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USPA vs. USAPL

USPA vs. USAPL: One Federation To Rule Them All? No

So while I am sure you came to this article hoping to hear some bashing and controversial discussion, I am sorry to say that is not the angle I am going to take. Instead my goal is to “clear the air” in the areas I see hate being thrown around and how I feel that both sides are misunderstood in these areas. I have competed in both the USPA and USAPL, I have athletes I coach competing in both, and while I personally now compete and direct meets through the USAPL, I honestly have the highest respect for both organizations and in the future plan to probably compete again in the USPA at some point. So without further ado, let’s dive in! (If you are unfamiliar with the fundamental differences between USPA vs. USAPL, read What is the difference between USPA vs. USAPL? before reading on)

The “Elitists”

This is the one issue that is stemming from both sides, and is the only area here that I may be a bit “controversial”. We have competitors from both sides bashing the other and stating that there is only one real federation, and out of everything else this is what is giving these respective federations a bad rap. The USAPL is not any better because it is drug free and known to be stricter in regards to the competition movements, and the USPA is not any better because they have the highest totals and don’t “rob” lifters of their good attempts. No federation is going to be perfect in any sport and from the USAPL/USPA to the NFL to the NBA, there is always going to be good and bad. But the reasons these federations stand out and are successful is because the good outweighs the bad. So in my opinion, the only right and wrong in this whole discussion is that if you are one of the “haters”  or “elitists” on either side, you are the ones dragging the powerlifting community down versus raising it up.

USAPL Approved Equipment List

Probably the biggest knock on the USAPL and IPF is the “IPF Approved Equipment List” and the fees that are charged to companies wanting to be a part of it. While I don’t think it is out of the question for the IPF to charge a fee, as being on this list automatically helps increased sales for these companies, I as well as most anyone associated with the USAPL agree the fee is too high.

So why do I feel this is misunderstood? If you have never competed in the USAPL, you probably don’t realize that this equipment list is only utilized and enforced at national and world level meets. If you are competing at a state or local meet, the equipment only needs to  meet USAPL standards and does not need to be on this approved list. I’d guess probably 90% of those competing in the USAPL are not competing at the national or world level meets, so they are not subject to this list, therefore they are at free will to purchase from a vast majority of different brands. So the next question is what is equipment that meets USAPL standard? Basically the same brands and equipment that is allowed in USPA. So before you hate on the USAPL/IPF for their equipment rules, make sure to understand that around 90% of the people competing can use any brands they wish, not just the “IPF Approved Equipment List”.

USPA Judging Criteria Not Strict Enough

An argument that comes from many USAPL “elitists” is that USPA judging is not strict enough and that competitors are getting away with high squats, short pauses, and non-locked out deadlifts too often.

So why do I feel this is misunderstood? Because USAPL “elitists” incorrectly lump the USPA with the rest of the untested federations way too often. The fact is the judging criteria for the USPA is pretty darn similar to those used in the USAPL, and where the bad rap comes from is the other federations that are giving white lights to blatantly incorrect lifts. While the USPA is a tad less strict than the USAPL even though they use the same guidelines, at most USPA meets if you get white lights it was a good lift. Just like in any federation there is politics and friends that may be judging and passing lifts they shouldn’t, but the USPA rose up to give untested lifters a federation that was more consistent and stigent on calls and I fully believe they are succeeding in doing so. So before you hate on the USPA for not being strict enough, make sure you realize that the USPA does not encompass all untested federations. Just because some untested federations are giving themselves a bad name doesn’t mean the USPA is.

USAPL Judging Too Strict

Vice versa the USPA “elitists” hate on the USAPL for being too strict with their judging criteria, in particular when it comes to squat depth.

So why do I feel this is misunderstood? The USAPL has the same rules as the USPA, they are just more consistently enforced. There are for sure calls in the USAPL where someone hit depth on squats and got “robbed”. But for every time that happens there is someone in the USPA getting gifted white lights when they cut their squat high, and even vice versa.. I am a USAPL State Ref and I am human and will make errors. We will not get every call right. But the reason that both the USAPL and USPA have become so popular is that no matter where you compete in the US, the judging criteria is fairly consistent. And for someone who coaches athletes in both federations, I hold even my USPA athletes to the same stringent rules because come game-day I do not want any “ifs” when it comes to a good lift. So before you hate on the USAPL for their judging being too strict, instead give them some credit for being honorable in their efforts of consistent judging across the board, and understand we are all humans and not every call is going to be the right one.

