Developing Lifters

Written by: Kevin Cann


This topic is not always discussed in the powerlifting world.  As a coach for a team of about 40 lifters, I end up coaching lifters of all different abilities and at very different places in their powerlifting journeys.


They all come in with very different needs as well.  When Kerry walked into my office, she had a strong deadlift.  She had pulled 336lbs in a competition at 114lbs.  Her technique was terrible to say the least, but this is a very strong pull.


Her squat and her bench were not as strong.  Her best squat was 231lbs and her best bench was 110lbs.  Even though they were not as strong as her deadlift, they were still pretty strong.  This is after a very brief start in the sport.


Kelly Gamache on the other hand had zero experience when she started.  She had been in a gym but had not done the barbell lifts before.  Bev on the other hand had zero resistance training experience at all when she started.  In fact, the majority of the lifters that started with me had very limited experience.  Many of which now have qualified for Nationals.


The lifters that come to me with training experience and poor technique are the most difficult. They put strength on poor technique. It is much harder to break a bad habit then it is to create a new good habit.  The stronger the person is the more difficult this becomes.


When developing a lifter, every repetition needs to be with good technique.  The goal is to build a strong base with good technique and we can load it from there.  This past Saturday we had 10 lifters compete at the Granite State Grand Prix.


The majority of these lifters are beginners and were lifting in their first or second meets.  3 had a chance to qualify for Nationals, and they did. 1 of the 3 has been with me for a while so we have worked to get to this point.  1 I had known for a while from my previous job.  She had pretty decent technique and just had some minor things to work on.


The other I had been working with for about 4 months.  She had a 230lb squat, 165lb bench press, and 350lb deadlift as a 158lb lifter.  Her technique on the squat and deadlift both needed a lot of work.  The good thing with the squat is that she was lifting high bar.  Putting the bar lower changes the movement enough sometimes to make it foreign to the lifter.  She ended up putting 70lbs on her squat over this period just from those minor changes. They haven’t messed up the technique here enough to make it hard to fix.


This is actually a coaching technique I use a lot.  If someone comes in with really bad technique and they have some training experience, but aren’t elite, I will change up the movement to make it different enough where we are just starting over.


For example, if a lifter comes in with a very poor looking conventional deadlift, we may just pull sumo. Again, they haven’t messed this pattern up so many times before.


Outside of the ones attempting to qualify for Nationals, the others must display good technique on the platform for all of their attempts.  They have not earned the right to lift in bad positions yet.  There is a time and place to put more weight on the bar. Without qualifying for something or winning a big meet it does not matter.  Continue to build that base.


This includes those that come to me that have competed before, but technique is poor.  We will take on the platform a weight where it looks better than before.  This may mean taking less weight than you had hit previously.  This is to set you up for future success.


It is not always about hitting PRs.  There is a time and a place where the weight matters.  However, there is also a time and a place where setting yourself up for long term success takes precedence.  This is hard to do at times when you see everyone posting on social media.


It is not just about doing competition lifts and adding volume each week.  This is why so many online programs fail for lifters.  It is about putting the right weight on the bar, at the right time, with the right exercises that allows the athlete to develop a base of good technique.  Once we have that technique, we build volume off of that.  This is how we build long term success.


Just focusing on PRs and negating the actual coaching piece is not.  The PRs will come.  If we want them to keep coming a technical base needs to be established.  From there we can build the volumes necessary to get stronger.


We also need to develop the mental portion of powerlifting.  Beginners get scared of big weights.  This fear will alter technique.  Putting proper weight on the bar that allows them to strain is also important.  Most beginners don’t get what normal training strain is.


This is not so easy to do. We have to balance technique, because we don’t want it to breakdown, with enough weight to intimidate them a little bit.  This can be as easy as adding 5-10lbs to a given set.  Making them do something they have never done before.  It is not enough weight to break them down, but enough to make them a little nervous.


Seeing these opportunities as a coach is important to developing the lifter.  This sport has a big mental component to it.  Lifters need to learn it is ok to miss lifts, but not ok to miss them because they are scared.


Explaining the reasons for everything is also part of the process.  I want smart lifters.  A smart lifter can make adjustments as needed without me.  They also are more in-tune to their capabilities on meet day.  Also, it helps them buy into the program.  It also helps them have discussions with me about their training.  What they feel and what I see are very different at times.


We need to find some middle ground between these two.  A smarter lifter can have these discussions with me.  A beginner cannot.  They don’t know their body enough lifting to know what their feelings mean.  Part of the developmental process is developing the lifting IQ of the lifter.


I will go into more detail on this topic in a podcast.  Maybe breaking down the process with examples.





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