I F’d Up

Written by: Kevin Cann


The internet is filled with a bunch of “coaches” always trying to show everyone how much they know. This article is going to be the exact opposite.  You see, this is my 3rdyear coaching powerlifting.


Even then, the first year I had 1 lifter, and the second year I ended up with 6 that came on at various points throughout the year.  It has really only been since last November that I began to grow and coach many more people.


At this point, I have 37 lifters plus some that have come and gone.  I am still a rookie coach trying to figure this shit out.


I was fortunate enough to get to work with Boris Sheiko for 3 years.  This definitely helped to speed up the learning curve.  He laid out the rules of his system and I followed them to a “T” and attempted to learn as much as possible.


I learned a ton and my lifters saw some really good progress during this time.  However, all I knew was Sheiko’s system.    I knew I had to branch out and learn from other coaches. This wasn’t easy because there was no one to learn from at the facility in which I worked at.


When I saw issues with a lifter I knew what Sheiko would prescribe for exercises and I would use them. However, this didn’t always work. I am not Boris Sheiko.  I can only hope to be at that level when I have coached for over 30 years.


I was fortunate enough to meet a lot of good coaches through the USAPL.  Over the course of the last 6 months or so I have had many hours of conversations with these coaches and I have learned how they handle various technique issues and how they coach and program.


I also decided to hire a coach that did things very differently than Sheiko, but with a very high level of success.  I understand my lifters are very different than those that Sheiko coached.  Most of my lifters played sports but lacked the same GPP gym work that the Russians and Ukrainians get.  They developed differently as children and have different needs as more mature adult athletes.


This is one reason why I believe I need to do things a bit differently than Sheiko.  I think the analytics, the recommended volumes, average intensities, and structure of high, medium, and low stress training days applies to everyone.  Of course there are even individual variables within those parameters, but that is my job as a coach.


Technique is the most important aspect of training.  I totally agree with this.  However, sometimes we need to vary a bit more and choose the right accessories in order to fix these issues.  I have used the Sheiko special exercises in comp stance and bar placement and grip width primarily for the last 3 years.


It was only in May that I began varying a bit more, and a little more than that this past summer. I am still learning what works where and when to use certain exercises.  It is not as easy as just identifying a weakness and inserting an exercise.


I am used to doing things a certain way and I need to make sure that these exercises fit within the structure of our programs.  This is where I fucked up the most.


Nick Santangelo has a big gap between his conventional and sumo deadlifts.  His conventional is weak and I wanted to strengthen it with the hope of it carrying over into his sumo deadlift.  At his previous test he hit a 25lb PR.


At that time we pulled heavy singles every other week from the floor and had 2 days of comp style sumo deadlifts.  I got too cute and overthinking his program.  I gave him one sumo deadlift day and one conventional day.


In order to keep the comp lift volume high enough we used a lot of lighter weights for sets of 3 to 5. We didn’t get over 80% for triples from the floor.  We did touch 90% from 2” mats a couple of times, which I thought would be enough.


Nick’s conventional required him to use very light weights relative to his competition deadlift. Not only was the weight too light, but now he is getting less practice with his competition lift.  I should have just done some light conventional work on his day 2 when he performs his comp deadlifts and kept the 2 days of sumo deadlifts.


I also only analyzed his lifts for where technique broke down.  His start position was poor, and we definitely improved that from last Nationals. However, he has really short arms and a moderate sumo stance.


When the bar is at his knees, his knees are pretty straight.  This is where he struggles within the lift.  You will see the shaking start here.  Once the bar gets above the knees and his glutes can kick in he can lock it out no problem.


We needed to focus more on strengthening the muscles involved with the lift here.  Nick squats more than he deadlifts as well.  The difference between the 2 lifts is the hamstrings.  The deadlift puts more emphasis on the hamstrings than the squat (differences in erectors as well).


I should have been hammering Nick’s hamstrings more.  We had goodmornings in there and were working on making them heavier, but they were not heavy enough.  I used a snatch grip on his RDLs which required less weight and more emphasis on the back muscles.  Moving forward we will do stiff-legged sumo RDLs with normal grip, GHRs, and blocks at this height.  The glute, hamstring, and adductor activity is the exact same between the sumo and conventional, so we will do the majority of this in a sumo stance.  We will move his feet around from wide to close within the sumo to see the differences.


We won’t abandon the conventional though.  I think it is important that we build this up, but we can build this up as a secondary movement, and not a primary deadlift movement.


Dave is the opposite. His back is his strength in the deadlift and his quads need to be stronger.  I thought 75% tempo deadlifts and pauses right off the floor were enough. Those were the right variations, but I need to put the right weight on the bar.  I should have left them in his program longer and told him what to put on the bar and not let my Excel spreadsheets dictate the weight.  His accessories should have been ones that blast the quads and hamstrings as well.


I have been vocal about Kerry’s deadlift issues.  She has put 2.5kg on her deadlift in 2 years with me.  I have literally tried everything.  Her technique is very poor with heavy weights and that is 100% my fault. I have not done my job here.


I have used lighter weights to not allow a breakdown, but they were way too light.  I let her just lift and we did a DUP all comp lift linear block, and here we are, still in the same place we were 2 years ago.


Kerry, Nick, and Dave have made great progress over this time with me.  They have improved their totals quite a bit, but in order for them to make the next step I need to get my shit together.  Kerry can compete for a national championship in the near future in the 52kg class. In order to be a world class lifter she needs a world class coach, so I need to get my shit together. Her squat has gone from 230lbs to 292lbs during this time and her bench from 115lbs to 140lbs.  Imagine where she would be if we got the deadlift to improve.


She needs to learn how to use those quads in the deadlift.  They are strong, as they can squat nearly 300lbs, but she pulls the sumo deadlift like it is a poorly executed conventional deadlift.  I have been struggling to find the middle ground of keeping her strength but fixing her technique.


This requires some specific exercises to fix, but we are going to widen her stance and force her to learn to use her legs.  We will structure training in a way to build a lot of volume with very light weights, but still work up to something heavy enough to get that training effect.


Her technique begins to break down around 300lbs.  285lbs looks pretty good and that is around 80%.  We will work up to sets of this to start and increasing volume in lighter sets. We will also do isometric holds 2” off the ground to reinforce that start position and various height block pulls and rack pulls to strengthen her hips.


An example may be triples at 50%, 55%, 60%, 65%, 70%, 75%, 80% (285lbs), followed by 70-75% 3×3 3 sec pause holds 2” off the floor.  This gives her the majority of her volume performed with good technique.  On her day 4 we may do 4” block pulls to feel the weight.  From there we can chip away at the 285lbs and build volume by doing multiple sets at 75% beforehand or 70% if we have to.


I believe that that is finding middle ground.  Not so much trying to teach her some hybrid fucking deadlift position.  Just because Sheiko would give me 4-5 sets of 3 at 80% doesn’t mean that is right for everyone.


The example of Kerry’s future program fits within my system of recommended volumes, average intensities, number of lifts, and so on.  I need to stop worrying so much about my Excel spreadsheets and start being better at COACHING.  The spreadsheets are my guide, not the coach.



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