USPA Uses A “Cheater” Deadlift Bar

Since the USPA allows a deadlift bar, its cheating because your total will be higher because of it.

So why do I feel this is misunderstood? Barring that your name is Yuri Belkin, that deadlift bar really isn’t making that much of a difference. And in reality if you haven’t trained with one leading into a USPA meet, you may actually pull less on a deadlift bar than a stiff bar due to it requiring a different tension and technique during the initial pull. Go to local meets around the US and the majority of the deadlifts you are going to see are in the 500lb. range or less. A deadlift bar maybe adds 5% to your deadlift at most,  so to call it a cheater bar is just a way to cover up your insecurities about your own poverty deadlift. While I agree a 600lb. deadlift on a deadlift bar versus a stiff bar is not the same, getting “elitist” because you use a stiff bar is not doing anyone any good. So before you hate on someone for using a deadlift bar in competition, maybe you should be able to pull 600lbs. or more first so that the bar actually will make a difference.

USAPL “Drug Tested Does Not Mean Drug Free”

The USPA “elitists” and the USAPL “elitist” like to fight over the whole drug free versus not drug free debate, which is just ridiculous. To each their own, as being drug free or not does not make you any better of a human being than the other. The typical argument coming from the haters of the USAPL is that “drug tested does not mean drug free”, which is 100% true. Professional sports is littered with performance enhancing drugs even though they are “drug free”. People cheat and it sucks. I have zero hate in any way for someone who chooses to take performancing enhancing drugs just as long as they compete in a federation that allows for that.

So why do I feel this is misunderstood? It mainly comes down to USAPL “elitists” bragging that they are drug free, so the USPA lifters come back with the “drug tested does not mean drug free” argument. But the fact is that at the highest levels of the USAPL, with the lifters who are winning national championships, I fully believe those lifters are drug free. For a good perspective on why, listen to the Juggernaut podcast where Chad Wesley Smith dives into this subject after Jesse Norris got popped at nationals for stimulants. CWS gives a great breakdown to why most of the top USAPL and USAW lifters are drug free. So if drug free guys are the best in the country, then who cares if “drug tested does not mean drug free”. You are not going to catch everyone, and if guys who are cheating can’t even win, then that is just embarrassing for them. So before you hate on the USAPL because “drug tested does not mean drug free”, make sure to realize that in every aspect of life people are going to cheat, and the USAPL is not going to magically be free of that and be morally perfect.

USPA Is Just A Lot Of Drugs

After the “drug tested does not mean drug free” argument is thrown out then the USAPL “elitists” come right back with that the USPA is just a bunch of juice heads, so of course they are stronger.

So why do I feel this is misunderstood? First, not all lifters competing in the USPA are on performance enhancing drugs, so we shouldn’t all be rushing to assumptions just because someone competed in the USPA. Second, Greg Nuckols wrote an excellent article on this, so instead of going into every detail, I’ll give the summary and if you’d like the full breakdown read this:

https://www.strongerbyscience.com/steroids-for-strength-sports/

Basically what it comes down to is that steroids do a great job of helping someone get bigger, but not necessarily stronger. This can be seen particular in the middle-weight men’s classes of 181-205lbs. The fact is some of the strongest guys in the world in these classes compete in the USAPL/IPF. John Haack switched over last year to compete at the US Open and he ended up tieing for first overall, getting second only due to the bodyweight tiebreaker. If an exceptionally strong 205lb. lifter goes from being natural to taking steroids, the first immediate change will be that he won’t be a 205lb. lifter anymore. He is going to gain size and probably move up a weight class, which is why you see so many freakishly strong powerlifters in the 220-275lb. weight classes in the USPA. So just throwing out the argument that someone takes steroids so of course they are stronger is ignorant for the fact that pound for pound strength should not be affected nearly as much. Does performance enhancing drugs make a difference? Of course, or else people wouldn’t use them, but I think it’s less of an effect in powerlifting than you might think. So before you hate on USPA lifters for taking drugs, realize that the USPA is untested so it is not cheating, and also realize that if you’d like to compete against natural competitors, then just stick to the USAPL. There are two different federations with different drug testing rules for a reason.

