Written by: Kevin Cann
I got this idea for an article in a conversation with a lifter that trains out of Westside. I think people confuse what we do with Westside because we use variation and take heavy singles. Beyond that, there are not a ton of similarities.
With that said, I love Westside and what they do. There are definitely some influences from them with the way that I do things. I think the similarities that Westside and PPS have in the programs comes from my love and appreciation for the Bulgarian and Greek weightlifting systems as well as my time lifting with Sheiko, a Russian coach.
Louie has these same fascinations with the Russians and the Bulgarians. What I really appreciate about Louie is his willingness to try things and learn from mistakes. He has truly used his gym as a living lab for over 40 years.
Louie did not come up with the “conjugate” system. In fact, he actually uses the term incorrectly when we look at the Verkoshansky texts. The Conjugate Sequential System is block periodization. What Louie uses is concurrent or complex-parallel periodization.
Louie instead uses the term conjugate to be synonymous with concurrent, meaning training multiple skills at once. Again, he did not invent this style of training, he just found a way to practically apply it at a high level. Just because someone is doing a max effort lift, it is not Westside.
The max effort method is discussed in “Supertraining.” Also, there is a lot of research showing that to increase absolute strength singles at or near maximal are superior than reps. The SAID principle states that the body will adapt to the demands placed upon it. If you want to get better at singles, you need to practice singles.
Sheiko was not a big proponent of singles and had unparalleled success as a coach. Sheiko was a proponent for technique first. Verkoshansky’s Principle of Dynamic Organization states that the body is always looking for a more efficient way to execute a movement. This supplies the main focus of Sheiko’s coaching style.
When we take heavy singles, technique breaks down. Sheiko does not want to see that. He described the difference between him and Westside as his focus being on technique first and Westside on strength first. Better way to think of it is Louie uses the max effort method as the main piece to get stronger and Sheiko uses the Principle of Dynamic Organization.
This then comes down to the coach and how they view error. Is error good or bad? I coach using a Dynamic Systems Theory approach. I view error as being a tool to teach the lifter. Error also allows the coach to assess strengths and weaknesses.
I prefer to place the lifter in a position that will punish the technical inefficiency that I see, and we perform this lift with near max or max weights. The inability to complete the task gives the lifter and the coach feedback on what needs to be improved.
In my opinion this is kind of a balance between Sheiko and Louie. My main focus is on the skill acquisition of the sport. This includes increasing the abilities of the lifter to produce maximal force while increasing technical efficiency of the lifts.
The Principle of Dynamic Organization states that the coach should give the athlete problems to solve and that the solution to those problems is movement. This is exactly what a Dynamics System Theory/Constraints-Led Approach does.
In powerlifting, the coach changes stance width, bar position, grip width, or uses bands, chains, pins, boxes, pauses, and tempos. This gives the lifter a problem to solve. They are still performing the lifts within the rules of the sport under these constraints. The goal is to build a large skill set within the sport. Variation is key for this. It may also be important for reducing injury risk, jury is still out.
Louie uses specialty bars here. We primarily use a straight bar. Louie is a big proponent of the box squat. His lifters use a wide stance and sit back on the box so that the shins are vertical or even in a position where the knees are behind the ankles. The hip flexors are relaxed, and the lifter thinks of performing a leg curl to stand up from the box.
I do not have my lifters sit on the box. The box is an external cue to get the lifter to sit back, it lets them know when they are at depth, they pause on the box, and they explode up after the pause. This is basically a glorified pause squat. The box does cue them to get less forward knee travel and trains a different position where the low back can be targeted with the hips.
The static to dynamic part of the movement builds explosive strength. I could not adequately coach a Westside style box squat as the lifters would end up rocking off of the box every time. I thought about what I wanted out of the exercise and made the adjustments. We have some big squats, so it works.
The majority of the volume in a Westside program comes from the GPP work. Ours comes from the variations of the main lifts. We do not have comp lifts until we have a comp coming up. A medium stance low bar squat is the comp squat of over 80% of lifters. So how we break up variations and comp lifts is very different from the norm. Do we use more comp lifts? I don’t know because we do not know where we will be strongest at the time of the meet.
