Ask Martin Vol. 11: Maximum Strength

Question: You mentioned in your post this week that you never max out. Is that really true? How does training for maximum strength fit into your program? -Alex

A common question between throwers is: what’s your max in the clean? Or snatch. Or squat. Or whatever lift. I always find this question leads to an awkward conversation since I will respond that I do not know what my max is. The questioner will then think I am trying to keep a secret and then nag me for an answer for ten minutes.

To honest truth is that I have not maxed out in any lift since 2005. I can guess and give a good estimate of my strength levels in the clean and snatch, but I have not idea what I can squat and frankly I don’t care (in fact, I also have not done a full squat since 2005, but that is a story for another day). Maximum strength plays an insignificant role in our training. Our training is focused on throwing and special strength, so naturally maximum strength gets left out. We have to be fresh enough to throw ten times a week. While training at high intensities can produce some fast strength gains, it can leave your muscles dead and central nervous system fried for one or more training sessions. For us this isn’t an option, especially when there is such a weak correlation between general strength levels and results.


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12 replies
  1. Jarrod
    Jarrod says:

    Hey great response to the question at hand Martin. Having been someone that has asked you that very same question when we both competed (Last time was around 2005). I agree with the talks that you and I have had about this and since 2007 came over to your side of the argument. The issue that I have had to deal with is our strength coach does not hold the same opinion despite the large amount of data and first hand accounts that I give him he still trains our athletes the traditional way. The other area of concern is that athletes that are state side tend to hold the later view point from those that I have worked with. Being on a boarder town with Canada 30 minutes away I have noticed more of them training the way you describe. So perhaps maybe a cultural change in practices needs to happen. For those that say well it won’t work with other sports I call BS I have seen it work in other sports the biggest one being Football.

    Reply
    • Martin
      Martin says:

      We definitely need a change in thinking about the topic, and that is harder to do when the strength coach controls your training program. At least when only throwers are involved they can see the bigger picture better. A strength coach is evaluated on getting kids strong fast, so if you take that away from them, nothing is left.

      Reply
  2. Jacob Boling
    Jacob Boling says:

    I threw at a University which focused a great deal of time and effort on lifting. Although we were also doing event specific workouts and training, our time in the weight room was focused on getting big and getting strong. This type of lifting has shown to be very successful on many high profile athletes over the years and is widely regarded (especially in the U.S.) to be the best type of supplemental training for the throws. However, I have seen first hand how max lifting can be very detrimental to many throwers. We are not all built the same and many of our bodies can’t take the strain that weight maxing puts on your body, no matter what time of year you reach you lifting peak. As Martin points out, the maximum velocity of the bar during a lift will never come close to the explosiveness of a competition throw. This excessive weight can leave your body so fatigued that you have trouble staying healthy, let alone being at the peak of your speed and explosiveness.
    Over the course of my college career, I never felt completely healthy. As we are taught that it is necessary to put on body weight, as well as continue to progress toward heavier and heavier weight loads in our lifts, we often negate our most valuable asset, our speed. As throwers, we must try to find a healthy body weight and lifting load which will allow us to feel athletic while maintaing a consistent throwing schedule. As Coach Riedel points out, “We are not weightlifters”. We are throwers.

    Reply
  3. Brian Richotte
    Brian Richotte says:

    I am curious how we expose our deficiencies in “special strength”. How do we know if we are deficient in an area instead of fatigued? How can we maximize our workouts to have a good mixture of general strength (cleans, squats) and special strength (twists, step ups) without taking away from our throwing? I assume most answers would be its all individual; however, there has to be fundamental signs that expose such things during our throw. Martin, can you speak to this? What have you found having worked with Dr. B? This is something I have not been able to fully understand or recognize.

    Thanks,

    Brian Richotte

    Reply
    • Martin
      Martin says:

      Hey Brian, I think the first step to getting the right mixture is to start building the program with throwing as the foundation. Decide how many throws you want. If that consumes all of your time, then stop there. If you have more time, start to add on special strength and general strength training exercises. Time permitting, an athlete should be able to hit all the groups. The second step is to spread the volume out over the week. That’s why we do ten training sessions a week. Combined I might do 30 sets of cleans during a week. That seems like a lot, but when it is spread out over the week it means that I’m only doing 3×5 with 100 or 110kg each session. I know I don’t have to worry about overtraining with that intensity and I still get the volume to improve over the long run.

      I’m not sure if that answers your question, but I think the key point I’m getting at is that the right mixture or balance is being unbalanced. Err on the side of too little intensity in weight training and spend most of your time in the ring. Over the long run, you’ll still make strength gains and you will not have to risk overtraining or hurting technique. That risk is too high to play around with. -Martin

      Reply
  4. Neil
    Neil says:

    What you say is true for your program. You don’t train heavy because your program does not benefit your throwing program.

    I would say that your problem is that you have a bad program for training heavy. I have had many people tell me what works and what doesn’t work. Then I tell them that I train the very way that they proclaimed never works. What’s the difference? I do it correctly. All heavy training is not the same.

    Just because somebody states that training with heavy weights didn’t help them doesn’t mean that they trained with the correct percentages on the proper days. I can list ten different programs from ten different coaches, all of them falling into the “heavy weight training” category. There would be many great differences in all of them. What’s the point? Just because someone says that heavy training doesn’t relate to great results in hammer of discus throwing doesn’t mean that they were training with heavy weights the proper way. In fact, to me, it just means that they don’t know how to train with heavy weights.

