Bringing it All Together

Written by: Kevin Cann

I have been coaching for close to 20 years, almost half of which has been focused on powerlifting. I was fortunate enough to be coached by Boris Sheiko for the first three years, and also fortunate enough to have been working at a gym where I was exposed to multiply and raw powerlifting (surprisingly no single ply lifters).

The next seven years saw me find my way to a conjugate program. I went to Westside for a weekend and I have been coached by Laura Phelps for the last six months. All of this experience meshes with my two degrees in the field, and another ten years coaching real athletes (subtle dig at us powerlifters here if you did not get it).

Here is what I learned, it all came back around full circle. I really resonated with Charlie Francis’ stuff early in my coaching career, and resonate with it even more strongly now. The idea of small bouts of continued exposures to a strong stimulus over and over for years is the best way to train.

He also stated that a body in recovery is only seeking homeostasis. You need to be sure the athlete is recovered enough to get the performance adaptations from that strong stimulus. Conjugate supplies a system that lays out the framework for repeated exposures to a strong stimulus and Sheiko was a master of moving pieces around to allow for better recovery between high stress training days.

This is where my experiences with Sheiko can come in handy. Louie created a conjugate system where there are two days of max effort and two days of dynamic effort. The max effort exercises rotate and the dynamic effort volumes wave to aid recovery. The Dynamo Club in the 1970s had a bit more of a phasic structure. Variations started out more general and became more specific as competition drew near. Sheiko would have a high stress day every 7-10 days with medium and low stress days between exposures.

I run a very Westside conjugate program as a lifter with Laura. The good morning as a max effort every third week is key as well as the volume distribution of accessory work to stay recovered between sessions. Knowing when to pivot is very important too.

I have noticed that my lifters are a bit different. Most are not all-in, and that is a choice for some, but a matter of life circumstances for others. They have jobs and families that take priority. My traumatic childhood, along with 35 years of competitive sports experience, gave me a super power to push through and recover. Not everyone has this background. Maybe they played a high school sport, but mostly they were in the band and trying to find Pokemon.

Training is nothing more than the combination of methods. As a coach we need to organize them in a way that allows for recovery between high stress exposures. Not all max effort lifts are created equal. A deadlift with heavy bands is much harder to recover from than a cambered bar box squat with chains. Dynamic work with less weight, or only one lift instead of both squats and deadlifts, are easier to recover from. When there is not the “juice” to give the necessary intent for max or dynamic effort we can use a good morning, or use that slot for comp lifts. I tend to use much lower volumes here for the comp lifts, but this can be flexible.

When this plan is laid out it begins to look more like a Sheiko program in structure than a typical Westside template. However, the days look very much like a Westside program. I am not a fan of using pauses in the lifts as it decreases force production. It also decreases noise in the system making it less specific from a coordination viewpoint. I would rather speed it up through weak spots and through continued exposures get stronger there. This is where bands and chains are utilized. If I want strength out of the bottom, the bar starts on pins and then perhaps we add bands and chains. So ultimately the program looks like a Sheiko structure with Westside dynamic work and variations.

Read More