Lifter Case Study: Drew

So I wanted to do a little case study breakdown of Drew, because his programming is one of the biggest outliers in comparison to other athletes I coach. He is probably not the best person to copy in regards to program set up, but what I do hope to showcase here is the thought process behind following the data presented versus forcing preconceived bias. And possibly within that, you may find a couple things here or there that may be applicable to you, but more so see what “following the data” truly looks like. To start off in short, Drew came to me with years of chronic knee and back pain, which I have detailed in past posts. He saw multiple specialists to no avail, and to this day neither of us really have any idea what the issue was. But honestly that doesn’t really matter because it doesn’t change the fact that we needed to drop the preconceived bias of what we think we should do and instead follow what worked. 

In the above slides (CLICK HERE) you will see some lifts from this week where he is repping out 595×4 on deadlift at what he rated a 5 RPE, 474×2 on Safety Bar squat at 6.5 RPE, and then 3 slides of his current squat and deadlift setup. Both the squat and deadlift are massive PRs, and at this point about 6 weeks out from his next meet, we are working at sub 7 RPEs, doing very little competition squat work, and doing only reps of 3 or higher on deadlift. None of that makes sense in the general landscape of most powerlifting programming, but it doesn’t matter. 595lbs is just 30lbs off his best single from last prep on deadlift, and 474lbs. on Safety Bar is 30lbs. off his best Competition squat from last prep, which both of those were at notably higher RPEs. And maybe the biggest PR currently is that it has been I believe 4-5 years since Drew has been able to do uni-lateral quad accessory work, and he’s currently hitting Bulgarian Split Squats with 70-90lb. dumbbells in each hand.

I could probably write an E-Book explaining all factors and decision making of how we arrived at this current setup, but for the sake of you all I’ll try to keep it to the 3 main things we found that led to this system. 

1.) If it is not blatantly obvious, Drew cannot tolerate high volume squatting. We do 2 singles on Monday, and then 2 ascending sets up to a top set on both Wednesday and Saturday. His workload is extremely minimal and for most would be below their minimum effective volume. But for him it is spot on. We keep reps at all times 5 or below, and for the most part doing all top sets in the 2-4 rep range. Anytime I have tried to push that higher it hasn’t gone well, whether that be higher rep ranges or more total sets. At one point I had him doing 4-5 sets each day and that didn’t work. He responds to a very minimum dosage and very low RPEs.

2.) In combination with point number 1, we did not arrive at pain free squatting until we also brough the relative intensity down on deadlift. That was the final piece of the puzzle that really took me a while to figure out. And if you have read past posts, it was kind of on accident. In the first meet I worked with Drew, he had a pretty acute knee flare up on his 3rd squat and could barely walk for 2 weeks, so we really had to pull back. And he had done this before, this was nothing new. But each time as the weights crept up the pain increased as well. Since this is the first time I had worked with him through this slow load management phase though, something that became evident is that it was not squat intensity that was creating the increased pain, it was whenever deadlift intensity reached a certain threshold. And sure enough, once we pulled back deadlift intensity pain subsided and he was able to squat pain free. And double benefit, his deadlift progressed even better at these more submaximal relative and absolute intensities. 

3.) And lastly, we had the back pain issue, which stemmed from low bar squatting. After his last meet, just to be able to get back to a pain free state, I programmed this current microcycle layout of just 2 competition squat singles on his Monday tertiary day, and then SSB for both the primary and secondary day. At first this was supposed to be just a setup to help him return to a pain free state, but we came to realize he was getting stronger than he ever had before, had no knee pain still, and now had no back pain. So I told him leading into this coming meet, why mess with that. Let’s just keep rolling with this setup because it’s the best you’ve ever felt and arguably the best progress he’s had in 5+ years. Does it defy conventional wisdom, yes, but why mess with what is working. I am pretty confident at this point we now have the micro and meso cycle setup that we are going to continue to use for the foreseeable future, and excited to see within this the progress Drew can continue to make!

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