Bondarchuk and Dylan Armstrong. Photo by Kamloops This Week.

Ask Martin Vol. 17: In Defense of Bondarchuk

Question: I know you’ve written in the past about some of Dr. Bondarchuk’s concepts. Let me share two arguments that could be made:

  • For: Bondarchuk understand the science of throwing after decades of coaching and research. The periodization cycles that you discuss of being up, down, etc. are all based experience and data and have been proven through results.
  • Against: The general hammer community gets trickles of Bondarchuk’s wisdom, but it all seems vague and hard to grasp. Fuzzy science. It’s a community of people who have drank the cool aid. His record can’t be argued with, but he doesn’t walk on water as some may say. If I had access to some of the best athletes in the world, I’d look pretty smart too. At the end of the day, sound training theory, good technique, strength training, and special strength, etc. will determine performance. It doesn’t have to be as mysterious as it has been presented.

Discuss. -Coach L


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26 replies
  1. Dave Ratcliffe
    Dave Ratcliffe says:

    Hi Martin

    You are dead right about the effects of travel and competition pressure (and also official training facilities and implements).

    I lived and worked in the Olympic village for about a month during the 1972 Munich Olympics and I saw first-hand how that environment can destroy a top athlete.

    If the athlete can set up a good, alternative training base close by but outside the Olympic village, for about 3 or 4 weeks before their competition, (and keep out of the village until after their competition) they should be able to follow their training plan to the letter and have adequate time to recover from jet lag and fatigue.

    Reply
    • Dave Ratcliffe
      Dave Ratcliffe says:

      Whoops, I forgot to add.

      Unfortunately, National Athletics and Olympic Associations will not usually let the athlete create their own environment prior to their competition.

      Reply
  2. james
    james says:

    Hi Martin,

    I have used a great deal of the Bondarchuk training and technical information you have published. It has and continues to help me a great deal, and it is helping a thrower I am coaching. I also incorperate some tips and exercises from a vatiety of different souces, from a Youtube video fo Katherine Klaas doing a funky 1/2 spin overhead lift with a kettlebell, to comments from local coaches. I don’t understand why coaching theory has become like a religion, that it is a strict set of rules that is dictated by one of several competing holy beings and must be followed to the letter. The idea of training the individual, not the event, may be difficult to grasp but the results are amazing.

    Reply
    • Martin
      Martin says:

      Religion is the prefect example of what coaching theory should NOT be like. Believing in one religion oft excludes the belief in another. But just because I think Bondarchuk is right does not mean I believe every other coach is wrong. There is mo than one road and belief in your method should not necessarily mean that Bondarchuk or any other coach is wrong (just as I have learned a lot from other schools of hammer throwing).

      Reply
  3. Bosko
    Bosko says:

    Fuzzy science? Vague and hard to grasp? The basic concepts that Bondarchuk presented in his work are pretty easy to grasp (at least it is for anyone who was exposed to sport science before). The training nuances in his methods on the other hand are largely based on his unparalleled experience. Especially in regard to the individuality of training. This is what makes him a great coach, and it is hard to put that on paper for others to understand.

    You can get lost when reading his work on periodization but this is because he tried to outline every variation of the blocks used in the periods of peak development, again because the individuality requires variety, and so does the continual progress. My approach is to look for a bigger picture first. I already understood the concept of block periodization before I got into Bondarchuks work, and a bigger picture is that his methods of constructing periods of peak development are just based on proportion of the training means used, in relation to the cycles purpose and rest periods. If you start from there, it gets easier getting to the core.

    There is also a language barrier, as there was no accommodation in translation of his work. The terminology itself throw most people off. Sportivna forma or sport form in English is a familiar concept to the Eastern-bloc coaches, but it needed some time to enter into the minds of others. And that’s just one of many.

    What people find “mysterious” and “fuzzy” in his work, I find intriguing and challenging. Like the interrelationships between exercises, sessions and cycles, direct and reverse tie-ins. That fascinates me.

    “At the end of the day, sound training theory, good technique, strength training, and special strength, etc. will determine performance.”

    The sound training theory and technical knowledge are out there for everyone to get, but I don’t see the same results under that many coaches out there.

