Long Term Planning in Powerlifting

Written by: Kevin Cann

This is a topic that I have gone back and forth a lot about over the years.  I started out with believing it was important, then it wasn’t, and now all of these years later we are back to understanding its importance.

There is a difference between intellectual knowledge and experiential knowledge.  Intellectual knowledge comes from reading books.  All through undergrad and graduate school I learned about the importance of long term planning in sports performance.

I learned all about the Russian long term athletic development system from my 3 years with Boris Sheiko.  This was all great, but I had never really experienced it as a coach.  I did as an athlete in my 16 years of playing soccer from 5 years old to 21 years old.  I just didn’t understand the process as I was going through it.

It became an interesting experience coaching powerlifting.  These were adults from all different walks of life that were taking part in this sport.  Some had sports backgrounds and others have never done anything before.  There is also this impatience that comes with powerlifting.

Every lifter wants it all right now.  Most lifters will last less than 5 years in this sport.  If there is no long term, how can you have a long-term plan?  Shouldn’t the plan to be to just get them as strong as you can in as little amount of time as possible?

I used to get this argument, but then I thought deeper about the whole training process.  I thought about how important sports were for me growing up.  How they gave me an outlet and helped me develop certain skills that allowed me to overcome adversity time and time again.  This is the bigger point of all of this.  Sports are a metaphor for life and a controlled environment where we can learn about ourselves, challenge ourselves, and come out into the world with the best versions of ourselves.

This doesn’t happen by just hitting some PRs for a few years.  This happens when we go through the shit.  This could mean long pauses in performance or even an injury.  Sticking with it and working through these adversities in sport will build character traits to make you more successful on the other side of the platform.

I decided that these were the values that I wanted the lifters of Precision Powerlifting Systems to develop and to build.  I knew this was not going to be popular amongst many lifters as no one wants to wait for progress if they feel that they don’t have to.  However, if one lifter really bought in and could say that powerlifting changed their life than it would be worth it.

Values are cheap until you have to cash them in.  It is easy to say you want all these things, but once you get some backlash can you hold your ground and continue to live by those same values?  When a lifter begins to get agitated at their progress, which is inevitable, it will be hard to stand your ground, but worth it.  

Long term planning needs to start with developing the fundamentals.  In many cases, most coaches will say this begins with technique.  In my experiences, there is something that needs to be developed even before technique can be refined and that is the mindset of the lifter.

I learned that lifters can become perfectionists with technique very quickly.  They will expect the next repetition to be the perfect repetition and when it is not, they get frustrated.  They need to learn that this is not the case.  That perfection does not exist, only the endless pursuit of better.  They need to learn their deeper reasons to partake in this sport and what they want to get out of it.  This gives them motivation and direction and a larger purpose to it all.

Of course, there can be a focus on technique at this same time too.  Each time frustration sets in, it is a good opportunity for a discussion and to add some tools to the toolbox to help the lifter deal with the pieces of training that they might find most difficult.  At this same time, we need to be developing a well-rounded physicality.

These fundamentals are what future progress is built off.  I take this a step further and have all of my lifters squat in flats.  I do believe that the best way to squat is to use the larger muscles on the backside of the body and to reduce the ROM as much as possible.  This means a stance slightly outside of shoulder width for a raw lifter.  With this stance, we do not want the heels to be driving us forward.  This increases the ROM and shifts the demand more on the quads.  This is not what I am looking to develop.

The coaches that preach a knees forward and closer stance squat should be advocating for heeled lifting shoes for those reasons.  I do not like this style of lifting as it negates weaknesses, uses smaller muscle groups as the prime movers, and is a longer ROM.  This strategy does not make much sense to me.  I work on developing the widest grip possible on the bench press and developing the strengths so that every lifter can pull sumo in the deadlift.  All these things take time.  Sometimes years.  

This does not mean that I force them to lift in these positions at competitions right away.  This again is a process that occurs over time.  Where they are strongest and choose to lift gives me a lot of feedback for what we need to work on.

Many will disagree with my methods here and I am more than ok with that.  I stand my choices with my reasoning.  Powerlifting is a big enough world for many methods.  That is one thing that makes it so interesting.

It is the coach’s responsibility to ensure that they are setting the lifter up for long term success.  This requires giving them the mental tools to withstand pauses in performance as well as injury.  It also should include building technique and a well-rounded physicality.  These are the things that allow lifters to lift more and more weight as the years go by.

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