Tapering Strategies For A Meet

Tapering Strategies For A Meet

Over the past year of coaching, the one of the biggest leaps I feel I have made as a coach is the individualization and ability to adapt during the peaking process. This skill is something that a coach cannot truly learn until they have the experience with diverse sample size of different athletes. And after 40+ peaking blocks written in the past year, I think I finally have made some progress, but still am far from where I would like to be. Looking back, the key difference from before and now is that of the last 15 or so athlete’s I have had compete, not a single one completed the peaking block as was initially written. Every single time I have adapted the program based off their performance throughout the training block, sometimes just minor change and some times major. But that individualization and adaptability has been the key to a vast improvement in performance in competition over the past 3-4 months. In particular last week where I had 7 athletes competing around the country who finished a combined 59 of 63 on attempts. While it is difficult to really some up how to adapt and individualize a peaking block, as a lot of this comes down to intuition and general experience of knowing what to look for, I do think I can summarize some general signs I have found and the changes I make based off of those, with some specific examples to base this off of:

1.) First off, I would say the norm for how I set up most peaking blocks is that volume starts to drop about 10-12 days out for deadlift, 8-9 for squat, and 5-7 for bench press. Within that based on each lifter I will most likely keep intensity high on squats and bench press up until 5-7 days out, and deadlift around 10-12. Let’s say the athlete follows this exact pattern where they perform really well with the program as written and as soon as the taper begins thats when they are notating a feeling of fatigue, just as planned. This is the best case scenario, as everything is lined up as was desired so we stick to the plan. Where I may still make adjustments though will be based on psychological factors. Possible on the Monday or Tuesday lift during the week of the meet, if they have a particular lift they feel less confident with after their performance through the peaking block, I might allow them a bit heavier single just to solidify their confidence with the planned attempts.

2.) Some athletes just get destroyed by peaking blocks. These athletes tend to suck up submaximal volume like it is nothing, but then come high intensity peaking blocks they just get beat down. But this doesn’t mean they aren’t peaking, they just respond to this aspect of training differently. If I find an athlete fits into this mold, I very well may not run a typical peaking block. But let’s take the scenario of @lstomasiello, who I was coaching for the first time into a meet and did not have this insight yet. During his 4 week peaking block Lorenzo showed signs starting the 2nd week that just all around he was very fatigued and performance on squat and bench press in particular were trending down. Come week 3, we actually had to dramatically adjust his heaviest squat day as strength was just not there and was struggling with 85% of his 1RM. Fortunately I have 1 other lifter in @phvm_lifts who shows very similar patterns, and the silver lining is that when tapered correctly Tony always performed great in competition. So I used Tony as a template for Lorenzo and started adjusting accordingly. I typically keep squat intensity and volume up until about 8-9 days out and bench around 5-7 days, but for Lorenzo I adjusted to where we started tapering 12 days out for intensity. Usually I would be more prone to do the opposite with lifters, keeping intensity high and tapering volume, but Lorenzo was obviously getting very fatigue from high intensity but had done really well with volume in prior blocks, so I followed that pattern and adjusted accordingly. The week of the meet intensity continued to drop fast, where as volume was a slower taper. Come meet day Lorenzo was the strongest he had ever been and absolute crushed our expectations for squat and bench press.

3.) For Lorenzo, there was an all around decrease in performance, but for others it may be just for one lift. @netzer_strong is a good example of this, in that his bench press was showing high signs of fatigue 2-3 weeks out. All of his other lifts were doing great, so for the scenario I was more apt to believe our volume was causing the fatigue rather than intensity. So 2 weeks out I started dropping out pressing and tricep accessory work sooner than I normally do and also dropped volume a bit on bench press while keeping intensity high. The best way to describe what I saw in Joe’s bench press was that his triceps just looked shot, so my goal was to allow his triceps to recover and be fresh for meet day. And sure enough, come meet day Joe crushed an all time PR bench shockingly fast, but now we know what he is capable of in the future with this similar setup.

4.) On the opposite end of the spectrum of the above two examples is the lifter that just keeps progressing each week during the peaking block. These lifters tend to get really beat down by high volume training blocks but excel with intensity. @posten.lifts is a great example of this, and I tend to have him push intensity on his squat and bench press all the way until about 6 days out. We go fairly heavy on both lifts the Monday of the meet, and then do a real quick drop in intensity and volume for both squat and bench press the rest of the week. The extent of this intensity and volume drop will be variable each peak based on performance through the prior weeks leading up and how I feel he is to his optimal performance levels.

5.) To follow the above point, there are some caveats here. Notice with Patrick I stated squat and bench press, but not deadlift. Each lift may have its own needs for peaking, and for Patrick we actually taper his deadlift starting 15-18 days out. While his bench press and squat do really well with driving intensity all the way through the week of the meet, his deadlift does not, and I find this fairly common on the conventional deadlift in particular. Really what I am looking for is the week or workout where we see that drop in performance. That tends to be my signal of when we need to start tapering a lift in some manner rather than continuing to drive intensity and volume.

