Dynamic Systems Theory: In with the New and Out with the Old

Written by: Kevin Cann


PPS just had 17 lifters compete this past weekend.  5 weeks out from this meet I made the decision to go with my gut and completely change how we were doing things.  Some of these changes were made by me in person on the fly as I directed the team through training.


Leading into a meet this is a very difficult decision.  I had quite a few new people that started up with me as well.  I didn’t want them to get used to the old way and then change it suddenly.  I decided to just see what happens.


I trusted my knowledge in this subject but screwing up a meet for 17 lifters would not go over well I am assuming.  So 5 weeks out I stopped giving volumes and changed things up drastically.


I wrote the exercise, number of reps, suggested top weights, and gave them rules and guidance to help them make decisions.  We lifted heavy every single day in the gym. By heavy I mean between an RPE 9.5 and 10 in most cases.


I kept variations in there right through the week before the competition.  In some cases we were hitting competition lifts in conjunction with variations for the 5 weeks.  In other situations the competition lifts did not come back in until 3 weeks out where the lifter would work up to a hard double.  In many of these cases lifters were doubling their best ever or all-time PRs here.


Once I saw this happening, I knew we were in pretty good shape going into the meet.  A few lifters had some minor nagging things we had to manage, but all in all things were going very well.


Two weeks out we took heavy singles.  This week did not go quite as well, which was probably a good thing.  Some lifters didn’t even manage to budge what they doubled a week before.  We still got a good heavy single on squats and bench day 1.  We hit a heavy deadlift single with another bench single on day 2, about 10 days out.  This bench single was most likely a variation as well.


On day 3, about 8-9 days out, we took another heavy squat and bench day.  This could have been singles with a variation, or even higher rep sets.  This was dependent upon how the block was going.  Day 4 was lighter and in some cases just accessory stuff.


We had a lot of conversations about the training process and understanding that even though the heavier weights might not have been there, with a light week they will be there on the platform.  For the lifters that hit PRs singles week we were in good shape.


Week of we pulled back pretty hard, but still felt some weight in the 2 days we trained.  Moving forward I will have them take their best triple maybe for a single.  The worst anyone did was 8 for 9 on the platform and everyone hit PRs.  The weights that weren’t there on singles week flew up. More noticeable was the confidence that everyone had.  This was crazy to me.  No one was overly nervous.  Everyone handled their shit extremely well. Even beginners.


This brings me into the dynamic systems theory of training.  Not that anything I did was so far away from the norm for leading into a meet. However, it was very different in some ways.  I did not track volume at all.


Don’t get me wrong, volume decreased over time due to the drop in repetitions.  However, harder sets (sets of RPE 8.5 and higher) actually increased.  Remember general principles are rather true but need to be manipulated for the individual.


I set it up in a way where the reps were decreasing, which increases the weight in most cases, and they determined how many sets to do.  A few hit some lighter sets of 5 reps as backoffs from the singles just to get more work in.  This made the volumes a little higher than the week before in a couple of cases.


Normally, specificity should be high during this period of time.  The comp lifts made up less than the majority of our lifts.  In some cases not coming into the program until 3 weeks out. If performance is going well why change things?  We need to practice the comp lifts a few times before the meet and that is it.


Week of is all competition lifts with commands to really hammer everything home and let any nagging issues go away before the meet.  This clearly worked well.  Even better than expected.  The reason I think it worked better is because it was more focused on the needs of the individual.


I used to test 17-22 days out from competition and used a pretty similar tapering strategy for everyone. This worked at times and didn’t work at times.  I was following the mechanical stress model of peaking at this time.


Lifting heavier up to the meet just made everyone so much more confident on meet day.  I think this stems from training heavy all of the time. This was no different than any other training day.  I also believe attitude is contagious and as a group you can see that with PPS.


Technique actually held up better on the platform than it ever has.  Again, I think lifting heavy plays a role here.  I also think keeping variability high as the competition drew near was really important.  Variability makes movement patterns stable and harder to breakdown.  There is strong support in the literature for this as well as what I saw anecdotally.  Of course these variations were individualized based off of each lifter.


No one was scared of missing reps either.  I have spoken about this in the past.  We get this mentality that we should not miss reps.  Of course that is the fucking goal, but like in any sport, that shit happens. You can’t be scared to miss reps. We miss reps occasionally in training. I am more than ok with this.  It should not happen all of the time, but occasionally it is going to.  This is especially true when you push the envelope daily.  No one went on that platform afraid to miss.  Not a single lifter.  This was awesome to see.  Beginners had elite attitudes competing.


People will say you can’t lift heavy every single day.  No one missed competing due to an injury and everyone hit PRs.  Huge PRs for the most part.  This doesn’t mean we went through training unscathed.  There were some issues that arose.


Emily had some discomfort in her lower back 3 weeks out.  It was bad enough that we had to drastically adjust training.  The difference with our group is the mental toughness and the understanding that these things are expected, and we handle them appropriately.


We did some long tempo work with lighter weights that week and came in and hit our singles the following week.  On the platform Emily hit a 20kg total PR.  She qualified for Nationals, which I did not think was even possible when they raised the totals in November.  Even more impressing was her 3rddeadlift.


Her second pull qualified her.  Knowing her back was acting up a couple weeks ago it is easy to pack it in here.  She did not do that.  She went out and grinded out a 3rdattempt deadlift that was an all-time PR.  That act defines this team extremely well.  So does the beginners attacking weights and smoking them when they did not move the week before.


In future articles I will discuss the science behind this.  The biomechanical approach is very outdated and missing some major pieces. Dynamic Systems theory covers these pieces and can help push progress further than you think.

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