my progression as a coach.


I have only been coaching this sport for 3 years.  I am still a novice coach.  This makes being in an environment in which I can learn from others more important.  I was able to expand my network and learn from many elite coaches who have been doing this for a long time.


I believe this has sped up my growth as a coach and you can see it in the results of the lifters. Last year at this time I had 1 female that squatted over 300lbs.  This year I have 6 with 4 others squatting 285lbs or more right now, that will join that list shortly.  That is out of 20 females.  Half of them squat 285lbs or more.


The men have also made good progress.  Dave has seen his squat go from 617lbs at Nationals last year to a 655lb single at an RPE 9 in training.  Nick continues to chip away at his squat and hit 611lbs at 93kg in April.  Newcomer Doug Stuart is a 66kg lifter with a meet best of 336lbs.  He has hit 405lbs in the gym and even a 400lb high bar close stance squat.


Bench has gotten better. For a while we were struggling a bit. I made some changes based off my conversations with other coaches and we are starting to see some much better progress on the bench.


The deadlift can be hit or miss.  Some people have seen some big jumps.  Dave went from 640lbs to hitting his first 700lb pull.  Nick went from 585lbs to 610lbs in a 6-month period.  Alex pulled 425lbs in the gym at 84kg and Ryan pulled 585lbs at 83kg and Jorge pulled 700lbs at 83kg.


However, others have struggled a bit.  Kerry has hit some PRs in the gym but hasn’t come close to matching them on the platform. A few others didn’t see the progress we would have expected.


The improvements on the bench press came from taking the legs out of it and using different grips to work on weaknesses.  In a conversation with Jeremy Hartman something really struck a chord here.  He was talking about a conversation he had with another coach about the deadlift.


This coach asked him if he varied his grips on the bench press.  Hartman said that he did.  This coach then asked why wouldn’t he do the same thing with the deadlift?  I have seen a lot of improvements in the bench press varying grips to build weaknesses why wouldn’t it work on the deadlift?


This is one thing that will change moving forward.  We will alter stances and train the deadlift at different angles to work on weak areas. We will continue to do this with the bench and with the squat as well.


Another thing that I have learned over this past year is that accessory work is more important than I give it credit for.  I am not too sure that accessory work directly carries over to bigger lifts.  I think strengthening weak muscles can definitely have an impact, but not sure how much.


How can a 25lb chest fly increase a bench press?  I am not sure it can.  However, I definitely think it plays a role in the health of the athlete.  If I wanted something to carryover it needs to be heavy enough.  The way I structure the programs now that may be tough on the athlete.


We get a lot of volume on the competition lifts.  Really heavy accessory work may be too much.  The Eastern Europeans start with years of GPP and accessory work.  Most American lifters just jump into high volume competition lift programs.  We need to find a way to balance to this.


Hartman also told me that Vince Anello had wished that he had deadlifted less.  I remember hearing Malanachev talk about only pulling 1-2 times per month.  Other coaches discuss using squat volume to push deadlift volume.  I also thinking benching less frequently for a period of time can save the lifter’s shoulders over time as well (building those muscles with accessories instead).


Moving forward, in the “off-season” we will structure things a bit differently.  We will squat 3x per week with no double squat days, bench 2 times instead of 3 to 4, and deadlift 1 time instead of 2.  We will make up the volume with accessory work to target weak muscle groups.  In the long term I think this is best for lifter health.  It will look like the following:


Day 1: Squat and bench

Day 2: Squat and Deadlift

Day 3: Squat and bench

Day 4: Accessories


As the meet draws near we will get back to what we typically do.  We know volume drives results.  It will go back to looking like the example below:


Day 1: Squat, bench, and maybe squat

Day 2: Bench and deadlift (maybe a double session of either)

Day 3: Squat and Bench

Day 4: Deadlift and maybe bench


At all points throughout the year the volumes, number of lifts, average relative intensities will follow the rules in which we have laid out now and will advance based upon the ACWR. In the beginning, the “off-season”, we will focus on variations that are far removed from the comp lifts.  This may mean high bar varying stance squats, legless and varying grip bench press, and alternate stance deadlift.


The squat volume will make up for the lost deadlift volume as well as the accessories.  As the competition draws near we will focus on utilizing more of the Sheiko “special variations” and the volume of the comp lifts will increase as the volume of accessories and other variations will decrease.


I think this can be best for long term health as well as results leading into a competition.  I was going to send this out as a message to the group, so they did not wonder why their programs look different (some know about this now).  However, I thought it was good to share with everyone.


Don’t be stuck in your ways and learn from high-level long-time coaches.

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