How To Learn From Your Coach
I have been coached by Brad Couillard since October of 2018. As a coach myself, I hired Brad not only to help accomplish my own lifting goals, but as a primary way for me to continue to learn myself. I’d argue there is no better way to learn about powerlifting than to have a knowledgeable coach. And with that, I wanted to discuss what I have learned from Brad and how I’ve applied it. Too often people just regurgitate what their coach says, rather than learning, understanding, and applying it within their own system. There have been things I’ve learned from Brad that maybe I didn’t even try to apply until 6-9 months later, after extensive research myself and gaining a better understanding so I could teach, rather than regurgitate. While I could probably list a couple dozen things I have learned, the 4 points below are the key topics that I look back on and can see the transformation I’ve had as a coach over the past 2 years due to Brad’s guidance.
1.) Something I used to do was structure off-season training blocks having the majority of the exercise selection with technique in mind. For some reason I started to get away from that though. I started programming with more competition specificity and not allowing enough time periods of lower absolute intensity training by using self limiting variations that promoted technique improvement. For anyone who has been coached by Brad, he loves tempo work. Like tempo on every exercise of the entire week, and 5 second tempos for reps. He wants to slow down everything to hammer positions and engrain those patterns. And while I find high benefit in tempo work, I think what I found within my system is that I had a strong preference for pause work. Pause squats, pause deadlifts, long pause bench, and so on. In particular Pause squats became a major staple in most of my programs, as they seemed to engrain the squat pattern and cueing I’d teach more than anything else. I started to go back to being more intentional with off-season training blocks and taking long periods of time to focus on these variations to master positions, as I saw the benefit and the long term success in my own training from these types of blocks that Brad would program for myself and his other athletes.
2.) One of the main reasons I hired Brad originally was because of his knowledge of PRI (And maybe slightly because I thought I would eventually look like Charlie Dickson if Brad coached me too!). But what I learned more so once I started being coach by him is more than just the knowledge, but the specific application of PRI within powerlifting. PRI has been a hot fad recently and you see a lot of people doing these crazy things with probably not much understanding or intention of what they are doing. This is for sure one of the things I spent a vast amount of time studying on my own before ever trying to apply it myself. And while some of the warm-ups and movement prep exercises you see can be great, more so what I learned was the understanding the body and its mechanics within movements through a PRI lens. The way I look at the squat, bench press, and deadlift as movements is completely different than 2 years ago. When I worked in Fitness Management for Gold’s Gym, I used to tell my employees that if you can’t look back 1 year and think to yourself, “Wow, I really didn’t know what I was doing” then you didn’t learn enough in the past year. I can for sure look back 2 years and be dumbfounded how I could even teach the squat, bench press, and deadlift without the knowledge I now have. That doesn’t mean I was a bad coach 2 years ago, but it does mean Brad has helped me spark an understanding of these movements that goes way beyond what I used to know.
3.) About 3-4 months into working with Brad I sent him a long video one day about how I came to realize I wasn’t really that motivated to push like I used to, which I’ll explain what that means later. We had spent a good deal of time working through my current injuries and improving patterns within my movement, and started to finally push a bit more. At that point came the increased soreness and fatigue. While that necessarily wasn’t a bad thing, its just powerlifting, from my context I had just spent 3 years not being able to squat, bench, and deadlift. I realized at this point I didn’t care as much about making progress as much as I did about just being able to train and feel good doing it every day, not just some days. I am telling you as a coach, if you want to be a high level powerlifter, there is no such thing as feeling good all the time. I knew that, but I also knew my goals had shifted. If I never added another pound to my total, but I felt good day in and day out, I would be content with that (but I will still take progress, but that was now a lower priority). That probably isn’t what most coaches want to hear from their athletes, in that they don’t want to push anymore. Brad had a unique understanding of what I was going through though, as he had gone through the same thing himself with injuries, and without any hesitation he immediately adjusted our focus and training to match my goals. This gave me an even better understanding as a coach of adapting to my athletes goals and taking their feedback to heart. It is not like I didn’t do that before, but I think seeing Brad’s willingness to listen and adapt opened my eyes to being more understanding of everyone’s individual needs and tailoring a program not only to help them progress, but to maximize their enjoyment and be centered around their goals, not mine.
4.) I have done some form of RPE training dating back to 2014, but probably for the 2-3 years prior to working with Brad I had been biased a bit more towards percentage based training in how I programmed. In hindsight, that is most likely because at the time I found I preferred percentage based training for myself, as I loved having a number that I had to hit in a workout. I also had the time had a fairly narrow focused of how to apply RPE training, and that limited my application. In working with Brad, I think he naturally started to gravitate toward RPE training for me due to my injury history and some ups and downs we saw in training. To allow for auto-regulation, RPE based training made more sense for me than strict numbers. I as an athlete grew a lot from this, as I started more and more to understand how to do the best I could each day rather than forcing pre-conceived ideas of what I thought I should do. That is exactly why I spent 3 years being injured, because as soon as I felt good I’d start trying to do the same weights I had hit previously. But now as a more experienced lifter, I understood that I can only control each days performance and what I did 1 year ago or what I will do 1 year form now has no bearing on what I should do today. This led to me having a much better understanding of RPE training, how to implement it, and allowed me to find ways to be fairly creative within people’s programs to best utilize auto-regulation as a tool for each individual. I have people I have coached for years that we had tried RPE training prior with the little success. But now that I had a much better understanding of how to be creative in applying this training tool to suit an individuals needs, I found these same people thriving on RPE based training. My issue before is I was using RPE without much context behind it. And rather now I think about how and why RPE specifically could benefit an athlete and how we could best utilize it.