Written by: Kevin Cann
A popular lifter/coach made an arbitrary list of exercises and gave each exercise a rating. I understand what he was trying to do, and it is really not a bad idea. Every coach has their own lists of exercises that they prefer. I could not disagree more with the ratings of a lot of the exercises, but that is not what this article is about.
Dynamic Correspondence (DC) was defined by Yuri Verkoshansky in “Supertraining” as how well a program actually improves the sports performance. I hear this often escribes by coaches as “transference.” In powerlifting this refers to how well the training leads to improvements in competition results.
In defining DC, we also need to define specificity. I believe specificity gets completely misunderstood by coaches. It is best to explain specificity by mentioning the SAID principle. SAID stands for specific adaptation to imposed demands. Basically, the body will adapt to the demands placed upon it.
The training needs to meet the physiological, biomechanics, and psychological components of the sport to enhance the sporting abilities of the athlete. Specificity is usually used as an argument for using the max effort method, heavy singles, in training. This is correct, but it is not the entire picture.
The Russians learned very quickly that you cannot just max out every single day and increase performance. Angel Spassov, the Bulgarian sports scientist, believed that the max effort method was more dangerous and shortened careers, but was the only way to develop ultra-high performance.
With anything, there is a give and take to the specificity of heavy singles. We know that the better shape of the athlete from GPP work, the more stable the adaptations become. Also, higher repetitions help build ligaments and tendons to keep the lifter healthy. If the goal was to build these qualities within the lifter, heavy singles are no longer specific.
We utilize a 3 phase training system. The first phase builds GPP, the second is our pre-competition phase where we add in a couple more max effort lifts and increase the frequency to really peak the volume, and the 3rd phase is our competition phase where we see an increase in max effort lifts to get the highest performance possible at the competition.
This is a blend between the Russian system and the Bulgarian system. We take Spassov’s advice in phase 3 but have a much more patient approach in earlier phases. Waving the max effort lifts like this we get about 80 max effort lifts per calendar year. This is far lower than even Westside. However, we get the most in the weeks leading up to a competition, where I believe that specificity makes sense.
In the other phases, the training is more specific to building other adaptations. When we look at high rep sets of lifts, they can be specific to the sport of powerlifting. I find it more beneficial to get these reps in by other means than the comp lifts as you cannot target physical weaknesses with the lifts themselves, and the high rep competition lifts can lead to nagging issues.
However, high rep sets will build GPP. This allows for a large base of physiological adaptation to build strength off of in the coming blocks. Using the comp lifts makes the biomechanical pieces specific to the movements in competition. I think it misses the mark on the psychology pieces of the sport, but there could be something I am missing here. In my opinion, nothing gets those inner voices going like some scary weight on a barbell.
I am using these examples to highlight how different coaches will interpret this information into a program. This is the stuff that actually makes it fun. It also seems to be the stuff that everyone argues about over the internet.
One pace I see a lot of people disregard Westside is with their dynamic effort work. The argument is that it is not specific to powerlifting because the weights are too light. For one, the sport is about developing force. Force = mass x acceleration. The bands do add mass into this equation and allow the athlete to accelerate the weight through the ROM.
Lifter’s need to reach peak force output before the bar hits the most disadvantageous positions for the muscles. If they don’t, gravity will win. This means that there is a time component to maximal muscle contraction for the sport of powerlifting. Westside’s dynamic effort day is specific to building this physiological adaptation.
I like to break the exercise selection into categories to make the process a little more organized. They are as follows:
- Sport Specific Movement- This is typically our max effort lifts. Max effort lifts can be 1 to 3 reps. I prefer singles here. This is about the physiological strain in positions similar to those used in competition that also have a psychological component.
- Strength Movement- These movements are programmed for 3 to 6 reps. They tend to be mostly good mornings and things like that. However, it could be a SSB Box Squat if the lifter is very weak in that movement compared to their comp numbers. Westside’s DE would fit here as well.
- Technical Movement- These movements typically follow a more set/less rep scheme. Think Sheiko or Prilepin’s chart here. The goal is to develop greater technical efficiency by utilizing this method.
- GPP- We need to build a solid foundation for future strength gains. The better in shape the lifter is, the more stable the progress and the longer they hold onto strength gains. We use sleds and belt squats and super high rep stuff here
It is up to the coach to analyze each lifter for weaknesses and to address them appropriately. All weaknesses are mental, physical, or technical. Think physiological, biomechanical, and psychological if we want to use big words.
It is not so black and white and there is carryover between categories because it is ultimately one human. Westside uses short rest periods on DE day, there is a GPP component to that. The coach can address all of the needs and weaknesses of a lifter without the lifter even realizing it at times.
An arbitrary list of exercises doesn’t work without the context of using them in a program and the lifter they are programmed for. There aren’t just good and bad exercises. There are exercises and the coach’s ability to problem solve.