Written by: Kevin Cann
As coaches I think we get stuck in our own heads sometimes about how to write the best program in the fucking world. I know I can speak of my younger self in this regard. Being so in tune to the program did eventually lead me to learn quite a bit about the training process when I took a larger view of the human in front of me. It is how I came up with a lot of the programming heuristics that I use today.
Coaching is nothing more than analyzing weaknesses and planning on ways to strengthen up those areas. These seems simple, but there is an art to it and a complexity that makes it incredibly fun. Each person that we coach is themselves, a wicked problem. Developing high level performance is also a wicked problem. This is a wicked problem on top of a wicked problem. Takes a lot more than sprinkling in some extra volume to solve.
Coaches argument against or for certain aspects of training always seem to flounder around the same argument of specificity. I think there is a massive misunderstanding of principle. If my goals are to develop hip and low back strength in a block, the exercises that lead to that development would be specific to the goals of the block.
If we are attempting to develop strength off of the floor on a deadlift, why wouldn’t a larger deficit be specific to that goal? Because it is a bit different from the comp lift? That is the fucking point. It is different to create the necessary joint angles to train a specific part of the body. You are also still deadlifting, so you are training those areas within the context of the lift itself.
If a lifter is incapable of performing the requisite volume within the program, the coach needs to attempt to understand why. We can decrease the volume and attempt to increase it up to where it needs to be over time, but this is just a small piece of the puzzle and may not actually be very effective.
In this case, the recovery aspects of the lifter are usually pretty poor. The coach needs to identify areas that need improvement here. The weaknesses, or areas needed to be improved, for each lifter exist outside of the biomechanics of the lifts themselves. They can be physical, psychological, technical, or lifestyle.
We know progressive overload is necessary over time, but it can only be achieved if the lifter’s capacity for the work is increasing as well. We can’t just continue to throw more and more volume on top of a lifter with poor mental skills and a less than ideal lifestyle for high level performance.
I think that is the person that often gets ignored by the coach in favor of the lifters that have specific talents within the sport itself. We see these talents highlighted all of the time on social media, but we rarely see the ones that aren’t talented and how well they progress over the years within a given system. We then assume because this very talented lifter, usually with years and years of high-level performance in other sports, has a huge total that it must be because of the program.
Sports teaches specific skills that go outside of the X’s and O’s. They teach effort, resiliency, what hard work is, competitiveness, and commitment. All-important qualities for an athlete to possess. When a lifter possesses these qualities, the program is much more likely to be successful than if they do not possess these qualities. I think this is a major reason why you see so many top-level lifters having a sports background.
A huge part of my job as a coach, is helping each lifter develop these skills. These skills are more important than any number of lifts on the sheet because without them, they will inevitably quit the sport. I am not popular enough to have a revolving door of people looking for coaching. I also want every lifter that I get to learn from sport, and to do this you need to stay with it long enough to go through some shit. Lessons aren’t learned from 9/9 and PRs all of the time. They are learned from injuries (real injuries) and getting fucking stuck for a long time.
Your 6 months without a PR is not a plateau, talk to me when you go years. Through those years of a lift, or lifts, stalling, do you still show up and give it your all? This is true strength, and strength that ripples throughout someone’s whole life.
I set up each block to be specific to the long term of the sport. We hit a max effort, do reps of that max effort, and then try to beat that max effort. This is nothing more than training hard, focusing on getting better, and competing with yourself. Exercises and accessories are based on the most prominent weakness, that we attack for a 4-to-6-month period of time relentlessly. It is that simple from a programming perspective.
However, the character building is a non-stop piece of the process. We are constantly reflecting upon training and attempting to learn more and more about ourselves every single day. This part of training should not be overlooked and finds most of the weaknesses that we need to attack.