If you’ve any interest in powerlifting or strength training, the next few days are going to be VERY interesting for you. As I sit here in my apartment in La Manga, Spain, I’ve just finished day 1 of 3 at the International Powerlifting Federation’s Coaches License.
I’ll be sharing my thoughts and transcribing my notes at the end of each day for 2 reasons – to keep it fresh in my mind as reference material, and so you guys can learn too.
…HOWEVER… if you don’t like powerlifting or strength training, you may want to tune out for the next few days.
Before kicking off, I must emphasize these are the points I’ve taken away from the course, and it should not be assumed this was all that was covered. These notes have been taken for my own benefit and to share with the Irish federation, and you guys. I’ve tried to include as much relevant stuff as I can, but I’m sure important points will be missed.
Furthermore, I’ve tried to make sense of and expand on my notes here, but there will not always be a logical flow to how the information is outlined, and given that it’s 9.58pm as I start it, and I need to be up at 7am, you’ll have to forgive any lack or clarity
The purpose of the course is to develop and certify international standard coaches who can then go home and create a pathway of development for all their nations coaches. Over the coming years there will be a second level added on to the course, one which you will only qualify for if you can show clear progress of lifters and their development over a 2-4 year time frame (final details pending).
All sports use powerlifting as part of their preparation, but for some reason powerlifting has been left on the bottom of the pile when it comes to recognition and notoriety.
(I contend that it is because it’s boring as shit to watch for outsiders, but with the increase in live streaming, it is improving).
SOME THOUGHTS ON TRAINING
During competition, lifters should lift. Coaches should coach. And managers should manage. The cross over of roles in competition is detrimental to team performance. For that reason, enthusiastic athletes who have failed to qualify for major championships should be encouraged to be part of the team in a coaching / management capacity.
When it comes to championship preparation, you will usually train in a much more specific way for the 4-6 weeks prior to the required peak. That means a lot of time will be spent recovering during lifts (3-5 minutes) and you will mostly be training concentric competition variations.
It is also important to remember the concept of imperfect preparation – during competition, shit goes wrong. So if you’re wrapped and suited and there’s a misload, or a lifter dumps the bar, you must be confident you can still perform optimally.
THE PREPARATORY PERIOD
During the earlier volume stages of training, it’s more likely the lifter will spent a lot of time in the 75-85% range with imperfect recovery. Once approx. 75% of maximum recovery has been reached (measured by heart rate in the 120bpm range), it’s time to go again. Typically the means 90-120s break.
In addition, all strength qualities (maximum, elastic, endurance) will be trained during the preparatory periods using a variety of different techniques. Such as concentric, eccentric, isometric and isokinetic styles of training.
For eccentric training, Dietmar emphasized the importance of focusing on TIME rather than weight. Typically weights in the 100-120% range of 1RM are used, looking for 8-10 second negatives around the former, and 4-6 seconds with the latter.
WORKING ON WEAK POINTS
A great way to develop and improve weak points or positional failings is thru the use of isokinetic tempos. For example using a 5sec up and 5sec down phase during squats to adequately set position, and to activate all muscle groups involved in the movement.
Over training phases, lifters should look at the setting of Macro (annual), Micro (training cycle) and Workload (daily) goals. The workload one was something I found very interesting – the idea that over a day, a week or a month you’ve a certain volume threshold to hit.
And hit it you must.
If muscular or joint tightness is a weak point, you must dedicate a set period of time and effort to correcting it. Especially if it is causing you to lose position or a lift or train inefficiently. Typically post workout, lifters will stretch for 10-15 minutes to restore muscle length and enhance recovery. These are not “hard” stretch sessions tho.
Beginning lifters pass thru a number of stages;
- Rough Coordination
- Fine Coordination
- Stabilisation and adaptation under varying conditions
In the orientation stage, technique is not consistent and the lifter doesn’t really know what they’re doing. During this stage it’s wise to use partial movements so as not to overwhelm the lifter, along with the demonstration of performance using pictures, partners and videos.
Similarly, during the rough coordination stage the lifter still has a “hit and miss” consistency with lifts, but now full range can be practiced using around 50% of an estimated 1RM load.
During the fine coordination stage, video and picture feedback of position is used to show the lifter who they are doing during sessions since it is assumed they can perform the lifts correctly, and technical breakdown should be rare.
Automation is as it sounds – the lifter just gets the work done the same way each time like a robot. All the movements are sequenced, programmed and automated.
