Monday, December 2, 2019

To Single or Not to Single - Jon Smoker

There's another good article, aging related, from Jon Smoker here:

Gotta stop using invisible ink on them pictures. 

Whether or not to do singles in training is an issue in powerlifting that has die-hard proponents on both sides. Those who are against them believe that they cause physical burnout because they require a maximum output from the body with no physical gain. They argue that singles do not build strength and that if one persists in doing them, the body will just be repeatedly torn down with no chance for replenishment. Inevitably, the singles will begin to decrease and this in turn will lead to mental burnout, or an aversion to lifting big singles. Far better, they say, to save that big stroke for the meet and shoot your wad all at once. Then you can gradually build yourself back up again a you take aim at your next meet. 

Well, it's a free country, so I elect to demur with the preceding, as I do singles in my training and also have the lifters I coach do them. However, the singles we do are not maxes and therein lies a crucial difference. I think the aforementioned does have a lot of validity if one is talking about testing out maxes all the time. The singles we do are part of an ever-increasing cycle, and if everything is going according to schedule, they will always be 10 pounds or more below the maximum we would actually be capable of on that given day. 

The cycle lasts sixteen weeks and singles are done on each lift every other week, or eight times. A reasonable goal is picked on each lift to be attained at the end of the cycle and the remaining seven are calibrated backward from that final single. 

Generally speaking, the jumps between the first few singles are bigger as one is merely adjusting to heavy weights that have been lifted before and smaller jumps are employed as one gets toward the end and is coming close to their previous maximums. 

The singles we shoot for are based on the previous meet's performance. Because the athletes I train, and myself as well, tend to be meet lifters (i.e., we hit bigger lifts in competition as opposed to the gym), generally speaking, the final singles we will be shooting for are the maximums we made in our last meet. 

I reason that when you hit that big lift in competition, a neuro-muscular "code" is imprinted in the mind, and with enough work that "code" can be called forth in training. And, at that point, you are in a position to go beyond that and establish a new "code" in competition, when you have other factors going for you not present in the gym, like increased adrenalin secretion. 

By following this system, one can gradually inch their way upward. Of course the system is not built strictly on the weight handled at the prior competition as there are other factors to be considered such as, is the athlete gaining weight, did the previous cycle end on an upswing, was there weight left on the platform, etc. 

So, for example, my last meet I felt certain I could have done 15 pounds more in the squat and I was still a couple of pounds shy of the weight class limit. (I am in the process of changing weight classes). The single I will be shooting for at the end of my next cycle will be what I made at the previous meet plus the 15 more pounds I felt I could have made, plus 15 more for the extra bodyweight I will be picking up. 

The point is, the lifts made at the previous meet, especially if they exceeded my previous bests, are, strictly speaking, reference points and only if all factors are equal will they be the lifts to hit at the end of a cycle. 

With a gym lifter one would have to devise some other way to pick the final lifts in a cycle, although after a while a pattern would emerge, such as a particular athlete consistently hitting 20 pounds less in competition than in the gym, so his final singles should be 20 pounds more than what they want to hit at the next meet.

Initially I would do a single every week, but even though they were not maximums, it did become a mental chore. Remembering what I had read in a British journal, that the body peaks and can therefore withstand a heavy workout every nine days, I began doing singles every nine days and eventually it became every other week. 

The off weeks I hit a heavy triple on each lift, among other things, and as long as they are increasing it gives me the confidence that my next singles will be there, my workouts are going good, and that my strength is increasing. 

Of course, this is not the only system for doing heavy singles in a cycle and one should shop around to see what is most comfortable for them.

For example, Rick Gaugler has mini-cycles of four weeks within a bigger cycle, so that at the end of four weeks he hits singles heavier than the ones at the end of the previous four weeks. (When I talked to Rick in 1977, he favored heavy triples, and I am not sure why he has switched to singles since then). 

Whatever system is chosen for doing singles within a cycle, it has to be flexible. If they begin to feel heavy, or God forbid I should even miss one, then I tend to adjust the way Bridges does when he misses a heavy single: I crank my back down again to lesser weights and begin building back up again. 

Conversely, if the singles are feeling easy, then an adjustment needs to be made in the other direction.

Now, I will agree that singles do not build strength (Roger Estep notwithstanding) . . . 

Note: Wait a second, consider this article:

 . . . so even though they are not maxes in my system, why do them at all, one might ask. The number one reason  is that problem areas are immediately detected and can be corrected. 

If I notice myself leaning forward a little on my heavy squats, I know it is time to step up abdominal work. In the bench press, more chest work is indicated if there is not enough initial drive, and if I am sticking at mid-point, then more triceps work is needed.  

In the deadlift, is the drive good off the floor, is the lockout from the knees there, is the grip holding? If not, then adjustments must be made in the workout schedule, i.e., more rack work and shrugs to improve a poor lockout.

"Why not do triples or doubles to detect weaknesses?" someone might ask, which brings me to the second reason I advocate doing heavy singles. Singles train the mind for heavy lifting in a way that I do not believe heavy triples and doubles can. Moreover, I have found that more injuries occur with triples or doubles because there is always the tendency to get a little sloppy.

So to get back to the original criticisms of doing singles: With my system, does one experience physical and, ipso facto, mental burnout? No - because one is not doing maxes all the time and the singles that are done occur only every other week.

To answer the other main criticism . . . the big stroke IS saved for competition. I realize that whether or not one should do singles is going to continue to be a debated topic, so I am not pretending to resolve the issue here, but for those who are undecided, perhaps this article will give them a different perspective, the key to which is: 


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