Hopefully this shed some light on the issues that arise and maybe gave you a different perspective than you had thought about in the past. If we want to grow this great sport, hating on each other is not the way to go. Instead supporting our fellow lifters in every way possible, no matter what federation they compete in, is why this sport is so great and is the way it will continue to grow. Please feel free to engage in any productive discussion topics you might have, as the more we talk about these issues the more we can come together!

 

3rd Attempt Selection Strategy

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3rd Attempt Selection Strategy

So on my Instagram story I posed this question and I’d like to give my answer, which is…….it all depends. Just what you wanted to hear! In this specific example, Abbee still has another week of heavy training with a planned top single next week of 185lbs., so before making any strategic decisions I need to see that first. But even so, I never go into a meet with an athlete having a locked in 3rd attempt, as we just don’t know how things are going to go that day until we are in the moment. So how do I choose the 3rd attempt? Here’s a breakdown of the 5 main factors that go into my decision making:

1.) First and foremost, have I went through a meet prep with this athlete before? The reason this is so important is every person peaks a bit differently. I have some athletes who get huge jumps in their total from estimated 1RMs in training versus what they can do on the platform, and then others that tend to perform about the same. And in Abbee’s case, this is her first meet, so I just don’t know yet how she will respond. So with her, I will approach her game day planning with the assumption that she will probably hit just a tad more than what her training estimates have been and be more on the conservative sides of things for her 3rd attempt calls.

2.) Even with that said, I will not make a call on what someone’s 3rd attempt will be until after their 2nd attempt. For most, I have set 1st and 2nd attempts, as these are numbers that we know they can hit with very little doubt, and probably will not need to adjust these unless something goes wrong. So for their 3rd attempt, I will have low/middle/high attempt options, and based on how their 2nd attempt moves, this will gauge which option we will go with. To get these numbers, I use the attempt selection sheet I created that is free to everyone in my Freebies section, so make sure to download that if you are interested! But there are still other variables that need to be factored in as well.

3.) On bench and deadlift in particular, I will use the prior lifts performance to gauge what I believe they will be capable of. If an athlete just destroyed their squats I can make a reasonable assumption they’ve just got it that day and can make some slightly more aggressive calls on the following lifts, and vice versa. This doesn’t always translate, but it is definitely something to take into account.

4.) If someone is vying for placing, this will be a big determinant on what we take on their third attempts, specifically with the deadlift. In Abbee’s case, she has a very good chance of winning best overall female lifter at the USAPL Missouri State Championships, so we need to build the best total possible. While I know she may not love this answer, more than likely I will have her go conservative on squat and bench press so that we are 6/6 going into deadlifts. From there we can gauge her placing and make the necessary calls on the 2nd and 3rd attempt deadlifts to put her in the best position to win.

5.) Lastly, 3rd attempt selection will be dictated on if an athlete hits their prior attempts on all lifts. I generally take a more conservative approach on squats with everyone, as I want to be 3/3 after squats due to the ability to be more flexible now on bench and deadlifts. But even more importantly because the athlete is heading into bench amped up and super confident. So if someone hits all 3 squats, I am much more likely to take a little risk on bench or deadlifts because we already have built a solid foundation. But if someone misses their 3rd attempt on squat, or maybe missed an earlier attempt so that now we had to take their planned 2nd on their 3rd, things can go downhill real quick if we then go too aggressive on bench press and miss our 3rd there as well. Always remember the goal is to build a total, so we have to take the best approach to do that.

So the answer to the question of what is Abbee’s 3rd attempt? I still need to see next week’s training, but most likely we will have low/middle/high options of 181/187/192, and will decide the best attempt selection based off of how her 2nd attempt bench press goes, how squats go, and how her competition has performed up until that point.

