The Birth of Constraints-Led Conjugate


Written by: Kevin Cann



I have been doing quite a bit of reflecting lately.  It is pretty crazy to think of where PPS started, and where we are now.  Not even just the growth of the totals of the lifters, but in the culture that we have cultivated.


The training environment is intense and tough, but we also have a lot of laughs and eat a lot of snacks.  It is something that I decided to take advantage of leading into our fall meets, including raw nationals.


I am going to try to make this as quick as possible, but everyone reading this knows that I like to use lots of words.  We have gone through some changes at PPS over the years.  I was/still am a newer coach finding my way.  This is true of most of the lifters that I have coached.  Almost all of them have started with PPS with very minimal training and competition experience.


I was coached by Sheiko and knew that I had very limited knowledge as a coach.  I had structured everything in training as I had learned from him through being his lifter, two seminars, and many email conversations. This could not have been a better start to learning.


I learned pretty quickly that I am not Boris Sheiko, and my lifters are not his lifters.  Lifters would be nervous for anything over 90% of 1RM and technique would breakdown at these weights.  High squats were an issue for some because of the nerves with the heavier weights.


The training sessions would also take over 3 hours in some situations.  Some days would have 3 lifts, with a substantial amount of volume.  We have limited racks and a growing group.  Time is becoming an issue.


This made it a no brainer to start dropping some volume and raising some intensity.  I did this but kept it within the structure of the Sheiko program.  As we raised intensity we got better.  I would raise it more, and we would get even better.


I decided to keep things simple and create a more linear approach.  We kept a Sheiko structure with frequency and used some of his special exercises, but just lifted them heavier.  Working up to an RPE 9, starting at 5 reps and eventually working up to singles.


Again, we got even stronger and started to see our ability to compete grow.  I had a conversation with Dr. Loenneke, that ended up becoming a major influence on my thinking.  He had said to me that in the ideal situation, you would go into the gym and just max out a single and leave.  That is as specific as it gets to building 1RM strength.


Now, throwing this into the real world is difficult because of multiple lifts in the sport, and all of my lifters have jobs and lives outside of the gym.  People tend to forget that a lot of the top-level lifters do not have jobs, or they just work in the gym.


This is not a knock against them.  Some made sacrifices like that to get to the top, and that is what needs to be done.  My lifters sacrifice a bit differently.  They sacrifice a bigger total to kick ass outside of the gym.  These are all choices and there are no right or wrong answers here.


The linear approach was leading to great success with less time in the gym, but we were seeing greater flare ups of nagging issues.  This included elbow and forearm pain, low back stiffness, and knee and hip pain.


These were not major issues but required us to adjust quite a bit.  Seemed we were able to push like that for about 6 months before this stuff started to pop up a bit more.  We were also getting slow and the technique was not as good as it could be.


This came mainly to people shortchanging pauses and the like to get more weight.  This is a fine line we walk here, and we were blending two separate components into one exercise.  I wanted strain, but I wanted the pause to help technique.  It just did not work as well as it could.


We had gotten too far away from what we were doing in the beginning.  I was also questioning everything we knew about fatigue.  There is some uncertainty with fatigue.  It gets easy to get caught up in that uncertainty when you see lifters train hard 4 days per week and rip off months of continued progress.


It seems that the acute factors for fatigue recover within a couple of hours.  The only exception to this seems to be DOMS, which may take a couple of days.  However, there are chronic factors to fatigue that need to be considered.  After about 6 months, we started to see some issues pop up.


Sheiko always had lighter days programmed in.  This was usually every week or every other week.  My day 4 would be a very light deadlift variation only.  This was low volume and low intensity.  Often around 70% of 1RM.


Sheiko was a master at manipulating training stress to keep training moving forward.  This is a skill that he developed over decades of coaching high level lifters.  I would imagine that the high level lifters would run into issues sooner than the 6 months that we saw.


As a coach I needed to have a view of a further future.  Those light days allow for more higher stress training days throughout the year, since the lifter will not need to make as many adjustments and take as many steps back.


