I mentioned on Monday, Bondarchuk is as active and busy now as he was decades ago. He recently released an English translation of Volume 3 of his series on Periodization of Training in Sports, available for purchase from his website. I am too biased to give a true book review, but his books are not cheap and I find it helpful to at least give you all an overview of each book here. I finally had a chance to give it a thorough read after the holidays and my impressions are below.
Earlier this month I had the privilege of being interviewed by the Sports Coach Radio podcast. The podcast posts weekly in-depth interviews with leading sports coaches, sports scientists, exercise physiologists and team performance directors. When Glenn Whitney, the host, asked me if I would be interested in doing an interview I was a bit dumbfounded as to why. I’m always looking to help HMMR Media gain a bigger audience, but when I said he interviews leading people, I truly meant leading. He’s had some outstanding interviews Harry Marra, Vern Gambetta, and Clyde Hart in track and field and coaches of the same level in other sports too.
In the end we actually spoke little about coaching despite the name of the podcast. Instead we dove into topics like how to balance a career, technology in sports, and the hammer throw. All topics I fell like I can hold my own on. To have a listen, click here. But in preparation for the interview I spent some time thinking about coaching and since I didn’t get to speak about it as much during the interview, I thought I would share a few brief thoughts on the topic here.
One of the core concepts at the heart of Bondarchuk’s training methods is his exercise classification scheme. Bondarchuk has written about dozens of different periodization models that can be used for a variety of sports, but all of them make use of his four-category system of classifying exercises from general to specific. The concept is straightforward, but not one that I have spent a lot of time on here talking about.
In my latest article for Juggernaut Training Systems I take a look at how both Bondarchuk and Yuri Verkhoshansky use their own systems to define special strength exercises. By looking at two leaders in the field of special strength, we start to see what common elements special strength exercises need. I also explain my own five tips for selecting a special strength exercise:
When I discussed how transfer of training and the reverse transfer of training might make us reconsider he use of high intensity lifting, I presented my point as a simple cost benefit analysis that tends to lean in one direction. I am not one for bold statements since I am generally a non-confrontational person.
Bondarchuk, on the other hand, simply tells it like he sees it. On this point he has a clear opinion and at 73 years old he isn’t slowing down either. He just published the third volume of his periodization series (a review will be online this month) and is finishing up a book on long term athlete development. He will also speak on the latter topic at the Central Virginia Sports Performance Seminar in April. As he gets older he prefers spending time with his family over traveling for seminars, so if you have the chance is recommend attending this rare opportunity to hear him in person.
But back to the topic of high intensity lifting. To help promote the event, organizer Jason Demayo did a short interview with him to talk about the scope of his long term athlete development book and related topics. When asked what he thinks is the biggest mistake made by strength and conditioning coaches he did not pull any punches on this controversial topic:
Ever since Bondarchuk published the English translation of his two-volume work several years ago, “transfer of training” has become a buzz word in the physical preparation community. The concept itself is quite simple: exercises are of varying usefulness depending on how much the gains in one exercise transfer to the gains in the competitive exercise. We want to use the exercises with a positive transfer, i.e. exercises that will help us throw further as we improve in them. Exercises that have no effect on the throwing, or that hurt results, have either a neutral or negative transfer of training.
The best way we have to measure the amount of transfer comes from correlations. But correlations just show if two exercises rise and fall together; they do not show the actual casual link between the two exercises or which direction it flows. For example, let’s say that a thrower sees a simultaneous increase in hammer throw results and front squat performance. We all would likely infer that front squats are improving the throw. But it could also be the opposite: the throw might be helping the squat. I call this a reverse transfer of training. The transfer of training effect operates the same no matter what direction it is going, but in these cases the direction is simply the opposite of what was intended.
Becoming a better coach requires learning new ideas. In Switzerland, that can be a bit more difficult than in other countries. The coaching education program here is quite insular. It is great for beginning coaches, but more advanced coaches are not often exposed to the leaders and new ideas in other countries. Last year I worked to change this by co-organizing a clinic with Harry Marra, the coach of world decathlon record holder Ashton Eaton. We hope to put together another event in the Spring. But in the meantime there are also many coaching conferences in Europe that already bring together to top coaches. The Autumn I have the chance to attend two of them: the International Festival of Athletics Coaching (“IFAC”) and the German Federation’s Throws Conference. I will post about what I learned at each conference.
The first stop is the IFAC, which is currently going on in Glasgow, Scotland. Not only does this conference give me a change to learn, but I also get the honor of presenting alongside some of the top names in athletics coaching like Harry Marra, Vern Gambetta, Frank Dick, Vesteinn Hafsteinsson, Jacques Borlée, Yannick Tregaro, Benke Blomkvist and many others from both within and outside our sport. I actually led two sessions: a theory session on Friday and a hands-on technical workshop on Saturday morning.