An Approach to New Athlete Programming

An Approach to New Athlete Programming

A long time lifter, but looking to be a first time powerlifting competitor, Austin came to me in hopes of getting on track to competing in his first powerlifting meet. Looking to compete at the 83kg class, I’ve got some very high hopes for Austin and am confident by the end of this year he will be putting up some very competitive numbers on the platform. Our initial goal for Austin is to regain the strength he has lost since a slight setback with some knee pain that occurred late last year. And after just 2 weeks you can see the neurological adaptations happening every workout as his strength progression has been phenomenal. Probably by the end of this first training block he will be back to his previous numbers which were projecting out to a 1,350 total, and from there we will build.

Austin has 10+ years of lifting experience, so he is a case where there wasn’t a ton to work on. He has a significant amount of muscle for his frame, only some slight tweaks to his form are needed, and he is already pretty darn strong.  More what it comes down to for me as a coach is now taking him to that next level. Finding what we need to do to not just be strong, but to possibly break him into that elite status. A lot of his past experience comes in bodybuilding, and while he has trained for powerlifting, it came more from template based online programs versus really finding a individualized approach that was going to be perfect for him. But what does individualizing a program for a new athlete like Austin even mean?

1.) Austin has been lifting for 10+ years, so he understands his body. Unlike most, I put Austin immediately on a fully auto-regulated program where I give him top sets to a certain RPE that then auto-calculates the numbers for his working sets. So instead of giving him numbers to work to, he has a top single or top sets such as 1×1 @ 7 RPE or 1×6 @ 7 RPE that then determines his training. This allows the training each week to be adjusted to him. And due to his experience, he already is doing a great job of assessing and gauging RPE, which lifters with a low training age  on the other hand may struggle with.

2.) I took into account Austin’s past training history. He competed in 4 bodybuilding shows and did high volume bodybuilding workouts, so I knew he would be able to handle a bit more volume on accessory movements than most. Also, the powerlifting template he ran last year was a bit too much in regards to competition squat volume, which resulted in some patellar tendonitis. So taking that into account we adjusted squat volume and variations to account for a more optimal approach to his squat training.

3.) While Austin has been training 10+ years, his powerlifting training age is significantly less. He has been squatting, benching, and deadlifting for a while, but commitment to long term training leading to a meet has not yet occurred. So what this means is that we don’t need to be fancy. Austin is probably going to gain strength at first fairly easy just from skill practice and neurological adaptations, so there is no need to overcomplicate things.

4.) And lastly, I had to take into account and individualize his programming to his lifestyle. Austin had just started a new job, so days and times to train were more limited than in the past. He had struggled with finding a new consistent workout routine, so we worked together to find the best approach that would allow him to be consistent and make progress while still having time for his other priorities.

Does his program still have aspects that probably look like some of my other athletes? Of course! Individualization doesn’t mean every athlete has some special program that is entirely different. What it does mean is that we take into account the variables that make each athlete different, and build a plan around that to optimize their training.

How To Correct Powerlifting Form As An Online Coach

How To Correct Powerlifting Form As An Online Coach

To be blunt, if you have an online coach that isn’t putting a high emphasis on form, you don’t have a coach, you have a template maker. Technique and form is the single best place you can make drastic improvements to your total in the short term, and also where you can make drastic improvements in your resilience to injury in the long term. And from my experience being in the industry, coaches who ignore their clients form is usually not due to negligence, its more due to the fact that they don’t know how to fix it. So to save face they tend to ignore it rather than discuss something that they have no idea how to address. They give a couple cues here and there, but when those inevitably don’t work they move on and just hope the athlete figures it out on their own.

So how do you approach form changes with online athletes? Here’s my approach:

1.) Before anything else, you must figure out what the issue stems from, and that is not an easy thing to do and many times where most coaches get stuck. It is very much like many of the injuries powerlifters acquire. A certain joint hurts but we learn after consulting an expert that its actually a different area that is tight or injured causing that joint to hurt. The same happens with form. You see a very apparent issue, but it may be something else within the chain of movement that is causing it.  A very common example of this is when an athlete has trouble locking out a deadlift. Many times to correct this you see coaches doing overloaded lockout variations to work on the athlete’s lockout strength. But the fact is the inability to lockout stems from bad positioning off the floor, where their lower back is rounded from the get go and once the bar passes the knees, they are in a very inefficient position to finish the pull. Instead of working lockout strength, work on positioning, bracing, and strength from the floor.