    At the end of the day, only one coach in history produced 18 athletes over 80m in the hammer throw, and continues to produce champions without a Soviet gene pool. His legacy, like Martin said, expands far beyond his coaching, as his ideas were successfully implemented by others.

    It’s easy to look for excuses by calling on the old “he got talent handed to him” argument. Coach L says he would look smart too if he had access to the best athletes in the world. There are coaches like Brooks Johnson in track who “produced” medalists (in reality, they did this despite of his coaching) but run the countless talents into the ground and ruined them. Name one athlete that didn’t improve under Bondarchuk.

    The criticism following the London Olympics is also ridiculous. I mean, just look at the Kamloops T&F. He came, he saw, he conquered. He came to Canada 8 years ago, and produced 4 olympians. In one club. Without even speaking the language well. That’s more than enough.

    He does not turn water into wine, but he does turn people into champions. The man is a legend of the sport, and this can be confirmed just by looking at his status among his successful peers in Europe and beyond.

    Reply
  4. Zach Hazen
    Zach Hazen says:

    Its so ironic that proponents of “doing whatever my old high school strength coach from the 80’s said” (the traditional crowd) consider the folks who are using massive amounts of data, analysis, and personal journaling (the Bondarchuk crowd) to be a community of blind followers.

    My guess is that there are a lot of dumb jocks in sport (stereotypes exist for a reason) that feel insecure when someone is citing research, data, etc of Bondarchuk, and strike out defensively by arguing this nonsense about his fans making a deity out of him and blindly following his word.

    The majority of athletes I have met train on faith in their coach and here-say from other athletes. A lot of this type of information is wrong, and some of it is dangerous. Folks who think for themselves find Bondarchuk to be an evidence-based relief from the religion that everyone else is practicing!

    Reply
  5. Lynden Reder
    Lynden Reder says:

    Religion is a good comparison as although unlikely black and white it is seen that way, and also brings with some emotion!

    I actually posed this question to Martin as I really don’t have a horse in the race. I’m not sure where I come down on it to be honest. I do see two very clear camps forming and Martin’s blog and the higher profile nature of the Kamloops group is probably at the heart of that. I wanted to hear what Martin had to say and also to read some comments (of which I guessed there would be several).

    Strong beliefs likely cause some lines to be drawn in the sand between parties… unfortunately what we all hate to admit is we can all learn from each other.

    With strong beliefs also come some lashing out. I don’t think that

    ‘Enlightened = Dr. B’

    vs

    ‘Dumb Jock = Traditional training models’

    …does this discussion much good. Just like calling a religious person righteous and a non-believer soul-less. :)

    I wish I understood the Dr. B stuff better. I hate to be labeled a dumb jock for not understanding the poorly translated books that have trickled out or the brief, or the non-data intensive articles out there not being enough for me.

    I guess I’m one of those annoying undecided voters who doesn’t pick someone until the day of the election, thus forcing everyone to sit through countless attack ads.

    That said, I’d challenge some folks who feel they buy into his system to share some of the evidence from research they point to. At the end of the day that was a goal in asking Martin, I want to dig more to understand more. My guess is many who say they buy into it, do so not out of true understanding, but instead like picking teams in a fairly uninformed way. (Like how I draft my fantasy football team and then lose terribly to my buddies).

    To simply say ‘I’m a Dr. B guy’ just because it seems more sophisticated or scientific (the anti-jock) doesn’t help me write training each week… and writing better and more effective training for my athletes so they can get results (and I get to keep my job) is the goal.

    Lynden Reder
    University of Minnesota

    Reply
    • Bosko
      Bosko says:

      Coach Lynden Reder,

      Saying that those on the side of Dr. B in this argument are blindly buying into his system just because it’s “sophisticated and scientific” is a gross generalization.

      Has it occurred to you that some people consider sport science as an essential part of the coaches education? And that leaning towards Dr B’s system is just a process of deduction on the basis of the previous education? I’ve read Matveyev, Zatsiorsky, Verkhoshansky, Viru, etc before I got to Bondarchuk’s work. Expanding your education does not complicate things. The more you learn the more simple things get. But then your simple is better than someone else’s. If you’re not trying to be the best coach you can be, then what are you doing?

