Last summer when Boris Sheiko came back to TPS, he told us about his experience meeting Louie Simmons.
Both of these coaches have had massive amounts of success in the sport. On paper it looks as if they obtained this success in completely different ways.
One quick caveat, Louie does train mostly geared lifters and Sheiko mostly trains raw lifters. There are going to be some differences between the 2 programs for this fact alone. However, the scientific principles of strength training are always the same, the methods can be different.
Boris explained that the biggest difference between his training philosophy and that of Westside Barbell was that Louie trains strength first and Boris puts the primary emphasis on perfecting technique. In this strength vs. technique battle who is more correct?
No one is more right than the other one. As long as the coach applies the principles to his programming he will see results. It is not as black and white as strength vs technique either. Strength affects technique and technique affects strength.
The stronger you are the easier the technique will be and the better the technique, the more weight you will be able lift. At some point, technique will begin to breakdown under heavier weights. Louie programs two maximal effort days into his training.
During these days the lifters will take max attempts in the lower body exercise of the day or the upper body exercise of the day. In these situations technique will breakdown due to the weights reaching 100% of one rep max.
Boris very rarely has sets in his programs that go over 85%. The average intensity of the weights being lifted in the Sheiko system are 70% plus or minus 2%. According to Verkoshansky the average weight lifted by the USSR weightlifting teams presented in 1991 was 75%. Sheiko’s programs fall right around this number, with only 7% of all reps taken at 90% or higher.
Graph showing average intensities used by the USSR weightlifting team as presented by Verkoshansky
Boris also programs higher sets with fewer repetitions. This is to keep technique sharp. The closer a lifter gets to failure in a set, the more fatigue that accumulates, and the fatigue will negatively affect technique.
Even on dynamic effort days for Westside, the lifter accumulates fatigue due to the decreased rest intervals between sets. This will most likely lead to some breakdown of technique for most lifters. Again, both ways have led to huge success, so which is better?
I lean on the side of my coach, Boris Sheiko, in this argument.
I believe technique needs to be the priority in training. This is important for myself and my lifters because of the high volumes that we perform in training. If we performed these high volumes under poor technical conditions the risk of injury would increase.
This does not mean that we just take the empty bar until we master it. This sport is powerlifting and at the end of the day the only thing that matters are the numbers on the platform. There has to be a balance of mastering technique while still getting stronger. This is arguably the greatest attribute of Boris Sheiko as a coach.
He has developed a system in which you practice the lifts within the average intensity range shown to get people stronger, and you practice it a lot. You practice the lifts using variations that allow the lifter to correct and strengthen weak positions within the lift.
The coach’s job is to analyze the athlete’s lifts. From there the coach identifies weak areas within the lift and programs the correct variation that will strengthen the body at those joint angles and allow the athlete to focus on making the appropriate corrections.
For example, many lifters have a problem keeping the knees out in the squat. The coach may notice this issue and program squats with a pause on the halfway up. The athlete would squat to depth, rise halfway out of the hole, pause for 2 seconds, and finish the lift.
The halfway up is where the coach will see the highest amounts of collapse in the knees. This variation allows the athlete to slow the lift down and concentrate on correcting the positions. When the athlete performs this variation the coach will see an immediate improvement in technique.
Most people ask, “Doesn’t that train the athlete to decelerate the weight?” No, it trains the athlete to fight for strong positions. Max effort lifts will not move fast. They will slow down in this position, and if the athlete is not strong enough to hold their position and fight to lockout the weight, they will miss the lift.
Moving with intent and moving fast are 2 entirely different things. The athlete needs to fight very hard (intent) to hold this weak position for the given time frame. Other variations will be added in to help the athlete improve speed out of the hole. However, the purpose of this exercise is to improve technique. Remember, this is MY first priority.
The other day one of my newer girls, Danielle, was performing a deadlift variation for the first time. This variation was a deadlift + deadlift below the knees. She was doing 75% of one rep max for a 1+2. What this means is that she locks out the first deadlift and then lowers it as low as she can without touching the floor and then locks it out again. In the rep scheme listed above she does the one full deadlift and lowers the bar without touching the floor 2 times.
The first deadlift off of the floor looked pretty good. However, when she lowered the weight without touching and locked it out again there was a significant loss of the back position. This variation identified a weak position within Danielle’s deadlift. This is not an unusual spot as this is the toughest position for a conventional deadlift.
We will continue to drill this movement as well as deadlift to knees, where the lifter only will lift the weight to the knees. This allows the lifter to concentrate on perfecting that position of the lift. We will also do deadlift to the knees + full deadlift, and pauses in this position. The weight for these lifts will never go above 75% for 2 to 3 repetitions. When Danielle pulls heavy she will do so on blocks that also put her in this position.
When Danielle strengthens her weak positions and performs the appropriate volumes and average intensities of the lift, she will increase her deadlift. This average intensity will be around 70% of one rep max. Remember technique helps improve strength levels. We will also do a lot of work to strengthen the erectors as this is a sign that they are weak.
Danielle got pretty strong following a Conjugate training plan. She performed two max effort days and two dynamic effort days per week and it worked. It is just another way of doing things. She also would have continued to get stronger doing this as long as the scientific principles are being followed.
Ultimately it is not strength vs technique.
As strength and technique are placed upon a spectrum. It is up to the coach to decide where the priorities lie. I lie heavily on the technique side of things. We will strengthen weak positions by using the appropriate variations and accessory work. Some coaches may decide that technique is good enough and they will focus more on getting stronger through heavier weights such as those seen on max effort days.
By: Kevin Cann