We All Want Huge PRs, But Buyer Beware

Written by: Kevin Cann

I had another topic that I was actually going to write about today, but we will get to that one next week. This topic is fresh on my mind coming off of a competition and writing the training blocks for my lifters after we have competed.

Every competition every lifter wants to hit the biggest personal records (PR) that they can possibly hit.  Of course, they want this, and they absolutely should.  However, in doing so we may be forgetting about the bigger picture.

When I test my lifts 3 weeks before a competition, Boris Sheiko, gives me 102-103% for 1 set of 1. Even if this weight is easy, I am supposed to stop there.  This never really made sense to me over a long period of time.  I just trusted in the process and did what I was supposed to do.

I had also read that if an athlete of his hits a large PR (over 15-20kg) that he will actually have them use percentages for half of that increase for a few weeks first.  For example, if the lifter’s previous best squat was 600lbs and hit 640lbs at a test, for the first few weeks that lifter would use 620lbs as the max and then after that period 640lbs.  There was an easing in process to using the new maxes.

This makes a lot more sense now since I have been analyzing the acute: chronic work ratios (ACWR) of my athletes.  Dave Rocklage has added over 100lbs to his total from Nationals in October.  He added 20lbs to his squat, 25lbs to his bench press, and 60lbs to his deadlift.  These are big jumps in a short amount of time.

When I was analyzing his ACWR it became very difficult to keep his ratio between the .80-1.30 that we want.  Remember, anything less than .80 or more than 1.30 can actually increase injury risk. Keeping Dave’s number of lifts roughly the same, the ACWR would jump up to 1.4-1.5.  This is the danger zone.

Dave was not prepared to handle those increases in volume.  We had to build it up over time.  His post meet block had to look very different than the other lifters that increased their totals by smaller margins.

Nick Santangelo increased his total by 30kg and his ratio was hovering between 1.20-1.30 for the number of lifts that I was looking for in the post competition block.  This really made the words of Sheiko, Dietmar Wolf, and Matt Gary really click with me.

They all talk about adding 2.5kg-5kg on each lift at each competition.  When we look at the athlete’s training and analyze the ACWR we can see why these recommendations make sense.  They allow the athlete to build volume safely over their lifting careers.

You can get really strong really fast by pushing training.  I see this with friends and fellow lifters all of the time.  My social media is inundated with it as well. To be honest it is really hard to see at times.  I am an extremely competitive person and a very good athlete.  I know I am capable of doing much more than what I have so far.

I went through a few weeks of really pushing my training because of this.  I quickly came to my senses though.  I am in this for the long haul and steady progress is all that I am looking for.  This steady progress is what is going to keep me healthy so that I can continually increase my total for my lifting career.  A career I am hoping extends well into old age for me.

Increasing my total too quickly would lead to my ACWR being increased beyond what I am prepared to handle in training.  I could get away with this for a period of time, but eventually it would catch up to me.

This may explain why we see such a large drop-off in performance after around 27 years of age. Seems to be that most male lifters peak between 23 and 27 and then there is a drop-off in performance.  Could this perhaps be a result of increasing lifting numbers too quickly?

It is not like you just get injured the first time the ratio is over 1.30.  Also, oftentimes someone will suffer a minor setback that requires them to decrease training volume and intensity for a period of time.  This helps keep the ratio in check.  However, over time these small setbacks become larger and more frustrating and we can see performance never fully return.

At the other end of the spectrum we have David Ricks, Ls McClain, Marisa Inda, Jennifer Thompson, Kim Walford, Andrey Malanichev, and many others.  They are all well over 30 years old but are at the top of the sport.  This is not just one anomaly, but many lifters.  Could this just be a result of good training over a long period of time?  I happen to think so.

I know there are ways to get really strong really fast.  I choose not to take that route as an athlete or a coach.  I am looking for everyone to progress steadily over time and stay healthy. It is hard to see the bigger picture sometimes, but if you stay the course and stay with the sport you will have a much larger total at the end then if you get injured and fade out after a few years.

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