      I understand that reading Dr. B’s work in English requires an effort in order to overcome the poor translation, but it seems to me that you outright decided that it is not worth it, because it’s easier to stick to what you already know and understand.

      You don’t have to understand everything he does, but you should at least take a few basic things into consideration, for implementing into your own work. It’s really not that complicated.

      The transfer of training in it’s essence is a really easy concept to grasp, and everyone encounters that effect when they realize that “this” works better than “that”. Bondarchuk took upon himself to dig more into it, and his position in the USSR national team enabled him to collect data and perform studies. When it comes to that research from his books, you don’t have to know that the 8 kg shot has a 0.845 correlation coefficient for an 18-19m shot putter. What you take from it is that for that level, an 8 kg shot transfers more than a 5 kg shot or that bench press has more value in the 17-18m range than it does at 21+.

      His classification of exercises, that is based on the concept of transfer of training, enables you to come up with exercises outside of your staple program, that will bring a higher transfer and variety. If this is the ONLY THING you take from Bondarchuk’s work, that’s plenty.

      Of course, his theory and proposes go much deeper than these basic concepts and data, but you don’t have to go deep. Not many people do.

      When it comes to periodization, block periodization as the usage of the training cycles of highly concentrated specialized workloads is nothing new or mysterious, and is widely used. For high level athletes, it is superior to the traditional periodization. Bondarchuk didn’t come up with it, but he used it for more than three decades with throwers, and his work on the subject should be treasured.

      What doesn’t go in Dr B’s favor is that he came to North America less than a decade ago, and the work he published was not presented well. He wrote 12 books in Russian, and close to 200 articles. His work has been translated in more languages that just English (which was done poorly). I have one of his books in Serbocroatian. He is a household name in hammer throw. But for some reason in America he comes up as a mysterious mad Russian scientist.

      You’re not a dumb jock Mr Reder, but you need to understand that this is not a bandwagon that we all blindly jumped to.

      Cheers

      Reply
  6. gary cooper
    gary cooper says:

    Not exactly on the main topic of this but:

    Training College throwers and beyond is one thing. To me training middle school or high schoolers is challenging. Mainly due to the distractions I see them face through school, peer pressure and lets not forget the variety of electronic gadgets etc they have.

    What I’m saying, is I would be interested to see how training a committed college thrower compares to adapting to each weeks changes in how often youngsters fail to make their training. Our son is in college throwing 3 outdoor events. He trains 5-6 days a week. his progress continues in part, due to consistency in training on a weekly basis throughout the school year.

    Without the commitment of the athlete, the success won’t be there, regardless of who’s program or methods the coach is using.
    To argue one’s methods against anthers in a non perfect world is humorous to me. I have been involved in Olympic lifting for 40+ yrs. And have applied some of that experience of training to the girls I am coaching. After 94 hammer throwing sessions, our senior girl threw 208.7 in training last Summer before heading to her 1st yr of college. She is 5-8 180#. Her best lifts were Pcl 181×1, Bpr 135×6, Safety Squat Bar 350×2. She only had 27 training days that summer out of a possible 67.

    We have a Sophomore girl, before developing a stress fracture on her left shin from a toe board issue at school with the shot, had thrown the 4k 163.7 and the 3k 182.1. Her best lifts were Pcl 154×2, Bpr 135×10, Safety Squat Bar 290×6. 5-7 and 149#.

    I wish we had the opportunity to work with guys throwing the hammer, but in our small town, its pretty much football then helping their parents work the farm.

    In looking at Bondarchuk and the articles he has written, how could anyone not be interested in applying them to training? If we had throwers on the high school level committed to training 5-6 days per week throughout their high school years, I’m sure we would be seeing stronger performances as they attend their first year of college. But for that to happen is a difficult transaction from the “norm” of our school system. They want as many kids out for as many different sports as possible. To develop a well rounded athlete??? When trying to “specialize” our own son on his training in HS, I was questioned several times why he was doing it. To me it made perfect sense. to them…. they’re still scratching their heads. The one thing I wish we would of had, was the hammer experience to start him earlier than his senior yr. He had thrown shot and discus as so many do from the start of his 7th grade year.

