Stop Regurgitating Words and Tell Me What YOU Know

Written by: Kevin Cann

This is going to be more of a rant than anything.  It is not a bad rant, but something that frustrates me at this point in my career. And before I get started, let me just tell you, I was this person before.  I think it is part of the process of maturing as a coach.

I have performed the FMS and swore by it, I have done the “single leg is better than bilateral exercise”, I have sworn by neutral spine and poor mechanics will make you spontaneously combust.

Then I got under the bar with the tutelage of one of, if not the greatest powerlifting coach of all time. I decided to challenge all of my beliefs and truly learn for myself.  Graduate school led me to think like that.  Grad school forced me to challenge many of my beliefs in the field and to support it with solid research.  I soon found out that I couldn’t back my answers up and what I thought was true was most likely not.

I am writing this article because my lifters are constantly criticized by personal trainers in this field for the way they lift.  On more than one occasion my lifters have been told to not lift with their head up.

Why should we look down? To “pack the neck?”  Why?  Because if we look up somehow we are going to herniate a disc?  Are you fucking kidding me?  When you ask these questions, you get some regurgitation about how the spine not being in neutral can lead to injury.

However, neutral spine is not any more protective against injury than being in a flexed position (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20838275).  Flexion is unavoidable in a squat and deadlift.  At the bottom of a squat there is at least 40 degrees of lumbar flexion and a deadlift has 80 degrees.  Your argument for neutral spine does not hold weight when flexion is unavoidable.

Having the head up actually gives our traps and our erectors greater leverage.  This is why the deadlift is easier when we look up.  It also pulls the hips closer to the bar which helps improve leverages.

On top of that, look at the elite lifters across the globe.  The majority of them lift with a head up position.  I watch 800 squats and 800 deadlifts a week with lifters in these positions, and luckily we have had no back issues, knock on wood.

This is why we use the Acute Chronic Work Ratio (ACWR) with my lifters.  Injuries occur when the athlete’s fatigue (acute 7-day workload) exceeds what they are prepared for (chronic 28-day average workload).

I know my whys with why I do things.  In the cases above they can site studies performed by McGill that show issues with flexion.  Again, flexion is unavoidable in these situations.  Give your athletes weights that are appropriate for appropriate volumes.

I will say that heavy loaded end range flexion is probably more dangerous.  This is another argument to keep your head up.  Keeping your head up allows you to fight flexion throughout the whole lift.  Maintaining as much extension as possible to give the strong spinal extensors of your back leverage to keep you upright, and spinal extension is a joint action of those lifts, so greater leverage to assist in lifting the weight.  This is why most elite lifters lift this way.

When we jump we tend to look up.  If you look down you aren’t getting very far.  Yes, the loading strategies are different, but when we jump we are attempting to apply maximal force very quickly.  I would argue that we would see more neck and back injuries from jumping if this was the case.  I would even argue that most jumping injuries most likely occur upon landing, or sport schedules that are too congested.

Controlling volume and building the important muscles of the back is injury prevention.  Lifting heavy, as long as the ACWR is followed, is also protective against injury.  I would argue that lifting heavy is more protective against injury than 15lb single leg deadlifts.  Take a 600lb squatter and someone that squats 200lbs and who do you think wins the collision? Which athletes’ tendons and ligaments are stronger?

The law of specificity applies here as well.  In my opinion those single leg deadlifts are not decreasing injury risk anywhere as the forces, speeds, and angles are very different than what they encounter on the field. Not that lifting heavy will mimic those speeds and angles, but the tendons, muscles, and ligaments will grow much stronger with heavy squats when compared to some lightly loaded single leg exercise.  Power skips and building acceleration volumes would be more appropriate in my opinion, but I coach powerlifters so I don’t really care.

All I want to say is to think for yourself and keep an open mind.  If someone is squatting 635lbs with their head up, maybe ask them why they look up.  You can even explain your concerns. The Russians and every weightlifter lift with their heads up and injuries in the sport are far lower than those in field sports.

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About Kevin Cann 33 Articles
Precision Powerlifting Systems is based out of Boston, Mass. Head Coach Kevin Cann leads the raw and single ply powerlifting team through individualized programming leading up to local, regional, national, and international level USA Powerlifting meets. Coach Kevin has worked as a nutritionist and strength coach for several facilities in the greater Boston area including Harvard University and Total Performance Sports. He holds a master’s degree in kinesiology from A.T. Still University and a bachelor’s degree in health and wellness from Kaplan University. Currently, Coach Kevin competes in the 105kg class in USA Powerlifting as both a raw and equipped open lifter and was under the tutelage of former team Russia powerlifting coach and coaching legend, Boris Sheiko, from 2015-2018. Kevin utilizes many of Sheiko’s legendary methods in his programs. This includes the belief that technique is the most important aspect of training. Not only has Kevin been a long term student of Sheiko’s, he also possesses his Master’s Degree in Kinesiology, the science of human movement. The combination of his Master’s degree and time spent working with the legendary coach has awarded him with the skills to thoroughly analyze your lifts and utilize the right variations, weights, and repetitions to improve your technique and continue to steadily progress over time. Through Kevin’s experiences coaching, he has made many adjustments to the program to allow for the success of his lifters. PPS has had an Arnold qualifier every year in its existence, a top 5 national total, 2 top 10 totals, and many top 20 totals nationally. Kevin combined what he learned from Sheiko with a conjugate trining style. He learned that nothing builds 1RM strength like practicing singles. He uses a constraints-led approach with the singles. The variation allows for the athlete to continually take max singles without seeing a decrease in performance. Kevin will use variations that punish technical inefficiency and only leaves room to complete the task with a more technically efficient strategy. Heavy singles also works the psychological components of the sport. Oftentimes this goes untrained and is the largest weakness in a lifter. Along with the max effort work, PPS lifters perform sub maximal work to continue to increase technical proficiency within the lifts. Some of this technique work utilizes special exercises that Kevin learned from Boris Sheiko himself. PPS supports raw, drug free powerlifting. Kevin has coached numerous athletes that have qualified for USAPL Nationals as well as the USAPL competitions at the Arnold Sports Festival. Cost for coaching is tiered and ranges from $125 to $200 per month depending on the services required. This includes an individualized program based around your needs as an athlete as well as feedback on your lifts from videos. Text support as you are training, weekly voice memos explaining details about the upcoming week, and bi-weekly training meetings with the team to discuss training concepts is part of the tier 1 service. For more information email Kevin directly at kevin@precisionpowerlifting.com
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