Powerlifters need to quit being sheep. If you're a powerlifter, stand your ground and be an individual. Everyone is completely different; there are a hundred programs for millions and millions of unique canvases. Something that really bothers me is when people get wrapped up in what the "professionals" in our sport have to say.
In any gym you walk into, you will hear someone say, "I do this because I read in so and so's book that you can't do it this way."
You can't live without oxygen, you can't fly, you can't travel through time — these are legitimate can'ts. But to say that you can't squat with your toes pointed forward because Hans and Frans said it's wrong sounds ridiculous. To say that you can't build a great bench without board pressing is ridiculous. Something I was very fortunate enough to learn from the beginning of my lifting career is that I know the difference between avoiding something that doesn't work for me and avoiding something because it is hard.
Great example: I was struggling with my shirted bench, and had the opportunity to train with one of my personal heroes. I asked him for his advice and I got the kind of advice that claims, "this is the only way to do this." I knew that the way he wanted me to fix my problem did in fact not work for me. It was a technique fix that I knew did not benefit me. In fact, it wasn't until I quit doing that specific technique that my bench took off. The downside was that this man was my personal hero and he got upset with me for not taking his advice. I knew that his advice was wrong for me (wrong for me, not wrong for him or anyone else). Most people would have just taken the advice and continued to struggle and not know why. I don't know how many times I have heard:
I can't squat to depth in training because it will stretch out and ruin my squat suit.
I can't squat more than once a week.
I can't build a big bench without boards.
If I don't bench close grip raw I will never be a good raw bencher.
My bench shirt is only good for one touch.
I can't touch in my bench shirt with anything less than my max.
I never go lower than a one board because if I can hit a one board I can touch.
Accommodating resistance and speed work doesn't work for raw lifters.
If I had those new shoes that just came out I would have gotten that squat.
Benching this way hurts my shoulders but I was told this was the only way to bench.
I can't deadlift because I am to big.
And then there's half boards. What the fuck is with half boards?
Here is my beef with boards while training in your bench shirt: While I do believe boards have a place in building a huge bench, they aren't the only solution. Boards become a crutch for far to many people. Follow me here. When you bench to touch, you follow a certain bar path; a certain technique to get from A to B. For me, that path always involves that I try to keep my elbows out or at least neutral for as long as I can, and only tuck my elbows as a last effort to touch. That's my bar path, — a smooth transition from elbows out, to in, to touch, back to out.
I am a creature of habit; I need consistency in my bench stroke to keep it crisp. Let's say I decide I want to train two board, or no lower than a two board for a month. My target has went from a touch, to a two board. This means that I will still follow my same bar path but my target will be higher. My elbows will start to break a lot sooner than if I was touching. Four straight weeks of touching high means I am learning to tuck much sooner. This is a problem when I go back to touching; I will find myself tucking my elbows much sooner and hand cuffing myself around that 1-2 board range. If you change your target you change your bar path. If done consistently, this will really effect your bar path when it comes to touching. Admittedly, I do use boards in my bench training, but as a tool and not a religion. The first four weeks of my shirt training I use no boards. I do full range triples with lighter weight. My goal is to try to get closer to touching with every rep.
This does many things. It teaches me how to use and manipulate my shirt, it proves to myself that I can indeed touch with lighter weights, and it lets me spend more time under tension. Instead of doing maybe 5-8 total reps in my shirt, I do 15 to 20 total reps. Learning your shirt and getting stronger in your shirt is all about consistency and time under tension. The last four weeks leading up to a meet I do use boards to work my way down to touch and dial in my bench. I always touch at least once in every shirted training session. Boards have their place, but that's all it is: a place.
“I can't squat to depth in training because it will wear out my suit”
I hear powerlifters say this all the time and it annoys the shit out of me. This just tells me that you can't take the physical pressure of getting to depth and that you are avoiding it because it is hard. Then you go to a meet and bomb out on squats or maybe get a really sketchy one in because you never took your squat to depth in training. Avoiding depth on squat is much like never going below a one board on bench. Those last few inches are a completely different world and if you aren't prepared for them, you will struggle on meet day. This is a guarantee.
I always hit depth on my squat in training. I have even used the same pair of briefs and suit for over two years while still hitting PR's. Your gear doesn't suck — you suck. I am definitely not the type of person that just hopes to pull it together on meet day. I want to be prepared. A three month training cycle is not something I like to waste on a shitty meet because I wasn't prepared. I have never understood why people want one more thing to worry about on meet day, especially depth. Granted, there are always rewards and consequences for gambles. I myself do not like to gamble or take risks. This may be why I have had a very slow ascent up the ranks in powerlifting. But I am ascending, no less. I am willing to put in more years to have a more respectable outcome. I do not have a single lift that you can question. Squat depth solid, bench locked out, deadlift finished. You may out lift me now, but some day I will pass you.
Don't be sheep! Know that you are an individual and that means you have individual needs. Rely on yourself and your own instincts. I am not saying to forsake studying, coaches, and advice. You know the difference between something that doesn't work for you and something that's just hard for you. Pay attention to what does and does not work for you. Have the guts to stand up for yourself when questioned about your technique or training methods.
Every generation has had its pioneers that did things their own way, and because of this rose to the top. Steve Goggin's and even Ed Coan's squats were a little unconventional for the time — pitched forward and pancaked. But they knew what worked for them. I believe Ed has a quote about “doing things my way” and taking a lot of pride in it. Goggins has the first 1100-pound squat. I swear his chest touched his knees, but that's how Steve squatted. If you get anything out of this please remember that we are all individuals with individual needs. Take the time to learn and pay attention to your own needs. Take advice as frequently as you can, because the moment you think you know everything, you stop growing.