    I have dropped the forty times of many athletes by training them heavy in the weight room, and without doing any sprint work. What? You can’t do that. Yes, I can. And guess what? The bar was moving very slow when they were doing their one rep squat max.

    The movement of the bar is not the key. The force upon the bar is the key. What force am I applying on the bar if I am able to do a partial squat with 800 lbs.? Well, it better be more than 800 lbs. of force or I won’t be moving the bar. What force am I applying to the bar if I am doing a partial squat with 315 lbs., but I am exploding as fast as I can? I don’t know, but I can guarantee you that I cannot apply more force to the bar than I can when I do the same movement for a one rep max. So let’s say that my one rep partial squat max is 800 lbs., and that I apply 815 lbs. of force to finish the rep (I have to overcome gravity). That is my max. I cannot apply more force to a lighter weight, even if I move the bar as fast as I can. Muscles adjust to the force applied to them. They grow or shrink based on the forces they oppose in the training program. It is much easier to increase the amount of force that your muscles are able to overcome by training with heavy one to three rep max lifts, that to train with lighter weights with explosive speed. But, this is only true if you have a program that works. I do.

    What you should be talking about is genetics. Related to explosive muscles, some athlete have a more appropriate nervous system and different muscle compositions that allow them to throw for greater distances because of the body that they were given at birth. These athletes will have greater benefits from a heavy one to three rep training program, than they would from lower weights with greater speed. This is because they would be able to increase the amount of force that their muscles are able to overcome more quickly than if they were training with the low weight high speed program. In essence, I could improve my low weight high speed max by training with a proper one to three rep heavy weight training program, but I will never increase my one to three rep heavy weight max, but training with low weight high speed training program.
    I am not saying that high speed training has no place in a program, but I am saying that I can improve the explosive speed of an athlete easier and faster by training him on the proper one to three rep max heavy weight program, because I know how to design the program properly. Just because you and Anatoli don’t know how to design a heavy weight training program that allows a thrower to throw greater distances doesn’t mean that it cannot be done.

    Reply
    • Martin
      Martin says:

      It’s funny, you’re response didn’t mention the hammer much. And my post never said heavy weight training was bad. I was jus quoting Riedel and saying that heavy lifting doesn’t work with our current program since we throw so often. Many others have successfully adapted Bondarchuk’s theories and worked in some heavier lifting. Namely, Olympic champion Promoz Kozmus. I wouldnt be one to attack Anatoli’s coaching ability either. I don’t think many people are in a position to claim they could have produced better results than him.

      Reply
  5. Neil
    Neil says:

    I was a discus thrower & shot putter. I was also an NCAA all-American. Now I am a coach. I owned a gym for over 8 years and trained hundreds of athletes in different sports. They all responded to my program.

    I trained heavy throughout the pre-season and the throwing season. I also trained other throwers the same way. We throw every day and we lift 4 times per week. How? The right program will not keep you in the gym for a long time. It also allows the proper rest so you have enough time to recover. I have done max lifts and thrown PR’s on the same day.

    I like some things that I have read from Bondarchuk, but I’m not mesmerized by anyone. I know that I and the athletes that I have trained have never taken any drugs. What about Bondarchuck?

    My son is a hammer thrower in college right now. His coach told me that he was going to put him on a German Volume Weight Training Program. I asked what that was and he told me. I told him that it would not work, but go ahead and try it. My son was excited to try something new, but he soon found out that even though he is a growing young man, his success in that program was minimal. He recently called me up and asked me to send him my program (the one that I have been using to train him since he was in 2nd grade), so I did. He called me back after the first week and told me how great he felt. Really? He just threw the 16 lb. hammer farther than he threw the 12 lb. hammer last year. That’s not my evidence of a great program, but I thought that I would mention it.

    I don’t want to cause trouble, but I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I get a little tired of hearing what won’t work from experts when it’s been working for me for over 30 years.

    I hope that you have continued success.

    Reply
    • Mike
      Mike says:

      Neil,

      If you don’t mind…could you post a quick resume about yourself and who you have trained/coached?

      Thanks

      Reply
    • Martin
      Martin says:

      Again, I don’t think you read my post or response very thoroughly. Bondarchuk’s main conclusion is that there is a weaker correlation between general strength and the hammer than there is between special strength and the hammer. This isn’t anything too revolutionary. He’s also found that beginners see greater results from strength increases (hence your son’s PR). Results improve less for gains by world class throwers.Also, do not conflate the East German and Russian systems. Bondarchuk also thinks that German Volume training is crazy, a waste of time, and has no scientific basis in the throws.

      Bondarchuk has applied this conclusion to his training by reducing our training intensity. We train ten times per week. That is ten times throwing and ten times lifting. With this setup we can’t be at high intensity every day. As I’ve said, others have used different variations of his program with higher intensities, but we still gain plenty of stength over the long term at medium intensities.

      Finally, don’t discredit all of Bondarchuk’s results because of doping. The 80s were a different time. All the top throwers were USO ga (even the Americans) and his athletes still dominated. He speaks openly about it. Now is a different time and the science behind his training remains the same. He has now shown he can get the same results with clean athletes (unless you are implying we are using).

      The point of this blog is to expand peopel’s viewpoints. You don’t have to agree, but I’m presenting a different scientifically-based method that has shown consistent results.

      Reply

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