You Need to Train Harder Not More

Written by: Kevin Cann

This is a message that I am really trying to send to Precision Powerlifting Systems right now.  We all can train harder than what we have been.  There is a current trend in powerlifting that seems to tell us that we need more.

We need more frequency, more comp lifts, and more volume.  This I find to never really be the case.  If you are a lifter in the top 1% of the sport, and you have been training for a sustained amount of time, then maybe.  The majority of the lifters do not fall into this category.

However, many coaches treat newer lifters as if they were this top 1% and give them workloads that are far higher than necessary.  Of course this works because you are throwing a ton of stimulus at them.  

However, this amount of stimulus is usually unnecessary to get stronger in a beginner to intermediate lifter.  I am not talking about totals in terms of categorizing the lifter, but instead training age.  

In any sport we should be working on perfecting fundamentals early on in a training career.  This includes powerlifting.  Lifters early on need to work on technique and they need to build strength in weak areas as well as those areas that are necessary to be strong within the sport.  They also need to build explosive strength as well.

The coach should be analyzing these strengths and weaknesses and coming up with a plan to address them. Just saying that technique will “self-organize” and “That just may be how you lift and are strongest” is not coaching.  That is ignorance.

Oftentimes, lifters and coaches will feel that they are stuck or in a “plateau.”  They then will add more volume or more frequency to address that.  It is very rare that I have ever found this to be the case.  I honestly can’t think of one example off the top of my head.

One, a plateau is not a thing.  This is something that beginners and coaches attempting to market themselves use.  100% of people that take up this sport will go a period of time without increasing their total, or “getting stuck” on a number with a lift.  Their total may even go backwards for a period of time.  This is absolutely normal.

The lifter just needs to continue to train hard and continue to attack their weaknesses.  They do not need higher volumes, or higher frequencies.  Most lifters can stand to train harder than what they already do.

I had this idea before, but I only applied it to the competition lifts and their variations.  This is unsustainable and actually disregards the technical components of the lifts.  This is another issue with just throwing more stimulus at the lifter through competition lifts.

They try to push numbers, which leads to breakdowns in technique, or the fatigue from the added volume leads to the lifter’s technique breaking down and usually follows with some nagging issues.

I have been told by a few coaches that you need to squat, bench, and deadlift less to improve your squat, bench, and deadlift.  I never really knew what this meant until recently.  I always thought it meant using more variations within the lifts, but this is not necessarily true. 

I learned a lot about coaching technique from Boris Sheiko in the 3 years that I worked with him.  There are certain average intensities, number of lifts, and set and rep schemes that work best to improve technical efficiency within the lifts.

I learned the importance of heavy singles to train the mind, strain, and technique under heavier weights.  We have combined these 2 pieces pretty successfully.  We rotate between max effort and technique work to make sure we get enough of the volume necessary to improve, but also enough sport specific singles.

There are bad programs, good programs, and great programs.  I would say that most programs fall in the good range, but there are more bad programs than great programs.  I would say where we currently are is good.  We are not into the great area yet.

In order to get there, we need to make a few changes to how hard we currently work.  Working hard does not mean doing more, it just means getting more out of the program we currently have.  This requires accountability from the lifter.

Any asshole can follow a program with given percentages or RPEs.  Mindlessly going through each repetition and just checking a box to say you completed it.  This is great for the lifter in many cases as it puts the accountability on the program and not on themselves.

We live in a culture where no one seems to be accountable for their actions anymore.  In order for any program to be great, the lifter needs to be accountable, and they need to bring something extra to what is written on that sheet of paper.  Coaching is the process of guiding this attitude.  This is more important than the number of sets and reps in a fucking Excel spreadsheet.

Our program is setup like this:

Main movement-rotates between max effort and sets and reps at a percentage of that max effort lift

Secondary movement- Sometimes this is backdowns of the same variation, it can be a different grip or stance occasionally, or it can be something like a variation of a goodmorning.

Third movement- this is usually still pretty specific to the movements of the sport, but not as much as the others.  This could be a belt squat variation for example.  

After we usually hit abs and one other muscle group.  There is a lot of flexibility within these categories.  For example, I did a squat max effort yesterday, followed by a heavy set of 5 on goodmornings, followed by a heavy set of 5 on zercher pin squats, and finished with abs.

Sometimes we will do rep work on squats or bench, followed by rep work on deadlifts.  Then there might be a straight knee deadlift variation, hypers, and abs.  This is all depending on the week, the day, and the individual.

We do not typically push our rep work with the squats and deadlifts, and it depends with the bench press.  This is for recovery and technique.  However, if we bench and follow it up with close grip backdowns, we will push that exercise a bit as it is to build tricep strength and not technique.

These secondary movements need to be pushed harder than what we were doing before.  They can help build up strength in weak areas.  Going light on these exercises will not build up strength the same way as going heavier.  Our goodmornings, zerchers, close grip work, straight knee deadlift variations, all need to be trained harder to make our programs go from being good to great.

These also means that the lifter needs to be accountable and truly get after these exercises.  This is why having good training partners is so important.  They can literally be the difference in you being the best you can possibly be or being a diluted version of that.

These lifts need to be taken close to failure to be effective.  This doesn’t mean taking the technique work of the comp lifts and their variations to failure.  We run the program as written there, but the other stuff needs to be to really build up that strength.

As I was told at Westside, “The work does not start until it begins to get hard.”

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