I have been reading a lot lately and not just about training. But as with anything, I can always bring the topic back to training. In January I finished two good non-fiction books: Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To by psychology professor Sian Beilock. And David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell.
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.
One chapter of the David Epstein’s The Sports Gene discusses the role of body type in sports and how this has evolved in almost a Darwinian fashion over the last century. At the beginning of the modern Olympic era elite athletes tended to have the same body type. As Epstein explained, in 1925 the average Olympic volleyball player looked similar in stature to an Olympic discus thrower, high jumper, or shot putter. American Robert Garrett was the first modern Olympic discus and shot put champion standing just 6-foot 2-inches and 180-pounds. There is a reason he could easily be mistaken for a high jumper: he also won silver medals in the high jump and long jump. The scientists of the day even had theories of why this was the ideal athlete for each sport. Epstein notes that:
“Anthropometrists felt that human physique distributed along a bell curve, and the peak of the curve-the average- was the perfect form, with everything to the sides deviating by accident or fault.”
Fast forward a hundred years and each of those sorts has developed a distinct type of athlete that works best for it.
Nature versus nurture topic has been a hot topic lately, and was frequently discussed at the International Festival of Athletics Coaching. That is due to David Epstein’s new book The Sports Gene: What Makes The Perfect Athlete, which I just finished last week. Epstein, a former collegiate runner and writer for Sports Illustrated, has put together a must read book on the topic. Since the book’s release in August it has been covered by almost everyone who can write. Mass media outlets like the New York Times, New Yorker, Wall Street Journal have all covered it extensively. The book has also been written about by those within the track and field community since the book spends much of its time looking at track and field topics like Kenyan distance dominance, Jamaican sprint success, the high jump, and other events (I recommend Epstein’s extensive interview with the House of Run). Therefore, other than a whole-hearted recommendation to read the book immediately, there is not a whole lot I can do to add to the conversation. But that won’t stop me from trying.
So rarely does the hammer throw appear in popular culture that I feel it is one of my duties to give credit to the artists who give a little extra publicity to our sport. Therefore let me introduce you to Rulon Hurt, an ex-spy at the center of a series of thrillers written by Jim Haberkorn: Einstein’s Trunk and A Thousand Suns. Spies are tough, smart, and strong. So naturally Rulon was an All-American hammer thrower at Boise State before he started his career.
Part of what I enjoy about the offseason is reading about different training ideas. This year I have, as always, a long list of books that I likely will not finish. But I already have finished the first one, Athletic Development: The Art and Science of Functional Sport Conditioning by Vern Gambetta.
It was about a year ago that I first started reading stuff by Gambetta. The more I read, the more I liked. His blog provides frequent insight on training, and I posted my own training talk with him at the end of last summer and had the pleasure of meeting him in London last month. In my view, Gambetta is an ideal coach’s coach. This is not to downplay the work he has done with athletes; he has worked with professional athletes and teams in nearly every sport. But I have learned infinitely more from Gambetta in my role as track coach as I have as a hammer thrower. And much of that has come from his book Athletic Development.
Like baseball, track and field is a sport for history and statistic buffs. Before the internet, the best way to follow the sport was simply by looking at the numbers and results. While the internet allows us to watch more events live, it also gives us access to results from a plethora of smaller competitions we would have never heard of otherwise. Show me a six-round series of throws and I can see the story of the meet come alive. Following these statistics is half the fun of the sport for me.
Italian statistician Roberto Quercetani is the grandfather of athletics statisticians. He helped found the Association of Track and Field Statisticians and served as its president from 1950 to 1968. Now, having just turned 90 years old, he has released his latest book: “A World History of the Throwing Events (1860-2011 Men and Women).” The book is a quick read half full of statistics, and half full of narrative on each throwing event. The throwing events are broken down into periods of roughly 20 years dating back to the mid-1800s. Quercetani then recaps the best throwers, the progression of world records, and other interesting anecdotes that took place during each period. While the narrative portion spans 100 pages, covering 150 years of history of four men’s and four women’s events could easily fill many books. Often a story is described in a paragraph where a chapter could do. And some of the more interesting characters deserve a biography of their own (thankfully a few of these biographies have been written, such as the entertaining autobiography of Wolfgang Schmidt and Harold Connolly’s unpublished memoirs). But this is not the fault of Quercetani and his book nevertheless provides a must-read overview of the historic points in throwing history.
The worlds of Olympic weightlifting and the throwing events have much in common. I’m not just talking about the fact that we all use cleans and snatches as an important part of our training plan. I mean that at their core, the worlds are built with similar principles and similar people. Both sports require excruciating attention to detail. Both sports require thousands of repetitions to master the rhythm and balance of each attempt. And Olympic weightlifter Matt Foreman could have just as easily been describing the hammer throw in his new book Bones of Iron: Collected Articles on the Life of the Strength Athlete when he said “Our sport offers almost no money and promises pain, so only fanatics will survive for the long haul.” For these reasons, and the fact that Foreman runs a throwing club with more than 60 athletes, I picked up his recent book of musings on weightlifting and all things related.
I also have a very loose connection to Foreman. Back when I was in high school he was living and training in the Seattle area. I would occasionally run into throwers that he taught and coached at a small private school. I also had the privilege of doing a few training sessions with his then weightlifting coach, John Thrush. While his peak years are behind him, he now coaches and competes as a masters athlete. This book is essentially a collection of the regular articles he has written for Performance Menu Journal.
Before Dr. Anatoliy Bondarchuk moved to North America six years ago, not much was written about his research in English. But since then, many of his ideas have finally been translated. His first two major works in English discussed the concept ”transfer of training” (you can find reviews of those books here and here). In this respect, they focused on the finest details of training: the exercises performed each day. Some exercises transfer over to the competition exercise better than others, and he laid out data showing how different exercises correlate to different track and field events. Bondarchuk’s new book takes a step back and looks at the bigger concept of periodization across all sports.
Periodization, in short, is how you organize training throughout the season to help reach the athlete’s goals. In contrast to the first books, this volume does not mention one exercise and does not discuss how to build a training day or a training week. Instead it presents the methods in which training programs can be combined throughout the season for every sport.
If you’ve been around the Seattle track community, you’ve heard of Ken Foreman. But, if you’re like I was, you may know little more than his name. I first heard his name as a high school senior when I threw a new personal best of 48.94m at Seattle Pacific University’s Ken Foreman Invitational. Although I later found out the throw was mismeasured, it was a highlight of my young career since it placed me third against a collegiate field and qualified me for the USATF Junior National Championships. Even though this memory was planted deep in my mind, I never learned anything about the man other than the picture I saw of him in the meet program. But from that picture you could see Foreman was a coach’s coach.
Over the years, I heard more and more about him. The local papers often referenced his legacy and successes. Just last year he was recognized nationally with a spot in the National Track & Field Hall of Fame. The breadth of Foreman’s career is outstanding: he has coached numerous Olympians, served on the national team staff several times, pioneered women’s track at the collegiate level, and most notably guided Doris Brown Heritage to multiple world records and world cross country titles. Now, to top it all of, he has published a new book A Coach’s Journey.