Written by: Kevin Cann
I have written quite a bit about the importance of technique recently and in the past. My knowledge of skill acquisition has grown over the last few years and as I learn more, I realize I may have been incorrect in my understandings and how I was implementing it.
I have talked a lot about building a stable motor pattern. My understanding in my time with Sheiko was that we want every repetition to look the same. If we are performing 5 sets of 3 repetitions at 80% of 1RM they should all look similar.
If each repetition looked different then we would be training 15 different movement patterns, and this would lead to an unstable movement pattern that would breakdown easily under heavier loads.
I took this as a way to determine training loads and volumes. However, I don’t believe this was the right way to be doing things. After reading Sheiko’s book, I also believe that I misunderstood some of these aspects and how he interprets them.
I was interpreting the movement variability in lifts as errors. In my eyes this was a negative thing. This is where I was making my biggest mistake and why I think some progress for lifters stalled.
It should not have been viewed as an error. This was in fact the lifter learning. Research has shown that before skill acquisition is obtained there is a high variability of movement. Our brain is constantly perceiving and predicting sensory outcomes to preplan motor strategies.
As we lift the brain is determining which strategies work best based off of past experiences and these perceptions and beliefs. This happens at both the conscious and unconscious levels. In fact, in the beginning more of the movement is being performed at the conscious level.
When the conscious control is taking over, different parts of the central nervous system are driving the ship. This leads to greater movement error. What we need to do is we need to create changes in the subconscious movement systems. The subconscious is what allows us to self-organize.
It is our job as coaches to guide them from the conscious to the subconscious to allow them to self-organize into the patterns that we feel are optimal for them. All obtained movement patterns are temporary. This is why it is a lifelong journey of achieving perfect technique.
We move from stable movement pattern to stable movement pattern. If someone has been lifting for a while and they pitch forward in the squat, this I currently their stable movement pattern.
In this case we need to destabilize the movement patterns from the past before we can acquire a new one. This is why I will remove competition lifts from someone’s program for a period of time. The strongest influence upon someone’s movement is past experiences. The longer someone goes without this pattern the more destabilized it becomes.
We then need to create an environment that forces the lifter to self-organize in better positions. We do not always need to take the competition lifts out of the program to achieve this. This is where we can identify where breakdowns are happening and use lighter weights to build tonnage. However, far out from a meet, I tend to find it is easier if we remove it for a 4-8 week period of time.
This is what I believe Sheiko actually was doing with my programs. The variations being used were there to create those subconscious changes in system dynamics, comp lifts were performed at loads with good techniques, and the number of lifts and average intensities were adjusted in ways to make sure the lifter would still get stronger because strength principles still apply.
This was hard to see at the time with a very minimal understanding of motor control theories. I also was probably underloading my lifters based off of the errors that I saw in training. I identified this once I added in monitoring tools such as the ACWR and LSRPEs.
I make sure we hit the appropriate numbers for loads and average relative intensities as well as LSRPEs at least a 7. I don’t structure the lock in a way where I look for perfect technique on every repetition anymore.
I analyze the lifter’s videos and training and make a plan based off of that. I give the lifter feedback for what I am looking for on the lifts and sit back and watch. I will give them some feedback after sets and I want to see what they figure out as the block goes along.
At the end of the block I see where we are at. Oftentimes the variation will help a little bit, but there is still unwanted breakdown. From here I decide if I want to keep running it as is or tweak the variation in a way that may be more appropriate for that individual to learn.
We all learn differently and at different rates. It is naïve to think that each variation will work the same for everyone. It absolutely will not. The coach needs to understand that learning is not linear. There are many aspects that come together to form a learned behavior.
For example, I like to use box squats to teach control in the squat. This helps many lifters maintain position out of the hole. However, for some we may still see some loss of control such as pitching or knees caving in. I will have them then touch the box and pause 2 inches above it. This forces them to change it up a bit. It allows them to control more of the positions of the lift.
There will also be progressions and regressions in this learned behavior over time as well. The coach needs to look at the totality of the training block and determine how best to alter the training environment to elicit the outcomes in which they are looking for.
The coach needs to identify whether the movement errors in training are positive towards the learning experience or not working. I explain this to my lifters as conscious effort. I want to see them attempt to do what I am asking. I want to see what that conscious effort brings about over a few weeks. From there we adjust.
If the lifter is just losing control in the lift, then we need to change up some things. We either need to lower the weight or change the exercise. When we lower the weight, we need to be sure our efforts and loads are still appropriate for that lifter to get stronger.
If our opposite stance deadlift is 15% weaker than the competition stance, we need to be sure we are getting overloaded weights somewhere else. If someone pulls conventional and their sumo deadlift is weaker by a lot there may be some really heavy snatch grip deadlifts, or other variation to really hit the back. The squat volume can help here too.
I actually want to see some breakdowns in the lifts in training. This allows me to identify areas of the lifts that need to be addressed. I am much more ok with errors occurring in training now than I used to be. I used to view them as a negative, but in fact they may be a positive sign of the lifter learning.