2.) When it now comes to addressing form once you know the root issue, the first and most simple approach is providing them internal or external cues that may help to make sense of the movement. These work sometimes, but many times do not, as a person needs to feel what you are telling them and not just take direction on what you want them to feel. While this may not always work, it is still the first step to take as it is the easiest and requires no change to the written program.

3.) If those cues do not work, the next step you must take is figuring out how to put an athlete in the positions you want them in without you actually being there, and that will be through variations. As you breakdown their form discrepancies, you must decide what positions you want them in and choose variations that are going to force them into this pattern. Want them to sit back on a squat? Box squats and pause squats. Want them to use their legs off the floor on deadlift? Pause Deadlifts and Trap Bar Deadlifts? This is one of the areas where the individualization of programming should be very evident. Coaches have certain ways they like to program so obviously there will be similarities between all their athletes programs. But where there should be very obvious differences is in the variations assigned to correct form. I actually wrote a whole article on this for the squat, so instead of giving the same lengthy breakdown, head over to Using Squat Variations to Alter Movement Patterns and read about it there.

4.) Another step, or maybe just something to go along with adding variations into their programming, is to make a video for them of you demonstrating the exercise with how they are doing it versus how you want them to do it. Make sure to not only describe the changes you want them to make, but also what they should feel when those changes are made. People respond to feel, so athletes need to know what they should feel once they hit these proper positions.

5.) The last tool I use is pre-existing youtube videos, as there are some coaches much smarter than me putting out amazing content and many times your athletes may respond better to how those coaches describe things versus you. Have an arsenal of saved videos that you can easily sort through when an athlete has a particular issue. And maybe if you are the coach ignoring form, you should be watching these videos yourself.

Importance Of Deloads For Joint Recovery

Importance Of Deloads For Joint Recovery

I will be bold and say that deloads have become the most underutilized training tool in today’s modern programming. And a key word there is “training tool”, not a punishment as many look to it as, because a deload done right is performance enhancing, not a detriment to progress. For strength purposes, a deload taken at the correct time (after a mesocycle that results in a slight overreach in the final week) should result in a supercompensation of strength, producing improvements upon resumption of training after the planned deload week. And another key word there was “planned”, as many times deloads are just the result of a realization that maybe you have pushed it a bit too far, and the aches and pains, or worse injuries, are starting to pile up. Since this is Pain-Free Powerlifting, rather than taking this blog post in the direction of the effects and benefits of supercompensation during planned deloads, I want to look at the health and recovery benefits in regards to injuries. Let me note that a large portion of my knowledge in regards to this subject is due to the e-book “Scientific Principles of Strength Training”, by Mike Israetel, Chad Wesley Smith, and James Hoffmann, and I highly, highly recommend it to anyone who is serious about strength training. (1)

So before looking into the options of how to structure deload weeks, let’s look at the reasoning behind them in regards to injury prevention. When it comes to deloads, there are three things we are looking the recover during this process.

1.) Muscle

2.) Central Nervous System

3.) Ligaments, Tendons, and other tissues

That exact order is also the ranking of what recovers the fastest versus the slowest. In reality, deloads are not all that important for muscle fiber recovery, as the human body is fairly efficient in recovering in this aspect, which is exactly why you may have still been making progress without planned deloads currently. Most deloads, in regards to programming for overreaching and supercompensation, are not planned in regards to the recovery of muscle fibers, but instead for the second item on our list, which is the central nervous system. When you hear the term “fatigue” or “training fatigue” discussed, this is usually in regards to the central nervous system. As we overreach, or push past our maximum recoverable volume, our training fatigue reaches a point where our performance actually decreases. At this point is when a planned deload works perfectly in allowing the central nervous system to properly recover, resulting in supercompensation and a strength/performance increase upon resumption of training. Where things have changed recently though is the realization that a simple taper, where intensity is maintained and volume is reduced, can have very similar effects as a full deload in regards to the same performance benefits. And there is no denying that. We do not “have to” reduce intensity to allow our body to dissipate fatigue, as volume is the main contributor. By simply cutting volume, we can continue with our heavy training and receive similar, if not possibly better short-term results. And honestly, it’s more fun this way. As powerlifters we love to train and lift heavy, so no one likes the easy deload weeks. Any excuse to continue training heavy, especially a reason with valid research and validity behind it, is going to attract the attention of many. But in my opinion, the “taper” we see programmed currently falls short.  Our short term progress may benefit, but there is a possible detriment to our long term health and progression. Without an intensity drop as well, we are then ignoring the final component of recovery, which is ligaments, tendons, and other soft tissues, which is the slowest to recover out of the 3 components. This is where I argue that a planned deload is most needed, as we need sufficient time to not only reduce fatigue to allow for a supercompensation effect, but we also need sufficient time to reduce the wear and tear of training. I am confident in stating that overuse injuries will be more likely to occur when tapers are used versus planned deload weeks, and if that means slower short-term progression for the sake of better long-term progression, I will take that any day.

