The classic periodization model decreases volume, intensity, and technical work at the same time to reach a peak.

My Periodization Manifesto

I think the biggest plague affecting training is the cookie-cutter approach to it used many coaches in all sports. Individuals are different. Sports are different. And there are different training methods to choose from. An optimal training program comes not just from tailoring a template to individual- and sport-specific needs, but from also starting with the right template in the first place.

That is my periodization manifesto. So I read with interest last week as an article explained there is actually only one type of periodization:

“We have 97% genetic concordance with Gorillas, 98%+ with Chimps, and 99%+ with every other human on the planet. Humans respond to training in almost identical ways qualitatively, but differ only in quantity of response.”

-Dr. Mike Israetel in “5 Questions with Dr. Mike Israetel” on Juggernaut Training Systems

Israetel’s ultimate point in the article is a bit more nuanced and semantic; he concludes that what we think of as different types of periodization are merely variants of the same and the current debates just concern the specifics of implementation. In other words, we are all cooking Thanksgiving dinner and we only disagree about portion size, how much salt to use, or which dishes might be included. But whether we bake a turkey or ham, we we are all making Thanksgiving dinner. Israetel clearly does not advocate a one-size-fits-all approach, but I have heard this same argument used before to defend that approach.

Related Content: Want to learn more about periodization? It’s not too late to register for the HMMR Media Seminar next weekend in Nashville.

On the one hand I don’t really care how we lump approaches together as that does not really affect what we do. But on the other hand it affects how we talk training and therefore it is an important topic. Framing the issue this way glosses over the specifics, but the specifics should be front and center as there is no meaningful training without them. In fact, the specifics of training are in the definition of periodization itself:

Periodization is the timing, sequence and interaction of the training stimuli to allow optimum adaptive response in pursuit of specific competitive goals.

-Vern Gambetta in “What is Periodization?”

In the grand scheme of things the changes may be small. Human beings are indeed more similar than different. But those differences are still huge. I am not a biologist, but if a 1% change in genetic correspondence means the difference between a human and a chimp, then the variance within humans, even if smaller, is significant and needs to be taken into account in training. Those differences can make or break an athlete’s program. The difference between using classical block periodization or complex periodization for a sprinter can affect performance and injury rates. The difference each period’s length can mean the difference between an extremely effective program and a waste of time. And the balance of specificity is crucial. These types of specifics matter whether you consider it all one type of periodization or not.

And let’s be clear: the differences between individuals are both quantitative and qualitative. There are some common points with everyone. For example, introduce a stressor and the body will attempt to adapt to it. But individual differences are not just in how much the body adapts (quantity) but also in the process of adaptation itself (quality). When talking about individual differences, I love to cite a University of Alabama looking at swimming warmups. Researchers tested three different warm-up variations: a normal long warm up, a short warm up, and no warm up. After each warm up athletes performed a time trial. Unsurprisingly, the normal warm up generally proved the best option, but only for 44-percent of the athletes. Another 19-percent performed better with a short warm up and 37-percent performed the best without a warm-up. The conclusion: there is no best warmup. What was best for the group in general was actually worse for the majority of athletes. This example is a bit simplistic and does not look at periodization or the longer adaptation process, but the same type of individual variation applies there too. My coach Anatoliy Bondarchuk, for example, has shown that what was once thought of as uniform adaptive response varies widely among individuals and should be taken into account in planning. But he is hardly revolutionary in this regard:

“In recent years substantial evidence has emerged demonstrating that training responses vary extensively, depending upon multiple underlying factors. Such findings challenge the appropriateness of applying generic methodologies.”

-Professor John Kiely in “Periodization Paradigms in the 21st Century: Evidence-Led or Tradition-Driven?”

Just as there is no best warmup, there is no best program. There are only best programs for an individual training for a specific sport at a specific point in time. As much as I love concrete answers, this is a case where it is relative. Relativity might not sell books, but it is what makes coaching such a fun art form. We need to focus the conversation on what ingredients we use, the proportions, and main course. Heck, we need to take a step back and decide what occasion we are even cooking for before we even open up the cook book and find a recipe. Let’s talk about this, because this is how we become better coaches together.

There are many drivers that create transfer. Here are just a few.

The Holistic Bondarchuk

Bondarchuk is best known for his work on transfer of training. But so much focus on the specific side of his training, the special strength exercises for example, blurs that fact that our training is very holistic in nature as I’ve written about before. Some common misconceptions of Bondarchuk are that he thinks:

  1. General strength is not important for throwers.
  2. Maximum strength is not important for throwers.
  3. We do not train general strength.
  4. All we do is throw.

