Variation In Training & Dynamic Systems

Technique in Powerlifting, Then & Now

So my renaissance in the eyes of over complication sheds light on a topic that I feel does not get enough air time in the sport of powerlifting. Variations…and why I feel they are so damn important.

For awhile I was a believer in technique. As I started my journey with Kevin he stressed this point and drilled it into my brain about the importance of it. Every rep should look the same and breakdown midset can create an unstable pattern. And even Kevin himself has changed his tune some over the last several months in regards to his view points on it. Pro top: The sign of a good coach and a good working relationship is being able to change your views in the eyes of overwhelming evidence & practical application of the latter! And furthermore saying it openly for others to follow suit.

So although technique is important in many aspects, it does not need to be drilled if it does not impede the ability to lift the heavy weight at hand.

Optimize Technique To Optimize Strength?

Let us use this example. Lifter A pitches forward on his squat. Meaning he tends to have his chest fall forward and his hips shoot back in order to grind through a difficult squat. If this gets more and more pronounced as the weight gets heavier… we may be able to point to this as a limiting factor on one’s squat. So what do we do? I was always schooled on the coaching practice of monitoring the weight used and force them to complete their reps with a more upright position. We then will not allow them to push the weights further until this is corrected. This seems like a legitimate solution on paper. And this has worked for myself, my athletes, and with my teammates too. Because as we should know, every program works.


Variation To Improve Technique/Strength Of Competition Lifts?

Now in the face of new evidence what is a different way to attack technical breakdown? In the face of poor technique do we really need to lighten the load for someone in order to bring up the weak points? This is where variations come into play. Variation can play two different roles in programming. In the face of diminishing returns in people’s training, variation can help build up one’s weaknesses. Monotony of one’s training protocol can cause stagnation in forward progress. Meaning if someone continues to only perform their competition squat, bench press, and deadlift week after week and see less return each week it maybe time to switch things up. Also, we see an increase in injury risk when there is a narrow lense placed on your programming.

We are only as strong as our weakest link. If someone pitches forward on a squat, there are three questions we need answered regarding this.

  1. Does this person pitch forward because it’s comfortable for them?
  2. Do they do this because there is a weakness somewhere within their unique structure?
  3. And does this person hit a certain weight and have their form/technique start to breakdown once a certain weight is on their back?

Say if someone pitches forward whenever they perform a wide stance squat. Yes, you can reduce the load and this person may have this issue cleared up. But in the meantime you’ll potentially give up other potential progress down the road. Powerlifting is a sport of lifting maximally heavy weight, and swaying from this fact may not always be something worth looking into. Because again, the sport is how much weight is lifted, simple as that. What if this wide stance squatter closes down the stance? A lack of quads in the squat can create pitching forward. This is an gross under simplification. But this should stress the point regarding finding optimal variations in order to pick up technical weaknesses within the lift. We can always play around with bar placement too. Do they pitch on a low bar? What if we have them do high bar squatting for awhile?

So by strengthening a new position of the squat, we can continue to train hard, maintain a relatively high RPE, and force the lifter to use better technique. If someone pitches forward in a wide stance, the hope would be that it’s uncomfortable to do so in a close stance. If the person pitches forward on a low bar squat, the high bar may hurt their neck. So by default this individual is strengthening new path ways in order to become more proficient at the lift. Punishing weak positions with a variation that makes that far worse than with their comfortable competition stance.

Dynamic Systems

The brain has laid out a pathway based on it’s past experiences. Basically when someone squats, bench presses, or deadlifts they lift it based on their past experiences and their perceived effort right now. So basically if the subject always pitches forward as it gets heavy and KNOWS this, they will often fall forward in order to complete the lift. 

In this case a theoretical lifter falls forward with anything over 600 lbs. This forces the person to fail the weight with anything over 600 (in theory). This individual probably found they could lift 600 pounds and complete the lift when they pitch forward. This in essence brings your low back and hamstrings into the equation during the quad heavy portion of the lift. This is one way to complete a lift you may not normally be able to complete. But this may not always be seen as a good long term method because a more upright squat has a larger ceiling. Whenever this person tries this weight the same thing happens. So they grow to expect this to happen.

Two Schools Of Thought

We COULD drop the weight and look to get this individual into better positions so when the weight gets heavy they stay more upright. This is a totally reasonable method. And many will feel this is the best way to do it. But I feel based on my own performance, my own lifters, and the observations from my teammates at PPS, if you create a variation that punishes poor positioning, the brain will start to create new pathways in order to handle loads that usually caused the lifter to pitch forward. Will this “FIX” their pitching problem? Well this is if you say it’s a problem. If a weight is too heavy then it’s too heavy. But if this individual starts pitching forward once 650 is on their back 6 months later… did they not still improve?

If this person can squat 600lbs because they can get their hamstrings and low back to turn into overdrive to complete a lift they would otherwise fail that sounds like good stategy to me. This is where coaching comes into play. Someone can complete a task right now, but you and the coach recognize that this may not always be the best method long term. So we work to improve this. But if this person can always get back into that position in the face of a heavy weight at RPE 10… they’re a good athlete. That does not make them broken.

I will make more articles going in more detail regarding this. This I feel is something most of us haven’t even scratched the surface of yet. This can give some insight into some great theoretical programming talks for later on.