    Just thoughts.
    Gary

    Reply
  7. Lynden Reder
    Lynden Reder says:

    Again – my posing of the question was to try and learn more about the system. I’m certainly not saying that all who buy into it are doing so blindly, I just want to learn what and why they believe what they do. That said, some say they buy into it without fully understanding it I feel, but of course not all. Many have seen it work for them as athletes and as coaches. I incorporate the concepts I DO understand and buy into with my guys and have had good results.

    My effort is to learn more and incorporate new concepts where I can to help my throwers… that’s all.

    Reply
  8. Adam Nelson
    Adam Nelson says:

    I find this discussion interesting as the performance at the Olympics or major championships seems to unfairly label a coach a success or failure. Dr. B’s programs link the technical training to the exercise science. In that way it’s a major advancement over a traditional program – strength gains for strength sake don’t translate well into sport performance.

    In the States the primary determinant of (power) sport potential still includes the primary power lifts. While these lifts are critical in the development of a strong athlete, they don’t indicate athleticism. Power is a function of max strength and acceleration, so training programs should find ways to balance the training foci between the two. Specificity of training tends to focus on acceleration through the movement performed in a given sport.

    IMO, it seems that focussing on either quality exclusively is short-sighted. In addition, it doesn’t matter how strong or fast you are if you do not stress technique. I can’t speak about the hammer, but the rotational technique employed by Justin and Dylan always leads to sub-optimal performances. Their performances in the circle aren’t limited by their physical abilities, but their technique.

    Adam

    Reply
    • Martin
      Martin says:

      Great points Adam, I would just add that power is still at the core of Dr. B’s training. It is just achieved through different means (more volume than intensity when compared to most others) and not the only element focused on.

      Reply
  9. Brad
    Brad says:

    Martin – great read.

    Question for Adam. When saying their rotational technique leads to sub optimal performance are u comparing it to gliding or other rotational throwers? Can you go further into detail? Are you referring to the foot being passive as it hits the middle requiring a more perfectly timed “push” from the back during the release?
    Thanks for ur time in advance

    Reply
  10. Adam Nelson
    Adam Nelson says:

    Martin: Yes, I understand his general concept of power. However, I think he’s moved too far away from the development of max strength. Max strength isn’t always about lifting more weights, it’s also about the training effect on the actual muscle. Obviously, he has his reasons and he is a doctor.

    Brad: Yes, it’s clear that both Justin and Dylan are strong athletes, but it’s also clear that they spend too much time “training” the throw. Dr. B’s programs are driven by science. It’s important to train the appropriate energy systems to create the desired training effect. Exercise science can reasonably predict performances in the glide, because of the similarities of that movement to traditional resistance training – baseline of strength, accelerate an object from a low point to high point, determine the most efficient path across the circle, etc.

    The rotation is a slightly different beast. It’s a lot more difficult to determine the “best” path across the circle because there are more variables, so you have to focus more on what optimizes the finish. In that sense, it’s more of an art. Yes, timing the various acceleration points is definitely part of the art. The art requires a more kinesthetic awareness. If you are constantly training the throw, it’s impossible to feel your body.

    A more simplified example: make a fist. When you curl your hand up into a fist one time, you can feel the muscles in your arms contract, you can feel the fingers drive into the palm of the hand, you can feel the stress on the joints and bones as you continue to tighten the fist. Now, open and shut your hand as quickly as possible for a minute trying to make a fist each rep. Over time, you will lose all of the feeling in your hand and much of the control.

    This same loss of feeling happens when you train the throw and for rotational shot put I don’t believe this is a good thing.

    Adam

    Reply
  11. Michael Macellari
    Michael Macellari says:

    Nice to read the clear and succinct words of an Ivy-Leaguer. I hope there is a book in the works, I will get it for sure.