6.) Something I find with newer lifters or maybe someone who things have really clicked with all of a sudden is that their performance is increasing so rapidly that the last thing we really want to do is stop that training from rolling. So while they may be fatigued, their almost weekly progression would serve best to keep training as is versus tapering off of intensity and volume. The two scenarios where I see this is a very new lifter who is getting those “newbie” gains or someone who has just made some drastic improvements in their technique. For these lifters every workout seems to be another step in the right direction, so for them I very well may ditch a taper all together and just have them train into the meet like it is another training day.

7.) To piggy back off the last point, some people require high frequency of skill practice on certain lifts, particularly with bench press. It would not be uncommon for me to add another quick and easy bench session 1-2 days out based on how their peaking block has gone. If I find that they keep performing best during days they have less rest between bench workouts, or that they have skill regression on days with longer breaks between sessions, I’ll specifically adjust the week of the meet to include high intensity and more frequent bench sessions to keep skill practice high.

As mentioned, this is a tough subject to really write about as there is just so much that happens with each individual that only experience and intuition can really pinpoint. To summarize, what I really am looking for is when they seem to be finding peak performance during their peaking block, push just slightly past that and then adjust accordingly to maintain that performance while dissipating some levels of fatigue. And where that individualization really comes in is how each lifter can maintain performance, whether that be through volume or intensity, and manipulating those variables accordingly to have them come in full strength on meet day.

How Weight Loss/Gain Affects Leverages and Biomechanics

How Weight Loss/Gain Affects Leverages and Biomechanics

Many times people confuse weight loss and gain’s affect on strength to be solely from muscle differences, but that fact is many of the short term changes you will see stem from changes in leverages and biomechanics. Here (click to see video) we have a side by side video of Nick hitting 450lbs. just two weeks apart, with the video on the right actually being the 2nd rep of his 450×2 set. Nik has just recently dropped from 227lbs. bodyweight to now being 205lbs. as of yesterday morning. The difference in speed you are seeing between those squats is the adjustments to leverages that had to be made due to his weight loss. If you scroll to the second video, you will see the difference in Nik’s squat from his highest bodyweight on the right versus now on the left. Notate that with the same mental cues and form, the end range of hip flexion occurs much sooner when he was at 227lbs. So what correlated with his weight loss was increased degrees of hip flexion range of motion, which eventually resulted in increased depth that actually was detrimental to his strength.

The results of weight loss or gain greatly affects a persons leverages and biomechanics on all 3 lifts. Bench press many times is the most affected, and that stems from a now increased or decreased range of motion due to the thickness of your chest and back. If you lost 20lbs. and went down 3 inches on your chest measurement, there will now be an increased range of motion that bar must travel through. On squats as shown above, the main factor that is affected is the range of motion for hip flexion, possibly now changing the mechanics of your lift from having more or less hip flexion. And the same goes for deadlift in how hip flexion range of motion is affected, but weight gain can at times end up being a detriment in this aspect versus a benefactor. Greg Nuckols did a great overview of this (Click Here For Article), but the heavier weight classes (275+) at times have worse deadlifts, or at least comparatively, than the 220-242 range (such as Yuri Belkin and Cailer Woolam). This seems to be due to the inability to achieve proper positioning due to limited hip flexion range of motion. So what are some simple tricks?

1.) For bench press, there is a reason you tend to seeing lighter weight class lifters arching more with a wider grip while heavyweights are arching less with close grips. It is the biomechnical way to improve leverages if you have a lower bodyweight. Versus heavier lifters can work more on brute strength as their range of motion naturally is less. So based on your weight gain or loss, you may find new grip positions and/or back positions start to become more advantageous/disadvantageous due to your new leverages.

2.) For squat, you will notice lighter weight classes tend to have narrower stances while heavier weight classes have wider stance widths. This is occurs fairly naturally to allow for those lifters to achieve adequate hip flexion, but not an excessive amount. Try it yourself. Try squatting with a closer stance and see how deep you can get before your torso hits your thighs (once hip flexion ends, you must either then find range of motion from the knees or the back, aka butt wink), and then widen out and try the same thing. Hip anatomy can definitely play into this, but most likely you will notice a slightly better ability to achieve higher degrees of hip flexion with a slightly wider stance. But this doesn’t mean you have to change your stance. Notate with Nik that we did not adjust his stance at all with his weight loss, we simply cued for him to cut his squat higher. He no longer needed to go to his end range of hip flexion, but rather could instead stop a bit short.

