How Important is the Program?


Written by: Kevin Cann


I was having this discussion recently and felt it would make a good quick read.  Before I get into that, there is something that I want to say. This was in regard to another conversation.


Seems to me that coaches and lifters in the powerlifting community dislike other coaches and lifters in the community because their methods are different.  I truly don’t understand this attitude.  I dislike these people because they are fucking assholes, not because of their methods.


Discussing training concepts with coaches that do things very differently from me is one of the ways I have learned the most.  In fact, our programs today would not look like they do if it wasn’t for discussions with Jason Tremblay, even though our programs are very different.


It was not because I thought he was wrong, and I decided to run the other way.  It was actually the exact opposite.  He was right, for him and his lifters.  This brings me into the topic of the article, how important is the program?


This depends on the coach and the training theory that they are using.  When I trained with Sheiko, the program was very important due to the data he was collecting.  I got very little freedom to change things.


This may seem like it goes against everything I say.  In Russia, the lifters grow up in schools with the sport as a subject.  They believe in their coach and they believe that their system is the greatest for strength development.  This system is perfect for those lifters.


My development as a coach has just led me down another path.  I embrace a more theoretical approach.  I feel our current understanding of strength development is outdated and extremely incomplete.


I did not grow up in a school learning powerlifting.  I played sports into my 30s.  My beliefs our going to be shaped by these experiences.  This is why I latch onto a constraints-led approach of skill acquisition.


When I started training the whole mma thing this is how I actually learned.  My very first day, I got the shit kicked out of me with no headgear on.  Times were a bit different.  I kept coming back and how I developed as a fighter was a direct result of these experiences.


I was quicker and more athletic than most.  I would back up a lot and I became very good a judging distance.  I got very good at not being hit.  Once these skills were developed, I started putting more offense behind it.  I developed power in my hands walking backwards and started to get very good at countering.  I added a lot of clinch work and wrestling later on to round it out as well as continued to develop better techniques.  A change in training partners, definitely played a role here as well.  I switched from a gym of strong grapplers to one with strong strikers.  This made me even a better striker.


This was over 10 years of me using a constraints-led approach to develop skills of a sport that requires a lot of skills.  I didn’t get taken down much and I feel this is one reason why my game from my back was so weak.  We also started there and did rounds that way.  Altering constraints.


Another note, not wearing a headgear that whole time taught me how to take a punch.  This is another skill developed in training that would be similar to competition.  So you can see why I feel this approach is the best for powerlifting.  It fits my beliefs.


I have never chased after lifters.  They have come to me for one reason or another.  That is buy in right from the start.  The way that I do things fits my beliefs and fits those of my lifters.


Our programs are very different.  I do not write out sets.  I leave the number of sets done up to the lifters.  They are supposed to take 1 to 2 hard sets.  These should be very hard.  This is our training stimulus.  Anything on top of that is guided through discussion and they have the power to decide.


I choose an exercise based off of what I see in training.  This exercise is altering a constraint to guide them to greater skills. Strength is a skill here.  I give them a suggested top weight, but they get to adjust if necessary.


So basically, all I am doing is writing some exercises on a piece of paper and through conversations and education, the lifters end up deciding what is best for them on each day. I monitor estimated 1RM and we just train.


The focus is on effort of each lifter, novelty of an exercise that hopefully helps improve inefficiencies, challenging weights that that improve the lifter’s emotional responses, and combining this into a group setting of everyone doing the same thing.


For me and how I run things, the program is the least important part of training.  I don’t write out set, only reps.  So volume is not considered outside of the hard sets. I don’t use percentages to worry about average intensities.  I feel the program is a compass and not GPS.


Progress comes from effort. It is the coach’s job to guide the effort in the correct direction.

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