My Experiment with Singles

Written by: Kevin Cann

I love taking singles.  In any sport I have ever participated in, I would much rather scrimmage than drill various aspects of the sport.  Singles to me are like getting to scrimmage in practice. I always felt that all of the sparring rounds that I did in mma made me a better fighter than anything else.

I honestly believe that if we could do more singles in training, we could yield better results.  I decided to only perform singles in my training and that these singles would be max effort.  I learned rather quickly why many people say that you can’t just do singles all of the time.

When I started, I was getting into gear.  Everything I did was a comp lift in the gear.  The goal was not to actually do singles, but it was to do rep work in the gear.  However, I was just not capable of doing this rep work in the equipment.  It was throwing me around and I struggled to handle the pressure.

Once I developed an adequate enough technique for the gear my progress was all over the place.  My squat would fluctuate pretty significantly each week, my bench rode steady progress until it fell off a cliff, and my deadlift would bounce around to then peak, to then crash really hard.

I was not very concerned about the numbers because I was trying to learn how to use the equipment before my meet.  At the meet my squat was feeling good.  My bench ended up being 20lbs less than my best and looked harder, and my deadlift was 25lbs less than my best.  I went 8 for 9 in my first equipped meet and I was pumped at that.  I say to my lifters that execution needs to come before the weight on the bar.  Execute at a high level and the weights will come.  This doesn’t mean we do not train hard, but we train at a specific standard.

At the competition I felt as fresh as I ever had.  This was in spite of not doing much volume at all.  I might have done a couple sets of doubles or triples after a single in the squat, or board work in the bench.  I never did backdown volume in deadlifts.  

I missed a bench warmup at the meet.  Then I went on the platform and grinded out 3 singles.  To be honest I am not sure how I did that.  Even though the numbers were less, the fight was much higher.  Even after all of that, my first two deadlifts moved extremely well.  The second was a weight I hadn’t touched in a while.  The third just fell out of my hands.  

Feeling fresh at the end of my first equipped meet really opened my eyes to the importance of singles.  I had already had a few of the PPS lifters performing more singles in training as well and they were getting some good progress leading up to Nationals.

Anyways, I was sold on doing more singles, but how?  Westside has their system, but there are some things within the system that I am not so sure about.  A big part of Westside is actually being at Westside.  That environment and that culture would drive success with any program.  With that said, they have done some things right.  There are a lot of strong people that have come out of there.

The same can be said about the Bulgarian weightlifting team as well.  Many will have negative things to say and to just toss it up to drug use, but we can’t forget that a lot of strong people came out of there too.  There are things that we can take away from each place.

The Bulgarians would limit psychological arousal and stimulant use.  I do not limit these things, but they do that because the psychological arousal makes recovery more difficult.  Instead I really focused on training my mind and giving my athletes the psychological tools to cope with hard training.

When I looked at Westside, they were not using slight variations in the lifts.  They would have a box, a specialty bar, and some bands mostly.  This made me think about the absolute loads relative to the competition max of each lifter.

Bar weight may be less, but the band tension would oftentimes be overloaded at the top.  This put a thought into my mind.  What if each position of the lift had a different recovery cost under the same loads?  Hear me out.

When we use bands the weight deloads at the bottom position, the toughest position of the lift.  As we go through the ROM the tension increases and the top end weight is more.  For myself, and many lifters I have talked to them feel that straight weight is more difficult to recover from.

Now do not get me wrong.  I understand tension and straight weight are different, but at some point, weight is weight and force is force.  If I squat 500lbs straight weight vs 350lbs straight weight plus 150lbs in band, what is the real difference in the overall training plan?

For one, if 500lbs is my max, I will not be able to lift that straight weight very often and the results will be very unstable.  I will not miss that 350lbs plus 150lbs in band tension.  I can do that under many different conditions, and I can do it more often.

There has to be enough bar weight to make the weight in those disadvantaged positions heavy enough.  That is important.  350lbs is 70% of 500lbs.  My best with this band tension is 405lbs and my best squat is 517lbs, making the weight in the hole 78%, but 555lbs at the top.

This gives me a max effort single, with high force production, that deloads in the more disadvantaged positions of the lift allowing me to recover better.  My theory is that the joint angles themselves matter for recovery.  

I have gone back and forth quite a bit on absolute loads and recovery.  I had a good conversation with Mike T last week about this topic.  He had asked me if I think that the absolute load matters.  I said that I am not sure, but I lean towards yes.  

He seemed to be in the same boat with this.  He made a good point, “It does not seem like it is nothing.”  Like anything, it probably matters some.  My simple answer was that maybe it just requires more physical work to lift heavier absolute loads.  I don’t know.

ROM definitely matters for these things.  A floor press is pretty easy to recover from even if the absolute loads are high.  I have one lifter maxing out floor press and then hitting rep PRs in a comp style bench 2 days later.  

Westside Barbell Culver City realized that if they did high box squats, they could train the squat twice per week, and with the high box this was an overloaded movement.  Bands to me are similar to this except you can get the full ROM squat.  Although, we do use high box squats as well.

If I used a high box squat, I might use a deficit deadlift later in the week.  I did a wave of close stance box squats and I combined it with elevated deadlifts.  I feel those deeper positions are more difficult to recover from and I did not want to train them hard twice for fear of not recovering.

The low box squat is like a deficit squat.  We wouldn’t do deficit deadlifts heavy twice in a week.  This was my thinking.  Also, the squat weight was light, and the deadlift weight was heavier.  I earned with the deadlift that I can’t be grinding out singles on those days.

I had to be sure they were har, but smooth.  No shaking, no 10 second reps, but good hard reps.  This really helped stabilize my deadlift performance.  For some reason the deadlift is just more difficult to recover from.  There is a reason powerlifters say that.

When I feel tired, mentally or physically, I tend to lean towards using bands to control the loads at given positions, but still allows me to get a good hard rep with solid top end weight.  I may also choose a variation I have not done in a while where I can get an easy 5lb PR and walk away.  This gives me a training win and keeps momentum.

I discussed my training with Louie Simmons as well last week.  I told him about the singles.  He said that he took singles for 12 years and then he broke his back.  He also said that if his lifters could just do singles that he wouldn’t have anyone in that gym push a sled.  This has really made my head spin for the last few days.  I still got some things to think about and mess around with.  But that is what training is for.

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