None of those are true. General and maximal strength play a role in throwing and thus we do train them. While we throw frequently, it is not an absurd amount and I actually threw more before working with Bondarchuk. What we do have is a balanced approach to training with a slight emphasis on those things that transfer well.

Sprint coach Henk Kraaijenhof posted a great piece on transfer of training this week and further emphasized them when we had the chance to meet in Zurich yesterday. His post talks a bit about Bondarchuk and uses the hammer throw as an example, but he also incorporates his own input form his experiences as an athlete and coach. To sum up the topic of transfer, he perfectly puts together how training requires an individual holistic combination of all elements of training:

It is the combination and integration of general exercises and specific and special exercises. It depends on the level of the athlete, on his/her development over the years, the periodisation and the adaptation dynamics of this athlete to training. It’s the subtle balance between a lot of factors and here the elite coach distinguishes him/herself from the average coach. He/she sees/realizes this complexity and manages it without getting lost in it. Or getting sidetracked.

There are many drivers that create transfer.

These are just a few of the many drivers that can create transfer. Coaches need to navigate the complexity to see which driver(s) best produce transfer for their athletes.

The bottom line is that transfer is important. You need to do in training what will increase your performance on the field. But finding that exact recipe for each individual athlete takes into account a variety of factors.

Bondarchuk has published his thoughts on what this is in general for the throwing events, but like all data this has its limits. He would even admit this too as he tailors each athlete’s training to their own indviidual needs since those will not always align with the group’s needs. Copying and pasting a program is never the best way to find optimal transfer. Kraaijenhof ends his thoughts with two recommendations along these lines that he has learned for his years of experience:

1. Be careful to take your own career or experiences as an athlete as a reference for coaching other athletes, they might not be like you.

2. Never copy training methods if you don’t know (in this case) the fibre type and so the responses, as published in research or by other coaches.

change

Macro and Micro Changes

Please excuse me if the site is a little slow lately as I have been preoccupied with my final preparations for the European Championships. But I had a few quick thoughts on Nick’s latest post about the book Only the Paranoid Survive.

Change plays a central role in training. As Nick describes, you have to find the inflection points that let you know when you need to adopt new methods. Changing your approach too soon or too late will put you at risk of losing out to your competition, just as companies that are leaders one day can be gone the next (anyone remember Compaq computers?). You also have to know what new methods are worth changing for. Is it a passing fad, or a paradigm shift in the sport?
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Basic Principles of Data Collection

As technology has proliferated over the past decade, so has data collection among athletes and coaches. Data collection is nothing new, but as the amount of data and the ease of obtaining it seems to be growing exponentially. I was just speaking to a scientist from Push last week and their new device will soon let you capture all kinds of metrics with the touch of a button in training. Other devices are adding different metrics. But with all the new data, it is important to keep in mind two principles of data collection:

  1. Know what the data tells you; and
  2. Know how to use it.

If you overlook these, then the data might as well be useless. Read more

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Words of Wisdom

photoIn Riga last week one of the Swiss sprinters asked me when I would run out of things to write about. That will happen as soon as I stop learning. When will that be? When I keel over.

As I’ve talked about before, continuous learning is something I picked up from my two biggest mentors, Harold Connolly and Anatoliy Bondarchuk. I am reading and talking about training with others daily. And I keep a daily journal with notes on what I learned, what I’ve observed in my own training and coaching, and other commentary on life in general. Just a portion of what I note makes it online or inspires me to write a post.

As the internet track and field community has grown over the past few years, so has the amount of great training content available online. I tend to post links to the best articles I find on Twitter when I run across them, but I thought it would be good to regularly share some of the nuggets of wisdom here too. Below are some highlights from my June journal that I’ve grouped into some loose categories.

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My mentor, Hal Connolly, coaching a next generation throw. There is a difference between starting to throw early and specializing in the sport at such an age.

Why Does Specialized Training Get a Bad Rap?

In a New York Times op-ed last week, author David Epstein presented a case against specialization in youth sports. He cited several studies showing that early specialization appears to have detrimental effects on athlete development. For example:

Data presented at the April meeting of the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine showed that varsity athletes at U.C.L.A. — many with full scholarships — specialized on average at age 15.4, whereas U.C.L.A. undergrads who played sports in high school, but did not make the intercollegiate level, specialized at 14.2.

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measurements

Measuring What Matters

In the Performance Podcast interview I did last week I talked a bit about how coaches often aren’t measuring what matters in training. This idea lies at the heart of the concept of transfer of training. Take a look at American football and you see how obsessed fans and coaches are with 40-yard dash times or weight room numbers. But what really matters is how well someone plays on the field and, in case you’re new to the blog, those measurements are not always related.
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