    Reply
  12. dave
    dave says:

    i have wondered for a while if is it possible Dr B’s theories are more specfic / have greater transfer to the hammer throw than say shot / discus ?
    Can hammer throwers get away with less gym based maximal strength/power development due a “stronger” conditioning effect from the act of throwing the hammer itself compared to what the shot or discus may provide as a stimulus ?
    The forces developed throwing the hammer are greater and produced over a ” longer duration” than the other two events ad therefore may be a better tool to condition with, which i suppose may make it fit better to Dr B’s philosophy.

    i await to be shot down by the shot/discus throwers :)

    Dave

    Reply
  13. Sergej Litvinov Jr.
    Sergej Litvinov Jr. says:

    Dr. B theory is great. i heard he change his theory since the 80x a litle bit.
    Its bad that i havent a chance to learn more about the new things.
    About the maximal lifting: i become often the same question from Us Throwers. How much they need to squad for 80m. 250? 300?
    I say allways my maximum on my shoulders was 170kg.
    This questions are telling a lot how the US throwers going in the wrong way.
    I mean, squad is just squad. you can not do just squad and hoping for 80m. the clever balanced system is the way and i think the people in Us-Canada have a great chance to learn more about their Discipline from Dr. B.

    Sergej

    Reply
  14. Jerome Simian
    Jerome Simian says:

    Great discussion

    I understand what Adam feels about “training the throw” and I recall Koji Murofushi saying that high volume throwing caused him to lose his connection with the throw.
    When we talk about technique we are really talking about movement quality. Quality is proper sequence of muscle actions at the optimal speed within a optimal rythm. The neural system determines the sequence based on memory, given goal and proprioceptive afferent information (the info it gets back from the state of the body). It does so supported, or not, by energy system.
    So when looking at improving movement it become difficult to draw a line in the sand between physical training and technical work. As all component are interdependant.

    “working the throw” as Adam puts it is a great choice of word. As a high volume of the same pattern will work on the support of the movement, both structural ( neurons) and energetic. Charlie Francis used to say ” Do sprinters run fast because they squat heavy or can they squat heavy because they run fast?” He indicated that he thought the latter rather than the former. So yes an 80m thrower is a strong athlete no matter what. does that means that he has to squat 300kg..I don’t know it’s a different pattern that is supported differently. I know of an 80m thrower who has never done squats! But I’m sure that had he devoted time to squatting he would have become a strong squatter rapidly!

    Now remains the question of developing the power of the sequence. That’s when the art and the science blend. The science is not so much in the biomechanics but more in the precise evaluation of the trade off and influence of each training means.
    I think that’s what Dr B attemtps to evaluate for each athlete. That why he prescribes complexes and evalutes each session in an ever moving dynamic. Doing so he has to make choices and his orientation is clearly a global one. Work the throw and let the adaptation take place, while providing some support from non competitive specific exercises.

    High volume throws will develop the supporting energy system necessary to perform and create neural adaptations. What happens if there is deterioration of one of the components of movement?
    For example a muscle in the chain weakens , changing ever slightly the sequence/ rythm… are we then reinforcing a different pattern?
    The same argument can be made about any orientation in training.. when you train a quality to a certain degree of fatigue you expect a rebound after adaptation takes place. In a simplistic way we should see the same with high volume throw program, and to some extent we do. But things become complex because all the component of proper movement quality do not have the same “work capacity” and/or contribution and they start influencing movement as a whole differently and -providing enough repetitions- movement acquisition. So how much is optimal- and how can we influence that number?

    So the science – to some an art – is to balance the training of the whole and of the supporting element of the whole.

    Jerome

    Reply
  15. Sergej Litvinov Jr.
    Sergej Litvinov Jr. says:

    When Murofushi said that? at this age or when he was younger?

    With high volume throwing you can loose the connenction to the throw when you cant do this volume at a good quality. this can happen for a few reasons. If you do the wrong weightlifting program or the volume in the weightlifting program is to much or you dont fix a technique foul you do and its grown with volume.

    this is not so easy to do a high volume throw programm, there must be everything perfect around to do it with quality.

    Reply
    • Jerome Simian
      Jerome Simian says:

      Sergej

      Exactly!
      throwing hammer is what improves throwing hammer best…until one or several of the supporting elements becomes a limiting factor..high volume is possible when training support the ability to throw.
      You’re right it’s not easy. And it’s not just general versus specific problems. And that’s why coaching experience and data is important.

      Reply
  16. Lynden Reder
    Lynden Reder says:

    So I’m a nuts and bolts guy. I do agree with the idea that once you get to a certain amount of max strength the strength has less correlation to the throw.