With that being said, let’s take a look at the general how a deload should be structured. When it comes to a mesocycle length, this will be highly independent and based on multiple factors of your training goals, history, and injury resiliency. For the sake of sticking with injury resiliency as our main concern, a general rule will be that the longer a mesocycle is, the high the likelihood of injury. I do not think any of us would argue that if we trained 1 week on, 1 week deload, we would stay pretty darn healthy, but probably wouldn’t make any progress. Whereas if we went 8-10 weeks straight training, followed by a deload, we may be putting ourselves at a higher risk for injury. So for a general rule of thumb, I believe most mesocycles should last somewhere between 3-6 weeks, followed by a planned deload. As already stated, whether it’s 3 weeks or 6 is going to be dependent on many individual factors. But if you want to base this solely off of health and injury prevention, for the most part you will be less likely to accumulate overuse injuries with 3 week cycles versus 6. As for how to actually program the deload, below is a general template, with a good portion of this information being gathered from the previously stated e-book “Scientific Principles of Strength Training”, along with my own thoughts and principles on how to bring everything together.

Squat, Deadlift, and Bench movements (includes competition lifts and variations):

Look at this based on each individual workout, not the week as a whole. Find the average volume and intensity for the training block. If the heaviest day was 80% and the lightest was 70%, use 75% as your working number. If your highest volume day was 4×6 and the lowest volume day was 2×6, use 3×6 as your working sets and reps. From here, reduce volume somewhere between 50-70% depending on your fatigue levels, and reduce intensity to 80-85% of the previously performed work. So if you average calculations came to be 3×6 at 360lbs., then your deload workout for that day would be 3×4 or 2×5 at somewhere between 285-305lbs. Below is a table showing another scenario as would be seen in a training program.

Volume Week 4 Deload Week 5
Exercise Sets Reps Weight Exercise Sets Reps Weight
High Bar Squat 1 8 330 High Bar Squat 1 6 280
High Bar Pause Squat 2 8 275 High Bar Pause Squat 2 5 230

Another way to calculate these numbers that is a bit simpler is to take the sets x reps x weight of the prior week’s of training, and apply the same percentages of 50-70% of the volume and 80-85% of the intensity. Either way, it will not make a huge difference.

Accessory Work:

Accessory work is a bit easier to program for, as unless you are experiencing a large amount of fatigue or wear and tear. I only drop the intensity slightly, most times programming most around a 7 RPE,  and then do a similar 50-70% volume reduction. If you are experiencing any overuse issues, using brachioradialis tendinopathy as the example, reducing intensity on pulling movements even a bit more would advised. Below is a table of this example as would be seen in a training program.

 

Volume Week 4 Deload Week 5
Exercise Sets Reps Weight Exercise Sets Reps Weight
Chest Supported T-Bar Row 4 8 @ 8.5 RPE Chest Supported T-Bar Row 3 8 @ 7 RPE
Facepulls 4 12 @ 9 RPE Facepulls 3 12 @ 7 RPE
Bicep Curl of Choice 4 12 @ 9 RPE Bicep Curl of Choice 3 12 @ 7 RPE

1.) Israetel, Mike, Chad Wesley Smith, and James Hoffmann. Scientific Principles of Strength Training. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Juggernaut Training Systems. 30 July 2015. Web. 13 Feb. 2017. <jtsstrength.com>.