The theory presentation covered the topic “Simplifying the Soviets: An Easy Approach to Soviet Throws Training Methods and Periodization.” The presentation is an updated version of the topic I presented at the UK Athletics Hammer Workshop in 2011. It essentially boils down Soviet hammer throw training methods into five basic principles. I would have loved to go into periodization and programming in more detail, but with just one hour all I had time for was this basic overview. Nevertheless it was well received and it led to some informative discussions in the evenings where I had a chance to go into more detail about implementing the five principles. A copy of my slides are below, although much of discussion explored diverse tangents that help provide context or answered some of the great questions asked throughout the presentation.
Last year I wrote about my training only sparsely since there was not that much new or exciting going on. But this year I am barely two weeks into training and I am already eager to give a training update. As I discussed in my season review a few days ago, there were several problems that kept me from reaching my goals last season. I hope to learn from those mistakes and make some improvements to my training. This year I have kept one of my goals from last year: technique. I need to improve the start of my throw by staying a little lower and getting more “range” on the first turn. Then I need to stay relaxed throughout the final turns. In addition, I have a new second goal, which is to keep my focus on these points even as the competition season began. Last year I this went well in the off-season, but as soon as a little extra stress was added to the formula (be it an injury, more work, house guests, travel for competitions, etc.), the wheels came off. I have also developed a plan for both of these points and am already implementing it.
Over the past month 8 Weeks Out has released a four-part video introduction to the methods of Anatoli Bondarchuk that I filmed back in July. While Bondarchuk is best known within the world of track and field, his methods can be easily applied to other sports and this video series attempts to give a brief overview of some general concepts that can be applied to other sports. The first three parts, which I discussed two weeks ago, explain the “transfer of trainig” concept, Bondarchuk’s exercise classification system, and some examples of special developmental exercises for the hammer throw and other sports.
In the final episode I take a deeper look at how to put theory into practice by giving a little overview of periodization. Periodization takes elements from the exercise classification system, but also adds in elements from each athlete’s unique characteristics and the demands of their sport. I try to explain this by comparing two basic periodization models: block periodization and complex periodization. Complex periodization is what we use in the hammer throw, but it is important to remember that it is not necessarily what should be used for athletes in other sports, let alone other hammer throwers. Individual needs play a huge role in periodization. This is also why I spend more time writing about other concepts since periodization is the most likely to be taken out of context. Unlike many coaches, Bondarchuk does not prescribe the same thing for every athlete and this is why it is a bit dangerous to look at what we are doing and just copy it. I address this in the second half of the video through an informative Q&A session with 8 Weeks Out founder Joel Jamieson.
When I first started sharing my experiences with Dr. Bondarchuk I wasn’t able to convince many coaches that his methods could be successful in any sport other than the hammer throw. There were even skeptics of its success in the hammer throw without the Soviet sports structure supporting it. But then Dylan Armstrong became the top shot putter in the world and we won over some skeptics. Others, however, held out and attributed Armstrong’s success solely to his freak athletic abilities. Then last year Justin Rodhe finally made the breakthrough from small school champion to world class shot putter after years of training under Bondarchuk. The skeptics got even quieter and even non-track and field people starting looking at how his methods can apply to training for any sport.
Joel Jamieson has been one of those guys since the beginning. And when I stopped by his gym in July he asked me to do a short introductory video series on Bondarchuk for non-throwers. While most of Bondarchuk’s research was specific to track and field, his methods can be easily applied to other sports. Over the past few weeks, Jamieson has posted the first three parts of the series on his homepage which explain Bondarchuk’s exercise classification system and some examples of special developmental exercises for the hammer throw and some other sports.
At the beginning of 1964 young singer-songwriter Bob Dylan released what would be one of his most popular hits, “The Times They Are a-Changin’.” The song came out during a tumultuous time around the world and these changes were not limited to politics or culture, they extended even to the hammer throw which was undergoing a rapid transformation. At the front of the sport throughout this period was one man: Harold Connolly.
Connolly passed away three years ago today and I have made it an annual ritual to dedicate this day to writing about him, his unique character, and his contributions to our sport (see here, here, and here). Connolly first picked up the hammer in 1952. Four years later he was the Olympic Champion and set his first of seven world records. Those records held until 1965, although he continued to compete at a high level through the 1968 Olympics and nearly made the 1972 team. When he started out in the event it was not far removed from the days of throwing without a cage. The 1956 Olympics was the first to use a concrete circle, rather than the dirt or grass circles used before which sometimes required spiked footwear. The sector was 90º wide. Cages were considered an optional safety feature, and even when they came into regular use they were so flimsy and small that they did little to protect anyone but the officials. Technique was atrocious and even the best throwers were hesitant to try out new training methods like weight lifting. Most importantly, the event had stagnated: the world record had increased just two meters in the 40 years prior to 1952.