Training: Gaining Empirical Understanding

Training: Gaining Empirical Understanding

Dec 18, 2014

Training: Gaining Empirical Understanding

By: Ryan Carrillo

From weight classes to strength levels, we segregate ourselves in powerlifting. There are, however, resounding themes in every individual that competes in this sport. One that unites us is our future sight: our focus on goals that lie far ahead of us, and the adherence to a protocol in order to reach our ends. Whether those ends are a PR, a championship victory, or a spiritual or emotional state, these goals and the obedience to a plan to achieve these ends unite us individuals across weight classes, federations, genders, and levels of strength.

mike t

The means we use to reach are ends differ across the spectrum of strength and conditioning. This article is not an attempt to share a program or training protocol that I claim to be superior. Instead, it is a check on your internal voice and mindset about training.

We, as specialized athletes, do not ‘exercise’. That is to say, our ends are our priority and the means we use to reach our ends are justified by our ends. This is the concept of training at a basic level: means matching ends. Exercising and training are opposites. Training is a calculated endeavor and while exercise is often done for the feeling achieved in the present and does not take into account the future. Mark Rippetoe explains this distinction in another way, “Training is the process of directed physical stress, which results in an adaptation that satisfies a performance goal.”*


The majority of powerlifters train, as opposed to exercise. The act of training, combined with our future sight and goals, unites powerlifters across the board. Now that I have established this relationship, I can address the mindset and outlook we all should have.

A struggle many powerlifters have is the inability to distinguish between the reality of ups and downs in training versus the way things SHOULD be. It is a distinction of empirical understanding as opposed to the normative understanding. The normative way of thought is how programs train us to think. We are conditioned to think in the theoretical sense and believe that the means laid out will allow us to reach our ends. Conversely, the empirical way of thought is based on experience, rather than theory or pure logic.

We see a plan laid out for weeks and weeks that is supposed to take us to our ends if we follow it to the tee. However, life happens and issues arise that are unplanned, so changes to the program are sometimes necessary. This is the way things are, and this is the nature of training.

The ability to understand situations that continually arise, and making them work to your advantage is vital in maximizing potential and achieving ends. At times principle and rationality are not the solution, what matters is effectiveness.

One example of a training protocol that takes into account the volatile nature of training is Mike Tuchcherer’s idea of Rated Perceived Exertion or (RPE).  The RPE is a form of auto-regulation that requires the individual to recognize the exertion of the body during a particular lift and assigns the level of exertion a numerical rating from 1-10. RPE implies understanding of a few things of the nature of training:

– The human body’s ability fluctuates. Strength levels ebb and flow in reaction to environmental stressors

– Understanding those fluctuations in training is a necessity for achieving ends

– The normative thought of programming, (planned sets/reps/ load laid out in a way that matches means and ends) combined with the                      understanding of the RPE makes for a training protocol that is more likely to match means to ends.

The empirical truth about training is defined by our environmental stressors combined with the state of the body and mind in the gym. Understanding how these stressors effect performance, and how the body’s strength fluctuates in response is a necessity.

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Powerlifters are not professionals: rent, food, and other intangibles are not provided by the sport. This means that competitors must hold jobs and adhere to a schedule that varies and can be relatively unpredictable. The heavy training that strength athletes do may lead to injuries or setbacks. Environmental stressors and these setbacks may not necessarily be connected, but a case can be made for the two being interconnected: When the equation of stressors and exertion becomes unbalanced because of lack of sleep, poor nutrition, or traveling, injuries may occur which is detrimental to the ends of competitors.

Programs alone do not take into account the way things are in reality, they only show us the way things should be. When plans don’t pan out because of the nature of training, people can become melancholy, angry or frustrated, and sometimes even quit. We, as powerlifters need to take the time to step back, look at the big picture of training and understand the nature of it instead of only seeing the way it should be. This will lead to a better understanding of how to achieve our ends effectively and give us the humility needed to succeed no matter what happens.






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