I know a lot of the literature and texts discuss the importance of deloads.  I needed to see how this stuff actually plays out in the real world, with my lifters, to make the best decisions about training moving forward.  Every 3rd or 4th week giving a lighter week, is not necessarily productive either.  Classic deloads come with their issues as well in terms of load management.


I remember Sheiko also saying that the easiest way to program is to have one higher day and one lower day per week for each exercise (bench would actually be a bit more here).  This is very similar to what Westside does with a max effort day and a dynamic effort day.


The max effort day is very heavy, and the dynamic day is very light.  They seem to not use many moderate weights in their training at all.  The lighter weights help the lifter increase rate of force development, how quickly the lifter can apply force.


This will not directly increase 1RM, but in combination with maximal effort work, will help increase 1RM.  The lighter loads also allow the lifter to work on technique, conditioning, and also allows them to recover from the heavier loads.


The problem with Westside is that they do not deadlift enough.  Multiply totals seem to be built off of big squats and big benches.  Raw totals tend to be built off of big squats and big pulls.  This poses a problem with the standard split with Westside.


Those lifters at Westside are highly skilled and the absolute loads are huge.  Raw lifters may be able to get away with a squat and a deadlift max effort day each week, due to the smaller loads utilized.


This also can be addressed by the exercises chosen for max effort.  Lifters will lift less with certain variations and more with others.  I can manipulate the exercises to control absolute loads and potentially keep the lifter fresher.  Max effort day is about the strain, not the weight.


We want technique to be the best that it can be under heavier weights as well.  We can manipulate positions to punish inefficient techniques.  This is the constraints-led approach.  If a lifter is pitching forward in the squat, giving them a high bar wide stance squat will punish that inefficiency.


It will also limit absolute loads.  If there is a 10-15% drop in maximal loads here, the lifter can push a deadlift max effort exercise that is a bit heavier.  This may be a pull off of mats.  If the lifter really struggles with this variation, I can instead place it on the speed squat day.


Here we can get lots of practice with lighter weights.  In some cases I may start a high bar wide stance squat on dynamic days and after 3 weeks, rotate it up to a max effort lift.  This requires some planning and knowledge for the coach.  Not only of the general principles, but also understanding each individual lifter.


A lifter that is more built to pull will most likely be able to handle higher deadlift stress than someone with t-rex arms and long legs.  Manipulating variations to control loads and also manipulating ROM becomes very important.


It is also important that the lifters understand the dynamic days need to be light.  They often complain about how light the work is. They also seem to all really enjoy it.  It gets tough with the time constraints and being technical under fatigued conditions is a skill and this is a constraint as well.


We had our first fall meet this past weekend, and it was incredible to watch.  Everyone hit PRs, but there were other things that stood out to me.  Our lifters were showing an ability to strain that more experienced lifters could not match.


Even our misses there was strain, and fight, with zero quit.  The head judge had to say “take it” to end the lift.  You do not see this often in beginners.  This was awesome to watch.  The misses fired me up as much as the makes.


We went 10/11 on 3rd pulls, with many hitting all-time PRs.  The one miss was a 10 second grind that was lost right at lockout.  Our conditioning was more than ok here.  One of the all-time PRs was a 150kg deadlift by Kelly.


This was the first time Kelly cut weight down to the 57kg class, and she hit an all-time deadlift PR, total PR, and qualified for nationals.  It is cool to see her qualify so quickly because she started with PPS from the empty bar.  Her max was under 135lbs at that time.


She has obtained this success going through every phase of PPS from the start of her lifting life.  This made me realize that we were straying too far from what we did in the past, and the benefits of the training we did under Sheiko.


The one constant has been the culture.  We train hard and we support each other, but we also push each other.  This was seen at the meet as well.  Each lifter was feeding off the previous ones.  One badass lift right after the other.  This time with Kelly setting the pace in the first session.  The women that followed crushed some pulls including some all-time PRs.  That carried that momentum into the men.  From there it was badass lift after badass lift just like the women in the morning.


One of the most fun meets I have experienced as a coach.  Just seeing our culture, our grit, and our fight in a competition scenario like that was just amazing.  Made me realize that we are on the right track.  Next up raw nationals.  Already some big PRs this week and it is only Tuesday for this group.

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