Perhaps the lifter has a big improvement in conventional and decides to pull with that style instead of sumo. Perhaps wider stance squats feel better, so they move their feet out a bit and compete there. Strengths and weaknesses are always changing. This is a key component of a Dynamic Systems Theory approach.
We actually perform backdown work after the max effort lift. We will take a percentage of the max effort lift and perform a few sets working on the technique breakdown that we saw on the heavy single.
As most are aware, I am not a huge fan of accessory work. I do not think it increases 1RM, and if it does somehow indirectly, it is so minimal. Doesn’t mean that it does not have a place. It can help build up weak areas and improve recovery by increasing work capacity. However, I believe it is best to target the weak areas with appropriate variations and angles within the main lifts.
We do not rotate the max effort lifts weekly. Bonderchuk discussed the importance of variability, and not having the variation in the program long enough to get a training effect from it. I keep an exercise in for 3 weeks.
If a lifter hits a true max on one of the weeks, we just do sets and reps the following week to really hone in on technical mastery so that we can add 5lbs the following week. I may decide to leave a variation in there, but just make subtle changes to it every 3 weeks.
For example, Kerry is only hitting 240lbs on an SSB low box squat. Her best comp squat is 305lbs at 52kg bodyweight. We will keep this variation in for a longer period. I will just add chains to it, maybe bands, change the box to pins, and even remove the box, no box with bands or chains. We will build up this lift because it is highlighting a weakness.
Alyssa performed sumo deadlifts for 40 of the 52 weeks last year because of how large of a discrepancy there was. She saw incredible progress on her conventional deadlift in competitions from doing this. 80% of the year we focused on building up a stance she is weaker in and does not compete in.
We perform max effort squats and max effort deadlifts in the same week. The deadlifts rotate weekly between max effort work and rep/dynamic effort work. Westside uses an either or approach. The lifters at Westside are lifting far greater absolute loads and that may be required to allow them to recover.
We bench before our deadlifts. This is something I did with Sheiko. Also, Vince Anello was a big proponent of doing something to tire you out a little before you pull. He is one of the greatest deadlifters of all time so I will listen to him.
We do not do dynamic effort work like Westside does. Sometimes we do, but it is pretty rare. What I did steal from Westside was the set and rep schemes. Instead of doing 5 sets of 4 at 70%, we will do 10 sets of 2 at 70%. Total volume is the same, but we get more first reps, better looking technique for all 20 reps, and faster execution for an increase in rate of force development.
We need sport specific speed. Lighter loads may be more appropriate for team and field sport athletes to increase power. Not sure they are necessary for powerlifting. Even Louie seems to use enough accommodating resistance to be sure the top weight is 70% to 80% of 1RM.
I also like to use time limits on the sessions like Westside does. At a meet you do not take an attempt when you want. You go when you are told. Also, fatigue makes technique more difficult. It raises the stakes and the necessary skill level. A newer lifter gets more time between sets. As they get better, we can decrease that time between sets. This increases the skill level of the lifter.
Sometimes I still use 70% for 5 sets of 4. Sheiko taught me that load variability is important. So our later week training sessions may be rep work that looks very similar to the way our programs looked when we were doing a more Sheiko-like format. It also may not look like that.
Our frequency is lower than it was when we were running a more Sheiko-like program, but higher than a Westside program. We squat 2 times per week, bench 2 times per week, and deadlift 1 to 2 times, per week (2nd deadlift session is very light).
On a Sheiko program we would squat 2 to 3 times, bench 3 to 4 times, and deadlift 1 to 2 times. We utilize similar frequency as Westside, but a little more. We split up the max effort squats on its own day and bench on its own day, but we do rep/dynamic bench work before max effort or rep/dynamic deadlifts. Day 4 is usually rep/dynamic squats and light deadlifts.
What PPS does is not Westside. I love Westside, but I am not Louie and my lifters are not his lifters. What we do is unique to us and our journey of figuring this shit out. We are not a copy of someone else. We do not follow a simple structure laid out by anyone else. We have our own structure.
We are PPS, not anyone else. We want to be PPS and no one else.