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.


Introducing Zac Brouillette

Editor’s Note: Zac Brouillette is HMMR Media’s newest writer. He recently joined the Innovative Athletic Performance Institute in Florida as the Director of Speed, Strength, and Conditioning. Prior to that he worked as the Director of Sports Performance at Ohio University. But, most importantly, he was a hammer thrower in college. Now he is taking that background and applying it to athletes in a multitude of sports.

To start out with, we thought it would be helpful to have Zac answer a few questions to learn about his background, his viewpoint, and his experiences. Check it out below. Zac also has been blogging for a little while on his own blog, and we’ve copied his archive over to HMMR Media. Read it here, or go to directly to some of the more popular posts about his brick method, healthy eating, or lessons learned from Dan Pfaff. Read more

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.


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


Talking Specific Strength on the Performance Podcast

Coach Wil Fleming and I go back a ways. We competed against each other back in college and while he has moved on starting his own gym and running a great blog and podcast, we still keep in touch to talk about training occasionally. A few years ago I did an interview for his blog about Westside Barbell. This year he provided input in our coaching roundtable about Olympic lifting for the throws. And just last week we chatted about specific strength for his new venture: The Performance Podcast.
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Book Review: The Olympian Manual for Strength and Size

I’ve given a teaser and interviewed the translator, but I have yet to give my own thoughts on Dr. Bondarchuk’s new book The Olympian Manual for Strength and Size. As we are sending out the pre-orders I thought it was time for me to weigh in with my thoughts. As I normally do in my book reviews, I will give an overview of the book, discuss in detail it’s organization and content, and then summarize what I like and didn’t like. If you would like to order the book, you can do so in the HMMR Media Store. As discussed below, if you order the book from HMMR Media I can also help answer some questions you might have after reading it.

General Overview

olympianmanualThis is a book about strength. Strength defined early in the book as “the ability to overcome external resistance or to counteract it through the process of physical activity.” This definition is big and broad. It involves basically everything you do with your muscles. As a coach, such a definition does not actually define anything practical. But the closer you look at strength you realize it is not just one big thing; it is a combination of smaller concepts. We move different things in different ways. Each of these things requires its own type of strength that must be developed in a specific way. While you can provide an overarching definition of strength, you cannot provide an overarching approach to strength training. That is what this book is about. It is about seeing what types of strength exists, what type(s) you need, and how to develop it.


I have posted the complete table of contents here, but to give you an idea of what the book is really about if like to walk through each chapter.

  • Chapter 1 - Bondarchuk loves definitions and this first chapter is full of them. As I said above, strength is many things and he lays out all the different ways to classify strength. You can classify by specificity (look at his classic exercise classification system for more details here), the way the muscle contracts (dynamic strength vs. isometic strength), relativity (absolute vs. relative strength), and speed of movement (ranging from maximum strength to starting strength, explosive strength, and speed strength). Bondarchuk then moves on to look at different modes of training (overcoming, yielding, retaining, and combinations thereof), different zones of intensity, and methods of strength development (maximum effort, repetition, pyramid, contrast, etc.). As you can see, there is a lot to define before the work gets done. But the definitions are important: you need to know what type of strength(s) you are training for before you begin to design any type of plan.
  • Chapter 2 - As he did in Transfer of Training in Sports Volume 1 and Volume 2, Bondarchuk explains the concept of transfer of training. In addition he provides some new figures. To start with he shows the correlations between exercises in the sport of weightlifting. He also does a deeper analysis of the numbers in his previous books by looking at the interrelation between non-competitive exercises for speed and power athletes. For example, he looks at the correlation between snatch and clean for a jumper.
  • Chapter 3 - This is probably the most controversial chapter and I’ve taken a look at it before. In short, speed and strength are not as correlated as you might think and Bondarchuk spends this chapter looking at the connection in more detail. In the end, though, his thoughts could not be more clear:

The time it takes to perform an exercise is critical to consider in the process of sports mastery when selecting training means . . . and not drawing conclusions that absolute strength is the foundation for developing movement velocity.

  • Chapter 4 - Using the information in previous chapters, Bondarchuk starts to put the elements together and recommend how you can train different types of strength. For example maximum dynamic strength requires slow twitch muscle development and therefore works best at high intensities. Isometric work can also help develop this, but is less effective in developing speed strength. There are lots of tips and even more caveats.
  • Chapter 5 - This chapter provides some sample programs for developing the different forms of strength outlined in Chapter 4.
  • Chapter 6 - Adaptation is the key to any type of training, so in the last chapter Bondarchuk takes a step back to look at how adaptation works and how the historical definitions of it have failed to capture its true essence. He provides some very basic examples of his periodization to help illustrate the foundation of his methods:

In the end, the process of entering sports form is completely individual when it comes to time characteristics as well as the successive order of phases of development of sport form.

What I Liked

Like many coaches, I often refer to strength as a single concept. Or, at most, I will divide it into specific and general strength. Above all this book was very useful in detailing the nuances of each type of strength. Identifying the type of strength you need for your sport is essential to any training plan. With solid examples of how to develop each type, it also gives you an idea of how to start training it. Knowing what you need is just the start, then you have to develop it.