    So, let’s take this example:

    Lets say I have a college shot putter. He’s thrown 18.50m, is 6’2 and weighs 270lbs (est 120k). His max in bench is around 450-475lbs. Pretty good for a college thrower of his level, and probably getting to his limit. He’s an upper classmen who has worked hard to get his strength levels to the point where he can stand throw 15m and full throw over 18m.

    If we decided to train more ‘speed’ in his bench (or any lift for that matter), what does that training plan look like? What kind of percentage? What kind of speed on a tendo?

    This same scenario could be asked of a 64m college hammer thrower who got their snatch up to 110k.

    Lynden
    Minnesota

    Reply
  17. Jerome Simian
    Jerome Simian says:

    I certainly cannot speak for Bondarchuk…but to me these questions have to be asked among others:
    – how is his stand vs full?
    – how do his distance light vs heavy look?
    – at full speed what what are his technical limitation? how does his technique breakdown? how about when he gets tired?
    – is there positions he can’t hold in the throw?
    – does he suffer from any pain, discomfort? periodical reduced range of motion?

    there’s more obviously but that’s some of what I mean when talking about the supporting element of the throw. answer the questions, implement the solutions, enforce the proper technique, throw a lot…here’s your plan …

    Reply
  18. Lynden Reder
    Lynden Reder says:

    Jerome – thanks for your questions and feedback. I agree with the approach you propose, but I guess I’m more interested in the intensity in the weight room where Dr B seems to take a different approach. In the interview with Justin Rohde he talks about the speed of his bench being outstanding… I’m trying to get at training percentages once an athlete has reached some max strength that we all agree is needed…

    Reply
  19. Bryan
    Bryan says:

    Perhaps Lynden’s point is just what is alluded to in the previous post by Jerome. I would ask those same questions whether intentionally implementing the “Bondarchuk System” or not. In the end it’s about coaching. It’s about knowing an athlete, knowing what their strengths and weaknesses are, and then adjusting your training to maintain their strengths and improve on weaknesses. It takes determination, time, and patience (and funding/financial stability but that’s another story) on behalf of both athlete and coach. I used to want to know what technical elements Dr. B focuses on to coach so many 80+m throwers. But now after watching so many different styles of hammer throwers he has coached I think, provided you stick to several main technical items, he’s just really really good at maximizing each individual athlete’s strengths. But how? I think that’s the question lost on most. As in any training plan, there is never going to be a cookie-cutter solution. That is the art of coaching.

    Side point #1: Are 4-5 years in an NCAA system enough to do this? Perhaps for some athletes in some events, perhaps not others.

    I really like how some above have referred to “Bondarchuk’s principles” rather than the “Bondarchuk System,” which seems to have the mystical fuzzy science qualities that Lynden originally spoke of. Food for thought for the overall community: Are we getting to a point where this man’s general theories/principles are so commonplace that in reality most coaches implement them perhaps without knowing they’re using ideas that originated with Bondarchuk? If a coach uses an overweight hammer or shot, does specific strength drills, or trains with submaximal weights for speed, is that implementing Bondarchuk’s training? I would say yes and no. As Martin pointed out, his principles are dominant throughout elite training camps worldwide, but it seems that very few camps (Kamloops included) truly “walk the walk” with regards to the extent that this system is implemented.

    Training systems evolve because one coach has tried something, failed, and re-adjusted. I greatly appreciate guys like Martin who keep passing knowledge on and promote these conversations. The next great coach will be the one who learns from men like Dr. B but rather than trying to implement his exact system down to specific reps and percentages, keeps readjusting and readjusting to suit the needs of their own athletes. Just like Dr. B has.

    Reply
  20. Jerome Simian
    Jerome Simian says:

    Lynden-

    Bench? Hook up a tendo to the bar, have the athlete lift several weights it’ll give you a power curve for that athlete…then it’s your coaching decision to make in which power zone you want to work depending on the specific need of the athlete…there are plenty of studies giving you a ball park idea of where to start…now for squat it’s an all other ordeal

    hope that helps..now tell the Panda that his shorts are too short for America ;)

    Reply

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