Creating Stable Adaptations

Written by: Kevin Cann

It gets easy to get caught up in the idea that pushing harder is always the right thing to do.  Even at times knowing better I will push things harder than I should.  Problem is, I am not 24 years old anymore.

Our program uses submaximal reps to help stabilize adaptations.  I have found that these reps do not need to be very hard in order to accomplish that job.  Higher intensity lifting builds the internal pieces necessary to increase strength, while submaximal volume helps stabilize the adaptations.

Due to this phenomenon, we alternate between max effort lifts and submaximal effort work every week for at least 67% of our program.  On week 1 they will hit a max effort lift of a particular variation.  The following week might be 70% of that max effort lift for a 5×5, and then week 3 they try to beat week 1 by 5lbs.  Working on that competition skill.  This also gives us everything we need from the mental to the physical to develop increased skill within the sport.  This even includes the neurochemistry that comes with building momentum and small wins.  This also ensure that we have adequate repetitions as well.

Our phase 3 will have max effort lifts on day 1 and day 2 for the entire phase as we ramp up for a competition.  The deadlift still rotates every week, and the volume on the other days stays high.  I have been giving the same exact meet block to lifters and just had them beat all of their last meet prep’s lifts by 5lbs.  This has led to a lot of PRs.

What is more interesting is that our performance on the platform has been much more stable.  We are hitting our gym bests with much higher consistency than in the past.  This was one benefit of a Sheiko program.  I feel his style led to consistently hitting your gym bests on the platform as long as the nerves were controlled.

When I moved away from mimicking his style, we saw greater increases in strength at greater rates, but the increases were far less stable.  We were working up to 1 to 2 heavy top sets every day.  The intensity was high, but the volume on the lifts themselves were definitely on the lower end.  

Rate of progress is another interesting topic that ties in with stable adaptations.  The lifters that saw incredible results very quickly were the ones that hit the wall and prolonged plateaus later on.  When compared with the lifters that saw incremental progress, the results were very similar when stretched over a few years.

I think biology in general favors incremental progress.  It makes sense that strength adaptation would favor incremental progress as well.  This is where the limitation of block periodization exists in my opinion.  Each block assumes that it is giving the biology of the individual enough time to adapt to certain stimuli.  The problem is that rate of progress is a very individualized thing.  There is a genetic piece to it, but also sleep, nutrition, and stress management are all important pieces.  The internal and external environment need to be setup in an appropriate way to see these increases.  They can’t be forced.  That is where unstable progress occurs and an increase in injury risk becomes present.

As a coach we need to create an external environment that matches the intrinsic dynamics of the individual.  I feel that in the past I missed the intrinsic dynamics part.  I was only constructing an external environment without focusing on the internal environment that is necessary to see progress. 

This internal environment doesn’t just include the pieces that we can measure such as sleep quality and nutrition.  The psychology of the lifter is a very important piece to this puzzle.  We need to lure PRs in instead of chasing them.  Chasing them leads to the coach creating an external environment that does not match the intrinsic dynamics of the individual.

This is also why the lifter needs to play a role in the decision-making progress of training.  It helps give the coach an idea where those intrinsic dynamics lie.   Benefit of max effort work is that the lifter needs to make the choice for weights to put on the bar.  Then the reflection with the coach afterwards can help to guide those intrinsic dynamics in the right direction.  Situations are constantly arising in training that offer these opportunities.

I think that Antoly Bondarchuk was on the right path with keeping a lot of the training program stable.  This is a way for the coach to identify the rate of progress of each lifter.  Our rep work stays very stable and only progresses when the lifter is ready.

The lifter will put last set RPE in for each exercise.  I should see this RPE drop from week to week.  This is not always linear, but longer-term trends seem to be more stable. The max effort lifts allow us to see the stability of sport specific performance, and the weekly rep work gives me a good idea of the rate of adaptation for each lifter.  However, we do one more thing to monitor this rate of adaptation to create stable progress.

Every 4th week we have a 3-day week with 80% comp lifts.  This lets me see how the comp lifts are looking with decent weight, and how easy or hard they look.  As they become easier, they will progress every 4 weeks.  Sometimes they are not easy, and we keep them the exact same.  The rate of progress is very individualized.

Having a stable training structure helps to identify areas where the lifter needs to improve upon to see the progress in which they hope to see.  Of course, there are times where we may need to pull back a bit, but then the conversation turns to what we need to do to be able to perform the necessary work.  We use the same protocols to then monitor the progression and we make the necessary adjustments when the time is right.

I feel this helps with lifter expectations and training attitude as well.  They can see that progress is not occurring in the way in which it should in the perfect world, and we can strategize on ways to improve it. 

There are ways to manipulate exercise selection to address some of these issues as well and keeping workloads a bit higher.  This is something I will cover at another time.  Each max effort lift has a different level of anxiety that is introduced with it.

Stable progress happens incrementally and with patience.  The external environment needs to be in line with the intrinsic dynamics of the individual. If progress is not happening as expected, adding more is usually not the answer as this pulls the external environment further away from the intrinsic dynamics of the individual.

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