Written by: Kevin Cann
I think powerlifting is in this fad of low RPEs and high volumes. Many lifters are doing well with programs like this, but I would imagine just as many are not. I think some of this is driven by the inexperience of lifters and coaches.
There is not a single lifter or coach that I have talked to, that has been around for a long time, that thinks this is the best way to train for longevity in the sport. However, if a coach programs a massive stimulus in volume, it almost guarantees success.
In these cases the coaches are using way more of a stimulus then is necessary. In this case, more seems like it is better. Over time the gap between what is necessary to get stronger gets driven upwards. I would argue that over time, the risk of injuries is higher with these higher volume programs.
Even if the lifter does not get hurt, at some point the volume is impossible to increase. My lifters have jobs and limited time to get shit done in the gym. We need to be as effective with our time as possible.
In my opinion there is nothing more practical than taking heavy singles. You get to practice the actual sport by doing this. With that said, there is something to be said about total volume. Practice helps improve technical efficiency for one.
One thing I noticed at the Arnold was that a lot of lifters really hit the brakes before they hit the hole in the squat. This tells me that the lifters are using weights that are too heavy too often. Many of these lifters ended up getting red lights for depth. I have run into this same issue with PPS.
Some of these lifters I know do higher volume programs. However, they are not increasing the technical efficiency with those higher volumes as the loads seem to be too large for that. Each training day has a purpose and there is a purpose for each intensity zone being utilized in a training program.
With that said, volume is important to a certain extent. We need to execute enough reps in each intensity zone to develop the necessary skills to improve upon in the sport. This fact is not lost on me.
However, the lifter needs to bring a specific attitude to the gym to develop all of these qualities. Going through the motions with lighter weights is not going to make anyone better. Every repetition in training is an opportunity to get better.
The lifter needs to bring focus and intent to every repetition. If we are trying to improve upon the technical inefficiency I mentioned above, the lifter should focus on attacking the hole of the squat with good technique on every repetition.
If the coach is looking to improve upon this technical efficiency the correct loads and volumes need to be utilized. Using weights where the lifter slows down is not helping to improve upon this skill. Start with lighter weights and then utilize progressive overload with technical efficiency.
As the lifter shows competency with the skill under lighter loads, gradually increase them over time. For every lifter this will be different. For example, maybe we start at 60% of 1RM because that is appropriate for a given lifter. After a week or 2 (or longer if needed), maybe we go up to 65% of 1RM.
Over the next few blocks we can drive this number up to 80%, then 85%, and eventually take some singles at 90%. I did this with one PPS lifter who was moving too slow. We also utilized bands on the max effort lifts. Everything we were doing I wanted to be focused on doing faster.
The lifter needs to move the weight as fast as possible, while maintaining control, in each lift for this to work. Just going through the motions will not yield the results that we are looking for. All too often lifters will see 80% and move it with just enough effort to execute the lift. You can’t get better at moving 100% by moving at 80%. You need to give your all on every single repetition as if it were a max effort attempt.
When a lifter does this the coach can adjust the loads appropriately. As weights get heavier, reps will get slower, and as they get lighter, they will get faster. However, effort by the lifter remains the same. This makes it much easier for the coach to adjust training in a way that they would like to get the desired results.
Focus and intent are extremely important to learning a skill, no matter what the skill. This can include playing an instrument, learning a language, or an athletic skill. Focus and intent are a major player in this, but we very rarely focus on it. My guess is because we can’t measure it.
The coach can’t just assume that the volumes and intensities are the best choice. Each needs to do their job in the relationship. The coach needs to analyze strengths and weaknesses and observe the lifters. The lifters need to be accountable for their actions. This includes sleep, nutrition, and stress management. It also includes the focus and intent that they bring into training.