Finally, during the final stage – the lifter is able to receive and make small on the fly adjustments for technical faults, or any minor tweaks that need to be made without having to practice or worry about them. Their technique and awareness should be so good that they can take feedback and automatically implement it.
SQUATS & BAR POSITION
Perhaps somewhat controversially, Dietmar does not like the “low” low bar position as it tends to incline the lifters torso forward and put more stress on wrists / elbows / lower back, and makes achievement of the official start position impossible. I see where he’s coming on this because I know a few people who exaggerate that position so bad that they look like a turtle when they squat, their head almost sticks outta their chest.
Instead, look for a higher bar position that sits across traps and just above rear delts. It will allow you to keep more upright and generate more force with the legs. If you consistently squat low bar, you almost certainly need to spend more time strengthening your quads since your lower back and hips take over the movement.
HOWEVER (there’s that word again) if you squat well with an extreme low bar position and can move more weight that way, it should be adopted during the final competition preparation phase which is normally about 5 weeks long.
If you have spent a large portion of time performing a lift a certain way, it does not make any sense to change in the weeks before a meet. After the competition, the lifter and coach must assess what was good, and what was not, and prepare a training cycle to ensure long term progress.
…even if that means for the next 3-6 months the lifter is “weaker” in the sense that the load being moved is less. If it feeds long term development 12-18 months down the road, it’s cool.
(oh and based off some German research, apparently given womens hip / femur relationship, front squats may be THE BEST squat assistance movement there is)
This training session was NOT what I was expecting. Especially the long aerobic warm up before hand. I can see why it’s important – if you’re unfit, you won’t recover between sets and sessions, and that’s no good. Some of the heavier guys were really gassing hard after it.
We started by talking about the idea that if you have a weak point, you don’t strengthen it with continued training in the same way. You must drop the volume and intensity of the main competition lift and up that of the work you’re doing to improve your specific weakness.
We did 3 squat variations – toes elevated squat, squat on bosu ball (really) and competition squat.
At all times, we were reminded of the importance of driving your knees out on the descent in order to create the shortest distance front to back between the hips and knees (the longer the horizontal distance the between the two, the more load the lower back takes up).
It was recommended to use the toes elevated squat over 3-5 increasingly heavy sets as a warm up towards competition squatting. It is used to stretch the calf / ankle area in a squat specific manner so better positions can be achieved. We only ended up at 105kg (amongst a group of 200-300kg squatters) so it doesn’t need to be HEAVY. Just enough to get some movement goin.
The bosu ball squat is one which I can already feel burning up your keyboard. I’m still 50/50 on the concept of it, but I can see the logic. In our case, it was used to demonstrate the idea of controlling the eccentric to develop better balance and situational awareness. It’s not a lift that ever gets trained heavy, but instead is used as part of the warm up process for lifters who inconsistently hit good positions.
On the competition squat, I made some small adjustments. Mostly to do with trying to start more up right (starting from the head) and driving my knees out wider on the descent to keep my legs in the movement longer. We did A LOT of volume today (probably 10 sets toes elevated, 5-8 sets bosu and 5-6 sets of 3 @ approx 75% competition) and by the end I was starting to find a very nice groove.
It translated quite nicely into my own training sessions later on. There’s some triples at 80% on instagram over here: https://www.instagram.com/p/BLgp1kchVQW/
Finally, we briefly touched on some bench press principles ahead of the full training session we’re due to do tomorrow. here’s some important points;
- during competition phases, focus on lots of singles in 90% range to ensure start position is the same each rep and it’s not effected by end position (esp important for deadlift)
- for preparatory phases on bench press, push the medium wide grip (approx pink on rings or just inside) before moving to wide grip for competition phase
- during the volume phases, look at lots of close, incline and medium grip benching
- during competition phase, force wide grip 2x per week, and other variations around other training days
- for female lifters, added emphasis on pec isolation work will bring up what is traditionally a very weak muscle group for them
- you can (and should) train close grip bench two ways – with elbows wide, and elbows close
That’s all for today. It’s 10.55pm now and I can already feel myself getting stiff. A good sleep is in order ahead of some pool and sauna time in the morning before breakfast.
The best thing about the course so far as been being able to be around such strong and intelligent guys. The course is being lead by Dietmar Wolf, who has (I think) 30+ gold medals from various athletes at world and european level, and there are some very high ranking IPF international athletes in attendance too. It’s great getting to learn from them, hear their ideas on training, and just get to shoot the shit over breakfast, lunch and dinner.
If you’ve any specific Qs or anything you’d like me to talk more about as past of this, please just email me on firstname.lastname@example.org