Understanding the Irregularities of Powerlifting


Written by: Kevin Cann


We all know plateaus happen in powerlifting.  It is something we take as expected.  We attempt to make some changes and we hope for the best.  Maybe this works, maybe it doesn’t.


I think oftentimes lifters change coaches at this point.  This tends to drive progress again.  This is a story for another time, but something I have been thinking about a lot lately.  I am not so sure it is the new program that drives progress again.


I think the new program plays a role, but I think it is much more than that.  I think the excitement of doing a new program drives that progress. Also, the lifters choose the coach for some reason.  I think this belief in that coach being able to help them also drives progress.  I think the exercises and program structure plays the smallest role.


This brings me to what I actually want to talk about today.  This is going to be more of a stream of consciousness I suppose.  I have been talking lately about all of the questions that I have in regards to training.  Things like “How important is volume?’, “How much does fatigue affect performance?”, and so on.


In attempting to understand these pieces and the variables that affect performance, I have been led down a very deep rabbit hole.  The majority of the people reading this will think I am an idiot spewing nonsense.  It just all depends on what pill you choose, the blue pill or the red one.


At the beginning of this rabbit hole was John Kiely’s article that I mentioned in previous posts. He explained how our modern periodization was flawed.  That we should not only concern ourselves with mechanical stress, but the whole human matters.


The person’s emotions, beliefs, and perceptions are actually part of their physiological strength. When someone does not see results with a modern periodized program, or they get hurt we chalk it up as an error somewhere and attempt to change it.  Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t.


We see others doing well on a similar program and blame it on our genetics.  I am going to say something here that others won’t, it is not your genetics.  The Human Genome Project had hoped to discover one gene for one thing.  This turned out to be false.  Our genes are as flexible and adaptable as the rest of us. This is a story for another time.


I have always collected a lot of data as a coach.  I would use this data quite a bit in the beginning to drive decisions.  In fact, I was basically allowing the data to make the decisions.  Over time I began using this data to help me make better coaching decisions.  Now I am at a crossroads.


You see, even when I collect solid data, progress is not linear.  I have started making more decisions on a daily basis over the last few months.  Keeping in mind those data points, but also keeping in mind their inaccuracies.


I use a constraints-led approach to skill acquisition.  I put lifters in positions that punish bad technique and we lift heavy as long as the lifter is prepared for it, performance is on a high, and not too many nagging issues.


Even skill acquisition does not follow a linear line.  There will be progressions, regressions, skips, and jumps.  The same as adding more volume doesn’t always make someone stronger.  It isn’t like if we add 10,000lbs of volume in a month we get a 15lb return on our total. The math is not that clean.


I used this example in a post yesterday to help make sense of my thinking.  We look at $1 + $1 as equaling $2.  We like this because it is clean and easy with a nice defined answer.  The problem is that the dollar fluctuates on a daily basis.  If businesses adjusted prices on a day to day basis based off of these fluctuations it would be very confusing.


This is training. Prices fluctuate on a day to day basis based off of a number of factors.  None of which are linear by nature.  Using linear data can only help you so much in a nonlinear world.  This is chaos theory for powerlifting.


As coaches we need to forecast results for each lifter based off of the information we have.  The further removed from the information, the less I believe it actually matters.  I really don’t care about the data I have collected from a few months back. I tend to just focus on more present information.


I believe if we collect good data, we can identify trends with the irregularities for each individual. This would most likely not be an exact science but would give us better forecasting of the irregularities and how to handle them. Not just from past information, but from current information as well.


This predictive process needs to be a rolling data set.  Much like how movement is based off of predictive feedback and the more we move the more that predictive process gets updated.  This is what I keep in mind when I make coaching decisions.


I have thrown out a lot of what I used to believe and began dwelling in the unknown a little more. A lot more and the results are very surprising to me.  I have began taking each person as a complex problem to solve that will constantly continue to change variables on me.


Each person is their own complex nonlinear math problem.  The people who believe keeping it simple as the answer are missing the bigger picture.  Training is either good, better, or best.  Keeping it simple can be good training, but I don’t do anything to be good. I am competitive.  Just ask my kid how intense a game of Sorry will get.  I am in it to be the best.


This is a lot of hard work for the coach.  I am juggling quite a bit of information to try to make the best decision possible for each lifter.  I am also using a data set that is not quite in line with my thinking anymore.


It is not that this data is not important, it is.  It is just understanding its importance to that individual in front of me at that specific time.  It definitely keeps me on my toes and forces me to really embrace the art of coaching.


It has really forced me to be more flexible with my frequencies, volumes, intensities, and exercise selection.  I need to work on a new updated system for tracking data that goes along with my current thinking.  I will still collect the data I do now because I feel like it is good to have for no other reason than “Just because.”


This does not mean that the conventional way of thinking doesn’t work.  It definitely does, but it misses the mark in a number of areas and fails to treat the irregularities we see as important.  Just staying the course is usually the advice.  However, the course we take is not a well-defined straight line.

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