3.) For deadlift, most people will not need to adjust much with weight gain or loss, but if you do get to the point where hip flexion range of motion is a detriment to your ability to achieve proper position off the floor, a slightly wider stance could be beneficial. Notate the heavyweights who have big deadlifts such as Ray Williams, Brian Shaw, and Eddie Hall. You will notice they take a fairly wide stance, which allows them to achieve that improved positioning.

The Key to Properly Sumo Deadlift

The Key to Properly Sumo Deadlift

In my opinion, the sumo deadlift may be the most technical lift of any of the powerlifts. I think this can be shown with just how many deviations from the “norm” we see in regards to technique from lifter to lifter, as well as how many unexpected things we can see go wrong come meet day with the sumo deadlift. For that reason, I typically actually prefer most of my lifters to pull conventional if they are of similar strength levels with both. There is just a lot less that can go wrong with the conventional deadlift than with sumo. But for those who do sumo deadlift, I find one vital aspect to be where most people go wrong. This same thing applies to conventional as well, but the fact is lifters can get away with not doing this on conventional, but on sumo it really makes all the difference.

You have probably seen graphics showing similar arrows pointing to those that are above. The shoulders drive up and back and the feet drive directly down into the floor. But notice I am missing the arrows into the floor though, and that is because I want to focus on the shoulders driving up and back. Where most people go wrong is that the shoulders do not start going up until they pull, rather than what they should be doing is driving up before they pull. As you can see (Click Here For Video) with both Lorenzo and Tony, they do a great job of leveraging the bar. As soon as they bring the hips down and drive the feet into the floor, the bar actually starts moving before they even truly initiate the pull. That would never happen though if the shoulders pulling up and back did not precede the driving down into the floor. If you scroll to the second video, the slo-mo video of Lorenzo does a great job of showing this. Notice how as he raises the hips, the arms lengthen (cue “long arms”) and the shoulders are reaching up and back. As he then pulls in, the upper back does not drop at all, but rather continues to rise, almost as if he is already trying to deadlift that weight with his upper back. If you watch someone who is less proficient, what you will probably notice is that as they drop their hips to pull in, their shoulders/upper back drop as well and possibly their arms are bent. The 3rd video is of Abbee, and shows the great improvement she’s had when it comes to this. Notice on the left how as she pulls in her shoulders/upper back drop and then rapidly get pulled down as soon as she starts the pull. Versus on the right she starts with pre-tensioning her shoulders up and back and maintains that as she drives her feet into the floor. When this tension is created with the shoulders pulling up and back, the shoulders act as a lever arm that the rest of the body then hinges around. With a braced neutral spine and hinged hips, the feet are pulled down into the floor as the shoulders/upper back continue to provide tension rising up and back. To make sure those shoulders are not just pulling up, but rather up and back, as the hips pull down and feet drive into the floor, I like to think about pulling the chest through the arms. Things brings everything full circle to create not only the proper tension up and back, but also the proper torso angle to create the proper positions that are most efficient.

If you’ve ever seen a great sumo puller warm up, you will probably notice that many of the lighter warmups almost look odd. They can’t keep the bar on the ground as the pull into the floor, almost as if they are doing a pause deadlift inadvertently, due to the leveraging affect that the pre-tensioning of the shoulders up and back is creating.

The Application of “Pain Science”

The Application of “Pain Science”

There has been a recent rise in the popularity of “pain science”. While I am not completely on board with some of the more extreme opinions/theories (read the above story highlight “Injury Rehab” to read my full breakdown of this), I think there is much to be said about the overreaction many have to pain, and I am 100% guilty of this in my own training. When it comes to drug free lifters in particular, severe acute injuries are fairly rare. Injuries such as muscle tears and tendon ruptures typically do not happen to natural lifters. This is comes down to the fact that enhanced athletes can increase their strength at rates that the soft tissues cannot adapt to quick enough, so these severe acute injuries occur due to how much they are overloading these tissues past their tolerable levels. Natural athletes on the other hand tend to suffer more from overuse issues, such as tendinopathy or chronic strains. These are injuries that start out typically as just some slight discomfort and slowly build over time due to neglect.

