Written by: Kevin Cann
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. This picture taken by Jim Elli of 9for9 Media captures a moment where 1000 words may not be enough. These last 10 days have been pretty crazy for me and some of the most memorable of my coaching career.
This stretch kicked off with a local meet that Total Performance Sports puts on with the Revolution Powerlifting Syndicate (RPS). This is a long weekend for us as we help lug all of the equipment around, put it together, and also break it down at the end. This is on top of coaching.
I only had one athlete competing in this meet. Danielle was the first powerlifting athlete that I ever had and this meet marked her 1 year anniversary of competing. That is right; I have only been coaching powerlifters for a little over a year.
I wasn’t that strong then, and even though my lifts have gone up substantially, I am still not that strong. In spite of this, Danielle put her trust in me to get her as strong as possible in this sport. I have been coaching a long time, I have a graduate degree in the field, and I thoroughly understand the scientific principles of getting strong. However, I knew I needed to get better as a coach.
You see, Danielle made me a better coach before she even started training with me. I got serious about my training and started training 3 days a week with Murph, the owner of TPS. He taught me everything I know about how to truly get people strong. When I am handling my athletes at meets I literally think “What would Murph do?” Taking a job at TPS was the best thing that has happened to my career.
I sought out Boris Sheiko to write my programs. This taught me how to apply those scientific principles I knew so well from grad school to the sport of powerlifting. His programs also taught me how hard you have to work to get better at this sport, as well as my mindset approaching training and competing. The structure of my athletes’ programs, their volumes, intensities, and peaking cycles are heavily influenced from Boris Sheiko and what I have learned from him.
When Danielle started she could squat 210lbs, had never benched, and pulled 275lbs. Her best meet lifts are now 320lb squat, 180lb bench, and 380lb deadlift and an 880lb total knocking on the door of being elite. She increased her total by 90lbs after her first meet, and 45lbs in this most recent meet. She has also gone 26/27 on the platform with the only miss being her third attempt bench in the second meet.
This was not achieved lying on a bed of roses. Danielle had been dealing with a pec injury that required her to see a doc a few times and for us to really modify training on a daily basis. On top of this she started back up with grad school and had been dealing with the loss of some close family members.
Through all of this she showed up every day to train, and train hard, often dealing with both physical and mental pain (although she does complain quite a bit). She reminded me that if you want to be elite it comes at a price, and sacrifices need to be made.
Her test 3 weeks out from the competition did not go well at all. I had to keep reminding her to trust the taper. Everything was feeling like shit, we had been at this for a year, and we were right back to day 1, she had to trust me once again that things were going to be ok.
For the first time ever at a meet, she was nervous. However, she went out there and went 9/9 and hit a PR on all 3 lifts with that 45lb PR in total. Her total places her number 3 in her weight class for RPS. She fought through a tough squat on the third attempt and grinded out a deadlift at the end. This fired me up so much that all I wanted to do was grab a bar and lift.
The Thursday after the meet I flew down to Atlanta to coach Ashley at the USAPL Raw Nationals. Ashley used to work the front desk at TPS and moved to Vegas about a year ago. Around 8 months ago she reached out and asked if I would be willing to write her programs.
Ashley is strong as shit and has been lifting for a couple years. This is completely different than taking someone that is a beginner. On top of this, she is a competitive weightlifter and strong(wo)man. I needed to figure out a way to take an already strong athlete, make them stronger, while navigating training days around training for other sports. Many people say this can’t be done, that you can’t be good in multiple sports. However, I am cocky enough to think it can be done.
I analyzed the last few months of her training. I looked at her volumes and intensities, as well as her plan with weightlifting. John Broz does all of her weightlifting stuff, and I do the powerlifting. We share similar ideas on training, so it works well for Ashley. She can just look at the paper and train. Weightlifting is an accessory to the powerlifting stuff at this point, as the weight she lifts there is a very small percentage of her max lifts. So it is not very taxing from that standpoint, and also helps with her mobility and explosiveness. The Strongman work teaches her heart, and to push through.
Ashley expressed a strong desire to see where she can take powerlifting. We came up with a competition schedule to get her used to competing and qualified for raw nationals. In these meets she had hit meet PRs in all 3 of her lifts, including a 275lb squat, 187lb bench, and 402lb deadlift at 125lbs bodyweight.
This was not only good enough to qualify her for nationals, but good enough to get her a primetime spot. This means she is competing on the live stream, Friday night, against the top 10 strongest girls in the 57kg weight class. As her first non-local meet experience, this was a bit nerve wracking for everyone.
The weight cut was easy. She was able to eat a little and drink a little throughout the day and weighed in at 56.2kg. Squats were the biggest concern for me going in. She wasn’t very confident in her abilities to squat. However, she went 3/3 on her squats and hit 298lbs on her third attempt. A 23lb meet PR. We were all pumped.
Next, we went to bench. She has an extremely strong bench for 125lbs. She went 3/3 fighting through 193lbs for a hard fought 6lb meet PR. Everything was going smooth.
Now we were on to deadlifts. This is HER lift. A couple of the girls were capable of 400lbs, but she was right there with them in her abilities. In my head I had a sigh of relief. What can go wrong during deadlifts? This is her strongest lift and we are in a great spot.
She opened at 374lbs which is easy for her. Bar flies up, but slips out of her hand before she receives the down command, three red lights, and no lift. I wasn’t too worried about it, shit happens and the weight was easy. Told her to hold onto the bar like her life depends on it for the second rep.
She holds onto the bar, but receives 2 red lights and 1 white for a soft knee. In my head I am thinking “Are these judges F’ing kidding me!?” However, I tried to not show too much emotion as I never want to be too high or too low, as either of these can hurt the lifter.
I could see how upset Ashley was. She was sitting between attempts trying to hold back tears. I am sure anger, frustration, and panic were all stewing in her head. I needed her to control her emotions enough to make a technique adjustment to get those white lights. I told her that she can’t lean back so much and has to stand tall and lock those knees.
This adjustment is not easy to make while staring down a potential bomb out in the first big meet of your career under the lights of prime time. These aren’t just my athletes up there, these are friends. I was nervous myself. I was standing between Chad Wesley Smith and Steve Goggins. These guys have been doing this forever, I have been doing this for a short period of time. The thoughts of doubt crept into me a bit here, but I had full confidence in Ashley to overcome this.
Not only is she physically strong, but she is extremely mentally tough. She made that adjustment and got 3 white lights. She went from bombing out to being the 5th best in the nation at 57kg. That picture above captured all of the emotions. Ashley started to cry and I was so pumped up and happy for her I was screaming on the platform. That was 20 minutes of held in emotions coming out in a split second.
At the end of the day she hit a squat, bench, and total PR, placed 5th in the country, and qualified for the Arnold in March. This was a huge success, even though it did not feel like it through the deadlifts. Ashley got in line for her drug test, I went to the bar, got a beer, and sat by myself drinking it for 20 minutes to catch my breath.
I was so proud of these girls. They have inspired me to be a better coach and lifter in a mere few hours. Watching them display mental toughness as well as physical strength was amazing, and I look forward to many more of those moments. Athletes are always thanking their coaches at the end of meets, but here is my thank you to them. They help me as much as I help them. Thanks to my amazing wife as well for traveling all over the place to support me as a coach and as an athlete.
So they say a picture is worth 1000 words, but this one must have been worth 1,760.