Written by: Kevin Cann
The internet was an incredible invention. It allows us to connect with people all over the world. In terms of strength and conditioning it has been amazing as well. It allows information to be readily available to us at our fingertips. It has also allowed me to work with one of the greatest powerlifting coaches ever, Boris Sheiko, when he resides in Russia.
With that said it does have some downfalls. It allows everyone with an Instagram or Facebook account to be an expert in any field they choose. The internet is filled with hundreds of world record holding online coaches. This can lead to some confusion for the person that just wants to get a little bit stronger.
I have noticed recently that a lot of strength athletes tend to jump from program to program. These are not just beginners, but elite athletes as well. If you are one of these people that tend to jump from program to program, I encourage you to read on.
No matter who writes the program, it has to abide by certain scientific principles to be effective. For one, it needs to be specific to the sport. If you are a powerlifter, spending endless time on training your biceps is a waste of time, as they do not contribute much, if anything at all, to a larger squat, bench press, or deadlift.
The program needs to be specific to your goals. The program also needs to create enough of a stressor that allows you to put on more muscle mass and to prepare the nervous system to move maximal weight. This principle is known as the overload principle.
Basically, over time you need to continually increase the volume and intensity to keep progress moving forward. Often times I will hear people say something like “Sheiko did not work for me” or “I got injured running a Sheiko program.”
It was not the program that was ineffective. These programs were not written for that individual. The volume may be too little or too much which would result in a program that is ineffective, or one in which the athlete cannot recover from.
Determining an individual’s appropriate volumes and intensities is no easy task, and it is a process. We are all our own unique little snowflakes. We could even take two similar athletes in size, strength, age, and anatomy and have two very different abilities to recover based upon genetic makeup, sleep, nutrition, and stress.
If you decide to work with a coach and they do not look at what you have been doing previously to help them understand where the volume needs to be, then perhaps they are not fit to be a good coach. If the coach does not analyze the volumes and intensities that the athlete has been training with, then how can they appropriately apply the overload principle? They can’t, and it is nothing more than a guess.
I use the Russian Strength Classification chart as a guideline of picking volumes. This chart places you in a category based upon your total in the big three lifts. Depending what category someone falls into, I have a range of volumes I look at. Why is this any better you may ask?
Certain skills need to be developed in order to hit those numbers for a total. The higher the total in a weight class, the greater the muscle mass and nervous system abilities of the athlete. This does not paint the whole picture however. This is just a starting point.
From there, I look at what the athlete has been doing for the last month or more. When I analyze the program that they have been doing, I calculate the average daily, weekly, and monthly volumes, as well as the average intensity lifted in each competition lift and competition variation. This is a lot of work, but necessary for the future success of each athlete.
This is also why cookie cutter programs are ineffective. They may work for some people, but not everyone requires the same volumes and intensities to get stronger. On top of all of that we look at technique. If technique is poor the average intensity will be on the lower end of the ranges, and maximizing technique will become a primary goal.
In over ten years in this field I have had my toes stepped on quite a few times. I have even had other “coaches” send me what they think my athletes should be doing. I have even received Excel spreadsheets with weeks laid out. They did this without clearly understanding the scientific principle of overload because, in one of the more recent ones, the volume was about 80 lifts below where my athlete was training previously.
The program should include enough variation to allow progress to keep moving forward, but enough work within the competition lifts to increase skill level. In general I program 20% competition lifts and 60% competition lift variations such as pauses and the like. This I took from Sheiko. I was told early in my career to mimic those that have done it best, attempt to understand why they do it that way, and finally to adapt and improve upon it. This is why I started working with him over a year ago.
If you have too little variation within the program, we run into adaptive resistance. This even applies to technique. If you do the same thing over and over again it becomes more and more difficult to make the necessary adjustments, as our nervous system has adapted to performing it in a given way.
However, if we step away for a while and come back to it, our learning can continue. For example, Louie Simmons out of Westside Barbell may have his guys run a 4 week cycle only using the safety squat bar. When his athletes go back to the straight bar, it may feel a bit off, but that “relearning” of the lift allows progress to carry on in the long term.
Strength training is filled with peaks and valleys. However, we want to make sure each peak is higher and higher so that over time we are seeing constant increases in our total. As coaches we do this from constantly analyzing, assessing, and making the necessary changes to the program over time.
Often times people will choose to work with a coach because they have a big total. We think “Well he is strong as shit so he must know what he is talking about.” Not to take anything away from getting educated under the bar, as I feel this is extremely important. However, buyers beware. What worked for that individual may not necessarily work for you.
I am not that strong, but having a master’s degree in the field, I have a good understanding of how the principles work. I also get under that bar 4 days a week and train as hard as I ask my athletes too. I have worked with the same coaching staff since day 1 of my powerlifting “career.” I will continue to work with this coaching staff for all of the reasons I stated above.
Sheiko has analyzed my volumes and intensities for over a year. I understand that to be where I want to be in the strength sports that it will take time. Changing my shoes, where I grip the bar, sumo or conventional or low bar vs. high bar does not matter at this point. To get stronger you need to put in work. You can’t drop the bar an inch lower on your back, or spread your feet wide on a deadlift and expect to just blast out a bunch of PRs. These things may be important, but hopefully you have a coach that understands all of this and that knows your strengths and weaknesses as a lifter.
No change in coaches is going to just magically make you stronger. This is especially true if those coaches do not fully understand the scientific principles of getting stronger. Do your research, ask good questions, and find a coach that you know you can work well with and stick with them. Put in the work that they ask you to and you will be better off in the long term. The athletes at the top have put in decades of work in the sport. There are no shortcuts to the top.