A New Variation

Written by: Kevin Cann


In the past I would analyze someone’s lifts, identify where they are breaking down, and utilize the proper variation to fix that technical issue.  These variations would be in the lifter’s comp stance, comp bar placement, comp grip, and comp deadlift.


The goal was to fix a poor skill.  This works extremely well and is still a staple in our programs.  However, we have added variations that explore different stances, bar placements, grips, and opposite stance deadlifts.


The more I listen to other coaches, the more I realize the importance of variation for long term health. One of my online athletes from Germany trains with one of Dietmar Wolf’s lifters.  According to him, Wolf will have double the volume in variations than comp lifts.


This wasn’t too different from Sheiko.  Sheiko will have 20% of the volume come from comp lifts and 60% from variations. These 2 great coaches put a lot of importance on variations.  I believe the biggest impact they have on health is with their control of load management.


Typically, we cannot lift as much in a variation as we can with our competition stance and grip.  If we could, that would be our competition stance and grip.  Eastern Europeans also had 10 years of GPP work before they started getting into more specific powerlifting training.


During these years they got strong at all angles.  This is something that is often lacking in American lifters.  American lifters seem to blast out of the gates and then have a large falloff in their late 20s.  This doesn’t have to be and shouldn’t be the case.


Increasing the variation presents a bit more of a challenge to the coach.  It is pretty easy to see someone’s knees cave in and just program a pause squat.  It is also easy to just program comp lifts all of the time at varying intensities.


To quote Ryan Gleason from the latest Coach’s Corner “Are you always in meet prep?”  Just like with other sports in America, lifters never dedicate time to a true off-season.  Even if you compete 3-4 times per year you should identify 1-2 important meets and plan an off-season around the other competitions.  I view those other competitions like I would a scrimmage for team sports.


I don’t think a lot of coaches want to use variations because it is difficult to understand why you would use them.  I have multiple degrees in this field and it was a challenge learning the biomechanical ins and outs of the lifts.


I know what muscles are being worked.  I am talking about when and where each muscle group reaches their peak force.  I read some research and chatted with a bunch of coaches about it.  I actually learned a few things.


In a conversation with Arian Khamesi I learned that the quads were the prime mover off of the floor in the deadlift.  The glutes and hamstrings just hold everything in place.  In fact, the glutes don’t kick on until the lift is 83% complete and peak forces of the deadlift occurs at 67%.  Glutes basically only lock out the weight.


In a conversation with Nick Guidice, I learned that the glutes only supply about 25% of the force to move the weight from the bottom of the squat.  I saw in the research that the adductors increase activity with load and also with toe flail up to 30 degrees.  I then asked about that and Ryan told me he feels the adductors are very important.


This created an “aha” moment for me.  Kelly was squatting with her feet pretty straight.  This was leading to some pitching in the squat as well as some questionable depth.  We opened up her toes a bit and she really struggled at first.  However, over time training in this position her technique got much better and she ended up hitting a PR at Regionals.


Since Regionals we have continues to see progress in the squats.  Not just by the weight on the bar, but also in technique in various stances. It could be that something just finally clicked for her.  But maybe it has to do with the change in toe angle?


That change in toe angle puts more of the weight onto the adductors.  Perhaps the improvements occurred as that muscle group became stronger? I don’t know for sure, but this is something I am willing to mess with.


We change stances in a number of ways, but why not the toe angle?  The research shows us that this can change muscle groups utilized pretty substantially.  In a conversation with Jeremy Hartman, he told me to just keep experimenting within my own system.


So, I am going to start utilizing toe angle within the squats and see if that makes a difference. For the straight foot squatters like Kelly, we will open it up to 30 degrees and for the others that have a lot of flail we will put the feet straighter.


We will see what happens.

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