Written by: Kevin Cann
My second powerlifting meet was completed on April 2nd and marked my one year anniversary of taking up the sport. During this time I have learned a lot about the sport as both an athlete and a coach. When I first started I weighed 165lbs and I was still doing the mma thing 3-4 times per week. My workouts consisted of some single leg lower body work with the occasional front squat and compound upper body exercises like resisted pushups and pullups.
The goals of my training at this time were to stay healthy enough to be able to do the mma stuff 3-4 times per week. I was also working 2 jobs, one of which was as a part time coach at Total Performance Sports. This gave me very little time to get more training in.
The coaches reading this article, I know can relate. This is not the most financially lucrative job in the world, so it requires us to work some really long days. This can lead to our training sliding a bit. I would roll around and do some rounds first thing in the morning so I always had time for it, but I would leave the house at 6:00am and not get home until almost 9pm.
The group I was training with in the morning started to dissipate as life was moving forward. People were getting married, having kids, going to grad school, and having more kids. When the training finally stopped, I did not know what to do. A few months later I got a promotion at TPS to the Director of Strength and Conditioning and no longer had to work two jobs.
This freed up some time in my schedule. After meeting people like Fred Hatfield, Josh Bryant, Boris Sheiko, and Mikhail Kokylaev I was sold on the sport of powerlifting. I love to compete. I have played sports my whole life and I love everything about competing. I love the preparation and the pressure that it brings.
My journey into powerlifting began. I was always good at sports, but for the first time in my life I was taking part in a sport that I am not very good at. I am 5’11” 165lbs with long legs and long arms. This build was great for me to run fast and jump high, but not quite appropriate to lift massive amounts of weight.
I hadn’t done a bench press in over 10 years, and that was with a flat back, bar coming halfway down and going back up. I hadn’t done a squat with a bar on my back or a deadlift in quite a long time. I couldn’t lift heavy and do the martial arts and recover. Luckily I had a good team with me.
The staff at TPS all train together Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at noon. The coaches come with a wealth of experience in the sport, so I was in good hands. I know a lot of people interested in getting into the strength sports are intimidated to come in and start out because everyone is stronger. I encourage you to find a group that is stronger to train with, this will only lead to you becoming stronger. Everyone started in the same spot and they are all willing to help in an encouraging way.
On top of the great team at TPS helping me, I added Boris Sheiko to my coaching staff. His emphasis on mastering the technique of the lifts, and the practicing of these lifts through variations of them and higher volume, made sense to me with my sports background. In any sport, if I wanted to get better at something I practiced that one thing, and powerlifting IS a sport.
The higher volume of competition lifts is performed with a lower overall intensity. The goal is being able to make adjustments in technique, from repetition to repetition. This is very similar to a Major League Baseball player making adjustments from pitch to pitch in a baseball game, a quarterback working on fine tuning footwork and throwing mechanics, a basketball player improving shooting mechanics, and so on.
Being able to perform the volume necessary to build muscle mass and improve technique requires you to be in shape. Moving well, building work capacity, and building muscle mass are the foundation of the pyramid in any sport. This is no different for powerlifting. The difference in coaching for powerlifting and strength training a field athlete is that lifting weights is the sport.
When training field athletes, certain form is good enough to keep them safe and get them stronger so that they can be better at their sport. What I have learned from Sheiko and Murph at TPS is that technique can never be good enough. The slightest technique fault at submaximal weights only gets amplified under heavier loads, and the goal of the sport is to lift as much weight as possible.
The sport is all about finding a way to maximize the leverages you have or to minimize the leverages that work against you. With athletes you may have everyone squat a given way, as you are not worried about them missing depth under maximal weight. Foot position, hand position, bar position, and gear all need to help you improve your leverages and give you the best chance to lockout weight.
With my longer limbs my feet and hands are wider in the squat, and my hands are wide and I arch as much as possible without losing leg drive on the bench. My anatomy is more built to sumo pull, but I actually pull more conventional. To improve my leverages, give me more leg drive, and get speed off the floor, I deadlift with a lower hip position. This uses more quad off the floor, which my quads are pretty strong from playing sports my whole life. My shins are not quite vertical, but have about 10 degrees of forward lean.
Competition days are one of the hardest things I have ever done in sports. This past competition I began warming up at 3pm and took my 3rd attempt deadlift at 7:20pm. This was almost 4.5 hours of being in competition mode. The challenge is the mental ups and downs of competition day.
You need to get mentally prepared to hit your squats and then you take a break. My break was close to an hour and then I had to get mentally amped up again to hit my bench. After I grinded out my 3rd attempt on the bench, I had to catch my bearings, change my shoes, and warmup for a pull. This deadlift I wanted to pull an all-time PR for myself too. This was mentally and physically draining, but went well in the end.
I have put 210lbs onto my total in the year that I have been training and I am still not that strong. Unlike other sports where people can pick them up and be good, this one requires work and time in the trenches. Right now I am enjoying the process and understand that it is a process. There is a lot of hard work to still be done, but I got a bunch of great coaches on my team, great training partners and friends, and plenty of ammonia.