So when a natural athlete finds themself experiencing what they believe to be a very acute injury that seemingly came out of nowhere, my first action is to create optimism versus pessimism, as there is good likelihood that it is more of a pain response versus an actual serious injury. It doesn’t mean there isn’t something that was slightly tweaked, but the issue is the 10/10 pain level far over estimates the actual seriousness of the issue. Let’s take the example of Dan, who a week ago during a backdown set on squats felt a “pop” in his quad. The picture HERE notates the spot of the “pop”. The immediate reaction of most powerlifters feeling a “pop” would be immediate freak out mode and thinking their powerlifting career is over, as we tend to over dramatize things. But with Dan, he had never had a single issue with that quad before, ever. So to think he went from zero pain or discomfort to full on muscle tear was a very, very unlikely scenario. The one thing that is certain is that some recovery factor must have played into this sudden pain. Any and all injuries are caused by a tissue being pushed past its loading ability, so if absolutely nothing has been changed in training there must be something outside of training that can be attributed to this. And sure enough I found out Dan had spent the weekend moving his brother to Colorado, picking up heavy things for hours on end, and sleeping on a coach with his knees fully flexed so that he could fit. He had produced added stress to that quad, so even though his training had been very similar to what it had been, there was now a different response due to the added stimulus over the weekend. So while Dan may have tweaked his quad a tad, I was fairly certain this was just one of those fluke little tweaks due to this added stress, and we had him do some soft tissue release throughout the week and backed down the volume and intensity on his second squat day to return his fatigue/stress levels back to baseline. Fast forward to one week later, and Dan is hitting the 365lb. pause squat you see HERE on the right, with zero pain.

This doesn’t mean someone should train through injuries or push through pain, but the point I hope to get across is that the more you can remain optimistic and not over-dramatize these acute out of nowhere pain signals, the faster you are likely to return back to training. In these scenarios, many times just a couple slight adjustments during the week can get you back to training pain free again in no time.

Why I Am Not A Fan Of The Cue “Bend The Bar”

Why I Am Not A Fan Of The Cue “Bend The Bar”

A very popular cue for increasing lat tightness is to “bend the bar”, entailing that you trying are to supinate/externally rotate your hands/arms to create tension and “bend the bar”. There is one big issue with this though, and that is the latissmus dorsi have nothing to do with external rotation of the arm. The reason someone may feel increased lat tightness using this cue though is that the action of external rotation can cue shoulder depression, but then you are left with an externally rotated humerus that is putting your shoulder in a compromising position. Notice the video HERE of myself. On the top I am using the cue of bending the bar, and you can see the rotation of my elbow as I perform this. As I descend my elbow tracks in front of the bar, creating a constant rotational force bearing down on my shoulder. Our goal is to have our joints stacked, with the elbow tracking directly under the bar to allow for the most optimal transfer of force possible, and this externally rotated position does not allow that. In my opinion, this is a cue that was more beneficial back when equipped lifting was the popular form of powerlifting, and should not be utilized in the same manner by the raw lifters of today. And within the raw powerlifting realm, this cue seems to be carried out more so by the heavier weight class benchers who use a close grip. This is important to note, as externally rotating the arm for a super heavyweight close grip bencher has a very different affect on the lift than someone who may require greater ranges of motion or uses a wider grip. The pec internally rotates the humerus, so what happens when you externally rotate the arm is it instead lengthens the pectoral muscle. Taking that information, think about the different demands on the pec that would create for a lifter who has a larger range of motion or a wider grip that places increased emphasis on the pec. That means that due to the lengthening of the pec, they are putting even a greater stretch/stress on it at the bottom range of motion. A muscle is weakest in its lengthened and shortened state, so the externally rotated humerus decreases the potential of the pec to produce maximal force from the bottom position due to its further lengthened position. So what should we do instead? We need to depress and retract the shoulders in the same manner as the “bend the bar” cue leads to, but without the external rotation of the arm. So how do we do that?

1.) The most successful way I have found to cue/force shoulder depression and retraction is during the initial setup and leg drive. If you watch the second video (HERE) of Aisling, you will see the difference between the top video where she externally rotates her arm to cue depression, versus the bottom video where she utilizes her leg drive to force depression. When setting up on the bench, we want to start with the contact of the upper traps driving down into the bench. This will allow for that elevated rib cage position and putting the shoulder naturally into a depressed and retracted state. To maintain that position though, initiating leg drive from the start and maintaining that drive throughout creates the necessary force to keep the shoulders pulling down and back. You can see in the bottom video with Aisling that as she drives back using her legs, primarily through the quads, her traps dig into the bench and her shoulders stay put, but the rest of her body slides backwards. She is utilizing the bench to hold her traps and shoulders in position, but then using her legs to create the necessary movements back to create the depressed and retracted position.

2.) While the leg drive may force that position, it is still beneficial for the lifter to also pull with the lats and scapular retractors simultaneously. There are many cues that could possibly lead to this action and just depends on what a lifter may internalize best, but for me personally I try to think about trying to touch my shoulders toward my butt, and vice versa. I am a big fan of directional cues such as this, as it gives a clear frame of reference for where the movement/cue should lead to.

3.) Lastly, if you have trouble finding this position, some type of activation work like a straight arm pullover can be done to help feel the ending position you are trying to achieve. To take even a step further, you can watch the final video (HERE) where I perform a straight arm pullover while spreading may arms to the width of my bench press, utilizing a circle band. This brings me to a very similar position as the above two points, allowing me to feel how the lats and scapular retractors are pulling the shoulders down and back so that I can recreate that tension on the bench press.