Top 5 Gems I Learned During the Achieving Excellence in the Power Lifts

Guest blog by Riad Hechame

I asked some of my students to submit their top takeaways from Achieving Excellence in the Power Lifts

This way, everyone can enjoy a few gems on the Power Lifts that Ed Coan, Matt Wenning and myself shared with the participants

1 – Lifting Technique Exists on a Continuum

There is no right or wrong way to perform an exercise. However, there is an optimal way to perform an exercise based on your training goals. Let’s take the squat as an example. There is a galaxy-sized distance between the power-lifting squat and the squat done for athletic performance. Both have their time and place in the iron game. While the power-lifting squat uses the posterior chain effectively, and is optimal for lifting maximum loads, the front squat is used to screen for sport specific performance. Ed Coan uses the power-lifting squat while training in season. But during the off-season however, he switches to an upright position and a closer stance to overload the knee extensors for more hypertrophy on the quads.

All three experts agree on the need for a smart exercise rotation for the main power lifts. Olympic lifters would surely benefit from the power-lifting squat, and power-lifters would benefit from an upright squat.

power lifts


2 – There are Rules and there is Magic

Progressive overload and exercise selection will always pay off if they are smartly programmed, but there is also magic. Some of the soft tissue and nerve activation techniques applied by Coach Charles R. Poliquin have an immediate impact on strength, mobility and bar velocity. This also applies to athletic performance indicators such as the vertical jump among others. We are not talking about 1% progress here however. According to Charles’s experience some of the nerve activation techniques, e.g. for the Gluteus Maximus, can immediately improve your vertical jump by 10 to 15 centimeters. Now tell me how long you would train for that?

3 – Warm-up on Weak Links, Finish with Antagonists

Start light

Matt is one of a handful of people to lift a total of over 2600lbs. And he achieved it in professional competitions while staying injury free. He does this by working on his weak links during the warm-up before the main power lifts. He also implements smart finishers after the main lift.

Here is an example: prior to the bench press, target the triceps and the scapulae rotators. Just make sure your shoulders and elbows are properly warmed-up. Your prime movers, the triceps, the pectorals and the serratus anterior also benefit from the potentiation prior to a heavy bench press. This needs to be performed in a warm-up fashion. So in other words, drop set to failure targeting the triceps will make you weak for the main lift. A giant set of 4 sets of 4 to 6 exercises done back to back is more than sufficient.

Finish Strong

On the other hand, consider pulling double the tonnage used for pressing movement for good results. The goal of this method is to establish and maintain structural balance between the front and back of the body. As far as finisher exercises are concerned, you can perform chin-ups as an antagonist to the overhead press or incline press. Rows are used as an antagonist to the bench press. For the squat and deadlift, any decompressing exercise would be beneficial. As an example, the chin-up, reverse hyper and/or glute-ham-raise.

An important point to mention is to have a large repertoire of exercises that utilize different implements. They should stress different points in a muscle’s strength curve. They should also use different leverage angles and that maximize range of motion. Rotate the exercises to shock your body and leave it guessing. As Coach Charles R. Poliquin used to say: “Your best routine is the one you never did.”

4 – There are Different Terminologies for the Same Basics

Depending on sport specialization, you may encounter different terminology. However, the basics are the basics. What Matt would describe as fast days or heavy days in powerlifting, a sports performance coach would describe as accumulation and intensification phases in athletics.

5 – Training for Strength Doesn’t Equal Demonstrating Strength

A body builder needs to optimize his training and nutrition. This includes the peak week in order to be in the best possible shape competition day. A power-lifter is no different. He/she needs a smart periodization to train for strength.  But just as the bodybuilder, he/she also needs to plan meticulously to peak on competition day. There is nobody judging your strength under the bar in your garage.

group power lifts