The Cognitive Squat
By Mike Tuchscherer
I’m a very cognitive person. I think through everything – even when I lift I like to stay very mentally engaged. Lots of guys shout and yell before a big attempt. Not me. I even prefer silence as it lets me focus better.
One thing I’ve struggled with in the past is the depth of my squats in training. This has only rarely been a problem in a contest, especially in recent years, but it makes me wonder how much better of a competitive squatter I could be if I simply trained how I compete.
It took a lot more than this simple realization to make a difference in my training. At least for me, it wasn’t just “squat deeper” and voila. A whole array of technique cues needed to be lined up for me to squat well. I broke the lift up into a few phases and I developed a mental checklist that I think to myself as I execute each rep. That checklist helped my consistency immensely and that’s what I’d like to share with you today.
Each person has their own nuances to their setup under the bar, but the process is always the same. For me, the first thing I do is get my grip set right. This is my link to the weights and it needs to be perfect. Too far apart and I’ll have trouble keeping my upper back tight. Too narrow and it will bother my shoulders. The key is getting it just right. Then, I set my feet under the bar. Same thing here – I try to place them the same every time.
All About Intensity
Training intensity gets more press than training volume, but most of the time it just scratches the surface of the discussion. If you do more than the minimum amount of reading on the topic of training, you no doubt know that “Intensity” does not refer to the amount of emotional excitement you feel during your training, but rather the weight on the bar. You also probably know that intensity is often referred to as a percentage of your 1 rep max. But that’s about all the knowledge most guys have on the subject.
It’s true that Intensity is not the level of emotional excitement, but instead it refers to the weight on the bar. To be specific, absolute intensity refers to the absolute amount of weight on the bar, most often measured in pounds or kilograms. When people start talking about percentages, they are talking about relative intensity. This is most often a description of intensity relative to your 1 rep max.
At first the percentages might seem unnecessarily complicated, but they are actually very useful. They allow us to talk about training with one another and easily understand the loading parameters that are being discussed without asking a lot of background questions. The percentages themselves might seem a bit awkward at first, but that goes away with familiarity.
An Experience Report: Eccentric Training to Rehab Tendinopathy
By Bernhard Klinger
I was pushing my training hard for an upcoming competition and about three weeks out I started to feel a slight twinge in my right hamstring during heavy deadlifts – nothing too bad, just a minor uncomfortable sensation.
The competition went very well and afterwards I thought I’d just take it easy for a few weeks to let things heal up – but I was wrong. Even though I only had slight discomfort performing my lifts at the competition and I took some time off afterwards the hamstring started feeling worse and worse and what once was a little twinge had turned into a sharp, stabbing pain at the origin of my hamstring. In less than 2 weeks my injury became so bad that it was causing pain during everyday activities – so I knew I had to seek out professional help.
In January 2016, RTS issued a free experimental training program to anyone who signed up. It was called Project Momentum. At the outset, we were pretty sure the protocol would work, but we had no idea how well or for whom. It worked better than expected. This article is an attempt to digest some of the information, learn some lessons, and become better coaches and lifters in the process.
Why did I write this? Well, a cursory view of the statistics showed that the training worked. So why did I spend a huge amount of time crunching all these other numbers? Initially it was because I wanted to know what type of lifter was best suited for this type of training strategy. But what I ended up learning was much more about how to tailor strategies for all my lifters, whether they are suited for this particular strategy or not. I also gained some statistical backing for some things I’ve had a feeling about for a while now (i.e. the importance of the subjective TRAC questions, etc).
A quick word on the limitation of it being an online, self-report project… Yes, this is a limitation in the sense of us trying to learn biological truths. But I coach people in an online setting, so this is actually much closer to applicable information than it would have been had I walked each individual through the training in person. You can read more about the limitations in the dedicated section near the end.
The Training Program
Project Momentum was based on a high frequency model. Each of the four training sessions per week consisted of all three powerlifting style competition movements. In addition, each day also had emphasis items that added additional volume or intensity to some of the lifts. Sometimes it was via heavy singles in the competitive lifts. Other times it was via assistance or supplemental lifts.
The assistance and supplemental lifts were chosen based on where the majority of raw lifters show weaknesses. Also factored into the decisions was equipment availability. Since this program was executed in a decentralized way with varying gym equipment, we limited our exercise selection to only the most commonly available pieces for Powerlifters. If a lifter could not perform one of the lifts for any reason, substitutions were recommended by the coaching staff via the Project Momentum Facebook group.
There was an overall linearity in the periodization of the mesocycle. The beginning of the training was at a higher volume and lower intensity than the end of the training. The training mesocycle spanned seven loading weeks, plus one “meet week” where the athletes tapered and then performed a practice competition.
Including the written program in its entirety probably wouldn’t work in this article due to the length, but for the sake of understanding, I’ve included a sample training week below. This is the third week of the loading block:
A friend of mine used to tell me “health is cumulative.” What he meant was that you could think of your health like a bank account of sorts. Doing certain things added to your overall state of health. Other things subtracted from it. And if you work yourself into a hole, you’ve got to work yourself out of it again.
The same concept applies in the strength world. There are some things that you need to do to stay injury-free. You can neglect them for a while, but the longer you do, the more risk you take. Often, this comes in the form of neglected muscle groups, but can also include other aspects of overall fitness (flexibility / mobility, energy systems, etc).
Recently I was having a conversation about this with another coach. We were both remarking that high-specificity training (even extremely high specificity) undeniably gets good results in the short-to-mid term. But left unchecked for longer periods of time, lifters get injured. We know that a major key to long term progress is avoiding injury. So this very-high-specificity training cannot be a long term solution to your progress.
For as long as I’ve been lifting weights (and probably a lot longer than that), “Long Term Planning” has been eschewed and neglected by powerlifters – especially the typical non-professional-coach type, but even by some prominent professional coaches. The thing is successful coaches see the benefits (and also the limitations) of long term planning, so they put it in its proper place – much to the benefit of their athletes.
I make it no secret that I greatly respect Norwegian Powerlifting coach Dietmar Wolf. In 2013, his most prominent lifter, Carl Yngvar Christiansen (CYC for short), placed 2nd at the IPF World Championships – only 12kg behind the winner. Now, by all accounts this is a fantastic performance, but some of CYC’s lifts looked quite easy. After the meet, there was quite a bit of discussion about, “why didn’t he go for it?” Someone had heard that CYC had a minor injury and the Norwegian coaches wanted to play it safe. Still some of my friends questioned the call saying, “When you’re there, you’ve gotta take the shot!”
The thing is I see where they are coming from, but I also know Dietmar Wolf a little bit having spoken with him on several occasions. I know that he likes to consider the long term view of things. His goal is to take the athlete to their genetic potential, which is a 10+ year vision, not a 10 minute vision. Lo and behold, after playing it safe at the 2013 championship (and avoiding injury), CYC came back in 2014 to crush the competition by 200kg, set a World Record Squat and Total, and also hit the highest Wilks of any lifter in the IPF. Score one for long term vision. Read more…