Written by: Kevin Cann
Over my 5 years of coaching powerlifting, I have tried everything. Extend that to the 10 years that I was coaching prior, and I have literally tried everything. As a coach it is easy to get caught up in looking for the next best thing.
When this happens, a coach can miss some important information right in front of them. I know this to be true because I have been there. We have run Sheiko, linear periodization, undulating periodization, high intensity, high volume, lots of singles, you name it, we have probably tried it.
Over this period of time our totals continued to rise. No matter what we did, we got stronger. I think that in the beginning it is important for every coach to just try a bunch of different things. Pay attention, observe, and over time make the necessary adjustments.
In the beginning, I was working with Sheiko. He laid out a format for me to follow. This was very important for me as an inexperienced coach. I had rules to follow. I followed those rules and learned quite a bit. As I became more comfortable coaching, I was more comfortable to try other things.
I even abandoned the things that had worked for a period of time to try the next new shiny thing. This was my inexperience acting out. I don’t regret doing it though because it was all a learning experience. It still is.
I understand now that everything has a time and place. Even if you look around and watch other lifters. Not only do a bunch of successful lifters do different things, many do something until it stops working and then they do something else. This seems to work all of the time.
Perhaps the continued success we saw was due to the same scenario? I would not quite go that far. There are some negatives to constantly changing things up. The right amount of variety is needed, but too much and too little can cause problems.
If you train hard, believe in what you are doing, and have a strong relationship with your coach, you will see progress. Do not get me wrong, there are better coaches than others out there. However, as long as you a hire a coach with a distinguished track record, you are probably fine in terms of an adequate program. A good coach brings other skills to the relationship.
I have a much larger appreciation for various training styles now than I did before. I believe some are better than others and I enjoy talking shit, that is just me being me. Which brings me to another point. The coach needs to pick a style that matches their personality.
I am often described as intense and aggressive. Our programs reflect that now. We joke around a lot and have a lot of fun. I don’t just sit there and yell. However, the training matches my personality, which tends to match the personalities of those that seek me out for coaching.
This is important for the culture. A training style that fits the coach and the lifters’ personalities. This is one reason why Westside is successful in my opinion. A lot of those guys were looking for an outlet and they found it in the intensity of the training. The training matched the personality of the coach and the lifters.
With that said, it doesn’t mean we can just drive singles every single day in the gym. This is where understanding of principles and trust comes into play. The relationship the coach has with the lifter can help the coach decide what is best to do at this given time for this specific lifter. Everything has a place.
According to Occam’s Razor, the simplest solution is most likely the right one. If we ask the question, “What will make us best at heavy singles?” The simplest solution seems to be heavy singles. Now, of course we can’t just do heavy singles every day in the gym, but it is a start.
Attempting to come up with ideal volumes and average intensities is overcomplicating what we are attempting to do. This doesn’t mean that you can’t get stronger with higher volume programs, of course you can. Everything works.
I just noticed that when our training sessions were longer and our overall volumes higher, we experienced more nagging issues. The length of the training sessions becomes an issue at times as well. The lifters that I coach all have full time jobs and outside stressors.
The longer the session, the greater mental and physical energy is needed to get through it. This can become difficult for the lifter to recover from. Efficiency is key for a busy life. Nothing is more efficient than heavy singles.
However, heavy singles can come with a psychological cost. They require more mental energy. We can split up the singles and the volume. This splits up the mental energy from the physical. This allows one to recover while the other is being stressed. It is not that black and white, but it gets a point across.
If we do that, there is your daily undulating periodization. One day is a single, another day is sets and reps for more volume. We attempt to leave 5-10lbs on the bar each week so we can add it the following week. There is linear periodization. I use a linear approach starting at a top set of 5 reps as the second day of squats and bench as a meet draws near. Timing here is everything.
I realized that most training variables seem to run their course every 4 to 6 weeks. Probably why most training blocks are 4 to 6 weeks long. I run my blocks in 3 week waves. This allows me to bring back in that same variable sooner than I would be able to if I exhausted it. I may keep the positions the same but add bands or chains or another slight change.
Some waves we will do doubles with lighter weight, but lots of doubles, like 10-15. Other times we will use the same weight for sets of 5 or 6 reps. It all depends. It depends on their technical levels. Singles are the best, but when we can’t do singles, working on technique is the next best thing. This worked well when we ran a Sheiko style system.
Sometimes I feel the lifter would get more technical reps with doubles. Technique is less likely to breakdown and they get more first reps to really work on the walkout and competition technique. Sometimes I want to challenge their technical capabilities with a bit of fatigue within a set. That is where the higher rep sets come in. However, volume stays relatively similar.
So those that say speed work doesn’t work, it has a place. I will often put time limits on the doubles to make the lifter get through them a bit more quickly. This gets them in and out of the gym quickly, like I mentioned before, but also builds up some work capacity and makes the lighter weights feel a bit heavier. The fatigue will challenge technique as well. Little more bang for your buck in my opinion.
When a lifter hits a true max in one week, the following week will either be a change in the exercise, or some sets and reps. I will typically use a higher intensity example from what we did when we ran a Sheiko style training system. This may mean 4 or 5 sets of doubles or triples at 80%. These were our “strength” days then, and they worked well. Seems to be the next best thing to singles. They also do not take a long time to get through but have adequate effort. This percentage is based off of the previous week’s max effort number, so it is pretty accurate.
We use percentages for some days, RPEs for others depending on what I am looking for. We always use RPEs as a subjective measurement of the training. This helps me get a gauge of the lifter’s recovery. This helps me make my decisions for the following week.
Everything has its place. As a coach you should be open and use all the tools at your exposal. The goal is to keep the liters healthy and progressing, not proving you are right.