Look at the two sporting superpowers of post war era, Germany and the Soviet Union/post-Soviet states, and you find two very different approaches to training. Both have produced amazing results, but interestingly ideas like periodization, the concept of transfer of training, block training, complex training, special strength, etc. came just from one of the two powerhouses. Try to think of the most influential names in training methods and you’ll have to scroll well past luminaries like Leo Matveyev, Yuri Verkhoshansky, Vladimir Issurin, Vladimir Zatsiorsky and of course my coach Anatoliy Bondarchuk before you find many Germans. How come so many revolutionary ideas came from just one of these countries? Read more
I’ve done lots of presentations about training before, but last weekend was a first. This was the first time I’d presented for a whole day. And it was the first time I’ve presented so long in German. And it was a blast. For once I could explain concepts in depth, with concrete examples of how things fit together, rather than having time constraints force me to keep things at a higher level.
The seminar also served as a test for the upcoming HMMR Media seminar series in America later this month. I will be flying to the US in less than two weeks to join forces with Notre Dame coach Nick Garcia and Cal coach Mo Saatara to go into even more depth on these topics.
After a year of using the system myself I felt it was time that I go ahead and implement it with some of my high school athletes. I had the perfect candidate to experiment with: a young thrower on my team named Ginika Iwuchukwu. As a freshman and sophomore Ginika had played basketball in the winter and we only had a short time to prepare her for the upcoming track season. During this time I had her on a traditionally periodized training plan and at the end of her sophomore year she had thrown right at 12 meters (39 feet). Looking ahead to her junior year she decided to focus on throwing. Therefore, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to apply Dr. B’s system or what my idea of what the Dr. B. system was. Rather than going into the structure of the program, which Martin has explained and had examples of it up in the past. I will go over the results we got, mistakes I made, and what I am doing differently this year compared to with Ginika over the last two years.
On Tuesday I had the chance to sit down with Yosef Johnson of Ultimate Athlete Concepts and Jeff Moyer of DC Sports Training for the latest edition of their video podcast. We covered special strength, training intensities, transfer of training, Bondarchuk’s analytic approach, and some other interesting aspects in training with him. Many of these topics will be looked at more in depth in our upcoming seminars, so check it out below and sign up if you are interested in learning more.
Early in my 2014 season I was getting ready to compete at Hardin-Simmons University and a familiar face popped up and introduced himself as their new coach. The first time I met Tim Miller and also the last time I had seen him was at the NJCAA Indoor National Championship in 2009. I was still working as a strength coach at Texas Tech University (the meet’s host site) at the time, and Tim was early in his coaching career at Erie Community College in Buffalo, New York. Tim was coaching a pentathlete and a weight thrower at that meet along with coach Sean Kibrick. We had a good discussion about throws and training, but in the vast world of athletics you never know if you will ever meet again.
While presenting at GAIN 2014 I got meet several great coaches, including James Marshall from the Excelsior Group in southwest England. He recently asked me to write a guest post on his blog about weight training for throwers. You can visit his blog here or read the post below.
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.
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.
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
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:
- General strength is not important for throwers.
- Maximum strength is not important for throwers.
- We do not train general strength.
- 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:
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.
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.
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.
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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