To help connect the dots, Bondarchuk provided a lot of sample training programs. I must be honest, when I first read through them this was part of the book I didn’t like. Knowing Bondarchuk, he would never give someone a cookie cuter training plan. Instead he needs to know what someone is training for, how they adapt, and many other details. But then I realized that the plans are not necessarily to be used, they are to help understand what he is talking about. Once I realized that they became quite helpful. For example Bondarchuk mentioned in Chapter 4 that speed strength can be best developed through working at 90-100% intensities and lifting a medium intensities. This seemed to be a contradiction. But when looking at the sample programs I understood what he was talking about: effort should be 90-100% while the load should be medium. Therefore in a sprint you go at 90-100% intensity. And when lifting a medium weight, you move it with 90-100% speed.

I have trained with Bondarchuk for nearly a decade, but even then I frequently found myself having “ah-hah” moments throughout the book as I discovered the reasoning behind such topics as why we use certain intensities in training or different modes of training. For that reason alone I learned a lot from the book, but I also picked up quite a bit about how I would train someone for other sports.

What I Didn’t Like

The big knock against most Russian authors is that the text is at best dense or at worst incomprehensible. Bondarchuk has had books at both ends of those spectrums. As the translator pointed out in our interview, part of the reason is the nature of the written Russian language. But part of it is also Bondarchuk’s writing style that includes long asides and lengthy introductions. The translation in this book is pretty good at getting the general points across, but the underlying text still includes these elements and you have to work through them to get to the meat. Sections of the book also sometimes feel like a compilation of different entries on strength rather than a cohesive whole.

The editing is also not always up to par. As you might notice, my name is on the cover as an editor but in actuality I was more like a consultant on the book. I read through earlier versions to edit and provide feedback that helped put the text in context. I was not, however, given a chance to do a final edit and this shows as there are still some small typos and even a missing table.

But overall I think the heart of work is nevertheless there and content is approachable. For example, despite a long introduction about the history of theories of adaptation, the sixth chapter of the book provides the best overview of Bondarchuk’s periodization that I’ve read. In 10 pages he did as good of a job as his three-volume periodization work did. The detail is not there since it is not the topic of this book, but he still outlines how individual the approach is and gives an example of his simplest periodization method (misleadingly called “complex” periodization) to illustrate it.

I understand I also have it easy. I know Bondarchuk, I’ve trained with him, I’ve picked his brain, and before I even opened this book I had a good idea of a lot of the concepts it contained. Others might not get as much from the book as a result. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot of value in the book. Therefore I would like to offer those that purchase the book from HMMR Media to contact me if you have any questions or don’t quite understand a section of the book. I will gather the most frequent questions and provide feedback on them in a future post along with translator Jake Jensen. I can’t guarantee you will understand everything in the book, but I can at least help with the process so you can get the most out of it.

How to Buy

As mentioned above, you can order the book in the HMMR Media Store.

Translator Jake Jensen is also a competitive powerlifter. He recently squatted 584 pounds.

Interview with Jake Jensen

The publisher is putting the finishing touches on Bondarchuk’s latest book (Olympian Manual for Strength & Sizepre-order here) and it should be shipped this month. An overview of the book and its table of contents are available here, but in the meantime I had a chance to talk with translator Jake Jensen about his own thoughts on the book. I assisted Jake in the editing of the book and got to know him throughout the process. As a competitive weightlifter and trainer, Jake is not just interested in translating the book, but also in what it contains.
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The first turn of a three-turn throw is fundamentally different in balance and rhythm.

Three Versus Four Turns

Some of you may have glossed over the disussion of hurdling technique in my training talk with Gary Winkler. But his answers could equally be applied to the hammer throw or any event. I asked him why so many athletes were switching from eight to seven steps before the first hurdle and his response was quick:

Most of it is just groupthink … There is not always a lot of analytic thinking going on when these decisions are made.

Why do no top Americans glide in the shot put? Or why do no Germans spin? Is it just group think?

Why do no top Americans glide in the shot put? Or why do no Germans spin? Is it just groupthink?

The same could be said in the debate about why so many shot putters spin in America versus using the glide. Or about the big question in the hammer throw: three versus four turns. The majority of throwers use four turns now, but plenty of success has been achieved with three turns, including the current men’s world record by Yuri Sedykh and the current American women’s record by Amanda Bingson.
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Bondarchuk also uses dual Olympic sprint champion Valery Borzov as an example when discussing the relationship between speed and maximum leg strength.

Don’t Forget the Speed

Over the last two weeks I’ve compiled a lot of great information on Olympic weightlifting for throwers. Weightlifting coaches provided their feedback on variations of the lifts for throwers and lifting technique. Elite throwing coaches Dan Lange and Don Babbitt discussed how they implement Olympic lifting in their programs. And I reviewed Greg Everett’s book Olympic Weightlifting for Sports, which provides great teaching progressions for each lift. But in all the great advice each coach gave, one thing was barely mentioned: speed.

I was reminded of this while reading through the final draft of Anatoliy Bondarchuk’s new book Olympian Manual for Strength & Size (available for pre-order here). The book will be published by Ultimate Athlete Concepts in the next few weeks, and unlike my book they are good about meeting deadlines. Jake Jensen has been working diligently on the translation and in my opinion it is the best translated book by Bondarchuk so far and covers a diverse range of topics that he has never written about in English before. I’ve also helped edit the work, which helped me make sure it addresses some of the shortcomings in prior translations.
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