Written by: Kevin Cann
I had kicked around the idea of trying out some equipment back in the late spring, early summer of last year. I felt like I needed a change in training. It is hard to coach and also try to get better as an athlete.
I am always working. From the time I wake up to the time that I go to bed I am reviewing lifts, writing programs, coaching in-person, writing articles, interviewing people for the podcast, and any free moment I have I spend it reading and trying to expand my knowledge and coaching abilities even more.
I spend 40+ hours at the gym each week coaching. Learning is not just learning about the technique of the lifts. I need to learn those aspects, the aspects of skill acquisition, and sports psychology. This is not just about the psychology of a lifter hitting a heavy single, but the ecological dynamics of the group as a whole. Culture matters. It may even matter more than anything else.
I am not a good lifter, but me being in those trenches training my ass off with my group is huge for that culture. To steal a quote from Conor McGregor, “Excellence is not a skill. Excellence is an attitude.” That attitude starts with the coach.
I felt it was important for my group to see me try something different. I began to realize that I could not make the necessary adjustments that I would need to make to truly become the best lifter that I can. However, I can use my training to set the pace in the gym for the group to get stronger and also to use my training to become an even better coach.
I knew absolutely nothing about equipped lifting. I was around a bunch of multiply stuff for a few years, but never experienced it for myself. I am fortunate enough to have a large network of coaches and lifters to help me out. I got some loose gear and just did it.
I did not have a clue what I was doing and neither did anyone on the team. I never knew when or if I would have enough help to train. My knees were never wrapped by the same person twice. PPS stepped up when they could to help out and would help in any way that they could. Again, proof that culture matters.
I had signed up for a meet in January before I even got my equipment. After talking to Jeremy Hartman, I decided to compete equipped at this meet. This left me about 3 months to figure out how to execute in the gear well enough to put up a total in a competition.
This was quite the learning process. I ended up being in the gear almost every training session. The majority of my sessions were singles as well. I did the occasional doubles or triples on squats and bench as backdowns.
This goes against almost everything you hear or see in equipped lifting. I can get away with a bit here because I am a beginner and not good enough in the equipment yet to truly overload it. This allowed me to recover a bit better from each training day.
I still ran into some problems. I had the hardest time hitting depth in the suit. It gets easy to get caught up in the “I just need more weight” thought process. I got to a certain point where I realized that more weight was not the solution to this problem.
This was no coincidence that my least technical and least strong raw lift had the most issues in the equipment. I have this bad habit of moving slow in the squat with heavier weights. Well, in the equipment this will increase the stopping power of the suit and makes hitting depth more difficult.
I had to learn to trust the suit and to be a bit more aggressive on the way down. This is good for me to learn, but tough to change after a few years of moving too slow. This is especially true with overloaded weights and a suit on.
The balance was tough under those conditions to move faster. All of a sudden, I was less than 3 weeks out and did not have a fucking choice. I just had to do it, or I would bomb out at the meet. I was able to hit depth in my next 2 training sessions and head into the meet with some really good momentum on squats.
The shirt I took too pretty quickly. My second session I got a solid touch at a weight about 40lbs over my raw best. The next few weeks saw me add 20lbs more to this number. Then I hit a little bit of a wall.
This was partly due to doing the same thing every day in the gym. I definitely needed more variety in training, but I also just needed to keep getting experience. The numbers were not as important as the exposures in my opinion.
Since I had some good success in the shirt and hit a little wall, I decided to pull back from the heavy touches about 3 weeks out. I would take a lighter weight for a touch and then the heavier weights to a 1 or 2 board. I figured this was a nice balance between keeping technique sharp as well as practice handling the heavier weights.
I ended up missing a warmup at the meet and needing to really focus and grind out 3 benches on the platform. My opener moved extremely slow, hit 5kg more with a hair more speed but still hard, and finished grinding out 2.5kg over the second. My 3rd attempt ended up being less than my planned second attempt.
In the future I will reshuffle those heavier touches a bit. Do far less further away and more as the meet draws closer. My 3rd ended up being 25lbs less than my gym best. I also have never squatted in gear before benching. I am sure that plays a little bit of a role as well.
Deadlifts have been hit or miss in training. I think the heavy singles frequently really hit me hardest here. My deadlift in the gym was anywhere between 575 and 615lbs on any given day. I made some adjustments to my deadlift training later in the block as well.
I took to the deadlift suit pretty quick. I felt that I didn’t need a ton more work in it for this meet. I could get to the bar and get in a decent enough position. I took some conservative singles in the suit and even threw in some raw work here. 8 days before the meet I pulled a hard 595lbs, but it looked solid and felt pretty good. This was the most weight I hit in a little over a month.
At the meet, I smoked my opener of 550lbs. My second was 590lbs and it was hard, but easier than the 595lbs in training. Took a conservative jump of 5kg and the bar fell out of my hands. I have never dropped a deadlift before.
I did lose my wedge and got in a crappy position, but nothing I have not fought through before. My grip may have just been shot from bench and even a little bit from squats. I have never done all 3 lifts in one day in the equipment. Never pulled after overloaded bench like that either. Something to think about moving forward.
I ended up going 8/9 for the day. This exceeded expectations quite a bit. I learned quite a bit over the last 3 months. I have a good idea of what I need to do in the gear. I just need to get better at doing it.
I got to get faster on the way down in the squat, be better at getting the bar moving back over the chest plate on my bench, and I need stronger hips for my deadlifts and my squats. My upper back is also a weakness that needs to be addressed in these next training cycles.
I was pleasantly surprised that I had enough stamina to get through my first equipped competition when all I did in training was singles. I was not too sure how that was going to play out. Squats and deadlifts felt great. Bench not so much, but I actually had more volume and frequency with bench in training. I think this was more due to too much board work closer to the meet.
These last few months have given me a new perspective on training and coaching. I definitely had a lot of fun and will continue to compete equipped. I got quite a few ideas on training moving forward. Stay tuned.